Tag Archives: politics

Men, Women And Politics

What was that book about women being from Venus and men being from Mars? Recent polling data suggests that tongue-in-cheek title may reflect real differences. (And no, I don’t mean “differences” in the “viva la difference!” sense.)

Thomas Edsall’s columns in the New York Times are always heavily indebted to academic research. In a recent one, he considered what research tells us about the political gender gap. Here’s his lede:

In one of the most revealing studies in recent years, a 2016 survey of 137,456 full-time, first-year students at 184 colleges and universities in the United States, the U.C.L.A. Higher Education Research Institute found “the largest-ever gender gap in terms of political leanings: 41.1 percent of women, an all-time high, identified themselves as liberal or far left, compared to 28.9 percent of men.”

While there is a lot of research confirming the existence of that gender gap, a problem with surveys of this sort becomes apparent from Edsall’s description of another poll. This one asked the following  question: “If you had to choose, which do you think is more important, a diverse and inclusive society or protecting free speech rights.”

Male students preferred protecting free speech over an inclusive and diverse society by a decisive 61 to 39. Female students took the opposite position, favoring an inclusive, diverse society over free speech by 64 to 35.

There are all kinds of things wrong with this question, not least the absence of a third option that would allow respondents to indicate they found these values to be equally important. But the biggest problem with using this framing to demonstrate that men and women are politically different is what we know about levels of civic literacy.

I am absolutely confident that few of those surveyed really understand how communications are protected by  the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, and against whom.

And that brings me to a persistent gripe I have about Americans’ love of labeling opinions “left” and “right” based on questions of this sort. Not only have the definitions of liberal and conservative changed rather markedly over the past decades (I have the same basic political philosophy that made people label me “very conservative” in 1980, and now I am routinely identified as liberal/pinko/socialist), but a number of policy preferences don’t neatly fall into a black and white, liberal/conservative framework.

I will concede that–at this time– there is a significant political gender gap, and it seems to be growing. Differences in party identification have been evident since the early 1980s, and as Edsall says, we can now see that “the political engagement of women is having a major impact on the social order.”

When Edsall asked a couple of scholars to be more specific about the nature of that impact, most responded that most women are less violent and warlike than most men.

“We find that the evidence is consistent with the view that the increasing enfranchisement of women, not merely the rise of democracy itself, is the cause of the democratic peace.”

Put another way, “the divergent preferences of the sexes translate into a pacifying effect when women’s influence on national politics grows” and “suffrage plays a direct and important role in generating more peaceful interstate relations by altering the political calculus of democratic leaders.”…

There are broad value differences between men and women. Women score higher on values defined by care, fairness, benevolence, and protecting the welfare of others, reflecting greater empathy and preference for cooperative social relations.

The column highlighted gender differences with respect to the use of force–differences in how the sexes approach conflict and competition, and how, as more women have entered the political realm, the lived experience of those women has contributed to what scholars term “the feminization” of government and politics.

I don’t want to quibble with the scholarship displayed in this column, which is sound, but permit me a  caveat.

As with all studies and polls, these conclusions are  at best snapshots–accurate (assuming that they are) at a particular point in time. As women enter more fully into national life, including political life, we tend to get more like the men with whom we interact.( I’ve run across some pretty belligerent/warlike women…)

And of course, this goes for the men, too, who benefit significantly from interacting with us. (I don’t like the term “feminize”–sounds wimpy. How about “humanize”?)

I don’t think women are necessarily more “liberal.” I think our life experiences may have made at least some of us a bit more human--and I think we’re making you guys a bit more human too.

And unfortunately, there’s probably not much of a gap when it comes to the ability to accurately describe the operation of the Free Speech Clause…

 

The Story Of Today’s America

Discussions on this blog tend to be conducted in relatively abstract terms. It can be easy to forget the power of particularity–the power of stories–to bring them home.

A lengthy report in last Sunday’s New York Times reminded me of that power–rather forcefully.

The article described one of the numerous fights over mask requirements, this particular one in Enid, Oklahoma. It began by focusing on a public meeting, and the discomfort of an Air Force sergeant, Jonathan Waddell, who had moved to Enid with his family seven years before, when he’d retired. He’d thrown himself into the community, and won a seat on the City Council. He supported the mask mandate–unlike the throng of people dressed in red who filled the chamber that night.

He had noticed something was different when he drove up in his truck. The parking lot was full, and people wearing red were getting out of their cars greeting one another, looking a bit like players on a sports team. As the meeting began, he realized that they opposed the mandate. It was almost everybody in the room.

The meeting was unlike any he had ever attended. One woman cried and said wearing a mask made her feel like she did when she was raped at 17. Another read the Lord’s Prayer and said the word “agenda” at the top of the meeting schedule seemed suspicious. A man quoted Patrick Henry and handed out copies of the Constitution.

“The line is being drawn, folks,” said a man in jeans and a red T-shirt. He said the people in the audience “had been shouted down for the last 20 years, and they’re finally here to draw a line, and I think they’re saying, ‘We’ve had enough.’”

 People were talking about masks, but Waddell said “it felt like something else.”

That “something else” became depressingly clear as the Times described the woman who had organized the red-shirted attendees. It’s one thing to speculate about the fears and resentments motivating QAnon and “Big Lie” believers and anti-vaccine cultists…but the Times story put a face on those resentments.

Melissa Crabtree is “a home-schooling mother who owns a business selling essential oils and cleaning products.

She said she came to the conclusion that the government was misleading Americans. For whose benefit she could not tell. Maybe drug companies. Maybe politicians. Whatever the case, it made her feel like the people in charge saw her — and the whole country of people like her — as easy to take advantage of.

“I don’t like to be played the fool,” said Ms. Crabtree, who also works as an assistant to a Christian author and speaker. “And I felt like they were counting on us — us being the general population — on being the fool.”

She felt contempt radiating from the other side, a sense that those who disagreed with her felt superior and wanted to humiliate her.

The article went into considerable detail about Crabtree’s unquestioning Evangelical religiosity, including her decision to homeschool her children to protect them from a culture she deplores–from its sexual “perversions” and the left’s “preoccupation with race” and its telling of history.

“Why all of a sudden are we teaching our 5-year-olds to be divided by color?” she said. “They don’t care what color your skin is until you tell them that that 5-year-old’s grandpa was mean 200 years ago.”

Crabtree’s organizing was successful; the mask mandate died. But the schism in Enid hardened.

Mr. Waddell voted for the mask mandate, and the reaction was immediate. The following Sunday, people he had prayed with for years avoided him at church. The greeters, an older couple he knew well, looked the other way when he walked by. Several people left the church altogether because of his association with it, he said.

It wasn’t just Waddell. Ben Ezzell, the city commissioner who introduced the mask mandate got veiled warnings  — mostly via email and Facebook. Someone dumped trash on his lawn. At one City Council meeting, “a man shouted that he knew where Mr. Ezzell lived. Another meeting got so tense that police officers insisted on escorting him to his car.”

In February, the Red Shirts swept the local elections, winning three seats on the City Council — including Mr. Waddell’s and Mr. Ezzell’s.  During the year, through a series of elections, appointments and City Council votes, they’ve placed four candidates on the school board and another four on the library board.

The article is lengthy, but I strongly encourage you to click through and read it in its entirety. It is eye-opening.

As the reporter noted, what we are seeing–nationally, and not just in Enid– is a deeply disturbing argument about what it means to be an American, and whose version of the country will prevail.

 

What’s Driving America’s Polarization?

I recently “guest lectured” in a colleague’s class; my assignment was to address the issue of America’s extreme polarization. As you might imagine, that’s a topic that could consume several hours, if not days, of discussion.

I had twenty minutes….

I began by sharing my version of  The American Idea—the conviction that allegiance to an overarching governing philosophy–one that that emphasized behavior rather than identity- could create unity from what has always been a diverse citizenry. This nation was not based upon geography, ethnicity or conquest, but on a theory of social organization, a philosophy of governance that was meant to facilitate e pluribus unum—out of the many, one. The American Idea set up an enduring conversation about the proper balance between “I” and “we”–between individual rights on the one hand and the choices and passions of the majority on the other.

Admittedly, that approach doesn’t seem to be working right now.

As I told the students, I think it’s important to note two things about our current divisions:  our political polarization has been asymmetric—during my lifetime, the GOP has moved far, far to the right, abandoning genuinely conservative positions in favor of authoritarianism and White Supremacy. When that movement first began, public notions of what constituted the “middle” prompted the Democratic party to move to the right also;  what is today being called a move to the left is really a return to its original, center-left orientation.

Today’s GOP is a cohesive, White Supremicist cult. For a number of reasons, the Democratic party is a much bigger tent than the GOP—making the forging of party consensus very difficult. 

So yes, we are polarized. At the same time, however, it’s also important to recognize that many of America’s apparent social divisions are exaggerated by media outlets trying to grab our attention and by people pursuing political agendas. (The current coverage of fights over Roe v. Wade is an example. Polling tells us that three-quarters of Americans support Roe–hardly the even division often suggested by the media.)

 The research is pretty clear about the source of our current divisions: White Christian Americans—predominantly male—are incredibly threatened by the social and demographic changes they see around them. White Evangelicals overwhelmingly tell researchers that only White Christians can be “true Americans.” Their belief that White Christian males are entitled to social dominance—to “ownership” of the country– is being threatened by the increasing improvements in the positions of “uppity” women and people of color.

There are other factors, of course, but the underlying reality is frantic resistance to social change by Americans who harbor racial resentments, misogyny and homophobia.

It would be hard to overstate the impact of our current media environment, which enables confirmation bias and allows us to choose our own realities. The death of local journalism, and the influence of Fox News and its clones, are huge contributors, and recent revelations about the business model of Facebook and other social media demonstrates the impact those platforms have and their role in disseminating misinformation, conspiracy theories and bigotry.

To be fair, media bubbles aren’t the only bubbles Americans occupy. I’ve posted before about “The Big Sort,” the”Density Divide,” and the immense and growing gaps between urban and rural Americans.

I continue to believe that a majority of Americans are sane and reasonable, but several painfully outdated governance systems have enabled a not-nearly-so-sane minority to exercise disproportionate power. Those outdated systems include the Electoral College, gerrymandering, and the filibuster–not to mention that each state gets two senators regardless of population (by 2040, about 70% of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states. They will have only 30 senators representing them, while the remaining 30% of Americans will have 70 senators representing them.)

Our current low-key civil war has illustrated our problems. How we fix them is another matter….

 

Religion As Politics

I still remember those college dorm arguments about religion and politics–the debates over where to draw the line between purportedly religious beliefs, on the one hand, and devotion to political ideology, on the other. Back in those days, the focus was usually on Soviet Communism–was it a political identity? Or was commie “true belief” actually akin to religious devotion?

That debate has morphed over the years, especially for the growing number of Americans who tend to be skeptical of organized religion. If we didn’t have so many other, more pressing issues to argue about, I suspect that a recent report from Pew would trigger a new and acrimonious round.

Pew was investigating whether there had been an exodus from far-right Evangelical Protestant churches due to the support for Trump displayed by those denominations. They found no exodus–instead, the research uncovered  “solid evidence” that White American “Trumpers” who weren’t Evangelical before 2016  “were much more likely than White Trump skeptics to begin identifying as born-again or evangelical Protestants by 2020.”

The data also shows that Trump’s electoral performance among White evangelicals was even stronger in 2020 than in 2016, partially due to increased support among White voters who described themselves as evangelicals throughout this period.

The study confirms what many of us have suspected: Americans are sorting ourselves into  tribes, and one such tribe is composed of the “Christian” White Supremicists who identify with Trumpian Republicanism. These are the people who tell pollsters that only (White) Christians can be considered “real Americans.”

According to Christianity Today, they are increasingly likely to call themselves “political Evangelicals.”

The Survey Center on American Life  –a project of the conservative American Enterprise Institute-reports that White Evangelical Republicans are far more inclined to believe in claims about the Deep State, to believe in QAnon, and to believe that antifa was responsible for the January 6th violence at the US Capitol. They also are more likely than other Republicans to accept Trump’s Big Lie:

Given how widely accepted the belief in voter fraud is among white evangelical Republicans, it is not surprising that they express far greater skepticism about the fairness of the 2020 election than their co-partisans. Only 27 percent of white evangelical Republicans say that Joe Biden’s election win was legitimate, compared to more than half (56 percent) of nonevangelical Republicans. Three-quarters (75 percent) of white evangelical Christian Republicans say Biden was not legitimately elected.

As an essay from the New York Times just after the 2020 election put it, White Evangelicals have now

blended so seamlessly into the broader Republican base that adherents and observers say that the label has become more a political than religious one. Electing Republicans has become, for many evangelicals, an end in itself.

Those of us on the outside of this Evangelical/GOP cult have marveled at the contortions required for “family values Christians”–a movement based on Christian principles and presumably devoted to  concerns about character– to support someone like Donald Trump. The Times essay quoted a Pew researcher who cited data showing that” White Evangelical Protestants are not only Republican; they have been and continue to grow more Republican over time.”  In 2018 and 2019, 78 percent of White Evangelical Protestants identified with the Republican Party; in 2000, that number was 56 percent.

Michele Margolis is a political scientist who studies how political affiliation influences religious beliefs and practices, “a cause-and-effect that reverses traditional assumptions.” People may like to believe their faith informs their vote, but her research shows it is often the other way around.

Charles Blow recently quoted another academic, Anthea Butler, for the observation that evangelicals may wrap themselves in religious rhetoric, but that what the movement has really been since the 1970s is “a political arm of the Republican Party.” Evangelicals now “use moral issues as a wedge to get political power.”

Butler concluded, “We need to quit coddling evangelicals and allowing them to use these moral issues to hide behind, because it’s very clear that that’s not what the issue is. The issue is that they believe in anti-vaxxing, they believe in racism, they believe in anti-immigration, they believe that only Republicans should run the country and they believe in white supremacy.”

Whether we consider these Evangelical denominations genuinely “religious” or see them as pseudo-religious political cults frantic to protect America’s longstanding White Christian dominance depends upon just how capacious our understanding of “politics” is, and how we define the difference between religious and  secular commitments.

We might also think about the difference a label makes when these folks go to court to protect what they insist is their “religious liberty.”

Looking On The Bright Side…(NOT The Monty Python Version)…

I get tired of posting “gloom and doom” essays–and you are all probably just as tired of reading about the precarious state of national and global institutions.  Every so often, it’s a good idea to remember the old adage that “dog bites man isn’t news; but man bites dog is”–to remind ourselves that what is newsworthy is by definition not ordinary. So today, as we head into fall, I want to focus on the other side of the equation: hopeful news–evidence that the hostile and crazy people who provide fodder for our newsfeeds and generate our ulcers are not representative of humanity writ large.

Let’s start with climate change.

Yes, political barriers have delayed a rational, co-ordinated response. But as the evidence of that phenomenon becomes too powerful to ignore, so does evidence of efforts to abate it. Take, for example, reports about floating wind turbines.

In the stormy waters of the North Sea, 15 miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, five floating offshore wind turbines stretch 574 feet (175 metres) above the water. The world’s first floating windfarm, a 30 megawatt facility run by the Norwegian company Equinor, has only been in operation since 2017 but has already broken UK records for energy output.

While most offshore wind turbines are anchored to the ocean floor on fixed foundations, limiting them to depths of about 165ft, floating turbines are tethered to the seabed by mooring lines.

Installing these turbines in deeper waters, where winds tend to be stronger,  promises  to generate huge amounts of renewable energy: reportedly, close to 80% of potential offshore wind power is found in deeper waters.

Then there’s new appreciation for algae. It can be used to make eco-friendly plastic and fertilizer,  it can be used as fuel–it can evidently even reduce the methane from cow farts ..

The World Wildlife Federation reports that low cost solar, wind, and battery technologies are on “profitable, exponential trajectories”–and if those trajectories are sustained, they should be enough to cut emissions from electricity generation in half by 2030.

Wind and solar energy now regularly out-compete fossil fuels in most regions of the world. Electric vehicle growth has the potential to reach a 90% market share by 2030 if sustained, but only if strong policies support this direction.

The Federation also reports that nearly half of the country’s largest companies–some of the world’s largest energy users–now recognize a responsibility to tackle climate change and preserve the planet for future generations. (Granted, a good deal of this “recognition” is PR–it’s up to us consumers to pressure the business sector to make good on those public promises.)

More theoretical, but the subject of current research efforts, is “carbon capture,” which wouldn’t simply reduce carbon emissions, but would allow for actually sucking carbon out of the air. (Think negative emissions.) Even the most recent IPCC report--with its dire, widely disseminated warnings–had some good news tucked in.

It isn’t just climate change.

Vox recently had a report, complete with charts, demonstrating a range of improvements that have made life better for humanity. It described the decline in global poverty, the rise in global literacy, a dramatic improvement in global health, and even–despite the current backlash being  waged by various populist movements–an increase in democracy and individual freedom.

Sometimes, taking the “long view” allows us to escape from the doom and gloom of the daily news. In my lifetime, I have seen city centers and historic neighborhoods revitalized. Women’s rights have dramatically expanded (prompting the hysterical backlash that most recently gave us Texas…). Gays have emerged from the closet and married. Membership in fundamentalist churches has declined. Despite the daily episodes of racist behavior caught by our ubiquitous cellphone cameras and the morphing of the GOP into the White Supremacy Party, the country has made considerable progress against racism, as evidenced by the multi-racial composition of last year’s Black Lives Matter marches.

And we should be heartened by the enormous negative reaction to Texas’ effort to empower anti-woman vigilantes. That anger promises an energized and expanded Democratic vote.

The bigots and assorted crazies in Washington can slow down human progress, but ultimately, reality will bite them. (Hopefully in time to avert disaster…)

If people of good will focus only on the problems we face and the threats posed by the hysterical people resisting progress, we will get too disheartened to work for the continuation of positive change. Google “good news,” take a deep breath, then volunteer with a group that is working to solve a  problem you care about.

And if you can, send money.

PS If you want the Monty Python version, here are the lyrics…..