Kavanaugh and false equivalence

Loved this from Peter Beinart taking on the trope that American politics has hit “rock bottom” with Kavanaugh as if this is somehow a “boy, look at how both sides messed this up” sort of situation.  It is decidedly not:

David Brooks is in the third camp. The Kavanaugh hearings, he wrote on Friday, constituted an “American nadir.” You often hear such phrases from people who think the biggest problem with the Kavanaugh battle is that the participants weren’t more courteous and open-minded. Jeff Flake said that in debating Kavanaugh, the Senate “hit bottom.” Susan Collins called it “rock bottom.” Think about that for a second. For most of American history, Supreme Court nominees—like virtually all powerful men—could sexually assault women with complete impunity. Now, because allegations of such behavior sparked a raucous, intemperate political fight, America has hit “rock bottom,” a “nadir.” How much better things were in the good old days, when sexual-assault allegations didn’t polarize the confirmation process, because sexual-assault victims were politically invisible.

Implying, as Brooks, Flake, and Collins do, that America’s real problem is a lack of civility rather than a lack of justice requires assuming a moral equivalence between Brett Kavanaugh’s supporters and Christine Blasey Ford’s. [emphases mine]“What we saw in these hearings,” writes Brooks, “was the unvarnished tribalization of national life.” The term tribe implies atavistic, amoral group loyalty: Huns versus Franks, Yankees versus Red Sox, Hatfields versus McCoys. There are no larger principles at stake. “There was nothing particularly ideological about the narratives,” laid out by Kavanaugh and Ford, Brooks declares, “nothing that touched on capitalism, immigration or any of the other great disputes of national life.” …

But gender is indeed one of the “great disputes of national life.” The Kavanaugh fight pitted people who worry that #MeToo hasn’t changed America enough, that it’s still too easy for men to get away with sexual assault, against people who fear that #MeToo has changed America too much, that it’s become too easy for women to ruin men’s lives by charging them with sexual assault. That’s not a tribal struggle; it’s an ideological one. It involves competing visions of the relationship between women and men…

But for Brooks, depicting the supporters of Kavanaugh and Ford as tribes is useful because it doesn’t only suggest moral equivalence, it also implies an equivalence of power. The “tribalization” of American politics, Brooks argues, “leads to an epidemic of bigotry. Bigotry involves creating a stereotype about a disfavored group and then applying that stereotype to an individual you’ve never met. It was bigotry against Jews that got Alfred Dreyfus convicted in 1894. It was bigotry against young black males that got the Central Park Five convicted in 1990. It was bigotry against preppy lacrosse players that led to the bogus Duke lacrosse scandal.”

This is misleading. There is no equivalence between the “bigotry” faced by preppy lacrosse players and that faced by black males. There’s no equivalence, because preppy lacrosse players, in general, enjoy far more privilege and power and thus, the stereotypes people hold of them don’t generally land them in jail or dead. Similarly, there is no equivalence between the “bigotry” faced by men accused of sexual assault and the “bigotry” faced by women who suffer it. There’s no equivalence, because men wield far more power. If you don’t think that matters, try imagining Kavanaugh getting confirmed by a Senate composed of 79 women.

The knee-jerk desire to create a false equivalence, moral or otherwise, where it does not exist runs strong in Americans (and, probably, humans, honestly).  And especially those types who love to consider themselves wise, about-the-fray centrists.  The reality is that this false equivalence is almost always in service to one ideology or view of morality.

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Photo of the day

Nice gallery of Comedy Wildlife photo awards finalists.  What is it about squirrels?

© Mary McGowan/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018

How basic worldview divides Democrats and Republicans

All-around great guy and super scholar, Marc Hetherington (and co-author, Jonathan Weiler) who I’m sure is great but cannot personally vouch for) have a new book out, Prius or PickupGuardian that looks at the fundamental differences dividing liberals and conservatives in the modern world.  Using Kavanaugh as a jumping-off point, they’ve got a great summary of the research in the .  It really is a useful way for thinking about what divides us today:

The antipathy results from a new line dividing Republicans from Democrats. The proper size of government and the importance of free markets used to cleave the two. Today, after decades of intense fights over race, family structure and, more recently, the war on terrorism, Republicans and Democrats increasingly choose their party based on gut-level worldviewsabout how safe or dangerous the world is – whether it is best to explore its possibilities or hunker down against its perils.

Before the 2016 election, a survey asked Americans which came closest to their view – “our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves” or “it’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated”. About 80% of Trump supporters chose the first. About 80% of Clinton supporters chose the second. Talk about worlds apart.

The result is a zero-sum politics anchored in Americans’ most basic instincts. Our research demonstrates that – of all things – the characteristics people believe children should possess are now central to the political identities they choose. You read that right. We did not ask people whether they were liberal or conservative or want more government or less. We asked them about qualities children should have. They are important because they reveal people’s worldviews. Whereas the answers to these questions had no bearing on Americans’ partisanship in the 1990s, they are a critical element today.

On the Republican side of the worldview divide sit those who prefer children who respect their elders, are obedient, have good manners, and are well-behaved. They have what we call fixed worldviews. Because the world is dangerous to them, traditions and conventions should be fixed in place to maintain order. This worldview sees male authority figures such as Judge Kavanaugh sympathetically because male authority has always stood at the top of the cultural hierarchy. As such, they are concerned about new immigrants and threatened by the prospect of unconventional groups such as transgendered people sharing their bathrooms.

On the Democratic side are those who prefer independent, self-reliant, curious, and considerate children. They have what we call fluid worldviews. Because the world is, to them, safe to explore, challenging old folkways is feasible. Sometimes-discriminatory traditions and hierarchies must be swept away. This worldview sees traditional male authority as an unfair privilege that has allowed men to get away with anything and everything, including sexually assaulting women, without punishment. Fluid types celebrate new approaches and champion those who challenge old norms. [emphasis mine]

Worldviews operate at the gut level, shaping opinions before conscious thought begins. When it comes to the Kavanaugh allegations, specifically, fixed-worldview Republicans reflexively want to believe the man and will search for evidence to support that first impulse. Fluid-worldview Democrats reflexively want to believe the woman and will perform the same biased search for information to buttress their first impulse.

Worldviews also tell us a lot about Americans’ nonpolitical choices – where to live, how long to go to school, whether to worship God, not to mention their everyday consumer choices. They always have and always will.

The fixed prefer to live in outlying areas, tend to be religious, have less formal education, and prefer the tried and true when it comes to both their politics and their consumer goods. They like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, Folgers and Bud Light, not Peet’s or Sierra Nevada. And they’re overwhelmingly Republicans.

The fluid tend to be city dwellers, secular in their approach to religion and prefer the vanguard in both their politics and consumer choices. Biryani and a pinot gris sounds nice. Their grandparents’ coffee is boring to them and light beer is swill. And they’re predominantly Democrats.

What is different about this moment in history is our worldviews point us toward our party identities, imbuing them with increased meaning. Because worldview now provides the foundation for both political and nonpolitical choices, Republicans and Democrats have become walking stereotypes to each other, which intensifies the negative feelings that exist between the two.

I gotta say, from my experience, this captures things pretty well.  Of course, not all the more fixed are Republicans and not all the fluid are Democrats and I imagine there’s some really interesting things to say about those people.  Perhaps that’s in the book.

Stay angry

Love this from EJ Dionne.  He is about the epitome of reasoned, civil, center-left.  And he’s angry and ready to change the Supreme Court (for the record, so am I) and that really tells you something.  Here you go:

The Supreme Court’s legitimacy is in tatters. Conservative forces in the country, led by the Republican Party, have completed a judicial coup, decades in the making.

Republicans rushed through Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to avoid the possible consequences of an election. They aborted a full investigation because they feared what it might find. They made themselves complicit in a presidential attack on Christine Blasey Ford, a brave woman who asked only that her case against Kavanaugh be taken seriously.

After all these outrages, there will be calls for a renewal of civility, as if the problem is that people said nasty things about one other. But the answer to this power grab cannot be passive acceptance in the name of being polite. The causes and consequences of what just happened must be acknowledged frankly…

Now comes Kavanaugh. In blocking Garland, Republicans said it was urgent to wait until after the 2016 election to let the voters speak. They rushed Kavanaugh through to get him onto the court before the voters could speak in 2018. When power is all that matters, consistency is for suckers.

In the process, the White House turned the FBI investigation of Ford’s claims and Kavanaugh’s (questionable) credibility into a whitewash. Donald McGahn, the White House counsel and Kavanaugh’s leading advocate, told President Trump, as the New York Times put it, that a “wide-ranging inquiry . . . would be potentially disastrous for Judge Kavanaugh’s chances of confirmation.” You wonder what McGahn thought it would find.

There is also this: A generations-long conservative majority on the court has been cemented in place by a political minority. Kavanaugh was named by a president who won 46 percent of the popular vote and confirmed by senators representing 44 percent of the population. When you lack a majority, controlling the branch of government not subject to the voters is vital to working your will…

And there should now be no squeamishness about the urgency of enlarging the Supreme Court if Democrats have the power to do so after the 2020 elections. The current majority on the court was created through illegitimate means. Changing that majority would not constitute politicizing the court because conservatives have already done this without apology…

“Court-packing” makes people uncomfortable for good reason. Were it thrust upon the country suddenly by fiat, many Americans would be uneasy, as were even many Democrats in the 1930s with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s court-enlargement plan. That’s why we need a considered two-year debate over changing the number of justices — it was done seven timesduring the 19th century — as the only plausible response to the conservative court-packing project that reached fruition on Saturday.

Its foes need to stay angry. But even more, they need to vote, organize and think boldly. Democracy itself is at stake. [emphasis mine]

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