Tag Archives: Red/Blue

Monday’s Mtg: Is Rural v. Urban Our Worst Political Divide?

Since Donald Trump’s election, some observers have declared that a growing “urban versus rural” divide is our worst and most unbridgeable political conflict. Supposedly, a huge cultural, economic, and values gap between cattlemen and sheep-herders Americans in big cities and small town America lies at the root of our partisan warfare. Certainly, it’s well worth an evening’s discussion at Civilized Conversation.

But, let’s be accurate in what “rural v. urban” means and what people are divided about. Small-town voters did not elect Trump. (FYI, nor did White working class voters, ¾ of whom live near cities). He won two-thirds of rural votes, but, they are only 17% of the electorate, ergo not even 10% of his voters. Small-town, “heartland” America is nowhere near a majority of the country, even a silent one.

If we move the goalposts a bit, however, we start to get somewhere. As I will explain on Monday’s opening remarks, evidence is piling up a widening gap between Americans that live and work in (1) large and medium-sized cities and their close-in suburbs, and (2) those cities’ exurbs, small towns and true rural areas. This way of seeing blue/red as city/country doesn’t explain everything in our politics, nor does it fit easily on a bumper sticker. But it sheds a lot of light on some of the forces that are tearing us apart politically, I think.

This geography-based theory leaves a lot out to be sure, notably our racial and religiosity divides. But the poles of these other deep divisions in American society are starting to line up in either rural/small town or urban/cosmopolitan camp, so the metaphor still has value.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. Terms: What is meant by rural and urban and country/city? Who are we talking about: How many people, who, where?
  2. Econ: Are there big differences in objective material circumstances between rural and urban America?
  3. Culture: What about culturally, especially family and religious values and comfort with diversity?
  4. Divide: How does all this translate into a partisan political divide? How do race, religion, and immigration get mapped onto it?
  5. Trump as cause and effect.
  6. What can be done?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

NEXT WEEK: What is the purpose of our criminal justice system?

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Monday’s Mtg Part 2: What Does USA Stand For?

[Authored by Ali, this is our topic for Monday:]

“The US moral divide and How the US defines itself.”

I came up with this idea a few weeks ago when I listened to a TED talk (first link) about how to talk across the political lines by using terms and ideals that the other side can readily accept. This got thinking about how most of our political discussions today are useless because we don’t share a basic moral agreement about what the government and the nation as a whole morally stand for.

This, of course, a philosophical question but it has very real ramifications on the economy, the role of government, foreign policy, healthcare, and cultural themes.

Are we group of people who should aspire to be pure of heart and mind (maybe genes) and try to shut all other “pollutants”? Are we guardians of something? And what is that thing? The weak? Our way of life? Civilization? The survival of the species? Should our society try and imitate nature, and if so then is Nature competition or harmony?
Do we have a moral obligation toward others, and does those “others” include all humans, all living beings, all animals, the entire planet, just “our own people”?
Do we have a role in this world? Or are we just one of many nations and should mind our own business and people, or are we inherently wrong (We’re built upon invasion and slavery) and shouldn’t try to infect any other nation until we fix the problems that we have a home?

The subject might seem a little too overreaching, and I agree, but we should try and keep it about morality and its role in our personal and political choices.

https://www.ted.com/…/robb_willer_how_to_have_better_politi… (How to talk across the Moral divide_

https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/morally-what-does-the-us-_b… (What is scientifically speaking is the moral divide)

https://www.scientificamerican.com/…/how-science-explains-…/ (The moral divide and how it can affect the political conversation and discourse)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/morally-what-does-the-us-_b… (our moral standing in the world and how it’s changing)

Monday’s Mtg: Have Elites Failed Us?

Several members of our Meetup group asked what I had in mind by “elites.” I deliberately left it undefined to make a point. Americans have some very different ways of defining the horrible, no good elite that everyone supposedly voted to overthrow. In fact, I think vast differences in the way we define our elites lay at the core of our political polarization even before we elected Donald Trump president.

Trump’s populism claims to be a call to arms to overthrow the “Washington establishment” and its collaborators here and abroad. As he said in his inaugural address (in between the talk of carnage and despair):

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. “

Trump’s parasitic elite seems to be our national governing elite, the establishment politicians and the permanent “deep state” that they command. His Hellish vision of a collapsing America sold out by its own elite is pretty stark, that’s for sure.

But, how specific is it, and how accurate?  Who exactly are these quislings and what did they do, and to whom? Maybe history helps. When CivCon discussed modern American populism last June, I noted that populist movements everywhere share a basic characteristic. They identify some despicable, self-dealing elite that exploits the virtuous but powerless masses. The elite is not only privileged; it is unfairly privileged. The elite can be a real or imagined; Its victims all of “the people” or just a subset.

Moreover, Right and Left populist movements in U.S. history usually pick a different elite to resent and not quite the same “We, the people” to champion. Left-wing populism’s villain is concentrated private power, like the Robber Barons and their trusts or today’s giant corporations and the 1% that help them rig the game for plutocracy’s sake. Its victims are everybody else (well, except people of color, until recently), but especially the lower classes and the poor. In contrast, right-wing populism has tended to see a conspiracy of both the top and the bottom against the middle. Its corrupt overlords are government insiders helping an undeserving underclass and/or foreigners redistribute wealth and cultural prestige away from hard-working real Americans.

I’m not trying to dismiss this whole topic nor one side’s POV. Quite the contrary. I feel confident in saying that elites have failed the country, as do large majorities of Americans in poll after poll going back years. But, I am pretty knowledgeable about this stuff. I believe I can connect our country’s worst problems to specific failures by the people with all of the power and influence. I picked this topic so we can explore why just about everyone else thinks the same – even though they seem t disagree about who the elites are and what they are doing wrong and why.

We have plenty to talk about on Monday.  Here are some discussion ideas and readings.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. Who are America’s elites? Are there multiple elites with different interests and power sources, such as…
    1. Economic class versus social/cultural elites.
    2. Racial and ethnic elites?
    3. Educated and regional/cosmopolitan elites.
  2. Do our elites perpetuate power unfairly, or are they a meritocracy?
  3. Why is everybody so mad at elites? Do Americans agree on who to be mad at and why?
  4. Are elites indeed responsible for the mess we are in? Why?
  5. Is Trump just scapegoating? What should/could be done to reduce the power of American elites?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

 

NEXT WEEK: A change of pace – What’s going right in the USA these days?

Monday’s Mtg: 20 Years of Fox News – What Is Its Legacy?

It all began with Fox News, 20 years ago this month.

At least that’s my view. Yes, even before FNN launched in 1996, Rush Limbaugh had been on the air for several years and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had reinvented a much harder-edged Republican Party. Still, I think that Fox made everything we are seeing today possible, from movement conservatism’s takeover of the Republican Party in the 1990s, to the conspiracy theory-driven mutation of the Obama years, straight through to the madness f 2016.

Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps there is not such a straight line to be drawn from that first Fox News broadcast on October 7, 1996, to today’s Trumpian GOP. Many other forces are at work.  Either way though, I still think the launch of the mother ship that is Fox News was a watershed event in American history.

Or, maybe Fox News will change its ways. The network is in great turmoil now, as you no doubt have heard. Roger Ailes, Fox’s founder and ideological commissar, is gone after being fired for sexual harassment. Owner Rupert Murdoch named two of his sons as replacements, and they may be more moderate politically than the ex-Nixon aid Ailes. Fox feuded with Donald Trump initially, but lately has backed him to the hilt. So, FNN will be in the crosshairs when The Great Reckoning begins in earnest starting November 9. Maybe chastised and under new management Fox can evolve into something more responsible.

Our first post-election meeting, on November 14, will be “Who is to Blame for Donald Trump?” Obviously, a single TV network watched by only 3 million people in prime time does not bear all of the blame for what we’re seeing. Nonetheless, to me Fox News is so central to the success of movement conservatism that it deserves its own meeting.

I know it is difficult to talk about anything other than Donald Trump personally these days. But, the conditions that allowed someone like him to capture control of the Republican Party were a long time building, and they will remain after the dust settles. I think we need to understand the crucial incubating and magnifying role played by FNN if we want to grasp why and how this happened. Good people who are conservative Americans – not to mention the rest of us – deserve better.

I will give some kind of brief opening remarks on Monday night to frame our discussion, then throw it open for discussion.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

[UpdateThis is your best explanation of the Fox phenomenon and right-wing media may be heading.  It was not written yet at the time of our mtg.]

Fox News’s Impact –

Donald Trump and Fox News –

The Future of Fox News –

Next Week (10/31):  Franken-future: Will/should we genetically enhance our species?

Monday’s Mtg: How Far Left Will the Democratic Party Move?

Well, the Democrats seem united, and with a clear strategy, too. As you know, it’s pretty typical for a party’s presidential nominee to tack to the center after the convention. But, it seems the Dems really are going to try to take advantage of the GOP nominating a nut job for president by moving both leftward and rightward at the same time.

As everybody knows, Bernie Sanders’ surprising success resulted in a party platform that is farther to the left than it has been in living memory. As we’ll discuss on Monday, it’s generational changeover that are driving this bus. Millennials are very liberal (or just incoherent?), on both social and economic issues. The Republican Party has no idea how to appeal to young people and the Dems are trying to cement their loyalty for a generation.

But, the Dem convention made it crystal clear (in that showy and repetitive way party conventions do) that Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party wants to expand the Obama coalition, not just replicate it. They are making a play to peel off college-educated White moderate voters from the GOP, a group that’s been loyal to the latter since roughly the Reagan era. If they can pull it off over a few back-to-back elections, the Democrats will have pulled off a rare, historic political realignment that could last decades.

Except…how can the Democrats go in both directions at once? Even if they do so successfully this electoral cycle, can it last? Can the Dems satisfy the growing progressive sentiments of Democratic voters and pick off the low hanging fruit of an increasingly extremist GOP without flying apart from the internal contradictions?

I suggest we grope for tentative answers to these questions the same basic way we did last week when we discussed the future of the Republican Party. In brief opening remarks, I will try to lay out how the basic building blocks of the Democratic Party are changing: Its leadership, institutions, and voting blocs. The “emerging Democratic majority” that was confidently predicted in a well-known 1999 book hasn’t actually emerged in a stable form. But, it might, helped along in the near-term by Trump and in the longer-term by other factors that created Trump (last week’s discussion) and within the Democratic Party (this week’s).

Obviously, the future is too contingent to predict with much confidence. But, I think we can have another great discussion like the one we had picking over the GOP’s bleached bones last week.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. What does “progressive” mean right now? Policies: Econ + social issues? Rhetoric? Abstract beliefs like size/reach of govt? Inclusiveness? Exclusiveness?
    –> Is Left/Right too simple a way to describe our politics, or at least many voters?
  2. How liberal are Dem right now, in terms of their (1) elected officials and (2) voters? Has the Party really been moving rapidly leftwards recently?
  3. If so (or if not), why? Leaders, institutions, voters, events?
  4. Is it permanent?
    –>  Will the forces moving Dems leftwards last? Will new trends emerge?
    –>   What about countervailing forces, including the GOP response?
    –>  If Dem coalition gets bigger, must it get more centrist?
  5. Ought: What do you think the Democrats should do (morally + strategically)?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

Movement leftwards so far –

  • On economics, both Obama and Dem electorate have moved left.
  • Conservative POV: Really, really left on everything.
  • Wrong. As this graph shows, Dem elected officials even in the House have moved only a little left since 1980. It is House Republicans that moved far to the right.

The future Democratic Party will be…

Next Week (Aug 8):  Is Obamacare working?  What comes next?

Monday’s Mtg: Trumpocalypse and the Future of the GOP

As I sit here on Thursday night Donald Trump has just finished delivering his shocking, openly authoritarian victory speech at the Republican Party convention. I am beside myself.  I have never been more frightened for my country. The Republican Party has destroyed itself and may destroy us all.

Trump’s speech (and entire campaign) is an audition to be America’s dictator. When he paints his terrifying portrait of a helpless and exploited United States preyed upon by criminals and foreigners, he is describing a nation near its final, apocalyptic collapse and arguing that only he can prevent it. “Law and order” is means one-man rule, Constitution and checks and balances be damned. Make no mistake.

So, what is a group called Civilized Conversation to do? Talk seems so pointless now, so strongly must we all fight to stop this monster and the political party he now speaks for. The election will be close – count on it. This man is guaranteed 45% or so of the national vote and the party he is molding in his image holds more legislative power than at any time since the mid-1920s. I think tonight’s speech is so well-written, passionately-delivered, and rousing that the entire GOP leadership will cave in now to his grotesque spell. For now, it’s Trump’s party, body and soul, an enraged, terrified White nationalist party.

But, hold on. The future isn’t written yet. Only with time will we learn whether Trumpism really is a movement or just a man. I think we can discuss in a civilized (-ish) fashion how the Republican Party is likely to evolve from here. The GOP’s future will depend on many things besides November’s outcome. Leadership. Organization. The corporate, evangelical, and other wings of the Party. Media. Events. Even how the Democratic Party comports itself!

On Monday I will give a brief introduction on what the future of the GOP might depend on. This will be future-focused. For “theories of Trumpism” I refer you to our meeting we had on him last November. It is going to be very hard to turn the Republican Party from this path, given Trump’s immense talent at fear-mongering and persuading a crowd that he has the easy solutions he promises. But, maybe it can be done, and maybe the GOP can be something other than what it has become.

(Oh, and we should also discuss the many ways in which Trump is NOT conservative. The man has shredded conservative orthodoxy on trade, foreign policy, immigration, and much else, and I’m not sure what that signifies and where the Party will go.)

Civilized conversation? Always. But, after that strong-man oration and the crowd’s adulatory response? Saving our civilization is a part of the discussion now, too.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1.  I will write some after I have calmed down a little.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

Causes and Lessons of Trumpism –

Future of GOP and Trumpism:

Next Week: The Democrats’ Turn – How far Left will the Party move?

Monday’s Mtg: Assessing Bill Clinton’s Presidency

By my count, Bill Clinton – our 42nd president and possible future First Gentleman – will be the seventh presidency our group has evaluated. We’ve done Jackson, Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and Obama’s first term. We also debated the best and worst presidents and the power of the office itself. The topic of George W. Bush’s tenure may have come up a few times, too, but my mind’s a blank.

We already know that Bill Clinton never will be on Mount Rushmore. He fought no major American wars nor battled any terrible economic catastrophes. He had to share power with his Republican tormentors and with some conservative Democrats. So, he spent most of his presidency compromising and triangulating. Conservatives despised him and progressives distrusted him.

Yet, Bill Clinton’s presidency was a consequential one. Moreover, he left office still popular, scholars are ranking him in the top 10 all-time presidents (!) these days, and his wife is running implicitly on a platform to bring back her husband’s era’s widely-shared prosperity. I also think we need to rethink Clinton’s presidency in light of 14 years of post-Bill perspective.

As I indicated last meeting, I will open Monday by listing the major accomplishments, good and bad, of President Bill Clinton. Then, I’ll take a brief stab at providing some context I think might be helpful to us in evaluating his presidency (and, maybe his wife’s?)

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What was Clinton elected to do? What did he promise to do?
  2. Achievements: What was accomplished during the Clinton years in terms of:
    • Domestic policy,
    • Foreign policy,
    • Politics (building an enduring political movement and coalition)?
  3. Evaluating him:
    • Context: How were the domestic and international contexts within which he operated different from todays?
    • Credit: Does Clinton deserve all of the credit/blame for these achievements, or do others share both?
    • Standards: By what standards was Clinton judged at the time? How might those standards be different today?
  4. So, how good or bad a president was Bill Clinton?
  5. Any lessons for how Hillary would or should govern if elected?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Next Week: Cry, Robot. Will technology revolutionize the nature of work?

Monday’s Mtg: Who Runs the Republican Party?

Congressional leaders and state-level elected officials. Tea Party networks. Neocons, Theocons, and Reformicons (I’ll explain). Fox News and the rest of the conservative news-entertainment complex. Upscale libertarian voters. Downscale white working class voters. Southerners. Westerners. Big corporations and rich donors. The Republican National Committee and other formal party groups. “Shadow party” organizations controlled by the Koch brothers and other super-wealthy donors. Ted Cruz. Jeb Bush. Scott Walker. Rush Limbaugh. John Boehner (just kidding).

You get the idea. How can we possibly understand who’s in charge of the Republican Party? Political scientists have spent decades studying how American political parties function and they still disagree (academic paper, pdf) about how decisions get made. In a way, it’s an especially bad time to ask who’s running the GOP, since it’s had no president for six years, 25+ potential 2016 nominees, and a congressional leadership that cannot even control their caucus, much less anything larger.

Still, the 2014 election gave the Republican Party a lot of power, about as much as a party get without holding the presidency. The GOP controls Congress and more than one-half of all state governments. They have vast amounts of money, their own news media, and they are united ideologically (mostly). I think it’s a great time to debate who is setting the Party’s agenda and priorities.

I am not particularly well-versed on the polysci of how our parties operate, and ‘m having trouble finding good links on the subject. Still, I am working on it and on Monday I’ll open with a few remarks on the subject that I hope will help us to understand how different actors influence what the GOP stands for. Then, we can discuss whatever.

Note: I feel that some of our meetings have been a little unfocused lately. So, I’m going to try a little harder to keep us on topic this time. The topic is who runs the GOP and how that may be changing, not what do we think of conservative ideology. I’m going to crack down on people giving long history lessons and personal anecdotes, too.

Note II: A lot of links, but not much yet on the (1) polysci or (2) conservative POV.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. HOW: What does it mean to “run” or “control” a major American political party? How is that attempted and accomplished (e.g., via organizing, activism, money, promoting popular ideas, control of the news media, etc.)?
  2. WHO: What are the major factions in the Republican Party these days? On what do they agree and disagree?
  3. WHICH: Which faction has the most influence? Why? Are any major disagreements unresolved or finessed?
  4. TODAY: So, what does the Republican Party stand for? Has that changed recently? Was it because of new forces, or just the waxing and waning of old factions?
  5. TOMORROW: Will the factional balance of power within change? How? How will losing or winning the 2016 election contribute?
  6. How do conservative and liberal answers to these questions differ? Can we learn anything from the other side’s answers?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Who controls the GOP?

Which faction dominates?

Which Individuals Matter Most?

Next Week: What can science tell us about Good and Evil?

Monday’s Mtg: Progressivism After Obama

President Obama still has 783 days left in office. But, like the Christmas lights I just put up, I suppose it’s never too early to start preparing for post-Obama American politics. Even though the Republicans just enjoyed a big mid-term election victory, a lot of political navel gazing in recent years has speculated on whether demographic changes are slowly growing an “emerging Democratic majority” in this country, or even an emerging progressive majority. A lot of people doubt this will happen, and I’m one of them. But, I thought now might be a good time to take stock of how the progressive movement will evolve the res tof the decade and whether a progressive-based majority coalition is even possible.

Below are some discussion questions for our meeting and links to some of the better speculation on where progressivism stands right now and may go in the future. Have a good weekend, maybe peruse a few of them , and I’ll see you on Monday night.

And remember – we will be seated at a different table in our Coco’s. look for us in the back of the main dining room, since they’re using our normal banquet room spot as pie storage for the duration of the holidays.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. MEANING: What’s a good working definition for us of progressivism in terms of (1) a political and moral philosophy, and (2) its major component policies?
  2. POPULARITY: How large is the progressive voter base right now? Which parts of the progressive vision command majority public support and which parts are unpopular? Why don’t more Americans support progressivism?
  3. OBAMA: How progressive are his achievements? Did he help to build a stronger (or weaker) progressive movement?
  4. FUTURE: Are demographic changes ushering in an “emerging Democratic majority?” What could prevent or hasten its rise?
  5. How will the actions of conservatives affect the future of progressivism?

LINKS –

How progressive was (is – 783 days left!) Obama?

  • We discussed this in August and I summed up both sides of the argument.
  • It had some pretty good links, I thought.

Progressivism is doomed and already has lost –

Progressivism will triumph –

Neither side will triumph –

Next Week The Future of American Masculinity

Monday’s Mtg: Sex Education – What Works and What’s Right?

Most of us haven’t thought about sex education since we were its targets back, oh, let’s say roughly 20 years ago.  But, sex ed remains alive and well in America’s culture wars, state by state and school district by school district.  Polls show that most Americans want their kids to receive some form of sex ed, and about 85% of students do.  Yet, ignorance about sex and its consequences (both bad and good consequences) is rampant among young people.  Young Americans ages 15 to 24 represent 25 percent of the sexually active population, but acquire half of all new sexually transmitted diseases.  Although the U.S. teen birth rate has declined to its lowest levels since data collection began, we still have the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world, with 3 in 10 girls getting pregnant at least once before their 20th birthday

What’s wrong?  Is it the fault of not enough or poorly-taught sex ed?  Well, fewer than half of the states require that schools teach sex education at all, and a majority require it to stress abstinence.  Abstinence-only sex ed has been a fervent cause of many social conservatives in the last decade or two, even though studies show it just doesn’t work.  Yet, surely abstinence-only should not be blamed for Americans’ sexual ignorance, since our teen pregnancy and STD rates have been high for decades. Abstinence-only gets all of the media attention and scorn from liberals, but there are other controversial aspects of sex ed, too.

As an instant, Internet-made expert on this topic, I’ll start us off on Monday by explaining what’s required in sex education in most states.  Then, I’ll summarize the biggest controversies about the teaching of sex ed that I’m aware of, including the one over abstinence-only.  I think sex education is a great vehicle for debating a lot of fundamental issues in American politics, such as the plusses and minuses of local control and the opinion of experts versus the wishes of the public.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. WHO decides whether and how sex education is taught in the United States?
  2. WHY is sex education taught?  What is the goal?  What should be the goal of it?
  3. WHAT do they teach in today’s sex education and  how?  How much variation is there?  What moral values are taught along with the facts?
  4. EFFECTIVENESS:  Does sex education actually work?
  5. ISSUES:  What is controversial about sex education?  Is it just religious conservatives that object to the way sex education is done, or do others have a problem with it, too? à  How is/should the science of what works be balanced with parental rights and local preferences?

LINKS –

Abstinence only wars –

  • Key:  Abstinence only does not work; but abstinence plus other instruction does work. Recommended.
  • Studies found a lot of inaccurate info in abstinence-only curricula, including some crazy stuff..
  • The Republican Party’s official position us that all sex education programs should be replaced with abstinence only programs.

More Controversies –

  • Contraception:  Should schools dispense contraception, including Plan B, without parental consent, like New York does?
    –> Does this go too far?
  • Homosexuality:  Nine state prohibit the teaching of homosexuality or require that it be mentioned only to condemn it.
    –>  What exactly should they teach about LGBT?  What if the local community thinks differently?
  • Pleasure:  Should sex ed teach about pleasure?  Yes, says this very progressive view of how to teach sex ed.
    –> Do you agree?  Should parents be able to opt-out?
  • 2,000 protesting parents just got a sex ed textbook pulled in Fremont, CA.

Next Week:  Richard Nixon’s presidency, 40 years later.