Conservatives and natural disasters

Nice piece from Jamelle Bouie:

The scenes from Hurricane Harvey, of flooded Houston streets and freeways turned to rivers, are a level of calamity that’s hard to imagine. We don’t yet know the full weight of the disaster in lives lost or property destroyed, but it’s clear we face a long project of reconstruction and rebuilding. This doesn’t just pose a general problem for Congress, now responsible for funding recovery efforts, or the White House, which has to direct them. It poses a particular problem for the Republican Party, where anti-government and anti-tax ideology must contend with the needs of managing an outright environmental catastrophe…

This is obvious hypocrisy from Republicans, who oppose disaster spending for other states and citizens, but support it when it benefits their own. (We don’t see this with Democrats, who back relief regardless of circumstances.) Politically, it’s unsurprising. But the worse crime here is to demand spending cuts in exchange for support as Republicans did for Katrina and Sandy. Doing so is to attack the foundation of the social safety net: to say that help is the exception—not the norm—and that communities will pay through other means if they can’t bear the cost of disasters. And the related stance—help for some but not others—flows naturally from a conservative ideology that disdains universal public goods, seeks to reify the advantages of privilege and accumulated wealth, and frequently equates help with handouts. The impulse to craft a health care bill that cuts benefits for the poor to fund taxes for the rich isn’t distant from the one that finds conditions and strings when distant states need relief but demands unqualified help when disaster strikes at home.

Yep.  Sadly, true.  And, while we’re at it, it may feel good to blame Houston flooding on poor zoning regulations, but that’s really not it.  Henry Grabar:

The most important thing is this: No city is or should be designed to accommodate a one-in-a-million-year flood, which is what Harvey turned out to be. As Houston Chronicle writer Dylan Baddour put it last year, “Cars don’t have airbags to absorb a hit from a train.” If our probabilities about the likelihood of such storms are wrong because of climate change—and it sure seems they are—that’s a separate problem and one for which local planners shouldn’t be held accountable. After all, rural areas at the fringes of the Houston metro are also underwater.

That’s not to say flood-control planning in and around Houston has not been shortsighted. But zoning would not have saved Houston.

Photo of the day

Loved this Washington Post gallery of pets and other animals in the flooding.

Cows make their way through fallen power lines along the road near City-By-The Sea, Tex. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

The white guy has something to say

Speaking of white people and politics, I really enjoyed this Frank Bruni column.  Short version: just because we should not care extra about what somebody has to say because they are white, nor should we automatically discount it.  As a political scientist, I’ve spent a couple decades studying the history and present role of both gender and race in American politics.  Yes, I’m a white man and have the life experiences of a white man, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about or have valuable contributions on these topics.  Anyway, Bruni:

I’m a white man, so you should listen to absolutely nothing I say, at least on matters of social justice. I have no standing. No way to relate. My color and gender nullify me, and it gets worse: I grew up in the suburbs. Dad made six figures. We had a backyard pool. From the 10th through 12th grades, I attended private school. So the only proper way for me to check my privilege is to realize that it blinds me to others’ struggles and should gag me during discussions about the right responses to them.

But wait. I’m gay. And I mean gay from a different, darker day. In that pool and at that school, I sometimes quaked inside, fearful of what my future held. Back then — the 1970s — gay stereotypes went unchallenged, gay jokes drew hearty laughter and exponentially more Americans were closeted than out. We conducted our lives in whispers. Then AIDS spread, and we wore scarlet letters as we marched into the public square to plead with President Ronald Reagan for help. Our rallying cry, “silence = death,” defined marginalization as well as any words could.

So where does that leave me? Who does that make me? Oppressor or oppressed? Villain or victim? And does my legitimacy hinge on the answer?

To listen to some of the guardians of purity on the left, yes.

Not long ago I wrote about Evergreen State College, which was roiled by protests after a white biology professor, Bret Weinstein, disparaged the particular tack of a day of racial healing. He raised valid points, only to be branded a bigot and threatened with violence.

That reception was wrong. I said so. And a reader responded: “I don’t need one more white male criticizing young people of color.” Other readers also homed in on my race — or on the professor’s: “Weinstein will be fine. He’s white.” That automatically and axiomatically made him a less compelling actor in the drama, a less deserving object of concern, no matter his actions, no matter his argument…

Mark Lilla, a Columbia University professor, got a big, bitter taste of this late last year when he wrote, in The Times, about the presidential election and “identity politics,” which, he argued, had hurt the Democratic Party. He maintained that too intense a focus on each minority group’s discrete persecution comes at the expense of a larger, unifying vision.

Many people disagreed. Good. But what too many took issue with was, well, his identity. “White men: stop telling me about my experiences!” someone later scrawled on a poster that was put up to advertise a talk, “Identity Is Not Politics,” that he gave at Wellesley College.

“But I wasn’t talking about their experience or my experience,” Lilla pointed out when I spoke with him recently. “I was talking about an issue.” …

Should we really have say and sway only over matters that neatly dovetail with the category that we’ve been assigned (or assigned ourselves)? Is that the limit of our insights and empathies? During the Democratic primary, a Hillary Clinton supporter I know was told that he could not credibly defend her against charges of racism for her past use of the word “superpredators” because he’s white.

That kind of thinking fosters estrangement instead of connection. Lilla noted that what people in a given victim group sometimes seem to be saying is: “You must understand my experience, and you can’t understand my experience.”

“They argue both, so people shrug their shoulders and walk away,” he said…

At the beginning of this column I shared the sorts of personal details that register most strongly with those Americans who tuck each of us into some hierarchy of blessedness and affliction. So you know some important things about me, but not the most important ones: how I responded to the random challenges on my path, who I met along the way, what I learned from them, the degree of curiosity I mustered and the values that I honed as a result.

Those construct my character, and shape my voice, to be embraced or dismissed on its own merits. My gayness no more redeems me than my whiteness disqualifies me. And neither, I hope, defines me. [emphasis mine]

Hear, hear.

And, while we’re at it, Damon Linker in The Week:

What such rhetoric reveals is that over the past few decades liberals have effectively abandoned politics, which involves thinking “about the common good and what must be done practically to secure it,” in favor of “a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition.” Instead of cultivating a sense of “we — of what we are as citizens and what we owe to each other,” liberals have become “mesmerized by symbols,” more interested in recognizing and affirming the sense of grievance cultivated by the members of discrete sub-political groups than in offering “a vision of our common destiny based on the one thing that all Americans, of every background, actually share. And that is citizenship.”

As such formulations reveal, Lilla isn’t so much rejecting a politics of identity as skewering the tendency of “identity liberals” to focus exclusively on sub-political identities. Politics rightly understood is about defining who we are as a political community — what it means to be an American, what we owe to one another as citizens, as members of a collective body, as parts of a whole, engaged in a common enterprise…

The problem with practicing identity politics at the sub-political level is that it becomes just another form of individualism, replicating in a “less sentimental and more sanctimonious” idiom the anti-political outlook that came to power in the United States with Ronald Reagan. Whereas Reagan described a country of atomized individuals liberated from government (including from calls for public sacrifice of any kind), Democrats came to define politics as a form of self-exploration. Look into yourself, explore your background, situate yourself in relation to the various identity categories to which you belong, fasten on to the injustices these groups have suffered at the hands of powerful Others, and then demand recompense. This way of conceiving of politics has rendered incomprehensible JFK’s ringing call to civic service (What can I do for my country?) and replaced it with a “deeply personal one: What does my country owe me by virtue of my identity?”

I should mention that Lilla is an imperfect messenger and (like most) oversells his message.  He also to my non-identity-politics liberal self, seems to way under-appreciate the role of race in American politics (spend some time with the social science, dude!).

But, I think he makes some very good points about seeking common ground.  And, my general take is when your politics are alienating a person like me– who cares quite strongly about racial and gender equality– you are doing  your movement/goals a disservice.

Identity politics– white people style

Really nice piece from Thomas Edsall last week drawing from across an array of Political Science sources to take a look at Trump and white identity politics.  Well worth reading it all.  Some highlights:

White voters for whom racial identity is important include a minority faction of white supremacists, but as a whole they constitute a much broader and encompassing group. In an Aug. 16 essay for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage, Jardina wrote:

The whites marching on Charlottesville were only a small segment of a much larger population for whom the politics of white identity resonates. The vast majority of white Americans who feel threatened by the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity are not members of the KKK or neo-Nazis. They are much greater in number, and far more mainstream, than the white supremacists who protested in Virginia over the weekend.

A total of 36 percent of whites described their racial identity as either “very important” (16 percent) or “extremely important” (20 percent), according to an American National Election Studies survey in January 2016. Another 25 percent said it was “moderately important.”

Careful examination of Trump’s initial support shows the key role of whiteidentity voters in Trump’s ascendance…

To explore the role of white voters for whom racial identity was especially important, three political scientists — John SidesMichael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck — analyze the ANES data in their forthcoming book, “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America.”

The survey, they write,

asked four questions that captured dimensions of white identity: the importance of white identity, how much whites are being discriminated against, the likelihood that whites are losing jobs to nonwhites, and the importance of whites working together to change laws unfair to whites. We combined those questions into a scale capturing the strength of white identity and found that it was strongly related to Republicans’ support for Donald Trump.

On the basis of that scale, the authors assembled the data illustrated by the accompanying chart, which shows that fewer than five percent of white Republicans who indicated that their racial identity was of little importance supported Trump. Among those who said their identity as whites was extremely important to them, Trump’s support reached 81 percent.

In a 2005 paper, Cara Wong, a political scientist at the University of Illinois, and Grace E. Cho, who was a graduate student in politial science at the University of Michigan at the time, found that many whites identified with their race, but “white racial identity is not politically salient.”

Wong and Cho went on, however, to make what turned out to be a crucially important point: that since

white identity is indeed unstable but easily triggered, the danger is that a demagogue could influence the salience of these identities to promote negative outgroup attitudes, link racial identification more strongly to policy preferences, and exacerbate group conflict…

In “Identity Crisis,” Sides, Tesler and Vavreck write that Trump’s primary campaign

became a vehicle for a different kind of identity politics — oriented around white Americans’ feelings of marginalization in an increasingly diverse America.

The three authors describe a rapidly “growing sense of white victimhood.” They cite surveys showing that among Republicans, the perception of discrimination against whites grew from 38 percent in 2011-12 to 47 percent in January 2016.

February 2017 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute separately asked voters whether “there is a lot of discrimination” against various groups. 43 percent of Republicans said there is a lot of discrimination against whites, compared to 27 percent of Republicans who said that there is a lot of discrimination against blacks.

Short version– it’s hard out there for a white person.  Or so many Trump voters would believe.  Now, of course, plenty of white people in America face some tough circumstances, but to suggest it is because they are white and thus discriminated against is just plain delusional.

%d bloggers like this: