Tag Archives: republicans

The Death of Truth rings true

real enemy tweet

Michiko Kakutani’s book, The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump, is the second-best Trump book I’ve read, second to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power, more trenchant than Jonathan Weisman’s (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in the Age of Trump, and infinitely less completely wrong than Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy (review essay). Those are the only ones I’ve read (open to suggestions).

Kakutani is a great writer, and this little book of 11 chapters in 170 small pages flies by. Since she left the New York Times, where she was book critic for many years, her Twitter feed has been a chronology of political crisis and social decay under Trump; reading it all together induces anxiety at the pace and scale of the descent, but also, surprisingly, some optimism that the situation remains decipherable with the tools of intellectual incision that Kakutani wields so well. With lots of good reviews out there, I’ll just briefly point out some things I appreciated.

Kakutani does the disturbing relevant history without histrionics. So there’s Hannah Arendt and Margaret Atwood, Adolf Hitler and Richard Hofstadter, George Orwell and Aldus Huxley, but not with facile linkages and great leaps. Also, she delves into postmodernism and its influences, but doesn’t simplistically blame postmodernism for creating the “post-truth” world (which rightfully concerns Andrew Perrin); rather she acknowledges the cynical uses to which its language may be put, including among some of its proponents, without the casual lumping of Foucault, Baudrillard, Derrida, and “multiculturalism” or “relativism,” etc., that you see so often. (One thing you know about Kakutani is that she reads a lot.) Although leftist anti-science attitudes play a role in her story (along with anti-institutionalism generally, anti-vaxxers, and so on), she has no interest in the false equivalency that, for example, blames all kinds of identity politics for injecting subjectivism into politics (the way Goldberg does so absurdly), or puts campus no-platforming on the same plane as the Iraq war.

This is an early first pass at a history of the moment, and Kakutani’s wide reading of relevant history connects tightly with the today’s news from Putin’s Russia to Wikileaks, fake news and Cambridge Analytica, to the “culture wars” debates, the “me generation” and today’s information silos, to political polarization, and the siege of journalism. You may as well read it in one sitting.

One good example: In my essay on Goldberg (now updated) I noted that he falsely described Lee Atwater’s maxim, “perception is reality” as “a cliché of the left.” I was glad to see Kakutani bring that up, in the proper context, because it is a moment that still matters. The contrast between their descriptions is telling, so I’ll lay it down here.

Goldberg writes:

“It is a cliché of the left to say that, ‘perception is reality.’ Well, the perceived reality for millions of white, Christian Americans is that their institutional shelters, personal and national, are being razed one by one. They do not like the alternatives they are being offered. Some fraction may indeed be racists, homophobes, or Islamaphobes, but most simply don’t like what they are being offered because they do not know it or because they do know it but prefer what they perceive to be theirs. And yet people like Sanders insist that resistance to their program is not just wrong but evil. The grave danger, already materializing, is that whites and Christians respond to this bigotry and create their own tribal identity politics.”

Goldberg falsely attributes the “perception is reality” approach to the left, then blames the left for making whites into racists. (With anti-Trumpists like these progressives don’t need enemies.) An accurate reading of that history in its proper context links today’s “perceived reality” to Atwater and the GOP itself, to decades of racist propaganda which the GOP generated and then gleefully weaponized. Here’s Kakutani:

“When the Republican strategist Lee Atwater observed in the 1980s that ‘perception is reality,’ he was bluntly articulating an insight about human psychology that Homer well knew when he immortalized Odysseus as a wily trickster, adept at deception and disguise. But Atwater’s cold-blooded use of that precept in using wedge issues to advance the GOP’s southern strategy – and to create the infamous Willie Horton ad in the 1988 presidential campaign – injected mainstream American politics with an alarming strain of win-at-all-costs Machiavellianism using mass media as a delivery system.” (p. 79)

My historical quibble is in the brief handling of China, where Kakutani includes Mao along with Hitler in the Orwell section on the co-optation of language. The Hitler material is excellent, and ties in well with Putin and then Trump’s big lies. But Mao’s “plan of linguistic engineering” does not fit that pattern. China was mostly illiterate, there was no mass media, and the state that was so forcefully imposing fixed terms and meanings, with simple slogans, was also expanding basic education to hundreds of millions of people, and literally reformed the language to make it more accessible, a change that still pays dividends. No need to spare China the criticism, but the early socialist years doesn’t belong in the category as advanced capitalist countries using the tools of fascism against their own democracies.

How bad is it? If Brave New World was warning us about capitalism, and 1984 was warning us about Soviet communism, as Kakutani has it, then it’s ironic that we’re now speeding toward a 1984 scenario even as the capitalist Russian kleptocracy literally parades around the White House (details on Putin’s upcoming visit to be determined). So, it’s bad. (Her conclusion, that only journalism and education can save us, is mercifully brief.) Every week is a crazy unprecedented crisis. Kakutani’s ability to get it down to an organized, linear narrative, with carefully chosen, relevant facts, makes The Death of Truth bracing and clarifying, and well worth a read.

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Trump’s manhandling

The Internet is full of hate, but it’s not random hate.

Some Trump supporters like to yell “Sig Heil!” and, “Light the motherfucker on fire!” at Black protesters, but not that many of them, so that’s not it. His people are younger, less educated, and less Evangelical than the typical Republican primary voter. But what motivates them besides, presumably, racism? It’s not necessary, or really possible, to answer whether Trump is a true fascist in a literal sense, but what he brings out is a mix of racism, nationalism, and masculinity that has something in common with the old fascisms (and here I’m influenced by some old work I read by George Mosse, which I can’t really vouch for, as I haven’t kept up with the masculinity/fascism literature).

This is salient in the U.S., of course, where racism, nationalism, and masculinity are three peas in a pod (see lynching, etc.). Anyway, this came home a little during last night’s Republic primary debate.

After Bush attacked Trump for his lack of foreign policy knowledge and said he was “not a serious kind of candidate,” Trump lashed out (transcript here):

Look, the problem is we need toughness. Honestly, I think Jeb is a very nice person. He’s a very nice person. But we need tough people. We need toughness. We need intelligence and we need tough. Jeb said when they come across the southern border they come as an “act of love.”

That is true, by the way. In another era – early 2014 – when Bush said this about some immigrants:

Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.

But what struck me was the repetition of “tough” and it’s juxtaposition with “love.” The contempt with which Trump said it, obviously a prepared line. After they got done interrupting each other, Trump continued:

We need a toughness. We need strength. We’re not respected, you know, as a nation anymore. We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker and just disintegrate.

trump-bush-debate This is a line of attack Trump has used against both Bush and Hillary Clinton before. This is from a couple weeks ago:

“They only understand strength,” Mr. Trump said [about people the president has to deal with]. “They don’t understand weakness. Somebody like Jeb, and others that are running against me — and by the way, Hillary is another one. I mean, Hillary is a person who doesn’t have the strength or the stamina, in my opinion, to be president. She doesn’t have strength or stamina. She’s not a strong enough person to be president.”

Trump’s tone and the masculinist references to toughness (and strength, and stamina*), as opposed to love, prompted me to tweet this:

It seemed he was saying it without saying it. Weak, not tough, lovey-dovey — gay. Am I reaching? A number of my Twitter readers seemed to agree. But then, after a little while, the Tweet started to get liked and retweeted by a bunch of Trump supporters, including some far-right, racist and nativist types, like these:

ttwit1

ttwit2

One of the responses I got from this Obama hating guy was a picture created by the Patriot Retort, a site that mocks Bush for his pro-Latino rhetoric and use of Spanish:

forrestbush

Forrest Gump was not gay, but I don’t have to try to hard to connect this dig to homophobia, because Patriot Retort has this on the same page:

Bush-Unveils-Campaign-Logo

Anyway, I could go on following this trail, but you get the point: they want Trump to call him gay. 

New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza Tweeted this clip from Back to the Future, in which bully Biff tortures George McFly, which he said the Trump-Bush interaction called to mind:

eqrkq

You don’t have to be gay (George McFly wasn’t) to be tarred with the not-masculine brush, of course. It’s a series of associations. And in the Trump situation, they’re really blooming.

* Note: Trump’s recent medical report specifically stated his “strength and stamina are extraordinary.”)

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Are 50% of college graduates unemployed or underemployed?

House Republicans yesterday held a “press conference” (less than 11 minutes) in which I heard two crazy statistics. Each quote is paired with the unidentified Republican Congresswoman who said it:

congresswoman1

Recent college grads still are having a very difficult time finding a job. In fact their unemployment is nearly 25%.

congresswoman2

Today 50% of college graduates can’t find a job or are underemployed, that’s one in every two graduates.

The first one is just completely wrong. The second one may be just completely misleading (except insofar as 50% is one in two).

I doubt it, but it’s possible they were referring to this paper by Thomas Spreen in the February Monthly Labor Review. Spreen used data from the 2007-2011 October CPS surveys. That’s the month the CPS collects education information in detail, and he calculated the unemployment rates for people who had graduated colleges in the same calendar year. The rates were very high, and did at one point – for men only, in 2009 – reach more than 25%, as shown here:

colgradunemp-bls

By 2011 it fell to 16% for men and 11% for women. We should interpret these number cautiously, however, as they are based on quite small samples. According to Spreen, in 2011 the October CPS only included 440 people ages 20-29 who completed their BA degrees that year. Figure about 200 of them were men, and you’re talking about roughly 30 unemployed male recent college graduates. Granted 2009 was the worst year so a spike is plausible, you still need to put a pretty wide confidence interval around that number.

Anyway, because the Republicans used this phrase “or are underemployed,” which is not in the Spreen paper, I suspect the source of these talking points was this 13-month-old AP story, titled “Half of recent college grads underemployed or jobless, analysis says,” or some other version of it. “Underemployed” here means working at a job that doesn’t require a college degree. The number “unemployed” is not given. Those are two pretty different things and should probably never be combined. But Jordan Weissman at The Atlantic, trying to read between the lines, wrote,

Unfortunately, I don’t have all of the data the AP was working with. But their analysis implies that about a quarter of the post-collegiate population is outright unemployed.

That’s not crazy if you were writing about just men for 2009 (and remember most college graduates are women), but Weissman was writing in 2012 about 2011. He might not have all the data the AP had, but he – and you – have what we need to check unemployment rates using the IPUMS CPS data extractor. That will give you March CPS survey data (not the October survey, which identified graduates in the last year, but good for ballparking). It’s pretty easy:

Choose “Analyze data online,” then “Analyze all March samples 1962-2012,” then fill out your table request. Based on the definition given of “recent” college graduates as people under age 25 with a BA, this is what I did:

colgradunemp-codes

That gives me employment status, by sex, for years 1993-2012, among people with BA degree (no more, no less), age 15-24 (hardly any are under 20), who are not currently attending school. Here are the percentages unemployed from that:

colgradunempOkay, so nowhere near 25% unemployed. The worst it was for men was 10.9% in 2012, for women 6.4%. (And note these are based on samples of more than 500 men and 800 women in recent years.) Shockingly high unemployment for college graduates, of course. And it’s interesting that it’s higher for those who graduated within the last few months (what the MLR paper showed) than it is for those who graduated sometime within the last few years (the under-25 grouping I used).

The underemployment thing may be important, but there’s not enough information here to evaluate it.

Listening to the press conference on the radio, I naïvely expected one of the reporters to ask, “Excuse me, did you just say the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 25%?”

Anyway, thanks for listening.

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I hope Charles Murray’s gay friends also have some better friends

Charles Murray still thinks legalizing homogamy is a “dangerous thing in a philosophical sense,” although he acknowledges that the political train has “left the station” and urges Republicans to stop fighting it for practical reasons.

charles-murray

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he described his “number of gay and lesbian friends” and how they surprised the social scientist in him by being not just responsible parents, but “excruciatingly responsible parents” (See, “some of my best friends are…” and “aren’t gays hilariously fastidious?”)

But Murray’s gay friends should beware, because when he is acting as an (alleged) social scientist, he’s not so kind. In a section of his book Coming Apart that has received disappointingly little attention, he wrote:

I am predicting that over the next few decades advances in evolutionary psychology are going to be conjoined with advances in genetic understanding, leading to a scientific consensus that goes something like this: There are genetic reasons, rooted in the mechanisms of human evolution, why little boys who grow up in neighborhoods without married fathers tend to reach adolescence not socialized to the norms of behavior that they will need to stay out of prison and to hold jobs. The same reasons explain why child abuse is, and always will be, concentrated among family structures in which the live-in male is not the married biological father. The same reasons explain why society’s attempts to compensate for the lack of married biological fathers don’t work and will never work.

There is no reason to be frightened of such knowledge. We will still be able to acknowledge that many single women do a wonderful job of raising their children. Social democrats may be able to design some outside interventions that do some good. But they will have to stop claiming that the traditional family is just one of many equally valid alternatives. They will have to acknowledge that the traditional family plays a special, indispensable role in human flourishing and that social policy must be based on truth.

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