Tag Archives: new york times

On the media: buy the trash product

The Washington Post’s recent decision to adopt a new slogan – “Democracy Dies in Darkness” – captured a broader movement. Against ubiquitous complaints that virtually everything under the sun is “fake news,” many have sought to not only participate in and donate to causes more, but more routinely support supposedly high quality media. Here’s the problem: there isn’t any.

I can almost hear the shocked “-but but but but but!” Yes, you should still stay informed. As much as possible, you should still read or listen to free media, and even subsidize a local paper or two, as well as donate to public broadcasting. You need to be informed to act rationally, effectively, even safely in our increasingly volatile society.

That doesn’t mean chucking out your misgivings about the media. If anything, from prolonging your dives into the news, you should come back with even more. Just earlier this week, I decided to try to give, purported paragon of journalism, the New York Times yet another chance to win me over. They had put together a piece on an effort to account for government spending and its macroeconomic effects. Here’s a choice selection:

“When Mr. Ballmer retired as chief executive of Microsoft in 2014, he was only 57 and quickly realized ‘I don’t, quote, ‘have anything to do.” As he looked for a new endeavor — before he decided to buy the Clippers — his wife, Connie, encouraged him to help with some of her philanthropic efforts, an idea he initially rejected. […] Mr. Ballmer plans to make public a database and a report that he and a small army of economists, professors and other professionals have been assembling as part of a stealth start-up over the last three years called USAFacts. The database is perhaps the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments. […] Mr. Ballmer said he wanted the project to be completely apolitical. He has given money to candidates on both sides of the aisle.”

Let’s file this under landings not stuck. How does donating to one major political party and then the other somehow cancel out? Why would that leave you, rather than someone deeply entrenched in politics, a totally non-partisan, non-political seeker of truth? Why is the presumption that if you aren’t involved in elections you aren’t involved in politics? These aren’t debatable beliefs, but ones that speak to a particular isolation – from contempt for the political and electoral process, its collusions with other forms of institutional power, most blatantly with the power of money to bend ears and shape realities.

The reporting does improve from there, as Ballmer cites how the project changed political opinions he had before he started it, and the Times gently alludes to that being a political impact. Except, the New York Times wasn’t quoting him self-describing this as apolitical. They labeled him such and demonstrated it with a donation history. The confusion between non-partisan and apolitical was theirs, not his.

So one major political-minded newspaper has trouble not confusing their basic political concepts, but there’s gaggles of others who are sticklers for this sort of thing. One I suspect will soon become a household name is Clare Malone, senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight. Just yesterday, she corrected the grammar of another host on that site’s political-focused podcast.

But then again, the languages we speak are tools not physical laws – confusing socio-political concepts isn’t the same thing as confusing whether a pronoun should be nominative or oblique. In fact, she almost took pride in failing to pronounce the names of French candidates over the course of the episode, alluding to a similar pride in failing to pronounce French and Dutch in an earlier one as well.

This echoes, a bit less seriously, her advice to the Democratic Party after Trump’s minority coalition win – to talk less about the rights of people that others won’t be familiar with, namely transgender people. At the end of that day, is Malone informing the public with her commentary, or reassuring them that ignorance (whether about how to pronounce or foreign word or gender another person) is socially permissible? If her writing and media appearances are a product, what is their purpose? Its reflexive demonstration or defense of ignorance seems a far from something informative.

The conclusion that what the media is selling the vast majority of the time isn’t knowledge or useful analysis is fairly inescapable. Much of the time what’s being said rests on layers of puzzling semantic decisions and distinctions – often, all to make a point simply designed to be knocked down. Even when you don’t have to wade through those, what you ultimately yank out of the thicket of poorly conceived notions isn’t insight but an attempt at persuasion of (or worse, prostration to) an audience.

If the media is an industry, its product isn’t made of what it supposedly is, and it doesn’t do what it supposedly does. That sounds like almost any other industry in this country though, right? From food, to medical care, and even to learning what’s happening in the world, basic essentials that people need in this country are delivered by private industries that sell-up knockoff products and tightly cloister the parts that you actually need to live. You still need what they’re selling, at the end of the day, so you have to shop around, and buy the least toxic, most usable one you can find. You don’t have to like it. But, until things change, you have to do it.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Debunction Junction

Trigger warning: suicide, racism, classism

David Brooks’ New York Times column for today has already garnered a host of critical responses (most intriguing, in my opinion, this one about his casual equation of Sanders’ and Trump’s support). Let me just quickly hop into the fray to point out a particularly egregious falsehood he lazily propagated: that Trump’s support is being driven by class resentment.

As Brook’s put it:

This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century. This declinism intertwines with other horrible social statistics. The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high — a sure sign of rampant social isolation. A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows. Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it.

The pain he’s talking about there is admittedly as much social as it is economic, but in case the attribution of the Trump (and to a lesser extent Sanders’  too) insurgency to lower economic orders was missed, he spells it out later on – “I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own.”

To be frank, bullshit.

Brooks is a traveler in many circles, overwhelmingly ones that are urban and economically upwardly mobile, but several of them have been epicenters of Trumps ascendancy. Most of his time is in New York City, which Trump carried decisively and was the site of his original announcement that he would be campaigning for president. Brooks is also active at his alma mater the University of Chicago – another city with a Republican primary electorate that overwhelmingly opted support Trump.

Admittedly Brooks holds positions at Duke and a regular spot on the PBS News Hour taking him into the bubbles of moderate Republicans in Durham and Arlington respectively, but that those completely blinded him to the reality of Trump’s support in other places he works is utterly bizarre.

Brooks might claim that it’s a lower order element within New York and Chicago that he doesn’t associate with that support Trump, unlike his refined Republican colleagues. That is also, to be frank, bullshit. The Economist of all sources, a paper that you would expect to be invested in this type of narrative of deluded poor people supporting crypto-protectionism, has compiled data showing that Trump’s support is pretty evenly spread across income brackets but if anything skews slightly towards those with above median incomes.

trump income supporters

As I’ve noted here before, Trump’s support is complicated by region and class and a number of factors, but what appears the most consistent to me is that he appeals to people tired of being told to be nicer, to be better, to be respectful to people they don’t consider worthy of respect. That appeals to a lot of less well off people, sure, but most consistently to certain social not economic demographics. It resonates with White Southerns who have wanted vindication for decades. It resonates with conservative traditionalists outside of the South who live in more generally progressive areas and as a result encounter those messages fairly often.

Can Brooks not see that or does he just not want to?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Uncivil War

TW: “suicide” as a metaphor

So the federal government shutdown is now more than a week old, with seemingly no end in sight, and honestly, why should we expect there to be any such thing? As Ryan Lizza explained with liberal references to extremist Republicans as “suicidal” in the New York Times:

As with Meadows [the House member who popularized the idea of a shutdown], the other [pro-shutdown]-caucus members live in places where the national election results seem like an anomaly. Obama defeated Romney by four points nationally. But in the eighty suicide-caucus districts, Obama lost to Romney by an average of twenty-three points. The Republican members themselves did even better. In these eighty districts, the average margin of victory for the Republican candidate was thirty-four points.

In short, these eighty members represent an America where the population is getting whiter, where there are few major cities, where Obama lost the last election in a landslide, and where the Republican Party is becoming more dominant and more popular. Meanwhile, in national politics, each of these trends is actually reversed.

Lizza points to a less metaphorically troubling article but more condescending one by Charlie Cook at the National Journal, where he detailed the situation:

Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white share of the population fell from 69 percent to 64 percent, closely tracking the 5-point drop in the white share of the electorate measured by exit polls between 2004 and 2012. But after the post-census redistricting and the 2012 elections, the non-Hispanic white share of the average Republican House district jumped from 73 percent to 75 percent, and the average Democratic House district declined from 52 percent white to 51 percent white. In other words, while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.

As Congress has become more polarized along party lines, it’s become more racially polarized, too. In 2000, House Republicans represented 59 percent of all white U.S. residents and 40 percent of all nonwhite residents. But today, they represent 63 percent of all whites and just 38 percent of all nonwhites. In 2012 alone, Republicans lost 11.2 million constituents to Democrats (a consequence of not only the party’s loss of a net eight House seats but also the fact GOP districts had grown faster in the previous decade and needed to shed more population during redistricting). Of the 11.2 million people Republicans no longer represent, 6.6 million, or 59 percent, are minorities.

Now, if you had to come up with a word for this, gerrymander would probably be the first off of your tongue (and it was the first off of Cook’s and Lizza’s), but examine the racial politics here for a second longer – what Republicans have essentially created a distinctive portion of the country and now feel entitled to allow its politics to dictate the entire country’s. Or should I say countries’? Is this a bit of covert secession, complete with the expectation that comparatively urban as well as racially and regionally diverse populations will kowtow to rural, White, and predominantly Southern interests?


(The Republican-catering media knows what the Zeitgeist is for that part of the country, from here. And yes, Drudge used the 2008 electoral college map in a story from 2012.)

Much like before the first US Civil War, the interests and political solutions touted by different populations have been aligned with different political parties, different classes, and even different regions. For some time now, we’ve been in a time of divergence. The shutdown is just another installation of that, and it’s just the sort of thing that can’t “run its course”, because it has so much historical and political momentum.

In a very scary sense, that’s what might have begun now more than a week ago. The most extreme Republicans have fashioned a miniature country within the US of their own likeness out of odds and ends. With more and more people of color living in this country and more and more Whites at the least being less enthusiastic about this near-exclusively White political coalition, however, they’ve had to scribble together all sorts of unusual districts to make it work, for just 80 seats in the House.

The trade off there may be a part of our saving grace, since there’s no clear center of operations for a secessionist movement to coalesce around. Still, that seems to have been replaced with battle lines drawn through 32 states instead of between them.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Arabs: surprisingly non-identical

The New York Times has really suffered from some decline in recent years – look no further than Ben Hubbard and Rick Gladstone’s recent reporting on the developing crisis in Egypt. It’s rich in generalizations from the region to Egypt and from Egypt to the region. The real core of their point seems to have been:

It is clear that the region’s old status quo, dominated by imperious rulers who fixed elections, ruled by fiat and quashed dissent, has been fundamentally damaged, if not overthrown, in the three years since the outbreak of the uprisings optimistically known as the Arab Spring. […] What is unclear, however, is the replacement model. Most of the uprisings have devolved into bitter struggles, as a mix of political powers battle over the rules of participation, the relationship between the military and the government, the role of religion in public life and what it means to be a citizen, not a subject.

The strangeness to the article’s argument is underneath it’s waffling examination of the futility or effectiveness of the Arab Spring and its subsequent results. The odd framing of it rests in this way of considering the whole Arab world, which reduces it down into a singular political experience, an “Arab politics” of sorts. While dynamic in that it admits that political upheaval has happened, it creates a sense of profound continuity in that it presents the dysfunction found in several Arab states as a comparatively stagnant trait. Arab people are consequently in this view tied together and tied to the past century’s politics.

But are those assumptions warranted? As yesterday’s coverage by Egypt-based media outlets showed, Christian minorities in Egypt have played a very dynamic role in first tentatively supporting the revolution and now tentatively supporting the counter-revolution (in response to seemingly unorganized so far anti-Christian violence). This stands in contrast with the situation in Syria and Tunisia, actually, where Christians have respectively long had a much closer relationship with the state power structures for many decades and are a significantly smaller part of the population.

2013-08-15_1821
(Tunisia is the darkest green value with nearly exclusively Sunni Muslim population. Egypt is a notably lighter green with approximately 10 percent of its population being Christian. Syria has even larger non-Muslim minorities and is also, unlike Egypt’s and Syria’s, very divided between Sunni and Shia Muslim populations.)

In fact, Tunisia’s internal issues can be fairly easily summarized as being two overlapping conflicts – one over how to fix the ailing economy and another over what degree of islamist political influence is ideal. While economic issues are common to the region (and rooted largely in common difficulties with unemployment, rising utilities costs, and housing), the particulars of the religious population of those three Arab-majority nations is reflected in what social fault lines exist (both among Muslims and between them and other religious groups).

Properly understanding those unique aspects to various predominantly Arab countries is central to evaluating their different conflicts as well as built on a way of talking about the Arab world (which by most estimates is significantly larger than the United States in population) that doesn’t reduce it to a singular set of conditions. That’s what the New York Times did yesterday, however, and its readers understanding of what’s happening in all of those countries potentially suffered for it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Brooks and Cohen, peas in a pod

TW: racism, racist criminalization, islamophobia

It’s only been only two weeks since David Brooks’ staggering statements in the New York Times about the intelligence and “political DNA” of Egyptians (phrased vaguely enough to mean anyone Muslim or Arab, which is an incredibly broad insult). In a similar theme, Richard Cohen’s blathering insistence in the Washington Post (that I won’t link to) that George Zimmerman just couldn’t have known that Trayvon Martin wasn’t a criminal, since he was Black, is the sort of bigotry we simply shouldn’t pay to see in the papers (or provide ad revenue to online). Wonkette has a great summary of the article if you’re concerned that I’m misrepresenting its argument, which apparently Cohen has been parroting in one form or another for decades.


(The opening paragraph to Cohen’s piece is comparatively conciliatory, but still revealing. From here.)

The cast of This Week in Blackness has argued that it’s actually something good to have these unfortunately common sentiments made public, as a means of showing how racism has not been “solved”. While that’s obviously true, it seems important that this bigotry as a source of funds to the Post and as a rallying cry for bigots is still something to contest as acceptable for the Post to have publish. There’s a petition much like the (unsuccessful) one for Brooks to be fired, which I’m hoping the utterly unbelievable attitude Cohen’s displayed here might actually have repercussions for him.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

David Brooks isn’t good at his job

TW: islamophobia, abilism, violence against protesters

Sadly, that’s the inevitable conclusion of his column yesterday, which concerns the coup in Egypt. Now, while I’ve contributed myself to the various analyses on how the now deposed President Morsi effectively alienated just about every major political bloc in Egypt, I’ve been careful to state that this was a coup and that it does present a worrisome precedent (that the Egyptian military can veto democratic elections when leaders become unpopular). President Obama seems to have attempted to skirt the issue even more than me, with his policy declarations (that if elections aren’t quickly held, there will be ramifications) treating this as something like a potential coup, dependent on whether the military inhibits or facilitates further democratic representation.

Of course, that’s a rather binary way of thinking – that this is either a democratic reboot that’s liberating Egyptians from an increasingly unrepresentative and abusive government or a coup that risks undermining the revolutionary changes still underway in Egypt. Why can’t this be both? David Brooks, often considered to be the thoughtful conservative contrarian in the United States, doesn’t challenge that presumption that the events in Egypt are either one or the other. He actually opens the piece by saying:

Those who emphasize [the democratic political] process have said that the government of President Mohamed Morsi was freely elected and that its democratic support has been confirmed over and over. The most important thing, they say, is to protect the fragile democratic institutions and to oppose those who would destroy them through armed coup. […] Those who emphasize substance, on the other hand, argue that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are defined by certain beliefs. They reject pluralism, secular democracy and, to some degree, modernity. When you elect fanatics, they continue, you have not advanced democracy. You have empowered people who are going to wind up subverting democracy.

His position as a writer for the New York Times, I would hope, involves either informing people of what they don’t know or challenging them on what they already hold to be true. But from its outset, this column does neither. It works with well-reported information on Egypt, so it doesn’t provide much in the way of news, and it works with that established dichotomy of what could be considered to be happening in Egypt, so it avoids much in terms of useful analysis. The only purpose of this piece seems to be to confirm conventional thought: beginning with a very simplistic understanding of the coup.

The piece continues, however, and lends Brooks’ support to all sorts of common views of Muslims. He argues that it should be anyone and everyone’s goal to “weaken political Islam, by nearly any means” without assessing why political Islam is so powerful. The politically and demographically diverse countries he lists as having proven the failures of “political Islam” include Iran – which is something of an iconic example of how corrupt, undemocratic, but secular governments in predominantly Muslim areas have made Islamist politics seem attractive.

Opposition to “political Islam” by people like Brooks has taken “nearly any means” including in this case apparent military conflict. An alternative that works with well established populist notions of justice (as assorted Islamist movements have) and often seems to the average person more committed to peaceful conduct and representative government is going to attract more supporters.

Brooks has just embodied why Western efforts to “democratize” predominantly Muslim countries has failed – because it refuses to consider what democracy, justice, or liberation necessarily include from the perspective of average people in those nations, and often uses drone strikes, occupations, and other acts of violence. With distressing frequency, it’s people like Brooks who win out in terms of what governance in the Middle East or Mali or any other part of the Islamic world should look, and not the people who live under those governments.

Not content to leave it there, Brooks searches for the cause of this mismatch between his beliefs and theirs, ultimately reducing Muslims the world over to fanatics who have no concept of objective facts outside of their own opinions. He seeks out legitimacy for this position by quoting one Muslim at a pro-Morsi rally (one Muslim to speak for a nation of ) and in more depth the analysis of Adam Garfinkle, of the The American Interest. That’s, of course, a paper that our good friend Niall Ferguson often comments at, so you should anticipate a high level of critical thought there.

In any case, those radical views are according to Brooks the only viable political voices within civilian government in Egypt and potentially the whole Muslim world. Never mind whether Egyptians elected Morsi or someone similarly distasteful to Brooks, he can declare them “outside the democratic orbit” and therefore proclaim that a coup against them is justified and also not a coup (since its illegal for the US to provide foreign aid to governments which came to power through coups). Brooks has apparently declared that all civilian politics from an ill-defined region or social group are predisposed to making “democratic deliberations impossible” since they’re inevitably Islamists who “lack the mental equipment to govern”. Yes, Brooks just said that some unclear portion of the world’s population (Islamists? Middle Easterners? Muslims?) are too stupid for democratic government.

Of course, the government Brooks is glad is gone because it “cracked down on civil society” and “arrested opposition activists” was a civilian administration and therefore falls under his criticisms, but the military interim government which has already killed peaceful protesters is only “bloated and dysfunctional” with nary a mention of those and other violent acts, since they committed them while being secular. After all, Brooks and his audience know that Islamism is “the main threat to global peace” and therefore this isn’t even about the democratic processes Egyptians should feel entitled to participation within or even their basic rights to protest – it’s actually all about Brooks having the freedom and right to live in a world without politics influenced by Islamic beliefs.


(Islamist protesters in Egypt carrying another protester who had been shot by the military in Cairo earlier today, from here.)

When it takes quite a few more words to evaluate how a columnist failed to inform their readers about the world, take another look at how to piece together information, or even quite obviously made their coverage all about them, we have a problem. David Brooks is officially no longer providing a public good, and consequently should come under review by the New York Times for whether his abilist and islamophobic coverage is something they should really pay for.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How many ways are our media failing?

What’s happened to the media? Something, that’s for sure. Yesterday over at Velociriot!, the brilliant Sam gave us all the lowdown on just how idiotic the coverage of the Boston Bombings really was. Sadly, she make a good case that because “the entire country sought information about what had happened” the normal process of confirming information and general values of skepticism disintegrated. Islamophobic attitudes went wild because the normal process of filtering at least a good chunk of them out went out the window – whether we’re talking about print, televised, or online media. It’s the phenomenon that gave us a stampede to call Florida for Bush in 2000 on steroids, and with numerous information networks now competing to instantly inform their audiences, it’s only going to get worse.

Today over there, the equally insightful Amanda pointed to a success story of sorts, where the Associated Press’s twitter account was hacked but was quickly called out as such. As much hope as there is in this reminder that even US media consumers aren’t as docile as we might sometimes think, it’s also a warning. The conditions in which modern media operate in the US aren’t conducive to the best reporting, but there’s also the various risks still posed by those that want to deliberately spread false information (in this case, that the White House had been attacked – following last week’s bombings, the intent to cause panic seems pretty transparent).

Of course, any such conversation about efforts to intentionally misinform the public has to acknowledge that it’s not just criminals. Sometimes these attempts are openly admitted to, and with perfect legality. Look no further than the Koch brothers’ interest in buying up the newspaper market.


(Of course, News Corporation owner Robert Murdoch proves you can have a hand in both of those cookie jars at the same time, from here.)

In this day and age, we can’t afford to not be skeptical of everything. Remember that.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Not just what’s said but who’s saying it

TW: sexual assault, violence against protesters, political killings

There’s been a bit of a tussle developing in Egypt as Mohamed Morsi’s presidency especially has lost a lot of its luster and with it quite a bit of its legitimacy. If you seek out Egyptian sources, you’ll get a pretty vivid picture of what’s going on. Sharif Kouddous, although writing for the US-based Nation, pointed out that there’s a fundamental if slow-motion breakdown of law and order brewing, with even something as simple as violence between competing football teams’ fans ending with verdicts and political decisions that many deem unsatisfactory. Egypt is the on the brink, Kouddous essentially states with the piece’s title, because “legitimacy of the Egyptian state appears to be eroding even further” than it had under Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial rule.

The Egyptian media went reporting in Egypt and on Egypt really pounds out that feeling, with many sources quite openly suggesting that it looks like protesters are being executed, not accidentally killed. Besides those concerns, it’s quite clear that the organizers of Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, which tries to prevent sexual harassment throughout Cairo but particularly against protesters in Tahrir Square, see the Morsi-headed government as an opponent. Salma el-Tarzi, a spokesperson for the group, makes it quite clear in this interview that the physical intimidation and brutality against male protesters and journalists seems to be coordinated alongside the sexual harassment and assault of female protesters and journalists. Egyptian activist Mona Eltahawy, although currently living in New York, pointed out that even if we don’t believe the allegations that the government is perpetuating sexual assault as a weapon against female protesters, the government in general and Morsi in particular haven’t really explained that they have a plan to deal with the problem, let alone done anything.

So while the troubles of Egypt have been swept under the rug in much media coverage outside of the Arab world, what little peeks through sharply contrasts with Egyptians own words. Look no further than Colin Moynihan’s recent concerns over anarchist protests in Egypt – that’s the real problem over there, seems to be his argument. Nevermind that the Egyptians he quotes talk about how the anarchists are mimicking and seemingly mocking the government’s new security forces’ uniforms. He ends by quoting a few different Egyptians without context or explanation. One worries that the group might be infiltrated by government-backed counter-protesters, but Moynihan doesn’t address that what she’s really afraid of is government manipulation of this imagery, not the people currently using it. Another worries about how their appearance might hurt their fellow protesters, and again Moynihan doesn’t seem all the concerned about why she feels that this battle has such high stakes that protesters must be extremely careful in how they look.


(A Black Bloc protester in Egypt, from here.)

Apparently the real issue here are “scary” Egyptians in black clothing, because a White guy said so.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How do you have a civil war if you’re almost all on the same side?

There’s an interesting opinion piece by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times about the Republican Party’s current tribulations that’s been making the rounds over the past couple of days. It covers quite a few different issues, but it’s clearest points seem to be that the marketing subcontractors affiliated with the party are paid independently of their results and that the party’s base is divided between a mob of social conservatives resistant to any social change and a significant but smaller group of free market powerhouses. Sadly for Edsall, neither of these are particularly radical or new ideas. One trend of 2012 was the steadily growing obviousness of racketeering within the conservative movement and its chronic inability to hire the right people to send out its messages. Likewise, many others have been talking about a Republican “civil war” between a base that demands a loyalty to social policies that are politically toxic in general elections (particularly when the policies restrict women’s rights) and the smaller faction of moneyed interests within the party.

The idea that Republicans have potential allies who align with one of those blocs but not the other and they just have to figure out some new way of reaching out to them correctly seems pretty suspect when you actually look at how many conservatives analyze their own politics. They don’t view there as being a choice between support for economic policies that produce systemic class inequalities and support for a likely religiously-informed social conservatism. To them, those are the left and right hands of their politics – why bother lopping off one or the other? There are, of course, those who go even further and seem to view them as not only overlapping belief systems, but mutually supporting ones. For many modern conservatives, breaking with any part of that perceived socio-economic policy package is a breaking of a whole. It likely doesn’t matter to those people that they’ll still agree with the party when it comes to tax policy if they’re ignoring the social system surrounding the hope to install around that and other economic policies.

Beyond that sticky issue, there’s an implicit assumption that even if those present Republican voters stand by an exclusively fiscal-focused revamp of the party, there’s a significant number of other voters out there who will be enticed by the Republican message of tax cuts and ignoring growing economic disparities. That’s not even shown by the data Edsall uses in his own article:


(From Edsall’s New York Times opinion piece.)

The largest gaps between public perception of the Republican and Democratic parties are indeed over issues that are seen as primarily social in nature – the rights of women, queer, and genderqueer people. But the other major gaps all concern issues obviously concerning economic policy: assistance to the poor and tax policy. The issues on which Democrats have little lead or still trail Republicans in public perception are a mixed bag of social policies (firearms regulation), economic policies (handling the financial and energy industries), and ones that are a bit of both (immigration). The Democrats might have more strength on social issues, but the perception of them as ideologically more mainstream has both economic and social dimensions.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems easier to find myriad faults with this specific prediction of a coming Republican ‘civil war’ than to see its development.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

All this has happened before and will happen again…

TW: racism, hurricane-related damage, erasure of Black people from national narratives, erasure of Indigenous people, class warfare

Over at the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, who until recently was one of their main Europe-based correspondents, has written an intriguing (and free to read) take on the situation in New York following Hurricane Sandy’s destruction. In a nutshell, it’s a very meandering look at how this is, or at least should be, some sort of a wake-up call about the massive toll our national infrastructure is going to take over the coming years. Ultimately it concludes that the substantive investment required to make adjustments as the climate changes will only be available to the wealthy, namely in Manhattan. On the other hand, the working and middle class neighborhoods of Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and eventually even the Bronx will probably receive public assistance only to rebuild, rather than to retrofit for new sea levels.

The problem is of course that Kimmelman treats these facts as things that have only just now rudely erupted into the national discourse. But, it seems obvious that the low-lying coastal edges of New York would face chilling new risks as the climate changed and that assistance would be concentrated in the well-to-do neighborhoods when you think about it. After all, there’s already been an example of an almost identical series of events, just with more Black people involved.

New Orleans after the levies burst
(Apparently what New Orleans looked like when the levies broke after Katrina went down the memory hole. Originally from this article which discusses the way post-disaster investment was primarily directed at wealthier residential districts and business areas.)

I don’t want to pick on Kimmelman, but that is a pretty glaring omission. To his credit, he has done some really important and interesting reporting on issues that affect Black communities in various cultural contexts, but that’s precisely the problem: his coverage in both articles has treated the experiences of primarily Black individuals in isolation. He appears to be able to cover négritude or Katrina with sympathy and interest in the lives of Black people, but importantly he stops there. The reality of Blacks in France, in the US, or anywhere in the world are in these writings exclusively that – about Black people. They aren’t analyzed as part of the larger culture, perhaps because like many people still today Kimmelman might not think of Black people in those terms. Alternatively, Kimmelman might draw connections between primarily Black experiences and national events, but shy away from writing about it, fearing that his readers will reject any such article for treating Black people as part of the larger country.

Regardless of cause, the effect is that the national consciousness is bleached. The regrettable tragedies this year in New York and New Jersey eclipse the equally appalling devastation in 2005 in New Orleans. The former are something that affects the national consciousness of all Americans, while apparently the latter was a “niche” disaster. Just like the new hurdles imposed by climate change on economically disenfranchised Native American communities, apparently Katrina didn’t happen to “real” Americans.

Admittedly, Kimmelman does imply that there’s interplay between race and class, especially in the demographic distinction between Manhattan and the other boroughs. He does that with a single line in the recent piece, in which he noted,

That billions of dollars may end up being spent to protect businesses in Lower Manhattan while old, working-class communities on the waterfronts of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island most likely won’t get the same protection flies in the face of ideas about social justice, and about New York City, with its open-armed self-image as a capital of diversity.

In Kimmelman’s eyes, that appears to be the extent to which the way Black people and other people of color can contribute to this national realization of the dangerous interplay between inequality and climate: as additional flavor to the class war. And remember, if there’s not enough White people involved, it falls off the radar, so vague association is supposedly the best that people of color can hope for, at least from Kimmelman and those who think like him.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,