Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Closing of the Republican Mind

It is almost humorous nowadays to hear Republican "friends" describe me as a liberal.  Actually, by most standards other than those of today's Republican Party, I am not.  I still believe in fiscal conservatism, responsible government and judicious use of America's military power.  Pretty much the same things my parents and grandparents believed in.  Where I run afoul of today's GOP is that I believe in the Gospel message of caring for the poor, feeding the hungry and that all citizens are entitled to access to healthcare (the irony is that while I believe in this part of the Gospel message, I do not even see myself as Christian if it means being equated with the Christofascists). I also believe that constitutional and civil rights extend to all people, gay or straight, black or white, Christian or non-Christian - not just white conservative Christians.  My belief in the power of knowledge and science also disqualifies me from being a Republican given the party's enthusiastic embrace of ignorance.  A column in the New York Times looks at the descent of the GOP into something unrecognizable from even 30 years ago where education and intellect are abhorred.  Here are highlights:
The election of President Trump has coincided with a reaction among Republican voters against open-mindedness, open borders and an open society in general — not to mention a growing hostility to cognitive elites.
Take a recent survey showing a fundamental shift in the attitude of Republicans toward the value of higher education.
Between 2010 and 2017, the Pew Research Center asked voters whether colleges and universities have a positive or negative effect “on the way things are going in the country.”
From 2010 to 2015, solid majorities of Republicans and Democrats agreed that institutions of higher learning had a positive effect on America. In 2010, Republicans were 58-32 positive and Democrats 65-22. For Democrats, this pattern grew stronger over time, reaching 72-19 in the most recent polling in June.
That was not the case for Republicans, who flipped from positive to negative on college education.
In a survey that was conducted from Aug. 23 to Sept. 2, 2016 — a month after Trump accepted his party’s nomination — Republicans’ positive assessment of colleges and universities fell to 43 percent, while negative assessments rose to 45 percent. By June of this year, 58 percent of Republicans had a negative view of higher education and 36 percent a positive view.
Wariness toward homegrown cognitive elites now parallels suspicion of foreign-born entrepreneurs, including those who generate jobs and wealth for Americans.
On July 10, the Department of Homeland Security proposed the dismantling of a federal regulation that would have encouraged more entrepreneurs to build start-ups and to finance high-tech ventures in the United States.
[T]he International Entrepreneurship Rule infuriated the high-tech industry. Bobby Franklin, the president and C.E.O. of the National Venture Capital Association declared in a statement:
At a time when countries around the world are doing all they can to attract and retain talented individuals to come to their shores to build and grow innovative companies, the Trump Administration is signaling its intent to do the exact opposite.
Trump did not campaign against economic elites. Instead, he built a fire under animosity toward what has been called “the creative class” by Richard Florida, the demographer; the “plutonomy” by three analysts at Citigroup; and the “cosmopolitan class” by Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale.
In recent decades, this class has become increasingly influential in setting cultural standards and in shaping contemporary values. Its success has provoked deepening resentment, to say the least.
Simon Kuper, in a May Financial Times essay, captured the sources of this resentment among the less well educated:
Picture a coffee shop in a big city almost anywhere on earth. It is filled with stylish, firm-bodied people aged under 50 drinking $5 coffees. Fresh from yoga class, they are reading New Yorker magazine articles about inequality before returning to their tiny $1.5 million apartments. This is the cultural elite.
Trump, Kuper explains, labels this constituency:
“the elite” but not all class members are rich. Adjunct professors, NGO workers and unemployed screenwriters belong alongside Mark Zuckerberg. Rather, what defines the cultural elite is education. Most of its members went to brand-name universities, and consider themselves deserving rather than entitled. They believe in facts and experts.
Richard Florida, in an email to me, was harsh in his assessment of consequences of the current anti-elite reaction:
The United States is the first advanced nation since Japan and Germany during World War II to turn its back on progress and liberalism.
In doing so, the United States threatens its status as “the most innovative, most knowledge driven, most powerful nation on earth,” according to Florida:
The political backlash from this divide can kill us. It is the only thing that can hold back our cities and stop talented and ambitious people from coming here.
One of the more interesting findings that came out of the 2016 election in the United States — a finding that reinforces Goodhart’s thesis — is that voters who never left, or remain close to, their hometowns tended to vote for Trump, while those who moved away were inclined to support Hillary Clinton. Those who choose to leave such communities and find their fortune elsewhere are, in Stimson’s view, ambitious and confident in their abilities. Those who are fearful, conservative, in the social sense, and lack ambition stay and accept decline.
Given that, Stimson says:
I don’t see them as once proud workers, now dispossessed, but rather as people of limited ambition who might have sought better opportunity elsewhere and did not. I see their social problems more as explanations of why they didn’t seek out opportunity when they might have than as the result of lost employment.
Stimson then poses another question: “Should the Democratic Party cater to these voters?” His answer is an unequivocal no:
The [rural] working class was once mainstream America, the most common and typical of all of us. It is now the residue of failed social mobility, when most have been mobile. After decades of social mobility, that residue is now more distinctive, it is those who are not willing to grab the ring, but rather to remain in the hometown and fear change and others. These people should be Trump voters.
While Stimson’s analysis is harsh — criticizing as it does many hardworking men and women whose loyalties to family, friend, community and church may supersede personal ambition — he captures a crucial element of contemporary politics. This is the potential of an angry electorate to provide a key base of support to a politician like Trump who capitalizes on resentment, intensifies racial and ethnic hostility and lies with abandon as a means to his ends.
If Democrats have one thing to be grateful for, it’s Trump’s failure to live up to his campaign promises on health care and taxes, at least so far.
In practice, Trump is going in the opposite direction, pressing for a radical alteration of health care policy that directly conflicts with the interests of millions of his supporters, and for legislation catering to the demands of the wealthiest Republicans for reduced tax burdens.
Trump promised at least five times during the campaign that he would not cut Medicaid. These promises included a tweet on May 7, 2015:
I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me.
Democrats, then, have both demographic trends and Trump’s abandonment (for now) of the moderate and lower income wing of his coalition to boost their prospects in 2020 — and perhaps in the 2018 midterms.
American politics has become fluid and volatile. Income differences have been supplanted by cultural and social practices closely linked to levels of educational attainment. Political partisanship is now firmly linked to race, with whiteness defining one of the two major political parties. Religiosity has taken on new meaning — if one can call it that — with devout churchgoers supporting an avowed libertine. The question that remains is whether President Trump can continue to exploit the fissures he opened as candidate Trump. The answers history provides are not altogether reassuring.

Note the comparison to the rejection of knowledge and education in Germany and Japan during  WWII.  Dictatorships and reactionary regimes need an ignorant and resentful population to take root and thrive.  Trump has found this base among the basket of deplorables that Hillary Clinton aptly, if not diplomatically, described. I very much fear for this country if the majority does not wake up and defeat this embrace of ignorance and bigotry.

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