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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"How did we get here?" An essay on the state of Republican politics, Pt. 6

Can one autopsy the Frankenstein Monster?
But the durability of Trump’s appeal creates a conundrum for many Republicans. For decades, some of us have argued that the liberal stereotype of Republicans as extreme, dim and intolerant is inaccurate and unfair. But here is a candidate for president who fully embodies the liberal stereotype of Republicans — who thinks this is the way a conservative should sound — and has found support from a committed plurality of the party.

If the worst enemies of conservatism were to construct a Frankenstein figure that represents the worst elements of right-wing politics, Donald Trump would be it. But it is Republicans who are giving him life. And the damage is already deep.
Michael Gerson, “The worst stereotype of the GOP is coming to life in the form of Donald Trump,” The Washington Post, March 31, 2016
For some writers, the concepts of individual blame and responsibility apply only to their intellectual adversaries!
Tyler Cowen, Marginal, April 1, 2016
And should a Trump presidency not work out, Mr. Pickens said he isn’t overly concerned.
“I’m ready to take a chance on it,” the 87-year-old said. “And just in case it’s a mistake, [I’ll] be gone.”
Billionaire T. Boone Pickens, in The Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2016
The reaction to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision last year- that marriage equality was a settled issue- illustrates why demographic change will not bring about some nirvana of American tolerance. It’s why Donald Trump polls so well among voters with a history of voting for segregationist candidates. The rump of the white resistance to civil rights fifty years ago is still there; its children and grandchildren seizing what the lazy-minded have long thought a discredited standard left on a stricken field.
Umberto Eco, the Italian scholar of semiotics- the study of meaning-making, the study of sign processes and meaningful communication- who died earlier this year, is best-remembered for his first novel, The Name of the Rose. His best, however, is The Prague Cemetery (2011).
There he considered the nature of racist propaganda over the last two hundred years, in the way the notorious Jewish libel The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were cobbled up out of conspiracy theories, crank letters, diatribes against non-Jews, and anything else ready to hand, bought sold and stolen by shadowy agents of governments and profiteers.
Near the book’s end, one of the character explains,
“We need an enemy to give people hope... You don’t love someone for your whole life... But you can hate someone for your whole life – provided he’s always there to keep your hatred alive.’’
So in mid-May we were treated to this interest episode of vomit from a Trump organ:
By David Horowitz, no less- the Right’s David Brock.
Who the someone is, really doesn’t matter. Just strike one group’s name and fill in another’s. In America, blacks have best served the purpose, but at times Asians, Jews, gays and women have been drafted. Recent academic studies find this in American politics:
In the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, support for President George W. Bush’s policies rose across every major political group. Richeson says previous studies show “strong and compelling evidence” for shifts to the right after a major trauma like a terrorist attack. But could even the threat of status change alone fuel the same fears?

“I kept hearing news outlets reporting on the impending shifting racial demographics of the country. I wondered whether even these seemingly benign reports of demographic changes in the U.S. might actually do the same,” Richeson told Sojourners.

Her findings, with Northwestern colleague Maureen A. Craig: Unaffiliated white Americans, including those with progressive, moderate, and conservative leanings, express more racial bias when confronted with news of a majority-minority future — and, in a further study, demonstrate a tendency to shift right on race-related policies.

A control group was given information on current U.S. demographics, while a test group was given census headlines using “majority-minority” language about the impending shift in racial demographics. White Americans who read about the demographic shift in California to a majority-minority state, for example, became more likely to endorse conservative race-related policies than those who did not — including among those who identify as moderate or progressive.

Richeson suggested this evidence of shifting political allegiances is a function of “social identity threat” — the idea, she said, that “if racial minorities increase in status, they are likely to reduce the influence of white Americans in society.”

Even more consequential: The role of social identity threat in shifts to the right isn’t limited to white Americans.

According to a forthcoming study, Richeson says, Asian and black Americans in a test group tended to endorse conservative race-related policy positions more after reading about the growing Hispanic population. Among Hispanics, race-related policy positions shifted left.
A UCLA professor, writing for The New York Times in April, found data underlining the issue: the more the GOP has played dog whistle politics with race, the more the distance between the parties has grown:
Writing in The Washington Post, Michael Tesler, a University of California, Irvine, political scientist, explained that because the growing partisan divide is partly fueled by racial attitudes, partisans (in Washington and in the electorate) also take increasingly opposite positions on many racially inflected controversies.

Some are political, like police misconduct. Others spill into areas we think of as more social than political, like sports, music and movies: about Academy Awards nominations, for example.

Democrats and Republicans like each other a lot less now than they did 60 years ago, in part because they have sorted into parties based on attitudes on race, religion and ethnicity. These attitudes and emotions have been activated in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Add to this the fact that the country is becoming less white and that nonwhites are disproportionately more likely to be Democrats, and an explanation for the anger emerges.
For a long time, racist views found safe harbor in both major parties; since the 1970s, however, the Republicans have, consistently, bid exclusively for racists’ favors, and won them.
When they weren’t actively seeking those voters, the GOP certainly wasn’t discouraging them from coming over, and the only price for admission was buying into the silent dog whistle code talk for what was, in changing times, no longer PC.
It takes a lot, these days, for a Republican to say anything so outrageously racist as to warrant even a reprimand; as the party has grown more tolerant and inclusive of such views, there has been less and less felt need for reprimands at all.
Montaigne famously wrote that no man is a hero to his butler, but Donald Trump’s butler, Anthony Senecal, has emerged as a hero to the Great Cheeto’s followers:
In [Facebook posts unearthed by Mother Jones magazine in May 2016], the former butler suggested that “our pus headed ‘president’” and “kenyan (sic) fraud” should be “hung for treason,” among other amiable entreaties.

After the Mother Jones story published, Senecal spoke to NBC’s Alexandra Jaffe. Given a chance to blame the posts on something out of his control (temporary insanity, drunkenness, brain damage caused by years of inhaling Trump’s hairspray), he instead doubled down. He expressed his anger at the hordes of Muslims he apparently believes are overrunning American cities and suggested they should all be “shot at the shore” instead of being allowed to immigrate. And just for good measure, he suggested Obama “should be hung from the portico of the White Mosque.”
In 2013, the Republican National Committee received a report on why the party lost the eminently winnable 2012 presidential election. This was a singular moment for the party- one of the sort that comes but infrequently for a political party. The last of its ilk was when the Democratic Leadership Council posited a new direction for Democrats in the 1990s.
Popularly known as “the autopsy”, the autopsy analyzed the GOP’s decades-long reliance on whiteness as the salient feature of its electoral appeal, and found it wanting.
The Republicans have frittered away four years in which they might have rediscovered what Karl Rove taught me forty years ago: just try not to give minorities so many reasons to vote against you. So they must run 2016 in their regular order: run up the white vote to dizzying, impossible levels.
And just as they have been turned into a more and more extreme party by their tolerance of waves of ever-more rightwing converts, now they must use ever more extreme racial rhetoric to scour the last voter out of the bottom of their barrel. George F. Will predicted where this course will lead, on Fox News Sunday, March 20:
Well, stylistically, Trump is in the George Wallace tradition. Wallace who famously said, there’s too much dignity in American politics. We have to have more meanness. Wallace got 46 electoral votes because he has a regional base. What makes Trump more interesting is he’s not a regional candidate. He has support all over the country, as he’s demonstrated.

The problem is this. Not only are his negatives 61 percent, almost doubled his positives, 32 percent, but he's appealing entirely to white people. Now, in 1988, George Herbert Walker Bush got 40 – 59 percent of the white vote, which was high. And that translated into 426 electoral votes. Mitt Romney, in 2012, got 59 percent of the white vote. That translated into 206 electoral votes. Romney got 17 percent, that’s all, of the non-white vote.

Trump, by every measure, would do worse than that, which means he would have to get not just the 65 percent of the white vote to win that Ronald Reagan got sweeping 49 states, he would have to get 70 percent of the white vote. A, it won't happen, and, B, it would destroy the Republican Party by making it the party of white people.
Wallace, of course, was cynical opportunist and a with-the-bark-off racist who was, in his best days, a marginalized figure in the Democratic Party. Republicans have thrown open the gates to Donald Trump. They rationalize his racism as victimization by American liberal elites. Ari Fleischer, the former Bush 2 press spox turned media meat puppet, dons a pair of metaphorical Carharts when he fumes that pointing out Trump’s race-baiting rhetoric is  “a Northeastern look down your nose at other people who are different …. That [criticism] is disdain for the voters.”
Left unexplained by Fleischer is how that critique has been adopted by so many Republicans.
In their fifty-year slow-dance with racism, there is a spectrum of expressions of racial and other group animus the Republicans have learned to deploy. American Muslims are open season. Hispanics are stuck between the no-man’s land of Teabagistan and the fantasy that because they are all Catholics and work hard, if illegally, they will vote Republican when they aren’t being deported or voter-suppressed.
Blacks used to be the subject of almost wholly dog-whistle talk, but one can hear the n-word rising in the gorge of the farther right wing of the party. Rick Santorum pulled a Blazing Saddles moment more than once in his 2015-16 campaign (“The new sheriff is a ni-”). The Black Lives Matter movement has playing into Republican central casting, filling the roles once assigned to the Black Panthers and, latterly, ACORN. Mitt Romney and his spox coined “urban voters” as a euphemism for why they lost.
Women and gays required more artful euphemisms to slag until Donald Trump blew the doors off the bus with his rhetoric. He has paved the way from dusting off the old Negroes in the bathroom rhetoric of the 1950s and ‘60s, retooled as “gays in the bathroom will give you AIDS” libels of the 1980s and ‘90s, to tarring transgender Americans as a fifth columnists of the public toilet, holding the door for perverts of every predilection.
In economic policy, Republicans have fallen prey to the old joke about French economists: everywhere else, economists form a theory, then wonder how it would work in fact. The French ones see a thing happening, and wonder how it would work in theory.
Thus did House Speaker Paul Ryan convene a conference on poverty in South Carolina the month of its Republican primary. Nothing came of it, but they talked about how it is a serious problem and something needs to be done about it.
Since then he has called for the repeal of the Obamacare requirement that insurers provide health coverage despite pre-existing conditions, and one of his house committees has called for elimination of all school lunch programs as a means of combatting the age-old GOP budget-balancer, “fraud, waste and abuse.” A member of his caucus, Rep. Crescent Hardy of Nevada, has since declared,
“I have three children. One of them is summa cum laude and two were magna cum laude. The other one, he didn’t need an education. He works for Raytheon, smarter than all the rest. He works hard, he builds things that are genius. Some people have that ability.”

“But they all work hard. They are raising their own families,” he continued. “They will not be a drain on society, the best they can. Hopefully they will never have some disability that causes them to have to utilize that.”
Doing something- pretty much anything- smacks into the Great Wall of Conservative Theory. Defense and war are the only things the nation can truly afford. Everything else? Well, if we all talk about opportunity, and creating incentives to work even harder, and delay any action long enough, business will create its own free market nirvana. As Brent Cebul wrote in The Hedgehog Review this spring, the current iteration of the opportunity economy looks like this:
Today, “hot desking” or “hoteling”—the use of flexible office space to enable a firm to employ more workers than its space would traditionally have maintained—is de rigueur, hardly worthy of the attention lavished on Chiat/Day nearly twenty-five years ago. Companies that now require some portion of their workforce to reserve space prior to arriving for work include Booz Allen Hamilton, American Express, GlaxoSmithKline, IBM, and the BBC. The US government became a hot-desker, too, when the General Services Administration assigned 3,400 workers to its updated headquarters, which had previously housed just 2,200. Internet start-ups Sharedesk and Zipcube even offer “sharing economy” desks and cubicles, making it possible for someone to work for one entity from the free space of another.

The casualization of the workplace has gone hand in hand with the rise of the precarious economy, characterized by flexible or temporary employment. “Precarious” workers cobble together a handful of assignments or contracts, working from home, coffee shops, or their car. According to one 2014 assessment, fifty-three million Americans do freelance work, including some 38 percent of millennials. In May 2015, the US Department of Commerce reported that the temporary services industry hit a record high, with 2.9 million Americans employed as temporary laborers or office workers. These workers join millions more who increasingly find their workspace transformed into liminal space.

White-collar office workers, too, more and more engage in piecemeal, project-oriented work. Many of these workers lack traditional office arrangements and, along with start-ups, have driven demand for coworking and collaboration spaces where freelancers or entrepreneurs pay a monthly fee for daily workspace. Often designed with a coffee shop or clubhouse feel, cowork spaces nevertheless require that members claim a new spot each morning and pack up their belongings each night. One estimate suggests that coworking membership may grow by 40 percent per year, passing one million by 2018. A survey of 2,700 coworking businesses found that 70 percent were struggling to keep up with demand, and 60 percent planned to expand.
For the less skilled, non-Creative Class types, the Republicans will bring back jobs. From somewhere overseas. Sometime in the future. Somewhere in America.
That will fix everything. But, straightjacketed into decades of rhetoric about no new taxes, slashing existing ones, privatizing- and thus completing the resegregation of- education, and drowning government in a bathtub, there are virtually no solutions available except ‘no’ and to keep insisting, like Dr Pangloss, that this truly is the best of all possible worlds. Or will be soon. As long as Republicans govern forever.
Some demographic and sociological studies indicate the GOP may well have some mileage left in race-pandering.  A recent set of studies at Northwestern University finds that,
Facing the prospect of racial minority groups becoming the overall majority in the United States leads White Americans to lean more toward the conservative end of the political spectrum, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
One of the studies found however, that such anxieties went away if the test information given to participants assured them that whites would remain more powerful and wealthy than any other racial group.
With Obama in the White House, such pitches- never much of a hill to climb- have been especially easy. Another recent study has found that
[M]oving from the least to the most resentful view of African Americans [in surveys analyzed] increases support for Trump by 44 points, those who think Obama is a Muslim (54 percent of all Republicans) are 24 points more favorable to Trump, and those who think the word "violent" describes Muslims extremely well are about 13 points more pro-Trump than those who think it doesn’t describe them well at all.

This compares with an 11-point difference between those who are most opposed to free trade deals and those who are most in favor, and a 23-point gap between those who think the economy had gotten much better and those who think it had gotten much worse in the previous year.

At best, one can argue that Trump supporters are much more negative about the direction of the economy over the past year, but even this opinion may not represent actual economic dissatisfaction. In the year before the survey was administered (January 2015 to January 2016), unemployment fell from 5.7 to 4.9 percent, real GDP grew by 2.4 percent, inflation was almost nonexistent (0.1 percent), and personal income increased by 4.4 percent. Perhaps the economy hasn’t been booming, but there seems to be little evidence to support the contention shared by more than half of all Republicans that the economy got worse during 2015.

More likely, as political scientist John Sides has pointed out, evaluations of the economy have become a proxy for partisan and political preferences. And to the extent that opinions about President Obama influence evaluations of the economy, opinions about him are themselves strongly tied to opinions about race, immigration, and religion.

Indeed, Obama embodies of each of these concerns for a large segment of Republicans. He is obviously African-American; as mentioned previously, more than half of all Republicans believe he is a Muslim; and finally, only 29 percent of Republicans think he was born in the US. Thus, it’s no surprise that, as the graph below shows, opinions about Obama are heavily influenced by levels of racial resentment.

Tomorrow: I, Trump

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