The Cruelty Really Is The Point

There are things I understand, and things I never will.

Take crime. I can understand the motives for many criminal acts– you see something you want and can’t afford, so you steal it; you are so furious with someone that you beat or even kill them. These are wrong actions, and certainly not excusable–but most of us can see and at least partially understand the human weaknesses involved.

On the other hand, there are anti-social behaviors that defy understanding. Vandalism, for example–the act of simply trashing something–has always confounded me. Another is hurting people who lack the ability to fight back, just because you can.

And that brings us to today’s GOP.

What triggered this post was a headline in the Washington Post, “Republican governors in 15 states reject summer food money for kids.”

Republican governors in 15 states are rejecting a new federally funded program to give food assistance to hungry children during the summer months, denying benefits to 8 million children across the country.

The program is expected to serve 21 million youngsters starting around June, providing $2.5 billion in relief across the country.

The governors have given varying reasons for refusing to take part, from the price tag to the fact that the final details of the plan have yet to be worked out. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said she saw no need to add money to a program that helps food-insecure youths “when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.” Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen (R) said bluntly, “I don’t believe in welfare.”

Activists with nonprofit  organizations in the states rejecting the funds say the impact will be devastating –it will add pressure on private food banks that are already overwhelmed.

In 2022, food insecurity rates increased sharply, with 17.3 percent of households with children lacking enough food, up from 12.5 percent in 2021, according to the USDA.

In Oklahoma, for example, pandemic food relief money has been helping more than 350,000 children in need for the past four summers. Now that money has dried up with no statewide replacement on the way, and nonprofit assistance groups are scrambling to fill the gap.

What do these Republican Governors stand to gain by refusing to take advantage of an existing program and rejecting funds that have already been appropriated?  What blow against obesity (!) or “welfare” is achieved by refusing to feed hungry children?

As the article points out, a number of these states have also refused to extend Medicaid to their poor citizens. Wouldn’t want to let those “undesirables” access medical care!

And although the article didn’t mention it, there’s considerable overlap between the Red states that don’t want to feed hungry children and Republicans’ ugly use of trans children as a political wedge issue. As Indiana Senate candidate Marc Carmichael points out, as acceptance of gay citizens has diminished their usefulness as a wedge issue, Republican extremists like Jim Banks have turned to attacks on trans children. As Carmichael says, it’s despicable to pick on children who are vulnerable and powerless. It is particularly cruel to focus such attacks on children who are already struggling with their identities.

And there’s so much more…

What about the cruelty of denying appropriate medical care to pregnant women?  Abortion bans, according to GOP culture warriors like Banks, are needed to “save” innocent babies. That concern about babies rather obviously doesn’t translate into feeding hungry children. It also didn’t keep the Trump administration from tearing immigrant children from their families–without even documenting where they were being sent so that they could find each other again. It obviously doesn’t prompt Republicans to protect the lives and health of those children’s mothers.

Nope–once those babies emerge from the womb, they’re on their own.

There are plenty of other examples– Adam Serwer’s recent best-seller, “The Cruelty is the Point” spells them out, as does a recent essay from the Telegraph. After listing a number of Republican positions that seem deliberately intended to hurt people who lack the means to resist, the author considers what the GOP offers in return:

The ability to be openly intolerant of others.  Starting with immigrants and extending to minorities, the poor, and any non-fundamentalist Christian, the list of people Republicans are encouraging others to revile keeps growing.  Employing a word that they refuse to define for fear of sounding silly, Republican candidates rail against “woke” as though it stood for Satan’s agenda, when all it means is being aware of injustice.  What is more intellectually cruel than wanting your followers to be intolerant, unaware and ignorant?

Republicans used to debate the best way to help people who needed that help. Today’s GOP doesn’t want to help anyone but gun owners and the party’s donors. Certainly not hungry children.

 

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About That War On Education

Far-right Republicans have been very candid about their war on higher education, as I have previously detailed. The party’s activists have been less open about their continuing effort to destroy American public education, and to re-direct public money to the private, mainly religious schools that teach from a perspective they prefer. (As with so many of the Right’s accusations, projection is obvious; claims that “government schools” are indoctrinating–“grooming”–children reflects their own intent.)

A recent article in the New Republic suggests that the Right is winning its war on public education. The article began with a report on the Congressional testimony of one Lindsey Burke.

Burke, an education policy program director at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, was responding to a question from Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman, after Burke had spoken in favor of “school choice.” Allowing parents to use public education funds to send their children to private schools—including religious schools—was, she argued, merely a way to enable families to “choose learning environments that are safe, and effective, and reflect their values.”

Heritage is one of a number of Rightwing “think tanks” and organizations dedicated to defunding public education–mostly through educational vouchers and similar mechanisms that they claim will “restore parental control” over education. Parental control is increasingly the  “frame that contains both the typical free-market conservative argument against public education and the Christian right argument against exposing children to the immorality of “government schools.”

In 2021, Burke co-wrote a paper with a colleague for the American Enterprise Institute that argued for “allowing families an escape hatch from government schools pushing an agenda that runs counter to their values,” like critical race theory and “transgender ideology.”

This “values-based” coalition Burke said she was introducing in 2022 involved “not just education choice groups,” she explained, “but also groups like Moms for Liberty,” who helped force “parental rights” onto the agenda in school board elections while also aligning with the far right, and “partners” such as Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nationalist law project focused on anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion cases, which argued both the Dobbs case and a recent fake same-sex wedding website case. These groups, Burke said, “understand that the school choice movement is the solution to current cultural battles.” Conveniently, these groups also instigated these “battles.”

Think about the messaging: calling public schools “government schools.” Talking about “parental choice” and “Christian values.”

It isn’t just coincidence that these “Christian values” warriors focus inordinate attention on trans children (a vanishingly small percentage of the nation’s children, but an unfamiliar population and thus an excellent target for bigots). Rightwing activists are demanding that educators out trans students in the name of “parental rights.”

Nearly 90 bills forcing teachers to monitor students’ gender expression—including dress, pronouns, and names—and report trans and gender-nonconforming students to parents were recently introduced in state legislatures across the country, according to PEN America’s Index of Educational Intimidation Bills. At least five states have adopted these policies into law: North Dakota, Iowa, Alabama, North Carolina, and Indiana. What we are seeing in places like Chino Valley reflects a coordinated national plan to push laws and policies that would penalize educators who don’t go along—inverting their roles as mandatory reporters of harassment, neglect, and abuse at home….

As a tool of gender conformity and as a moral panic about the content of public education, these policies hit a sweet spot for the right—which may explain why more established conservative groups are stepping up to promote and defend them.

The article noted what has become increasingly obvious– the Right’s effort to eradicate public education is “inseparable from their accelerating attacks on LGBTQ rights and racial justice.”

Perhaps there is no better symbol of that intersection than Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who has boasted about writing the playbook: moving from using critical race theory as a rallying cry for white grievance against schools, then similarly promoting accusations that LGBTQ-inclusive schools are “grooming” young people. Rufo revels in “laying siege to the institutions” as strategy, as he said in a 2022 speech at the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan. “We go in there and we defund things we don’t like, we fund things we do like.”

The linked article explores the effort to “defund” public education in much more depth, and I encourage you to click through and read it in its gloomy entirety.

In Indiana, the effort to help parents escape those nefarious “government schools” is succeeding; a growing number of children are using Hoosier tax dollars to attend  voucher schools–over 90% of which are religious.

Tribalism, anyone?

The next time you hear a self-proclaimed conservative bemoan “identity politics,” you might point out the way vouchers divide Americans.

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How Hateful Can They Be?

Here’s a “what-if.” What if orphans with serious medical problems–say asthma or epilepsy–were intentionally placed with foster or adoptive parents who were devout Christian Scientists or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Parents who would “pray away” attacks rather than provide medical care? What if a federal law required those doing the placements to ignore such parental beliefs on the basis of “religious freedom”? What if refusal to place a seriously ill child with a family that rejected medical science was considered “discrimination”?

I think–I certainly hope–most rational people would be appalled. 

Of course, Indiana Congressman Jim Banks is a culture warrior, not a rational person.

A Republican congressman has proposed a bill to prevent child welfare agencies from turning away prospective foster and adoptive parents who refuse to recognize transgender and nonbinary children’s identities.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) introduced the bill earlier this month in response to a proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The rule would require child welfare agencies to place LGBTQ-identifying children in homes where they will not be mistreated or abused due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Caregivers for LGBTQ children would be required to receive training on how to provide for any unique needs those youth may have because of their identity.

Banks calls the rule discriminatory. He says it’s unfair to the “loving prospective parents who do not support the idea of transgender identity or who oppose homosexuality based on their religious beliefs.”

Yes, I can just imagine how “loving” those families would be to a child already struggling with both an absence of birth parents and thorny identity issues. Why not place Jewish children with “loving” Neo-Nazi families, or Black children with “loving” racists?

What the hell is wrong with these people?

Banks has instead proposed the Sensible Adoption for Every Home Act (SAFE), which would ensure that families that are headed by parents who hold anti-LGBTQ views are not rejected as foster parents. It would enforce that by prohibiting placement agencies that refuse to place LGBTQ children with otherwise qualified couples from receiving federal funds.

Even though social transition does not necessarily involve medical interventions, Banks — like many Republicans pushing anti-transgender legislation — equates affirmation with pursuing surgical and hormonal treatments.

His bill also seeks to protect parents who oppose psychological treatments or counseling for trans-identifying children, or refuse to use gender-affirming pronouns, from being discriminated against by placement agencies. 

Banks has company. Eighteen Attorneys General (all Republicans, of course) have signed a letter opposing the rule. And of course, the GOP’s rank hypocrisy is once again front and center.

As much as Republicans claim it’s unfair to discriminate against non-affirming parents, 13 states currently have laws that allow placement agencies to reject same-sex couples, single or unmarried parents, older opposite-sex couples, interfaith couples, and other prospective parents based on their purported religious beliefs.

I guess it’s okay to discriminate against people if the”sincerely held religious beliefs” of Republican lawmakers require legislating disapproval of those people. 

I have previously described Jim Banks as a Christian Nationalist’s wet dream. The remainder of the linked article supports that (admittedly unkind but arguably accurate) description.

In Congress, Banks has amassed a record that is hostile to LGBTQ rights.

He previously co-introduced a bill to allow adults who experience “regret” after undergoing transition-related treatments as youth to sue their former doctors.

He introduced another bill earlier this year, in conjunction with Sen. Marco Rubio, seeking to ban transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military.

Last year, Banks submitted a discharge petition to force a vote on a bill to bar transgender women and girls from participating in female-designated sports. 

Banks was also previously banned from Twitter, prior to Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform, for deliberately misgendering Adm. Rachel Levine, the country’s first transgender four-star admiral with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the Assistant Secretary of Health at HHS.

This is the culture warrior who wants to be Indiana’s next U.S. Senator.

I recently became aware of a PAC established by several of Banks’ current constituents; it’s called the Hoosiers for Common Sense PAC and its “primary goal is to elect a common-sense Hoosier Democrat, Marc Carmichael, and prevent Jim Banks from advancing to the US Senate.” You can contribute here. 

Or you can contribute at Marc Carmichael’s website. Among his other eminently sensible positions, Carmichael wants to put an end to demonizing trans children for political advantage. It’s hard to disagree with his statement that harming innocent children in an effort to garner votes is simply beyond the pale.

Way beyond.

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A Primal Scream

Notice: I was interviewed for a podcast (“What the Gerrymander”) that will drop at midnight tonight. You can find it here, if interested: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/what-the-gerrymander/id1668429440

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Wanda Sykes has the ability to be both funny and a dead-on critic of social insanity. A recent quip making the rounds on social media will illustrate: “Until a drag queen walks into a school and beats eight kids to death with a copy of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ I think you’re focusing on the wrong shit.”

The quote perfectly encapsulates what frustrates and angers the vast majority of Americans– people posturing as “pro life” and insisting that their censorship and homophobia are intended to “protect children,” while adamantly opposing rational gun regulation.

The priorities of the Right don’t just seem incompatible to most of us, they increasingly seem incomprehensible. But a book I recently read, suggested by a commenter to this blog, gave me a better understanding of the context of today’s culture wars and those who fight them. It was Stephen Prothero’s Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).

Prothero filled in some details of U.S. history that I’d previously missed. For example, I knew that Thomas Jefferson was criticized for his departures from orthodox Christianity, but I had not previously understood how incredibly widespread and vicious that criticism was. As a member of a marginalized minority, I was aware that American Catholics had also been subjected to significant discrimination–but I had no idea of the extent and duration of America’s anti-Catholicism. A colleague who studied Mormon history had clued me in about anti-Mormonism, but–again–I had been unaware of the extent of the cultural animus focused on Mormons.

These and other revelations really did provide a context–and predicted outcome– for our current cultural battles.

As Prothero points out, it is almost fore-ordained that the “liberal” side (the forces militating for inclusion and acceptance–i.e., the “woke” side) will win such conflicts. That’s because these “wars” only begin when the people waging them realize they are already close to losing–that the social environment is already significantly changed from the certainties with which they are comfortable, and within which they are privileged.

For some number of Americans, that loss is terrifying and unsupportable.

In analyzing partisan jockeying for the upcoming election, Jennifer Rubin identified  positions being taken by the GOP–on abortion, guns, and LGBTQ+– issues that clearly repel a majority of Americans, and explained that “Voters enthralled with turning politics into primal scream therapy don’t much care about a viable agenda or electability.”

Bingo!

Together, Rubin and Prothero explained what I previously found incomprehensible. For those of us who expect rational behavior by partisans engaged in an electoral contest, the recent trajectory of the Republican party has been mystifying. After all, it isn’t that Republican strategists don’t know that abortion bans, for instance, are costing them elections; as a recent Roll Call article reported.

The generic ballot has shifted toward Democrats, with Republicans losing ground among independents on the abortion issue, according to a new polling memo from a GOP firm that fell into Democratic hands.

“There has been a 6 point swing in the last year on the Generic Senate ballot from R+3 to D+3. This movement is [led] overwhelmingly by Independent and NEW voters that identify abortion as one of their top issues,” according to a “National Issue Study” by co/efficient, which was in the news recently as one of the pollsters for Kentucky Republican gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron.

The poll, conducted April 20-24, had similar findings on the House side. “There has been a 10 point swing in the last year on the Generic House Ballot from R+6 to D+4. This movement is [led] overwhelmingly by Independent and NEW voters that identify abortion as one of their top issues,” it said on slide seven. “Reproductive Freedom is the #1 issue among those that DID NOT vote in 2020.”

Other polling has confirmed the negative response of voters to efforts to demonize drag queens, attack trans youth, censor books and turn librarians into felons. These are not rational policy positions for a political party aiming to win elections. Given sufficiently large turnout by opposition voters, not even extreme gerrymandering and the Electoral College can save GOP control.

Prothero’s book, Sykes’ quip, and Rubin’s observation all point to the same conclusion. As Prothero put it, America’s intermittent culture wars only begin when the warriors realize they are on the cusp of losing.

What we are experiencing right now is their “primal scream.”

“Woke” folks will win the culture. The danger, however, is the considerable harm that will be done in the meantime in places like Indiana where Republicans pandering to the screamers remain in power.

Absent massive turnout by Democrats, independents and new voters, rational Americans can still lose the vote.

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Rush Limbaugh Wasn’t The Only Big Fat Liar

Several years ago, before he joined the US Senate, Al Franken wrote a book titled “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Liar.” Its accusations were accurate, and–because it was Al Franken (who should never have been run out of the Senate for a dumb joke)–it was also pretty funny.

Today, Rightwing liars aren’t funny. We live in a time of rampant lying, politely called “misinformation,” and thanks to a deficit of critical skills and a surfeit of confirmation bias, those lies do enormous damage.

Case in point: a while back, The American Prospect ran a story about “misinformation” feeding the Right’s current anti-Trans frenzy.

Former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss recently founded a publication called The Free Press, and several weeks ago it published an account from a woman named Jamie Reed. Reed, who worked as a case manager at a Washington University gender clinic in St. Louis, made inflammatory accusations (with more in a sworn affidavit) that numerous children at the clinic were being carelessly shoved into irreversible gender treatment en masse.

Reed’s article went viral on social media, and was cited by numerous conservatives and transphobes as conclusive proof that too many kids are getting transition care. A couple of prominent liberals joined in as well. Matthew Yglesias cited it as credible on Twitter and Substack. “The picture she paints of the clinic’s treatment of children is ghastly. The affidavit she signed is even worse,” wrote Jonathan Chait at New York magazine. (It’s of a piece with an ongoing trend in liberal and centrist publications of writing anxious articles raising questions about youth transition care.)

There is just one problem. Reed’s account is a pile of garbage.

As the article pointed out, any sensible person would have noticed a number of obvious red flags when the article first was published. Reed’s  lawyer had founded an openly transphobic organization, and Reed made several wildly mistaken claims about the side effects of some gender treatments.

In her affidavit, Reed claimed that children came into the clinic identifying as “mushroom,” “rock,” or “helicopter,” only to be quickly given puberty blockers or hormones. This is not only facially preposterous, but in the last case suspiciously lines up with a common right-wing transphobic “joke.”

Subsequent reporting demolished Reed’s story, but a great deal of harm had been done–and people who harbor animus against the LGBTQ+ community  still cite it. For that matter, as the article accurately notes, the United States is currently in the grip of a full-blown transphobic moral panic, and “dubious, unrepresentative, or entirely made-up anecdotes are trumpeted across right-wing media.”

That “misinformation” has buttressed the GOP’s legislative attacks on trans youth and overwhelmed credible academic studies, which have overwhelmingly confirmed that “transition is quite rare, de-transition relatively unlikely, the regret rate of gender affirmation surgery low, and treatment difficult and expensive to access.”

Trans children aren’t the only targets of the Right’s intentional lying, a/k/a “misinformation campaigns.” Talking Points Memo has documented one of the many efforts to portray Black Lives Matter as some sort of criminal organization.

When Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) failed, the Right immediately condemned that failure as an example of how“woke culture” had made the bank inefficient. As Josh Marshall wrote,

Ground zero for this is the allegation that SVB had donated over $73 million to the “BLM Movement & Related Causes.” That struck me as quite a lot of money for a single company, even a large and profitable one, to give to any cause or even all causes. So I tried to find out where this factoid came from and rapidly found my way to a Trumpist think tank….

The claims come from a database posted earlier this week by the Center for the American Way of Life, a project of the Claremont Institute. As Claremont put it in a Newsweek article introducing the database, “Americans deserve to know who funded the BLM riots.”

Marshall found no evidence of the purported donation; it appeared that the Center counted any giving by any major corporation to anything tied to civil rights or diversity or just Black people generally as a gift to BLM.

Campbell’s Soup, for example:

Those were grants to Black Girls Code, National Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Campbell Canada’s Black History Month Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Boris L. Henson Foundation. Again, tied to Black people, so it’s all “BLM.”

Marshall goes through the database’s “reports” on several other corporations and found  any donation in any way connected to Black people listed as  support for “BLM riots, mayhem and violence.”

These sorts of assaults aren’t innocent “mistakes.” They’re deliberate lies, in service of hateful ends.

The tactic didn’t die with Limbaugh.

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