Quick hits (part II)

1) I meant to give this Chait post on #sharpiegate last week it’s own post.  It’s really good:

Increasingly, Republicans are dispensing with the fig leaf and flaunting their complicity. Putting money in Trump’s pocket by booking his properties has become a symbol of partisan solidarity. It is a signal of support both to the president and to fellow Republicans or business clients that you are on the ins with the boss. [emphases mine] “President Trump has really been on the side of the Evangelicals and we want to do everything we can to make him successful,” one Evangelical leader tells the Times. “And if that means having dinner or staying in his hotel, we are going to do so.” Aggressive lack of curiosity has given way to open boasting of the quid pro quo arrangement.

None of these stories by itself has the singular drama of a Teapot Dome or a Watergate. Indeed, the mere fact that there is so much corruption prevents any single episode from capturing the imagination of the media and the public. But it is the totality of dynamic that matters. A corrupt miasma has slowly enveloped Washington. For generations, both parties generally upheld an assumption that the government would abide rules and norms dividing its proper functioning from the president’s personal and political interests.

The norm of bureaucratic professionalism and fairness is a pillar of the political legitimacy and economic strength of the American system, the thing that separates countries like the U.S. from countries like Russia. The decay of that culture is difficult to quantify, but the signs are everywhere. Trump’s stench is slowly seeping into every corner of government.

2) This is a really interesting analyses if the substantial and under-appreciated differences within Black voters.  But the headline, “No One Should Take Black Voters for Granted” is misleading.  So long as Republicans are unequivocally the white people’s party, the overwhelming majority of Blacks will vote Democratic regardless of their precise ideological dispositions.

3) Vox’s Josh Godelman convinced me to pony-up for TSA pre-check.  I didn’t realize your $80 is amortized over 3 years.  Even though I don’t fly a lot, would I pay $20 per flight to avoid regular security?  Hell yeah.  Also, this is wrong.  “It absolutely shouldn’t exist, and is absolutely an incredible value.”

4) Good stuff from Jesse Singal on the very limited eliteness (especially on twitter) of super-wokeness:

What should we think about Dave Chappelle’s most recent Netflix special, “Sticks & Stones”? We should be disappointed in it, if not outraged by it, according to some culture critics. After all, Chappelle spends a chunk of the hourlong set making defiantly offensive jokes about both his own prior travails being criticized for transphobia, as well as important contemporary social-justice battles more broadly — trans rights and #MeToo and the reckoning over Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of children. This, say the critics, is just plain wrong, and a frustrating departure from his earlier, meatier work…

What should we think about Dave Chappelle’s most recent Netflix special, “Sticks & Stones”? We should be disappointed in it, if not outraged by it, according to some culture critics. After all, Chappelle spends a chunk of the hourlong set making defiantly offensive jokes about both his own prior travails being criticized for transphobia, as well as important contemporary social-justice battles more broadly — trans rights and #MeToo and the reckoning over Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of children. This, say the critics, is just plain wrong, and a frustrating departure from his earlier, meatier work.

In both cases, critics of the comedians in questions tried to portray their most recent work as a sudden, jarring shift from what they had produced before. Suddenly, Louis C.K. was “punching down.” Suddenly, he was using his comedic powers for evil, not for good. This argument, which popped up everywhere, made no sense if you were at all familiar with C.K.’s past work. This was a guy who, before and during the time he was garnering glowing coverage as a hero of humanistic, progressive comedywas making jokes about how it’s okay to use the word ‘faggot’ as long as the target is sufficiently mockable, and how sad it was he couldn’t say it anymore, and who once said, during a hilarious segment on his irrational hatred of deer, “I would happily blow 20 guys in an alley with bleeding dicks so I could get AIDS and then fuck a deer and kill it with my AIDS.” During that same segment, he referred to a “faggot cunt n*gger deer.” But now he’s an offensive crank! Here’s Slate, about a full decade later, responding to C.K.’s use of the phrase “Jewish faggot” in a characteristically over-the-top part of the leaked set: “Whatever you think about C.K.’s past use of slurs in his act, his old material at least made some attempt to think about what they meant.” Ah, yes, that thoughtful critique of deer.

In the case of Chappelle, too, critics have been squinting really hard and ignoring a great deal of the man’s previous output in order to draw a stark line between his old and new material. Back when he was celebrated almost unanimously among progressive culture critics, he had a recurring slapstick character named Tyrone Biggums whose entire shtick was… being a crackhead…

So the claim that both these comedians have taken some dark thematic and political turn is mostly off-base. Rather, what’s going on is that their output is now being judged in a very different light because they have been ‘cancelled’ (C.K. more so than Chappelle, of course). It is a weird sort of retconning that makes the narrative more tidy: These guys were Good, and now they’re Bad. Their comedy tells the story; it traces a neat and satisfying arc…

Those who view any critique of cancel culture or political correctness as inherently bankrupt often derail conversations about it by claiming that PC is simply a synonym for “Being a decent person” — if you’re a decent person, in other words, you won’t get in trouble, and you’ll have nothing to worry about. But this isn’t how most of the country sees things, and it doesn’t accurately capture how the rules over who can get away with saying what are made, revised, and enforced.

The best data we have suggest that the vast majority of Americans view political correctness as a problem, and that, contra the claim of many progressives, this is not a battlefield consisting of resentful ranting whites on one side and oppressed people on the other, the latter simply asking to be treated and spoken of with decency. In fact, the people most enthusiastic about intense forms of language-policing tend to be more privileged and more white, according to a national political-correctness survey conducted by the firm More in Common that made headlines last year. As Yascha Mounk wrote in his writeup in The Atlantic, “While 83 percent of respondents who make less than $50,000 dislike political correctness, just 70 percent of those who make more than $100,000 are skeptical about it. And while 87 percent who have never attended college think that political correctness has grown to be a problem, only 66 percent of those with a postgraduate degree share that sentiment.” Moreover, “Whites are ever so slightly less likely than average to believe that political correctness is a problem in the country: 79 percent of them share this sentiment. Instead, it is Asians (82 percent), Hispanics (87 percent), and American Indians (88 percent) who are most likely to oppose political correctness.”

5) Eric Foner is an amazing historian.  I really don’t remember too many books I read as an undergraduate, but Foner’s Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men that still influences how I think about our history and politics.  Great interview with Isaac Chotiner on how to think about Reconstruction:

You say early in the book that, in one sense, “Reconstruction never ended.” What exactly do you mean?

I defined Reconstruction in two ways. One, it’s a particular time period of American history. You can debate the dates. It starts in 1865, when the Civil War ends, or maybe it starts in 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation is issued, and it ends sometime in the eighteen-seventies, although there’s debate about that also.

But, I think, more importantly, Reconstruction is a historical process. And the process is, How does the United States come to terms with the results of the Civil War? The unity of the nation we seem to have come to terms with. But the other matter is the destruction of slavery. How does the United States deal with the fact that four million people who were slaves became free? What role would they have? What rights would they have? How would they be treated? And those debates are still going on. Pick up today’s newspaper, and you’ll find things which relate back to the legacy of slavery. So in that sense, the reckoning has never happened, or we’re still grappling with the consequences of two hundred and fifty years of slavery…

Your book gestures at the fact that we’re still dealing with these issues today. I don’t want to turn this interview into a thing about Trump, but has anything about the last few years, with Trump’s rise, changed the way you view the work you do or the period you study?

You know, that’s an interesting question. It may be too soon to tell. I think a lot will depend on whether Trump is reëlected. Is Trump an aberration? Is this just a crazy thing that happened in some countries— that’s happening in England right now? If Trump is reëlected, I think we have to then sit and say, “You know, maybe some of our assumptions about how deeply rooted democratic values are in our country, how deeply rooted notions of equality are in America, maybe we need to rethink that.”

There was a sort of Cold War view of America as the exemplar of liberalism, of democracy, of equality, you know—never quite complete, but always striving in that direction and improving in that direction. Maybe that’s not correct. Maybe that’s one strand of American history, but maybe what we need to do is emphasize other strands, equally powerful. The strand of nativism, the strand of racism, the strand of, you know, hostility and hatred of the other. Maybe we need to rewrite American history to highlight those. Not to throw away everything else, but to say maybe we’ve been a little bit Pollyanna-ish about what American culture really is.

6) How many damn headlines like this are there in American criminal “justice”? She Was Convicted of Killing Her Mother. Prosecutors Withheld the Evidence That Would Have Freed Her: By the time Noura Jackson’s conviction was overturned, she had spent nine years in prison. This type of prosecutorial error is almost never punished.”  Ugh.  And the key is that last sentence.  So long as prosecutors can ruin people’s lives with impunity, they will ruin people’s lives with impunity.  It’s almost as if incentives matter.

7) This is interesting, “Slavery and the Holocaust: How Americans and Germans Cope With Past Evils”

For two decades after World War II, Germany — East and West – practiced “moral myopia.” Communist East Germany claimed that since it was a postwar antifascist state and all the former Nazis were in West Germany (they were not), it bore no responsibility for genocide. West Germans, in Neiman’s words, “from dogcatcher to diplomat,” falsely insisted that only the Third Reich’s leadership knew of the mass murder. “Our men were gallant fighters, not criminals,” one German told her. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer appointed former Nazis to some of the government’s highest jobs, thus telegraphing the message that, on a personal level, all was forgiven. Even the reparation process, Neiman says, was “meanspirited and arduous.” Auschwitz survivors received a smaller pension than former SS guards and their widows. Simply put, Germans, East and West, refused to articulate the words: I was guilty.

What changed? In the late 1960s West German children and grandchildren of Nazis began to struggle with their families’ crimes. Having watched the televised Eichmann and Auschwitz trials, and inspired by student protests sweeping Europe, young Germans demanded an honest account of past wrongs. That confrontation with history, while hardly complete and now under attack from right-wing forces, remains far more extensive and honest, Neiman says, than anything that occurred in the United States regarding slavery and discrimination…

Neiman notes that while Germany’s past no longer immunizes it against resurgent nationalism and anti-Semitism, there is in the heart of Berlin a memorial to the six million Jews murdered by Germans. “A nation that erects a monument of shame for the evils of its history in its most prominent space is a nation that is not afraid to confront its own failures.” While a museum dedicated to the African-American experience has opened in the heart of Washington, recent expressions of racism not just from the highest office in this land but also from many politicians, pundits and ordinary people suggest that America’s confrontation with its legacy of slavery and racial hatred is far from complete.

Many Americans, in the South and the North, insist that Confederate monuments are historical artifacts that simply honor the region’s history and its loyal defenders. They ignore the fact that most were built 50 years after the war, when the children of the Confederacy were creating the myth of a noble lost cause. Others were erected during the 1960s in protest of the civil rights movement. [emphasis mine]

8) Obviously I really appreciated this Washington Post piece on the “war” between animal and plant-based alternatives for the future of meat:

But as plant-based meat goes from an afterthought to a financial juggernaut that aims to change how most people eat, the opposition has suddenly awakened: Many of the country’s 800,000 cattle ranchers have declared war on newcomers Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, which use technology to make products that hew closely to the taste and texture of meat, and now “first-generation” veggie burgers and similar products are caught in the crossfire.

In 2019, officials in nearly 30 states have proposed bills to prohibit companies from using words such as meat, burger, sausage, jerky or hot dog unless the product came from an animal that was born, raised and slaughtered in a traditional way. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming have already enacted such laws. In Missouri, the first state where the ban took effect, violators incur a $1,000 fine and as much as a year in prison. Mississippi’s new law is sweeping: “Any food product containing cell-cultured animal tissue or plant-based or insect-based food shall not be labeled meat or as a meat product.”

The states, in most cases backed by cattlemen’s associations, claim consumer confusion as the driving force for the laws. The newest offerings, they say, cross a line when they make unsubstantiated health claims (many have long lists of processed ingredients and are high in sodium) and when the packaging is unclear.

“Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles has a picture of a cow on the front and says ‘plant-based’ in very small lettering at the bottom,” said Mike Deering, a cattle rancher and the executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. “I’m a dad and I’m going through the grocery store before one of my boys has a meltdown, and [if] I pick up that package that says beef with a picture of a cow on it, I’m going to buy it.”

This isn’t quite a David vs. Goliath fight. The cattle associations have enormous political power, and several of the top veggie brands such as Morningstar Farms and Boca are owned by food giants such as Kellogg and Kraft Heinz. Notably, the major meat processors — Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods, for instance — aren’t taking sides, relying on the ranchers for traditional meat but also investing heavily in these new alternatives they believe consumers increasingly desire.

Two things.  1) OMG it is so annoying and pathetic when industries argue– in obviously bad faith– that they are just looking to protect us oh-so-ignorant consumers who cannot tell the difference between hamburger and soy protein.  2) I love that this is such a perfect example of “interest group politics” where powerful organized interests face-off to determine policy.  Perfect for PS 310 :-).

9) Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed was an absolutely terrific book, whether or not you have children.  Really looking forward to his new book on college.  Here’s an except on college admissions, “What College Admissions Offices Really Want: Elite schools say they’re looking for academic excellence and diversity. But their thirst for tuition revenue means that wealth trumps all.”

The dictates of financial-aid optimization and the algorithms of modern enrollment management have made the process of college admissions more opaque and unbalanced than ever. They have empowered affluent students, allowing them to be more choosy about where they go and how much they pay to go there. They have created brand-new obstacles for working-class and low-income students trying to rise above their family’s economic situation.

10) Some good political science in the Monkey Cage, “No, Trump isn’t Teflon. Scandals lower his approval among Republicans — if they see the news.”

11) Apparently, some white people don’t like to learn about the legacy of slavery when they visit historic sites that were, among other things, slave plantations:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — A Monticello tour guide was explaining earlier this summer how enslaved people built, planted and tended a terrace of vegetables at Thomas Jefferson’s estate when a woman interrupted to share her annoyance.

“Why are you talking about that?” she demanded, according to Gary Sandling, vice president of Monticello’s visitor programs and services. “You should be talking about the plants.”

At Monticello, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and other plantations across the South, an effort is underway to deal more honestly with the brutal institution that the Founding Fathers relied on to build their homes and their wealth: slavery.

Four hundred years after the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia, some sites are also connecting that ugly past to modern-day racism and inequality.

The changes have begun to draw people long alienated by the sites’ whitewashing of the past and to satisfy what staff call a hunger for real history, as plantations add slavery-focused tours, rebuild cabins and reconstruct the lives of the enslaved with help from their descendants. But some visitors, who remain overwhelmingly white, are pushing back, and the very mention of slavery and its impacts on the United States can bring accusations of playing politics.

“We’re at a very polarized, partisan political moment in our country, and not surprisingly, when we are in those moments, history becomes equally polarized,” Sandling said.

The backlash is reflected in some online reviews of plantations, including McLeod in Charleston, S.C., where one visitor complained earlier this summer that she “didn’t come to hear a lecture on how the white people treated slaves.”

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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