Monday, September 20, 2021

Drumbeat of Derision


Shorter David Frum ("What the Never Trumpers Want Now"):

Sadly, the Trumpery has turned us loyally principled Republicans into political exiles, with nowhere to go. I'd love to move in to the Democratic camp, but it isn't really suitable for a loyally principled Republican as it is. Frankly, it's almost as bad as Trump. Can't you fix it up a little? Here is my list of demands.

Well, no, that isn't exactly what he says. In the first place he's not so ill-mannered as to make it all about himself. What he says is more along the concern-troll lines of claiming that Democrats won the 2018 and 2020 elections, to the extent they did win them, because of anti-Trump Republicans coming over to their side, and if Democrats want to keep winning they must rely on those guys rather than on a "base-first strategy", because the Democrats' is "not coherent or big enough".

The former cultural core of the GOP is exiting the party. The Democrats should keep those voters in their corner....

By "former cultural core" he means "the college-educated, the professional, the suburban", which "will, if permitted, realign American politics",  and he offers five ideas for things Democrats could do to hang onto them:

1. Campaign on Republican vote suppression and gerrymandering instead of Democratic programs to improve people's lives: 

Many Democratic political professionals regret [Republican efforts at vote suppression and gerrymandering], but see little payoff in battling them. Based on their experience with the historic Democratic electorate, they believe that pocketbook issues are what matter most.

For the Never Trump newcomers, however, democracy is issue one. January 6 was the true last straw for them—and preventing the next January 6 their top-of-mind issue. Democracy may not be the issue that motivates the most economically hard-pressed voters. But the less hard-pressed people who are painting the Sun Belt suburbs blue? Many of them live in places where their state governments are controlled by overrepresented rural voters. Their kids are exposed to COVID-19 in schools because overrepresented constituencies can overrule the majorities who want safety protocols.

This one is just mystifying to me from start to finish, because I belong to the party of Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams and can't even guess what political professionals he has in mind—possibly Joe Manchin, who was complaining about aspects of the For the People Act to Vox last April? But Manchin has signed on to Amy Klobuchar's Freedom to Vote Act

The package’s provisions range from making Election Day a public holiday to protecting local election officials from partisan interference. Partisan gerrymandering and voter caging, a sketchy method of purging voting rolls, would be banned. Same-day voter registration would be available in all states, as would automatic voter registration systems. A 30-minute wait-time limit would be imposed for in-person voting, and uniform, flexible ID requirements would be established in states that require voter IDs.

and seems inclined to move aside from his attachment to the filibuster to help pass it. If that's not battling GOP efforts, I don't know what is. And then I appreciate Frum's concern for any upscale suburban voters who feel cheated by gerrymandering, who don't often get the attention they deserve, but not voting for Democrats isn't going to make them any better represented. And the Democrats' efforts for voting equity deal with that as well as the suppression of votes from the Democratic base of urban voters, voters of color, and young people, and if we can't pass the thing in the end we'll certainly be campaigning on it.

And as far as Covid-19 protocols are concerned, all the more reason to come out for Democrats wherever you are.

But of course we are pushing economic issues as hard as we can at the same time, and why not? If Frum wants us to drop Biden's Build Back Better agenda, the big spending matched by the big hikes in income tax on the wealthy and corporations, I'm afraid we really can't do that.

2. Campaign on respect for professional "expertise":

That’s how Democrats have become the party that acknowledges climate science and encourages vaccination, while Republicans tend toward the opposite.

Yet Democrats have their blind spots too, where their own constituencies elevate ideology over expert knowledge. Teachers’ unions deny the well-attested fact that learning losses increase when schooling is interrupted. Democratic local governments deny that standardized tests measure anything important. Some try to suppress educational programs for gifted children. On all these issues, many Democrats are as far removed from “the science” as many Republicans are on vaccines or climate. 

I guess to Frum, teachers don't have any professional expertise? Nah, he's just bothsidesing. 

But Frum may be mistaken if he regards himself as better informed than Ron Berger, a teacher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who argued in an article for The Atlantic (!) last March that excessive focus on learning loss is in the long run more damaging than the loss itself:

Our kids have lost so much—family members, connections to friends and teachers, emotional well-being, and for many, financial stability at home. And, of course, they’ve lost some of their academic progress. The pressure to measure—and remediate—this “learning loss” is intense; many advocates for educational equity are rightly focused on getting students back on track. But I am concerned about how this growing narrative of loss will affect our students, emotionally and academically. Research shows a direct connection between a student’s mindset and academic success.

(Teachers' unions in general—Frum links discussion of one fairly radical head in Los Angeles as if she represented the entire movement—never denied the phenomenon of learning loss, but merely insisted that it was less important than keeping people alive, students' parents and grandparents as well as teachers and school staff. The idea was always that it would be better to have a short lockdown and defeat of the pandemic than no lockdown and disease continuing to spread. It was the public health authorities who said school was safe before the evidence was in that the teachers challenged, not the concept of "learning loss". Most teachers hate distance learning at least as much as kids do, and with the advent of vaccine most resistance has died down, though an awful lot of parents remain deeply fearful.)

The article on standardized testing Frum linked has become a 404 error, but there's another article at the same site that issues

a warning for those who – like us – believe that standardized tests can play a useful role in improving educational outcomes: Maintaining political support for such tests – and especially for statewide standardized tests – probably depends on demonstrating their diagnostic value to both educators and families, as these uses tend to be viewed most favorably (PDK Poll, 2020). Accountability policies are controversial, and research and evaluation are too far removed from the lives of most students, families, and educators to inspire deep political support for standardized tests. Yet the diagnostic uses that might rally public support by providing concrete and immediate benefits to students and schools have often been neglected even by staunch advocates of standardized testing. This is evidenced in part by how poorly state testing policy is typically designed for diagnostic purposes.

The defense of the tests is often focused on the areas where they really aren't useful. Professional expertise is actually pretty cautious on the subject. Frum is probably confused by the lobbyists for the tests' producers.

Frum's link on the question of exclusive test-driven programs for gifted and talented students is to an article he wrote himself, not on the views of professional expertise but on poll results. When professional expertise is consulted, it's not at all clear that gifted programs are valuable:

Perhaps it should be no surprise that students aren’t achieving more in gifted classrooms when most educators admit they don’t even try to teach advanced material in them. A 2019 survey of teachers in gifted programs found they primarily focused on “enrichment activities,” such as creative, fun projects and critical thinking exercises and discussions, keeping children on grade-level material, rather than moving them ahead to advanced academic content.

The research consensus, by contrast, argues for propelling high achieving children ahead. “This acceleration question is a really important one,” said [major study author Christopher] Redding, arguing that researchers need to re-examine ideas for exceptionally advanced kids, from starting kindergarten early and skipping a grade to giving advanced instruction in a particular subject. “We need to learn whether other approaches would be more beneficial for supporting gifted students versus some sort of a pullout or enrichment model,” said Redding.

So disagreeing with Frum on any of these issues is not actually dismissing professional expertise, but rather taking part in lively controversies within the field.

3. Campaign in favor of globalism:

If the ex-Republicans extruded by Trump make a more permanent home inside the Democratic Party, however, trade skepticism will come under pressure. It may be good politics in Flint, Michigan, and Allentown, Pennsylvania. But it isn’t as effective in Northern Virginia and South Florida, in Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Retaining Never Trumpers requires discarding not only the snarling aggression of “America First” but also the quivering apprehension of “Buy American.”

I don't think Frum quite knows that the US and EU suspended tariffs on one another in June (I didn't either, but I have a Google) with the aim of working together on the China threat. This has been the smoothest example of Biden's campaign promise to bring allies together in coping with Chinese aggression of various kinds, the exact opposite of Trump's unilateralist approach.

Unlike the unpleasant surprises for NATO members when it turned out that Biden's exit date from Afghanistan was for real (they really should at least have tried to game out what they would do if he wasn't lying) or for France with the sudden apparition of the AUKUS nuclear submarine alliance (which really does bother me a bit). 

Biden's foreign policy is less like Obama's "leading from behind" (which I still kind of favor) than the traditional herding of cats, but either approach takes time, and the purpose of a given move may not be immediately evident, and you need to wait before you decide that he's abandoned his original aim. Politically, even if he has abandoned his original aim I don't think anybody, including all the retired military brass we see on TV, in northern Virginia or south Florida or Silicon Valley or North Carolina is going to fall into a rage and vote for a Trumpy candidate. Maybe Dr. Bill Kristol.

4. Be moderate:

Days after the 2020 vote, Representative Abigail Spanberger complained to Democratic colleagues about the harm done to House members by reckless ideological rhetoric. “We need to not ever use the word ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again ... We lost good members because of that.” The slogan “Defund the police,” she said, had done even more damage.

Well, maybe. But don't allow Republicans to define what "moderate" is. If "traditional Republicans" are "appalled" by the reputed ongoing crime wave and reputed migrant crisis at the border, then try telling them that the former is imaginary and the latter is being dealt with in a way we actual "globalists" don't even like very much (mass deportations to Haiti—Frum, posting a week ago, spoke too soon). If they aren't willing to listen, they may be Trumpier than they realize. If they think "immigration is the country's second-most important issue" then they're certainly not as "globalist" as Frum thinks they are.

The same goes for inflation terror:

Fiscal and economic issues may not seem to matter in the abstract. But when economic over-stimulus feeds into rising prices at the store, when protectionist trade policy foments electronics shortages that prolong the waiting time for delivery of new cars, when and if middle-of-the-road voters get the impression that economic policy is being driven by interest-group agendas and extreme ideologies—all of that can matter a lot.

According to point 1 you think economic issues don't matter. I think they do, but I don't think they are going to look to the public a year from now the way they look right now to to the havoc-crying press. Inflation, driven by used car prices, not new ones, was down last month to an annual rate of 1.2%, and is not going to be picking up again violently, as stimulus spending dies down, though I certainly hope wages will continue to rise quietly. The supply chain issues in electronics really were about Covid. The Biden administration has indeed proposed a move toward creating more jobs in fields that have been dominated by other countries (Taiwan and South Korea), part of the program from the start of last year's campaign, but the aim is much broader than that, more aimed at making change here than punishing other countries for being smarter. more dirigisme than Trumpy tantrum, and it's going to take a long time:

The new White House report is ostensibly focused on supply chain security in four technologies: semiconductors, advanced batteries, critical minerals, and pharmaceuticals. But the document offers a far-reaching critique of the last several decades of U.S. international economic policy, arguing that both government and the private sector have “prioritized efficiency and low costs over security, sustainability and resilience.” It calls for a fundamental redirection with an ambitious set of goals: revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, speeding up deployment of green technologies, improving supply security and resilience in critical sectors, creating new union jobs, reducing economic and racial inequality, and spreading wealth regionally across the country.

As a jobs program, it's not immoderate at all. It's the kind of thing every presidential campaign calls for, the difference being that this time we're starting to see how it's put together. It's really not about tariffs.

5. Be nice.

Biden is nice, but

The Democratic Party is also home to some abrasive loudmouths.... An absolute majority of white Americans believe that white people face adverse discrimination in the United States. They are not reacting to personal experiences of mistreatment; only one-fifth to one-tenth of white Americans report anything like that. They seem instead to be reacting to a more generalized drumbeat of derision and hostility. 

A generalized drumbeat from where? Twitter? That's not a conclusion he's drawing from the poll he's referring to. The kinds of specific discrimination they were asked about were more institutional—discrimination in job applications, pay and promotion issues, or college applications—but what most of the whites who believed in discrimination against whites, 61%, cited was "discrimination based in the prejudice of individual people", which sounds like unpleasant encounters in public spaces—in a store, at a traffic light. It's not a very well structured poll anyway, to tell the truth, and it's also four years old, from the first year of the Trumpery; part of it (at least among the 37% who thought "discrimination based on laws and government policies" was an equal or bigger problem) a reaction to the drumbeat of Fox News and Trump himself telling white Americans that they're victims of discrimination: NPR's report of the poll said,

"If you apply for a job, they seem to give the blacks the first crack at it," said 68-year-old Tim Hershman of Akron, Ohio, "and, basically, you know, if you want any help from the government, if you're white, you don't get it. If you're black, you get it."... Hershman's view is similar to what was heard on the campaign trail at Trump rally after Trump rally. Donald Trump catered to white grievance during the 2016 presidential campaign and has done so as president as well.

A better made and much more recent poll, out from Pew last March, yields quite a different picture: just 17% of white people think there is a lot of discrimination against whites, 4% among Democrats and 28% among Republicans, compared to 14% of the population as a whole, while 26% of the population as a whole say there is "some":

Note that just 20% of Democrats and Democrat leaners think white people face any discrimination, but 63% of Republicans. (Note also that a majority of Democrats, around 60%, are themselves white, though as compared to around 80% of Republicans.)

Finally, Frum's whole major premise, that "Republican-leaners... provided Biden his victory in November", and that therefore they are the voters that Democratic strategists need to focus on, is extremely dubious, as any look at the exit poll demographics will tell you. Especially the college-educated and suburban "cultural core" of the party:

In 2020, Trump won 65% of White non-college voters – nearly identical to his 2016 share – even as Biden outperformed Clinton among this group (33% of White non-college voters backed Biden, up from the 28% of this group Clinton won in 2016). At the same time, White voters with a college degree or higher supported Biden by roughly the same margin they had backed Clinton in 2016.

It's true that the biggest swing to Democrats in 2020 happened in "the suburbs", but that doesn't seem to be because Republicans there are changing their minds as much as different people moving there; more minority members 

No matter how you slice it, it’s clear that communities that were pretty much uniformly white only a few decades ago are now far more racially diverse, with Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans making up larger shares of suburban and exurban populations than ever before. According to our analysis of data from a “diversity index” developed by USA Today that calculates the chance that any two people chosen at random from a given area are of different races or ethnicities, most suburbs have grown at least somewhat more diverse over the past 10 years. That’s particularly true in some of the states — like Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — that were pivotal for Biden this year.

and more people with college degrees (who are still mostly Democrats no matter what Frum thinks of the "cultural core"):

... suburbs have also become increasingly well-educated — and that may actually better explain why so many suburbs and exurbs are turning blue than just increased diversity on its own. According to Ashley Jardina, a political science professor at Duke University who studies white identity politics, it’s not that racial diversity isn’t a factor. Among white people, at least, educational attainment is often a proxy for how open they are to growing racial diversity, with more highly educated white people likely to think increased racial diversity is a good thing. “Education is so important because it’s intertwined with racial attitudes among white people,” Jardina said.

What remains to be asked is why Frum messed this argument up so badly, and I think the answer is really pretty simple, as hinted at the top: he's really mainly thinking about himself. David Frum is the "cultural core" of the Republican party who feels drummed out of it by the advent of the barbarians, a consummately college-educated professional. He started voting for Democrats in 2016 (I guess the same time as some of the Bushes), because his patrician feelings were repelled by Trump's vulgarity and flagrant dishonesty, and now he'd like the Democrats to show him some recognition. Perhaps there's a whole mass of people just like him! Don't ignore them!

But it's really just a few dozen deluded op-ed writers and their refined fans, standing up for the idea of conservatism as a principled and decorous body of thought that ought to be welcome everywhere. I'm afraid the so-called principles are a rationalization for minority rule, anti-democratic, and we just can't accommodate them to make Frum feel better.

Also see Driftglass.

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