I want to pass on clips from a few recent commentaries on current dissonances in U.S. politics and governance. I've collected these as background material for a meeting of the 'Austin Rainbow Forum' - a group that meets on the first Sunday afternoon of each month to discuss current topics and ideas. The discussion this Sunday is titled "So we've had the election. Now what?" I'm hoping the discussion will focus on the underlying forces at play in determining our future style of governance.
John Edsall collects numerous quotes from writers describing the Christian nationalism that drove the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol:
...It includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious. Understood in this light, Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively ‘Christian’ from top to bottom — in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values and public policies — and it aims to keep it this way.
...a certain narrative about American history. In rough outline: America was founded as a Christian nation; the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians; the Nation’s laws and founding documents were indirectly based on “biblical” principles, or even directly inspired by God, Himself. America’s power and prosperity are due to its piety and obedience...Christian nationalists use a language of blood and apocalypse. They talk about blood conquest, blood sacrifice, and blood belonging, and also about cosmic battles between good and evil. The blood talk comes from the Old Testament; the apocalyptic talk from the Book of Revelation.
...as members of the Christian right have become angrier and more adversarial, some to the point of violence, their decline from dominant to marginal status has bred a provocative resentment that is serving to spur the very secularization processes that so infuriates them. If the evidence of the Capitol attack and its aftermath is any guide, this vicious circle does not bode well for the future.
Another column by Edsall presents ideas of several political scientists on why millions of Americans continue to actively participate in multiple conspiracy theories.
...nearly a fifth of American adults, 17 percent, believe that “a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics.” Almost a third “believe that voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election.” Even more, 39 percent, agree that “there is a deep state working to undermine President Trump.”...The spread of these beliefs has wrought havoc — as demonstrated by the Jan. 6 assault on Congress, as well as by the overwhelming support Republicans continue to offer to the former president.It is fascinating reading, and I like the evolutionary rationale provided by Van Prooijen, that:
...conspiracy theories evolved among ancestral humans to prepare for, and hence protect against, potentially hostile groups. What we saw here, I think was an evolutionary mismatch: some mental faculties evolved to cope effectively with an ancestral environment, yet we now live in a different, modern environment where these same mechanisms can lead to detrimental outcomes. In an ancestral world with regular tribal warfare and coalitional conflict, in many situations it could have been rational and even lifesaving to respond with violence to the threat of a different group conspiring against one’s own group. Now in our modern world these mechanisms may sometimes misfire, and lead people to use violence toward the very democratic institutions that were designed to help and protect them.Charles Blow does an Op-Ed piece on how population shifts mean more political might for relatively fewer people, with the influence of black people increasingly diminished:
...By 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30 percent will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent...If you think it has been hard to get this Senate to embrace policies like reparations or voting rights that stand to benefit Black people, imagine how much harder that task will be before a Senate that continues to tilt toward smaller states...Furthermore, a Pew demographic analysis has found that by 2065, Hispanics in America will nearly double the population of Black people, and Asians will overtake Black people as the nation’s second-largest minority...if Hispanics and Asians vote then the way they vote now — a third of each group voted for Trump — their combined votes for Republicans will eclipse the Black vote for Democrats.Goldstone and Turchin argue that the elites are committing three cardinal sins:
First, faced with a surge of labor that dampens growth in wages and productivity, elites seek to take a larger portion of economic gains for themselves, driving up inequality. Second, facing greater competition for elite wealth and status, they tighten up the path to mobility to favor themselves and their progeny. For example, in an increasingly meritocratic society, elites could keep places at top universities limited and raise the entry requirements and costs in ways that favor the children of those who had already succeeded...Third, anxious to hold on to their rising fortunes, they do all they can to resist taxation of their wealth and profits, even if that means starving the government of needed revenues, leading to decaying infrastructure, declining public services and fast-rising government debts....Such selfish elites lead the way to revolutions. They create simmering conditions of greater inequality and declining effectiveness of, and respect for, government.
An interview of Sen. Rob Portman by Steve Hayes has comments on the role of the media in making it hard to get things done in Washington:
...the media plays a big role in this. I have a hard time; I do a press call every week, and I get through my 15 minutes of talking about all the policy things we’ve done, and usually I’ve got two or three bills I’ve either gotten introduced or gotten passed into law in a week. And they don’t care. Their questions are all about Donald Trump, and all about putting me on the spot between the Republican Party and Donald Trump. I mean, honestly, that’s been our pattern for the last four years, is that we’re talking about substantive policy, and the media only wants to talk about the latest Trump tweet and how to put me in a tight spot...I don’t have an answer to it in terms of the business model; I do have an answer to it in terms of journalism school or wherever people learn how to be a reporter or an editorial writer, is that there is an accountability here that ought to go with the media, that they’re accountable for actually helping to correct this problem by actually reporting on policy, and who is doing what. This year I’m the fourth-most bipartisan member, last time I was the second-most bipartisan member—no one in Ohio knows that, because no media will report it, because that’s not considered interesting or good, I guess.
I also point back to Monday's post describing an article by Zuboff that argues that we can have democracy, or we can have a surveillance society, but we cannot have both.
And finally, to end on a less pessimistic note, I point to David Brooks' column "The Case for Biden Optimism"