An amazing previously untold story about Clarence Avant: “Mover and shaker. Kingmaker and guru.”
Includes this great quote from Barack Obama: “Economic progress, cultural progress, social progress, political progress are all tied together.”
An amazing previously untold story about Clarence Avant: “Mover and shaker. Kingmaker and guru.”
Includes this great quote from Barack Obama: “Economic progress, cultural progress, social progress, political progress are all tied together.”
Five teens from Harlem become trapped in a nightmare when they’re falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. … Academy Award nominee Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”) directs this powerful retelling of a case that gripped the nation. … In the spring of 1989, five boys of color …
Excellent, timely, extremely important. Highly rated by audiences.
The Ezra Klein Show
Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of California Berkeley. She’s published more than 100 journal articles and half a dozen books. She runs a cognitive development and learning lab where she studies how young children come to understand the world around them, and she’s built on that research to do work in AI, to understand how adults form bonds with both children and each other, and to examine what creativity is and how we can nurture it in ourselves and — more importantly — each other.I worry when I post these podcasts with experts in child development that people without children will pass them by. So let me be direct: Listen to this one. I didn’t have Gopnik on the show to talk about children; I had her on the show to talk about human beings. What makes us feel love for each other. How we can best care for each other. How our minds really work in the formative, earliest days, and what we lose as we get older. The role community is meant to play in our lives.There is more great stuff in this conversation than I can write in an intro. She’s changed my thinking on not just parenting but friendships, marriage, and schooling. Some of these are ideas you could build a life around. This is worth your time.Book recommendations:A Treatise of Human Natureby David HumeAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis CarrollThe works of Jean Piaget
By Wade Lee Hudson
The Politics of Immaturity: America in an Age of Immaturity
University of Chicago Press, 2016
Donald Trump is another Joe McCarthy. So says Alan Wolfe in The Politics of Immaturity: America in an Age of Immaturity. Wolfe’s passionate, eloquent affirmation of “mature liberalism” is not uncritical of post-war liberals who challenged McCarthyism. But Wolfe urges us to remember “what they got right.”
Trump loved McCarthy’s lawyer, Roy Cohn, who was “notoriously malicious” and practised “the dark arts of American politics.” They became close friends and Cohn greatly influenced Trump. When James Comey and Jeff Sessions frustrated Trump, he famously declared, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” His link to Cohn was more than personal. They shared the same worldview: demagoguery. Trumpism parallels McCarthyism .
Concerning many of the liberals who criticized McCarthyism and the radical right that emerged from it, Wolfe acknowledges:
Their rightful hostility toward the Soviet Union translated itself into a rigid anti-communism that became, for some, an ideology unto itself. Seeing fascism in unexpected places, they exaggerated the dangers posed by both the student movements and the black protest of the 1960s. Equality for women was the furthest thing from their minds…. Indeed, most of them, with the exception of Richard Wright and Reinhold Niebuhr, seemed to have not all that much interest in the question of race at all…. There may have been an antidemocratic tinge….
Nevertheless, Wolfe insists
for all their flaws, these thinkers stand redeemed today because they brought both the classical and the Enlightenment understandings of politics back to life and thereby offered a starting point for trying to understand why Americans, who profess to love democracy and freedom, elected as their president in 2016 a man and a party that seemed to respect neither….
One could dismiss or even attack their positions so long as American politics showed some signs of stability. Alas, such complacency, given the right-wing demagoguery shaking both the world and this country, is no longer affordable…. That is why, despite their occasional blind spots, it makes sense to return to what these intellectuals had to say…. If Trump’s accession to the presidency does not cause intense introspection, nothing can. It is, furthermore, not an explanation of one rogue election we need. It is a discussion of what kind of nation we have become.
Wolfe recounts Americans’ periodic vulnerability to demagogues—politicians who appeal “to people’s unreflective emotions and rely on a simplistic worldview to win and hold office by any means necessary.” Wolfe considers demagoguery to be “a near-perfect expression of what I am calling the politics of petulance.”
Like a snake oil salesman, the demagogue discovers the susceptibility of the people to nostrums of relief designed to distract them from the real causes of their worries. In the demagogue’s world, emotions take precedence over facts, remedies are hastily assembled, policies are promoted irrespective of their consequences, enemies are identified, scores are settled, crimes become common, distractions are offered, and when none of these remedies seem to work, as they invariably do not, the leader and the people, joined together in mutual frustration, lash out like six-year-olds at a world beyond their ability to comprehend.
The extensive study of demagoguery undertaken by many scholars reveals that “a well-functioning political system requires an ability to say no to unfiltered desires.” But with Joe McCarthy and the Goldwater right, “their impulsivity, their search for scapegoats, their simplicity, and above all else their irredeemable petulance—all reveal an approach to politics lacking in personal and political growth.”
Aristotle and others after him wrote about the dangers posed by demagogues. The American Founders studied those writers when they established their system of “checks and balances,” which guarded against that threat. But Joe McCarthy offered “living proof” that the threat was still real.
The McCarthy period and the radical right posed a fundamental challenge to those whose business it was to understand America…. Richard Hofstadter’s [The Age of Reform (1955); Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963),The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964)] search for an explanation of the historical roots of the frenzy that characterized American politics during the 1950s and 1960s…remains essential reading to us today…. If there is any key to understanding just how Donald Trump became our president, it can be found among the ideas of Hofstadter and his friends, colleagues, and contemporaries.
These writers, including Hannah Arendt, Erich Fromm, Daniel Bell, Mary McCarthy, Dwight Macdonald, Diana and Lionel Trilling, Reinhold Niebuhr, Richard Wright, David Riesman, Seymour Martin Lipset, Nathan Glazer, and Arthur Schelsinger, Jr. possessed “a respect for concrete data, a concern for the everyday lives of ordinary citizens, and a facility with the English language that could at times produce gripping prose.”
our top universities, preoccupied with the training of specialized graduate students, no longer make much room for broadly educated public intellectuals….. [Our] deeply divided country has produced deeply divided thinkers, no longer able or willing to respect those on the other side. When McCarthy attacked, first-class intellectuals were there to respond. When Trump assumed power, although many newspaper columnists have much to say, academic forces can barely make themselves heard—or did not want to be heard…. The “thought leaders” of today…flourish in age of TED Talks, PowerPoint, and global consulting. Rather than write broadly about many issues, they concentrate on one or two, hammering their message home in a series of books, many co-authored, and YouTube appearances. They seem always to be attending a conference somewhere and are often featured, dressed to the nines, in the latest issue of The Economist or the New York Times magazine…. Ideas have never been more present in American life. Whether they are deep ones is another question.
Sixties radicals strongly criticized post-war liberals for not distinguishing between affluent right-wingers who opposed the New Deal and small farmers and wage earners who struggled to survive. Wolfe supports that criticism. He agrees with Alfred Kazin’s belief that “whatever their flaws…movements on behalf of social justice make the world a better place.” Wolfe considers that conviction “a truth that the post-war political intellectuals, always wary of extremists, had, to their discredit, neglected.”
But Richard Nixon, his “Southern Strategy,” George Wallace, Patrick Buchanan, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump have demonstrated that the post-war liberals
knew something about the dangers to democracy posed by charlatans claiming to be speaking in the name of the people…. McCarthy and the new right…grew so far and so fast because there was an insufficient number of grown-ups around to put a stop to their antics.
Many of these liberals focused on the notion of “maturity.” Lionel Trilling, for example, wrote:
A society is a modern society when it maintains a condition of repose, confidence, free activity of the mind, and tolerance for divergent views. A society is modern when it affords sufficient well-being for the convenience of life and the development of taste. And, finally, a society is modern when its members are intellectually mature,… willing to judge by reason, to observe facts in a critical spirit, and to search for the law of things.
The post-war liberal analysis of the reasons for right-wing demagoguery remains relevant. They insisted the causes could not reduced to economics.
We learn little, they argued, by looking at the class positions of McCarthy’s supporters. The more important factor was a subjective sense of having lost ground: the WASP elite to a rising meritocratic and professional upper-middle-class; small town businessmen and farmers to city folks; and old-fashioned generals to technocrats with graduate degrees from MIT…. Frustrated by a society they no longer could recognize, ”the dispossessed,” as [Daniel] Bell called them in 1962, brought to America a sharper, more dangerous tone than previous movements of protest such as the Jacksonians and the Populists. The radical right, in the view of these thinkers, was not just an elite reaction but a movement with significant support from below. This made it much more powerful and that much more dangerous.
Even a summary as brief as this makes it clear that scholars such as Bell and Hofstadter were trying to replace the politics of class with a politics of status…[rooted in] feelings of alienation.
One manifestation was Prohibitionism, whose goal “was to protest the emergence of a culture that did not value hard work, family solidarity, and American patriotism as strongly as they thought it should.” Hofstadter speculated that within this cultural environment, “It is at least conceivable that a highly organized, vocal, active, and well-financed minority could create a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.”
Concerned about that underlying alienation, Reisman feared not so much ”total destruction” as “total meaninglessness.” In 1957, he wrote, “There are few channels, political or economic, for translating these as yet undefined shades of feeling into a program which could give us alternatives both to spending for defense and to spending for spending’s sake.”
According to Wolfe, for these liberals,
economics was never enough…. Given their emphasis on culture, the mature liberals are best not characterized as progressives. It would certainly be nice if history amounted to one progressive victory over another. But the complexities of human nature disallows such a happy conclusion: no direct line to a better world can be found in the mature liberals’ books and articles. His, Daniel Bell concluded, was a twice-born generation, and it found its wisdom in “pessimism, evil, tragedy, and despair.” Such pessimism is why Hofstadter, writing of the Goldwater campaign of 1964, cited the work of his colleague Fritz Stern on the turn to authoritarianism in German political thought before Hitler. The unhappiness of these writers could become too extreme, certainly for my taste. I prefer Hofstadter’s more temperate language when he wrote in favor of a worldview ”chastened by adversity, tempered by the time, and modulated by a growing sense of reality” that would wean the reform impulse from “its sentimentalities and complacencies.”
Wolfe argues that C. Wright Mills, “the godfather of post-war academic leftism,” is an example of excessive focus on economics.
Curiously, however, Mills, who wrote about many things, never wrote anything about McCarthy…. It is as if McCarthy’s messiness, his inconsistencies and irrationalities, interfered with Mill’s preference for an ordered world of elite dominance in which the powerful always act to preserve and expand their power.
…For him, culture was a distraction, a kind of bread-and-circuses way to keep people’s minds off the plans that the power elite had in store for them. We increasingly live, Mills believed, in a society that renders impossible the ideal that people can shape the cultural institutions that matter to them…. Mills could easily border on the conspiratorial…. [He] might have avoided the issue of McCarthy because he could sound so much like him.
The presidential election of John F. Kennedy gave the post-war liberals hope. “He was open not only to ideas in general but to the specific ideas of the participants in the debate over McCarthy.” (When he was President-elect, Kennedy helped to end the Hollywood blacklist by crossing an American Legion picket line to view the film “Spartacus,” after which he praised it.)
But “all that went into abeyance with Kennedy’s assassination, for Lyndon Johnson preferred to hang out with other kinds of people.”
Mature liberalism, it turned out, lacked the sense of rage appropriate to the developing Vietnam War and America’s continued inability to deal with the issue of race. The end of ideology, in addition, seemed like an absurd idea when Communists were in power in Cuba and the Soviet Union, and the student rebels, myself included, found wisdom in the Marxist classics. Under conditions of such turmoil, mature liberalism became senescent: it found himself transformed into a sclerotic centrism, resting on its laurels and no longer inspiring.
Demagogic appeals are alive and well in the United States. Contemporary right wing populists rely on political immaturity, as have left wing populists.
A sustained redistribution of income from the poorest to the wealthiest, along with seemingly uncontrollable globalizing forces, has left behind pockets of the white working-class so filled with resentment that it was only a matter of time before they made an impact on American democracy. One can characterize this phenomenon any way one wishes. For me, Daniel Bell’s term “the dispossessed” is as good as it gets.
The post-war concern about demagogues’ lack of maturity remains cogent. In 2009, Barack Obama, “an avid reader of Reinhold Niebuhr,” reminded Americans in his first inaugural address that “the time has come to put away childish things.” But as Trump has tried to “repudiate everything his predecessor said and did,” he is “taking the childish things back out of the closet.”
As insightful as they were, the early post-war liberals could never have imagined anything like the petulant child who now occupies the Oval Office. It is our curse, but perhaps also our blessing, that we have no choice but to see through the glass of American politics darkly.
The way forward is difficult.
People secure in their status and democratic in their sensibilities do not need demagogues to lead them. People who feel threatened by their loss of status do. If they relied more on themselves than the hysterical admonitions of their would-be politicians— very much like David Riesman’s “inner-directed people”—they would be in a better position to know what was best for them and their country.
But it’s not clear how to nurture individual and communal self-reliance.
Wolfe writes that despite its flaws, democracy demands “distance and discernment, the one to make judgments and the other to achieve them.” But there’s no widely agreed-on strategy for how to develop balanced detachment and rational analysis.
We certainly need to cultivate awareness that “there is more to life than economics and more to a good life than consumption.” But it’s not clear how to do so while being conditioned by a culture that is so materialistic.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wanted to energize “the vital center.” To do that, he and his allies recommended “a greater appreciation for an old-fashioned conservative sensibility.” And Hofstadter wrote that liberals “can better serve ourselves in the calculable future by holding on to what we have gained and learned.” But I see no major effort to integrate “liberal” and “conservative” positions—terms whose meaning has become increasingly suspect.
Wolfe’s concluding chapter offers these suggestions:
He also recommends that Democrats avoid a simplistic populism that proposes “bromides they could never fulfill,” as well as a centrism that lacks fire and outrage. Rather, he wants them to treat the American people as “fellow adults.” Wolfe’s final passage reads:
When one looks at the rapport between the infantile Trump and so many of his politically immature followers, replacing the people may be out of the question, but asking the people to grow up does not seem unreasonable. There, I believe, lies the key to a politics capable of avoiding the worst of the Trump years.
But one element that’s missing from Wolfe’s book is any consideration of concrete steps the American people might take to help each other grow up.
“…the core communications infrastructure that Americans rely on to stay the core communications infrastructure that Americans rely on to stay informed should have guardrails to ensure it’s operating, at least at some level, in the interest of the public. In today’s terms, that might mean actual rules against broadcasting hate speech that is sure to reach a large audience—like a channel that has more than a certain large number of subscribers. (If they have fewer, and a platform isn’t boosting them algorithmically, they become less critical to address.) It could mean an obligation to regularly report on efforts to purge viral misinformation or regular reporting on removing foreign and domestic actors who create fake accounts intended to meddle in electoral politics. It could mean clear requirements for handling user data responsibly or not allowing ads that lead to discrimination, like in housing and employment….”
The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker
Katherine J. Cramer
University of Chicago Press, 2016
Hillary Clinton might be President today if she’d read articles Katherine J. Cramer wrote prior to 2016. A Wisconsin native, Cramer has studied political attitudes in rural Wisconsin since 2007. She’s informally visited with residents, engaged in extensive conversations, and listened closely. What she’s learned is revealing. Now that the University of Chicago Press has published her book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, Democrats have no excuse if they don’t pay attention to her discoveries in the 2020 elections.
Cramer’s book echoes Enchanted America: How Intuition and Reason Divide our Politics (see “Irrational Populism”), which calls for “an overarching theory beyond the idea that all elites and outsiders are bad and the people are good.” In a similar vein, Cramer argues that ordinary people should understand their circumstances “as the product of broad social, economic, and political forces,” rather than the “fault of guilty and less deserving social groups.” She says, “The purpose of this book is…to illuminate how we blame each other.”
[You’re invited to help develop an overarching theory that explains those broad forces by participating in the Transform the System Dialog.]
According to Cramer, her term “rural consciousness”
signals an identification with rural people and rural places and denotes a multifaceted resentment against cities…. I heard them complaining that government and public employees are the product of anti-rural forces and should obviously be scaled back as much as possible…. It informed their frequently negative perceptions of public employees.
Cramer found that rural residents criticize city dwellers for eating more than “their share of the pie.” After analyzing the accuracy of this belief, Cramer concludes, “Even though per capita allocations do not consistently support this view, the nature of the challenges facing rural areas in the United States means that there is a reasonable basis for these perceptions.”
Compared to other countries with similar levels of economic inequality, low- and middle-income Americans are less likely to support income redistribution. Cramer concludes those beliefs are rooted in social identity—ideas about “who has power, what people are like, and who is to blame.” Those beliefs “are affected by perceptions of cultural and lifestyle differences” and can’t simply be explained as “ignorance.”
Cramer concluded that rural Wisconsinites “intertwine” personal, social, economic, and political factors. When they evaluate candidates, issues are “secondary to identities.” They are most concerned about: “Is this person like me? Does this person understand people like me?” She writes:
A large part of the conversations centered on Wisconsin residents-like-me versus Wisconsin-residents-unlike-me…. In a politics of resentment, attitudes towards social groups do the work of ideology. In this kind of politics, we see people arguing in favor of small government based on resentment toward other citizens, not libertarian principles…. Those who are to blame are not one of us.
Identifying with social groups is instinctual. Social identities enable people to “compare themselves to others” and “figure out which people are on our side.” They also shape our behavior and our beliefs, and “even influence what we pay attention to [and] what and who influences us.”
As Cramer states, “Identifying with a group does not necessarily entail vilifying members of out-groups.” But in the political realm, “the distribution of resources is often portrayed as a zero-sum game. There is only so much money to go around…. The situation is ripe for a politics of resentment…. People regularly view politics in terms of opposition to other social groups.”
Social identities, economic insecurity, and resentment interact to produce a rift about the proper role of government. Though most pundits talk about red-versus-blue states, this split is actually “on its most basic level, a rural-versus-urban divide.” Politicians can more easily exploit dividing lines when they have physical markers: “identities rooted in geographic spaces.”
“The alliance of rural voters with a party pressing for less government has roots in human action—it has not popped out of thin air….” The formation of public opinion is not a linear cause-and-effect process. Through their own “sense-making” ordinary people contribute to our “caustic political environment.”
Bottom-up and top-down processes are occurring at the same time and influence one another…. Political elites reap the benefits of the divisiveness they help create…. The weeds grow as people sow them in the minds of each other…. Certain contexts create a bounty harvest as politicians fertilize certain resentments for particular political purposes.
Rural opposition to income redistribution and anti-government sentiment are not inevitable. After the Civil War, “three things came together: a stagnant economy among farmers, enormous increases in wealth for some people…, and a [federal] government with increased power, not only real but demonstrably so—it had just successfully freed the slaves.”
As political populists developed their vigorous movement, they built alliances with African Americans. Then, “pretty quickly, enemies of populism invoked racism to combat these calls for redistribution.” Ever since, links rooted in race, place, and class have been potent. “Arguments against redistribution still benefit from the unfortunate fact that racist sentiments persist…. Without a psychological connection to the poor, middle-income voters are less likely to support redistributing resources toward them.”
Cramer summarizes what she heard:
Wherever it is those tax dollars are going, they sure aren’t going to people like me, and communities like mine. Because look at this place! This community is dying! It seems to me that I’m paying for healthcare for people who aren’t working half as hard as I am and even though I am working myself to death, I can’t afford to pay for my own health care…. The government must be mishandling my hard-earned dollars, because my taxes keep going up and clearly they are not coming back to benefit people like me. So why would I want an expansion of…bloated government programs and overpaid and underworked public employees?
In her conclusion, Cramer suggests some ideas for how best to proceed.
First, it is possible that the resources rural communities are receiving are not effectively addressing the needs of rural communities. Perhaps state, federal, and even county legislation is too often applied to all types of places equally. Maybe more programs should be tailored specifically for real needs and crafted with recognition that not all rural areas are the same….
The manner in which policy is created and delivered is important for whether people perceive it as meeting their needs or being in their interests. If the people I spent time with it had perceived that policymakers had listened to the concerns of rural residents before creating government programs, would they have felt differently about those programs?….
At root, my hope in writing this book is that more and more people redirect the energy they use to engage with public issues away from criticizing their fellow citizens and toward improving the policy process to ensure that it is responsive to the needs of all people. That is asking a lot. In an atmosphere of resentment, it is tough to take the high road and operate on a belief that all people are, at root, good and deserving of respect. Our current politics give little incentive for elected officials to pursue such behavior. It is time that those of us with the power to vote demand it of them.
Only 15 percent of Americans live in rural areas. Given the electoral map, Republican power relies on rural residents. The Democrats may continue to largely ignore rural residents, and merely seek barely enough votes to win a narrow majority in Congress and take back the White House. Without landslide victories, however, their power will be limited and unstable.
As voters become increasingly loyal to their party regardless of the party’s ideology, winning the Senate will be particularly difficult. Thomas B. Edsall calculates that in 2020, “In order to win a majority of 51 seats, Republicans need to win only five seats in the competitive purple states; for Democrats to win a majority, they need to win 11 seats in competitive states.” Given greater party loyalty, weak candidates can still win. For Democrats to seize the Senate, they must cut their losses in rural areas.
The Republicans’ notorious “Southern strategy” that exploits racism is a major factor. The percentage of working class whites who hold strong racial resentment and vote Republican has increased by about 50% since 2000. The Republican Party, Edsall writes, “has become the fervent ally of a president determined to embrace and embolden a white America hostile to immigrants, committed to an immoral racial hierarchy and eager to eviscerate the social progress of the past 60 years.”
Cramer, however, heard more expressions of overt white racism in urban and suburbans areas than she did in rural Wisconsin.
When I heard rural residents talk about ‘those people on welfare,” they were talking about their white neighbors…. When they talked about lazy urbanites, they were talking about government employees or wealthier people who did not have to work as hard as themselves. The lazy and undeserving were also often young people. In this way, the perception that government programs benefited urbanites and not rural residents was not racism as it is commonly understood.
But racism today is not simple…. Patterns of discrimination over centuries mean that race colors our impressions…. Just because blatantly racist statements did not appear in the conversations I observed in rural areas does not mean that racism does not exist in those places. Badger Poll data do suggest that self-identified rural residents are more likely to think that minorities have too much influence than are self-identified urban or suburban residents….
The persistence of racial stereotypes that contain beliefs that some racial groups are lazier than others makes it likely that [racist] arguments activate racial resentment among many people, and, therefore even stronger opposition to government spending…. The ubiquity of subconscious racial prejudice, even among people who consciously express racial tolerance, underscores this possibility.
Nevertheless, it seems that Cramer’s findings suggest that racism is not a driving, definitive factor with most rural residents. And to the degree that it is a factor, it can be counteracted by activating other aspects of the human potential. According to Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, it will be difficult for the Democrats to win the Senate if they continue to voice what he calls “President Obama’s (and Hillary Clinton’s) metropolitan triumphalism that drives away all working people.” If Democrats start listening more closely to rural residents and speak to their needs, their “Big Tent” could expand to include more rural voters, and they could better mobilize supermajorities nationwide. Not only could that strategy be more effective. It would be the right thing to do morally.
Cramer’s call for a focus on “broad social, economic, and political forces” is well-taken—as far as it goes. But she fails to consider how those forces are woven together into a self-perpetuating social system. Consequently, she indicates support for a political populism that blames (ill-defined) elites.
By way of contrast, a popular movement rooted in compassion could recognize that the System is our primary problem. That social system is mutually constituted. Everyone is responsible. As individuals, we reinforce the System with how we treat each other. A “blue wave” in 2020 could be a step toward transforming each element of the System—individuals, families, and informal communities included.
Many, if not most, elites will likely resist any such movement. But we can oppose those who do without demonizing them. We can insist that they too, in the long run, will benefit from a more caring society. The better we do, the better they do. The better you do, the better I do. The better I do, the better you do. One for all, all for one.
Screening on Netflix as of June 12 Continue reading
Originally broadcast on “The Smothers Brothers”)
…the distribution of resources is often portrayed as a zero-sum game. There is only so much money to go around…. The situation is ripe for a politics of resentment…. People regularly view politics in terms of opposition to other social groups….
from The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, by Katherine J. Cramer