Sunday, May 15, 2016

Douthat on what bigots can teach us

Mayor Sadiq Khan of London (newly elected in the "biggest individual mandate in British history") poses for a selfie in a lovely, typical London crowd. Photo by Daily Mail
In what seems to be a kind of collateral damage from the Trump campaign, Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street, has really gone full troll; there was that crazed column a few weeks ago where he urged us to pay more attention to neo-reactionaries, monarchists, Falangists, and advocates of Empire (cafeteria-style, just picking up on the good ideas and leaving the anti-Semitism in the steam table), and today he's giving us the generalized version, "When the Wrong are Right".

It's all about those Trump voters, of course; the undereducated, underemployed white working class. Douthat accepts the conventional wisdom that those are the people putting Trump ahead in the Republican primary contest, and accepts the premise that they are a bunch of racial bigots, and then asks:
What happens if the bigoted sometimes get things right?
I'd guess for those questions on which bigots are generally right, non-bigots tend to be right too, so that the bigoted view isn't that important. It doesn't make much sense to imagine questions where you'd only be able to get a correct answer from a bigot in the dictionary sense, that is from a
person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially :  one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
since he or she, being unreasonably prejudiced by definition, is clearly less likely to be right on any particular point where others are wrong than a non-bigot, whose mind is subject to change in the face of evidence. How do you like that Jesuitical logic, Ross?

A question that needs to be re-addressed here is whether the Trump voters really are more or less equivalent to the undereducated, underemployed white working class at all, which a lot of us including me seem to have tacitly accepted without wondering if there's any evidence for it; because Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has done some modeling from exit poll data that calls it into question:
As compared with most Americans, Trump’s voters are better off. The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.
(With some local variation: in particular, Clinton voters were pretty much as well off as or better than Trump voters in five of the six states with the highest incomes.) And
although about 44 percent of Trump supporters have college degrees, according to exit polls — lower than the 50 percent for Cruz supporters or 64 percent for Kasich supporters — that’s still higher than the 33 percent of non-Hispanic white adults, or the 29 percent of American adults overall, who have at least a bachelor’s degree.
(Unfortunately the poll reports don't allow you to compare Democrats against Republicans on education parameters.)

So I seem to have been partly wrong about middle-aged Beavis and Butt-Head, who are not especially drugged and suicidal but do plan to Make America Great Again. I'm not intolerantly devoted to my own opinions, speaking of changing your mind in the face of evidence, I can live with that.

Republican voters generally have higher incomes than Democratic voters overall, and voters overall are better off and better educated than non-voters; it is starting to turn out clearer than ever that the crucial element within the white working class we hear so much about is the ones who are too cynical to vote, and that's what's the matter with Kansas, Mr. Frank—poor white folk not so much voting against their own economic interests as staying home:
even Democratic turnout tends to skew slightly toward a wealthier electorate, somewhat validating Sanders’s claim that “poor people don’t vote.” 
So, Ross:

On the one hand there are liberals determined to regard Trumpism as almost exclusively motivated by racial and cultural resentments, with few legitimate economic grievances complicating the morality play. From this perspective, the fact that Trump’s G.O.P. has finally consolidated, say, a once-Democratic area like Appalachia is almost a welcome relief: At last all the white racists are safely in the other party, and we don’t have to cater to them anymore.
On the other hand, there are left-wingers who regard Trump’s support among erstwhile Democrats as a sign that liberalism has badly failed some of its natural constituents, and who fear that a Democratic coalition that easily crushes Trump without much white working-class support will simply write off their struggles as no more than the backward and bigoted deserve.
I like how the left-wing gadfly Fredrik deBoer framed this issue...
("The left-wing gadfly"! Fruit, one imagines, of an email appeal: "Dear Freddie, I'm planning to reference you in a column; let me know what Homeric epithet you'd prefer.")

The link in the first paragraph, a piece by Matt Yglesias riffing off those Nate Silver findings, is pretty much correct: Trump voters are indeed not suffering all that much economically, though they're not doing as well as the Kasich voters who have more in common with Ross's own brand of Republicanism, and racial resentment, the fear that the much poorer minority members could catch up with them with all the "free stuff" Democrats supposedly want to give them, is indeed a factor in their support for Trump. I don't know what Douthat thought he was reading when he failed to see that there are real numbers in use in this argument.

The link in the second paragraph, to a post by Connor Kilpatrick at Jacobin, is utterly misinterpreted, in that it's not about Trump support at all, but Sanders support among the white working class and West Virginia in particular. It's denying that poor white people back Trump as a group, and in that sense pretty much compatible with Yglesias.

As for Dr. deBoer, I in contrast do not much like the way he framed the issue—
what do you owe to people who are guilty of being wrong?
—which strikes me as stupidly tendentious. DeBoer, who is unable to let an accusation of racism or sexism pass without feeling that it has somehow been directed at him, though he is neither undereducated nor underemployed anyway, does believe, just like Ross, in the mythology of Trump support as an expression of white sadness and despair, and laments its cruelty:
I am here asking that we consider whether we want to adopt the basic logic of conservatism: that some people’s distress is deserved and thus safely ignored. Because that is the inevitable consequence of thinking like Krugman.
#WhiteLivesMatter! No it isn't. I think the liberal position is very clear, that racists deserve universal health care, jobs and unemployment protection where there are no jobs, a secure retirement, and voting rights, just like everybody else. And respect, but not special respect as if their sufferings were unique in the sense that we refer to the history of racial enslavement or the Holocaust as unique. There's one thing I certainly don't owe those who are wrong: I don't have to pretend they might be right.

Which leaves what, from the Monsignor's column? All those cases of where we can learn from the bigots (all the more, I guess, now that they turn out not to be poor people)!

1. Bigots were right about the 1960s crime wave:

For decades following the 1960s, liberals insisted that the Republican Party’s tough-on-crime rhetoric wasn’t really about crime at all; it was a barely coded appeal to racists.... Tough-on-crime rhetoric did indeed play on racial fears; lots of white bigots did vote for law-and-order Republicans. But the rhetoric also played on fears of the actual immense crime wave sweeping the United States, a wave that liberal governance failed miserably to arrest or roll back.
"It's true that bigot rhetoric often appealed to imaginary fears, but it often appealed to real fears as well." Actually, I happen to have decades following the 1960s right here with me, and it turns out while there wasn't a whole lot of liberal governance from 1968 through 1992, crime mostly declined the whole time (except the number of murders of black people and of violent women criminals went up throughout the 1980s, what was that about?), and then began declining more sharply for all categories after the 1992 elections, leveling out a bit after 2000. You're making it too easy, Ross!

I certainly don't recall liberals ever denying that crime was a problem in those days, either, or that the people affected were disproportionately black, victims and perpetrators alike. The liberal line was that crime needed to be fought above all by the alleviation of poverty and discrimination, and rehabilitative efforts for convicts and parolees, while conservatives insisted that nothing would help except making the punishments more and more severe: you couldn't make criminals into good people, you could only frighten them into obeying. The conservative approach was premised on the idea that criminals were criminal inherently, as well as black—it was bigoted all the way.

And then no matter who was president the liberal approach was never really tried out anyway; you could argue that the conservative approach really worked, if you wanted to, but not that the liberal one failed. Besides the current bipartisan consensus appears to be that the approach of the Reagan and Clinton years was indeed too harsh. History has judged you wrong, Monsignor.

2. Bigots are right about foreigners:

Both Clintonite neoliberals and free-market conservatives have long dismissed American anxieties about trade deals as the province of rubes and xenophobes, Ross Perot’s nationalists and Pat Buchanan’s nativist brigades.... today there’s increasing evidence that the tribalists were, well, right to be suspicious — that the creative destruction set in motion over their objections cost more jobs, with fewer compensating benefits, than many liberal and conservative free-traders once expected.
Anxiety about trade deals really goes back to the 1880s and the protectionism of William McKinley and Mark Hanna, not for the sake of jobs but the sake of profits, exploiting workers' fears and encouraging tribalist hysteria. And the situation today is another case of a progressive approach that was never tried in the US, but has been in countries like Germany, where generous programs alleviate the job loss caused by liberalized trade and unemployment remains low.

The working class has been right, sadly, to suspect that the US government would not act to protect them against job loss, and they can, and do, suspect it without needing to be xenophobic in the least. The Know-Nothing nativism is a completely irrelevant part of the discussion; you don't need a bigot to tell you what's going on.

Likewise with European anxieties about mass immigration, which for decades the major political parties of Europe labored to confine to the political fringe.... Mass immigration is now destabilizing Europe’s liberal order, forging Islamist fifth columns and empowering the very nationalism that open-door cosmopolitanism thought it could safely marginalize and ignore.
I don't think you should bring that up unless you note that large-scale immigration to Europe was managed with a general consensus for many decades, in spite of the endless efforts of neo-fascist political parties, until it was accompanied by the catastrophic destabilization of the Middle East starting 2003, when President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder specifically warned the Bush administration not to start a war in Iraq:
With regard to their long-term interests, Germany and France cannot possibly accept such a hegemonic position for the US in the Middle East. It would bring Europe’s energy supplies and large export markets under the total control of its biggest economic rival. In addition, they fear that a war against Iraq will destabilize the entire region and radicalize Muslim immigrants who live in Europe in large numbers. The Afghanistan conflict, they further fear, could be rekindled by a war on Iraq—a situation for which German soldiers in Kabul are utterly unprepared.
Not that there are really "Islamist fifth columns". That's Ross borrowing the bigot rhetoric of the Front National and Pegida. Nor is there anything like an anti-immigrant takeover happening in Europe, even in Britain. Congratulations Mayor Sadiq Khan!

3. Bigots are right about trannies in the bathroom! No, not that bad:

A final, forward-looking example: In our latest culture war battlefield, the debate over transgender rights, the left is so determined to rout bigotry that it’s locking in a contested understanding of what gender dysphoria is and how to handle it in children, backing it with federal regulatory power, and punishing with academic witch hunts experts who differ even modestly.... we risk sweeping a broad range of childhood fantasy and teenage confusion onto a set path of hormonal and surgical transformation.
Well, no we don't, actually, because the "witch hunts" (nice vocabulary choice, Mr. Journalist) are over the treatment of very young children, who are not candidates for hormones and surgery in any approach, according, Ross, to the last article you linked there (here we go again):
In 2016, there’s fairly solid agreement about the proper course of treatment for otherwise healthy, stable young people who have persistent gender dysphoria, and who are either approaching puberty or older than that: You help them transition to their true gender. The process is different from person to person, but for an 11-year-old, it might include a round of puberty-blocking hormones to prevent the development of secondary sex characteristics and buy time to figure out the best course of transition, followed by the administration of male or female hormones, and, later on, possibly sex-reassignment surgery or surgeries.
I don't see any bigots providing any useful information here, though, just scientists on both sides who recognize the existence of transgender persons and disagree somewhat on how early they can be diagnosed. Whoever turns out to be right on the issue here, it's not going to be Governor McCrory, who would be recognized by all the parties in the debate as a bully and an ignoramus. And it's not going to be Monsignor Douthat either, for the obvious reason that he can't be relied on to read a source thoroughly or report it accurately.

Update 5/16: You didn't think Douthat was really reading Jacobin, did you, studying up on the enemy? He wasn't; it was comrade Rod Dreher, as I learn from Edroso's Voice column, in one of the 50 or 60 terrorized trannie-in-the-bathroom pieces he posted on Friday. Ross just lifted it, Brooks-fashion, without credit, though to be fair it was Ross who fabricated the idea that it had anything to do with Trump. But Dreher was pretty acrobatic too, drawing a line from latte liberals and their contempt for working-class white people straight to the girls' room:
Here’s the astonishing thing about what Obama did today, federalizing school bathroom, locker room, and sports policy: the people who depend the most on public schools, who are the least likely to have alternatives, and who are most alienated from progressive cultural politics, are working class people.
Don't see you forcing them to let perverts in the toilet in Sidwell Friends, Obama, huh? It's us proletarians who have to bear all the sorrow and shame.

Also, Susan's post ("Fuck off, Ross Douthat!") complains with some justice that I have failed to say, "Fuck off, Ross Douthat." So in case you didn't get the message, Ross, that's the message. Fuck off, Ross Douthat.

Up-update 5/19: Lots more from Lemieux and commenters.

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