Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Soothing Thought

It was understandable that a mere day after the 2016 election Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine and chairperson of the Network of Spiritual Progressives would write

The left needs to stop ignoring people’s inner pain and fear. The racism, sexism and xenophobia used by Mr. Trump to advance his candidacy does not reveal an inherent malice in the majority of Americans. If the left could abandon all this shaming, it could rebuild its political base by helping Americans see that much of people’s suffering is rooted in the hidden injuries of class and in the spiritual crisis that the global competitive marketplace generates.

That was before we knew better. Still, even today- Tuesday, April 10, 2018- we have individuals nominally left of center chastising the left for alleged close-mindedness. Pundit and author Sally Kohn, though saying avid Trump critics "should (not) give up your core beliefs," warns them

If you want to make things better, stop hating Trump voters. After all, don’t you want them to change? Don’t you want them to abandon their loyalty to Trump, see how destructive he is and vote for a progressive candidate in two or 10 or 20 years? Too much is made of “sides” in politics today, but nonetheless, don’t you want “their side” to come join “our side”?...

....please know that a lot of Trump supporters think you’re the hateful, close-minded monsters. So just like you feel justified hating them because they hate you, they feel justified hating you because you hate them. And so we end up on this ugly merry-go-round of hate. Which only stops when one side decides to end it. 

Lerner referred to "the left," "Democrats," and "liberals" and Kohn to "fellow progressives." But one of the things they have in common is neither names names. No Democratic and/or liberal politiciian is cited and they by no means implicate themselves, their family members or relatives, friends, or even neighbors. It's easier and safer that way.

Kohn argues- sympathetically- "part of the frustration many Trump supporters have expressed is that they feel marginalized and disdained in the wake of greater social progress and inclusion."

That's putting a smiley face on it.  Last week, Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard found

a new scholarly analysis suggests Trump's instinct that racial prejudice drove him to victory is spot on.

"The 2016 campaign witnessed a dramatic polarization in the vote choices of whites based on (their level of) education," writes a research team led by political scientist Brian Schaffner of the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. "Very little of this gap can be explained by the economic difficulties faced by less-educated whites. Rather, most of the divide appears to be associated with sexism, and denialism of racism."

In the journal Political Science Quarterly, Schaffner and his colleagues note that a significant split between the preferences of highly educated and less-educated white voters is a relatively new phenomenon.

"In 2000, a small but notable gap began to emerge, with non-college-educated whites providing more support for the Republican presidential nominee," they write. "This gap remained relatively small, ranging from five to seven points in the elections held from 2000 to 2012."

"In 2016, however, the gap in vote preferences between college-educated and non-college-educated whites widened considerably to 18 points," they add. "College-educated whites were more supportive of [Hillary] Clinton than they had been of [Barack] Obama in 2012, while whites without a college degree moved even more dramatically toward Trump."

Economic discontent, ethical questions pertaining to Hillary Clinton, and an anti-establishment spirit responding to Trump's "drain the swamp" slogan are among the reasons cited by the learned class to explain the outcome of the presidential election. By contrast, Jacobs explains of Schaffner's findings

Why this occurred has been debated ever since, with one side emphasizing these voters' economic woes, and the other focusing on their fears of a changing society. To try to determine which was more important, the researchers looked at data from two large, nationally representative surveys administered online by YouGov: a pre-election poll of 2,000 American adults taken in late October of 2016, and a survey of 2,830 who were interviewed just before and just after the vote.

Schaffner and his colleagues focused on their responses to seven statements that reflect their attitudes about race and gender. Participants indicated their level of agreement or disagreement with each.

They included "Women are too easily offended;" "Women seek to gain power by getting control over men;" "White people in the U.S. have certain advantages because of the color of their skin;" and "Racial problems in the US. are rare, isolated situations."

In addition, participants indicated which presidential candidate they planned to vote for (or, in the follow-up survey, voted for), and answered one of two questions about their personal finances. Those in the first survey were directly asked "How satisfied are you with your overall economic situation?", while those in the second indicated whether their household income had increased, decreased, or stayed about the same over the past four years.

The results would surprise Lerner, Kohn, and others who do not want to face reality:

"While the economic variables in our models were significantly associated with vote choice, those effects were dwarfed by the relationship between hostile sexism and denial of racism and voting for Trump," the researchers report. "Moving from one end of the sexism scale to the other was associated with more than a 30-point increase in support for Trump among the average likely voter. The relationship for the denial-of-racism scale was nearly identical. Moving from the highest levels of acknowledgement and empathy for racism to the lowest level was associated with about a 30-point increase in support for Trump."

These findings held true even after the researchers took into account two additional factors that have been linked to Trump support: populism (determined by responses to statements such as "The system is stacked against people like me") and authoritarianism (as measured by attitudes about child-rearing).

If only we'd just listen to each other (or at least the left to the right), Lerner and Kohn imply. More realistically, Jamelle Bouie on the day after the election observed

Americans are stubbornly, congenitally optimistic. And the millions who backed Trump see something in his visage. Something that gives them hope. Here’s what I see. I see a man who empowered white nationalists and won. I see a man who demanded the removal of nonwhite immigrants and won. I see a man who pledged war crimes against foreign enemies and won. I see a man who empowers the likes of Rudy Giuliani and others who see blacks as potential criminals to control, not citizens to respect.

Understanding how other people think is never a bad thing, and economic discontent did indeed play a role in defeat of the party defending (in more ways than one) the presidency. It is comforting to believe that we, the American people, have few if any prejudices, and that the election of Barack Obama eight years earlier proved it.  But no good can come from ignoring facts, facts which should have been evident in the victory of the Make America Great Again candidate (video from 11/17/16), who laid bare his contempt for ethnic minorities, women, and the country itself.

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This blog will return on Saturday, April 14, 2018, when hopefully you will, also.

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