Democracy and Donuts
Feb 14, 2017
Assessing data from the MID Mood of the Nation Poll, Berkman shows the connection between Trump's tweets and his followers. "Trump’s anger and its targets are quickly adopted and internalized by large numbers of his followers. What he says, they say. What he believes, they believe."
Read the full article here:
Jan 26, 2017
Women (and Men) took to the streets in protest last week on every continent and in just about every state. What does it mean and what happens next? Lee Ann Banaszak, chair of Penn State's Political Science department offers her assessment.
Jan 26, 2017
Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has been accused of lying more frequently and more egregiously than most politicians. Many Americans are unconcerned. All politicians lie, they say. What difference does it make if Donald Trump lies more frequently than most? Beem argues that it does make a difference. Donald Trump is not just another politician. And his lies are distinctively dangerous to American democracy. Disagreement is inescapable: we do not have the same experiences, interests, or values. Democracy is how we organize ourselves socially despite those disagreements. We argue about policy instead of fighting about it. But for argument to work, there have to be prerequisites. Following Hannah Arendt, Beem presents two: first, we agree that there are such things as facts. And, second, when we argue, we strive to be truthful. Donald Trump lies in ways that undermine these prerequisites. First, he is not merely a liar; Donald Trump is a bullshitter. His lies manifest a rank indifference to the truth. Second, Trump is a gaslighter: he lies with such confidence and combativeness that he makes people doubt what they know to be true. He concludes by outlining how Americans should respond to a Trump presidency.
Jan 26, 2017
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey last month, First Lady Michelle Obama somberly reflected on the country in the aftermath of the presidential election. Winfrey was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the current president who built his campaign on hope. “Now,” the First Lady told her, “we’re feeling what not having hope feels like.”
But is America really feeling hopeless? The Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy “Mood of the Nation Poll” allows ordinary citizens to tell us what is on their minds. In particular, the poll allows us to ask 1,000 Americans what it is that they are hopeful about.
Jan 26, 2017
Last summer, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry gave a speech in which he outlined his opinion of then presidential candidate Donald Trump:
"He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: A toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued ... Let no one be mistaken," Perry said. "Donald Trump's candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded."
Nov 18, 2016
Kirt Wilson is a member of the Faculty Board for the Center for Democratic Deliberation--one of the two research centers associated with the MID. He is also Associate Professor of Political Communication and Rhetoric in the Communication Arts & Sciences Dept.
In this post, Wilson reflects on a colleague's comments that "the word in and of itself is never neutral. It never means the same in all contexts." He applies this idea to claims that the election was "rigged," for example. This word may resonate with many people, but it does not do so for the same reason. For they do not all hear the word the same way. That, Wilson says, is part of what makes it a good political slogan.
Oct 06, 2016
Berkman discusses the class that MID is sponsoring "Trump: the Candidate and the Campaign."
Oct 05, 2016
Chris Beem, MID Managing Director, interviewed Brooke Gladstone at the Hintz Family Alumni Center. Gladstone is host and managing editor of the NPR news magazine On the Media. The title of the talk was: The 2016 Campaign: Is it the Media's Fault? Entertaining and enlightening.
Sep 20, 2016
Managing Director Chris Beem argues that Trump's appeal to white males is driven by their reaction to a society that has betrayed them. This is not just economic; it goes to their understanding of themselves as men. He looks at Susan Faludi's book, Stiffed, to sketch out this feeling of betrayal, and to the films of John Wayne to describe a notion of manhood that Trump wants to reclaim.
Donald Trump has put forward a narrative of a country in decline--of immigrants rampaging over our borders, nations laughing at our newfound fecklessness, and an economy riven by corruption and sweetheart deals. Trump has risen to a virtual tie in election polls, so this vision obviously resonates with many Americans. But for white men without college degrees, it is especially attractive. He gives voice to their feelings of loss and betrayal. As well, he gives them an explanation for their decline and the hope of some kind of restoration. And by offering all this, Trump also promises them a chance to recapture their manhood.
The best accounting of this feeling of betrayal is found in Susan Faludi’s book Stiffed, published in 1999. Faludi argued that men growing up in post-war America had been presented with a bargain: provide for your family and protect them, support your community, do your share and get the job done. Commit to this ethos, the bargain said, and you will have the right to call yourself a man.
At every turn, Faludi says, that commitment was betrayed. The men she interviewed worked hard; they believed in their work and in their employer. But they had nevertheless been downsized, laid off, or simply jettisoned by the new economy (in 1999 it really was new). Beyond economics, Faludi also recounted that men’s identity as husbands and fathers was likewise precarious and unclear.
The men she talked with were left adrift—not just without income and a daily routine, but without meaning and purpose. Unable to fulfill their role, these men no longer felt like men. In language poignantly honest and numbingly consistent, they talked about how they felt emasculated, without value to their society, and without any set of principles to fall back on. They had done everything they were supposed to do, and all that now counted for nothing.
These men expressed surprise, even astonishment at their condition. They didn’t really understand what had happened, and they didn’t know who to blame. But they were certainly looking for somebody. Racial quotas, immigration and feminism were all likely targets: If women were still relegated to clerical work or housewifery, if blacks were still unable to join the union, if Mexicans had not invaded Southern California, then, they believed, there would be more jobs to go around. Faludi is a feminist; she rejected this analysis, but she honored the men whose stories she chronicles, as she did their suffering. Their diagnosis may have been wrong, but they had a right to their anger.
The Ongoing Decline of White Male America
The declines that Faludi documents have only continued. Everyone knows that whites continue to shrink as a percentage of the nation. But it is critical to note that this decline is not merely an aggregate phenomenon; it is manifested in every nook and cranny of the nation. Writing in the Washington Post last year, Christopher Ingraham notes that “in 1980, nearly half of U.S. counties -- 1,412 of them -- had populations that were almost exclusively (98 percent or more) white. Thirty years later, only 149 counties -- fewer than five percent -- fit that same description.” In addition, even from the time of Faludi’s book, whites’ standing as the nation’s moral and cultural arbiters is also significantly diminished. In 1990, 60% of Americans identified as Christian Protestant. In 2014, that number was 47%. In contrast, in 1990 8% of Americans were “unaffiliated.” Today that number is 22%. If current trends continue, by 2051 the two trend lines will meet. The days of hegemony for white males are over, and everybody knows it.
The story about ongoing economic changes is also well known. The percentage of working-age men without a college degree continues to decline: 28 percent of all voters in 2004; 17% in 2012. Manufacturing, blue collar jobs that gave these men an entrée into the middle class continue to disappear, and the service economy that has grown in its place provides both less income and less security. What’s more, in this new economy, women have fared better than men. In part, this change simply reflects a partial balancing out of former inequities. Nevertheless, according to Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, while “women without a college degree are earning more than they were 20 years ago…median real earnings for men without a college degree have fallen 13 percent.” Similarly, a recent Pew Report, notes that more 18-to-34-year-old American men live with their parents than do women: 43 percent vs. 36 percent.
Finally, it is not simply about how little their economic condition has improved. While the position of the working class has languished, a growing professional class has grown comparatively more affluent, and that increasing gap has thereby priced them out of things they used to take for granted. As Thomas B. Edsall has noted in the New York Times, when working families are no longer able to afford a safe neighborhood with good schools for their children, weddings for their daughters, or funerals for their parents, and when all these things happen despite the fact that their behavior, and most especially their work ethic has not changed, it is altogether reasonable that they would look around for someone to blame.
Faludi insisted the decline in the relative social position of white men was primarily but not exclusively economic. These trends, as well, have continued. Men are not just less likely to be the providers, they are also less likely to be married and less likely to be involved in the daily lives of their children. In 1960, three-fourths of men were married. Today, that number is just over half. Similarly, today only two out of three children live with their fathers; in 1960, nine out of ten did.
In the very terms that Faludi outlines then, white working class men continue to be buffeted by an economy and a culture that is changing rapidly, leaving them at best unsure and precarious, at worst emasculated and discarded.
Donald Trump has offered hope to those men. He promises their restoration: economically, culturally, and as men.
Trump and John Wayne
To understand the vision of masculinity that Trump plans to restore, one has to go back to the epitome of that vision, as represented in films of John Wayne.
On January 19th, days before the Iowa Caucus, John Wayne’s daughter Aissa endorsed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. In accepting the endorsement, Trump said this: “When you think about it John Wayne represented strength, he represented power, he represented what the people are looking [for] today because we have exactly the opposite of John Wayne right now in this country. And he represented real strength and an inner strength that you don’t see very often, and that’s why this endorsement it meant so much to me.”
Trump has thus signed on to a vision of John Wayne’s America--a time when America possessed this strength and swagger and was therefore more productive, more inventive, and more powerful. In a word, great. This vision also presents a lost ideal of American manhood—an ideal that Wayne himself defined: “I want to play a real man in all my films, and I define manhood simply: men should be tough, fair, and courageous, never petty, never looking for a fight, but never backing down from one either.” When Trump talks about making America great, this ideal defines not only what he wants to restore for our nation, but who he himself claims to be.
At the heart of Trump’s candidacy is his insistence that this is a dangerous world. There are those who would do us harm. And even some of those who do not want to kill us want to destroy us economically. We cannot deal with this reality through mealy-mouthed “politically correct” appeals to diplomacy or cooperation. These enemies can only be identified, engaged and destroyed. We used to understand this, but our current president does not. In short, neither he nor we are ‘tough.’ In words that echo those spoken by the men in Faludi’s book, Trump says that because we are no longer tough, “We’re being humiliated, pushed around, disrespected, and badly abused.”
In their last film together, Big Jake, Maureen O’Hara finally admits that she needs help of Wayne’s character: “It is, I think, going be a very harsh and unpleasant kind of business and will, I think, require an extremely harsh and unpleasant man to see to it.” Toughness means accepting the world the way it is, and taking on the unpleasant but necessary tasks that it requires. Trump does not shirk from these tasks, either. That is why he thinks water boarding—and more—is necessary. That is why the families of terrorists need to be “taken out.” That is why Guantanamo Bay needs to be kept open and “loaded up” with “bad dudes.” And that is why Saddam Hussein, Vladimir Putin, and those who put down the uprising in Tiananmen Square are all strong leaders. These men all understand that the only path to security and greatness is through toughness.
Trump’s followers understand too. In her book, Faludi recounts a conversation with one man who “looked over his shoulder, lowered his voice” and spoke about how he yearned for “what he called, variously and approvingly, a ‘police state,’ ‘a dictatorship,’ or a ‘controlled environment,’ a state in which the old ‘system’ would be reimposed, his status restored, and the reins of authority returned to a benevolent but firm white male management.”
If you are at the end of your rope, if all the forces are lined up against you and you believe that the game is rigged, then it may well appear that nothing less than a “strong leader” is required. Trump not only validates the feelings of white males, he identifies the enemy, and offers a prescription, bathed in the soft light of a bygone world and more than a glint of fascism.
In the film McLintock!, John Wayne is confronted by a man who pokes him repeatedly with a sawed-off shot gun. The man is a little unhinged, but Wayne’s character deals with him calmness, reason and even with a concern for community decorum. Ultimately, though, he takes the gun from the man, tells him he has not lost his temper in 40 years and says that while someone ought to belt him in the mouth, he won’t do so. Then he says, “The hell I won’t,” right before delivering his signature roundhouse and depositing him in a pig sty. Order and harmony are restored.
Trump has repeatedly validated and espoused violence. And here too, this call is almost always presented with an air of nostalgia. But it is important to be specific: Trump’s violence is John Wayne’s violence. In Fayetteville: "In the good old days, this doesn't happen, because they used to treat them very, very rough. We've become very weak." In Las Vegas: “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks." After a Trump supporter punched and choked a protester at a rally in Birmingham, Trump used dated and diminished language to defend the man: "maybe he deserved to get roughed up."
In this Trump/Wayne world, violence is not just a manifestation of toughness, it is about reinforcing a standard of manhood and community values. This violence does not prevaricate about different value systems and ways of seeing. It says that right is right, and sometimes a man just needs to be hit, and that society is a better place when it is possible, acceptable, for that to happen.
In The Quiet Man, John Wayne drags Maureen O’Hara by the arm and by the scruff of her jacket. (“Only five miles,” Wayne says. “A good stretch of the legs.”) Out of the crowd that follows, a lady steps up and offers “a good stick to beat the lovely lady with.” Wayne takes it, says “thanks,” and continues on with the dragging. The juxtaposition is not out of place. She is a lady, worthy of respect and admiration (which in the film she ultimately receives), but the man is fundamentally in charge. Dragging her, or keeping a stick handy, simply helps to confirm this status.
In 1988, Trump told Oprah that he and Ivana Trump do not have many fights because “ultimately, Ivana does exactly as I tell her to do.” Then, tellingly, he turns to the audience. “Right, men? Is that right?” As he receives their approval, he pumps his fist.
Has his opinion changed since then? His daughter thinks so. She called her father a feminist--primarily because of all the women he has hired. Trump has himself asserted that as president he “would be the best for women.” As is his wont, this assertion is without content. But the evidence suggests that his basic orientation has not changed. Last October, a woman from the audience said to Trump: “Maybe you can prove me wrong, but I don’t think you’re a friend to women.” Trump did not allow the woman to finish her question. Instead he belittled her, saying “I knew I shouldn’t have picked her.” (How did he know that?) Then he simply asserted some more: “You know, Hillary Clinton said, "he shouldn't cherish," well I said, I do cherish, I love women... I will take care of women, and I have great respect for women. I do cherish women. And I will take care of women.” But Clinton’s point is that cherish and equality do not go together; the former renders the latter effectively impossible. As long as women work for him, as long as they remain something less than equals, as long as women want to be taken care of, then there is not a problem. But when any woman claims genuine equality, then Trump is still pumping his fist.
Donald Trump: Ornamental Man
The John Wayne vision of manhood is one that Donald Trump wants to recapture and restore. It is one that he both presents and which he purports to embody. But it cannot be understated how dramatically Donald Trump fails in this regard. Donald Trump is presenting a model of manhood that he cannot begin to live up to. Where the John Wayne model calls for quiet self-confidence, honesty, courage, and fortitude, Trump is self-centered, self-important, boorish, and childish.
Indeed, in terms that are likewise identified by Faludi, Trump more ably presents a newer and deeply inferior notion of manliness. Faludi argues that like women, men too have become enslaved by an "ornamental culture." In this world, manhood is manifested not in who you are but in how you present yourself to the world. It is not your sense of purpose and resolve, but how you look. In Faludi’s words, manhood as something to be "displayed, not demonstrated." This is manhood rendered pathetic. It is a superficial accounting with nothing beneath it—no purpose, no substance, and no meaning. Ornamental manhood is concerned solely with the trappings of achievement: with the number of women you have bedded, the possessions you own, and with your physical appearance. Is there anybody that fits that description better than Donald Trump?
A 21st century man?
But while Trump undoubtedly fails to live up to the model he presents, he does present a model. And that fact alone helps account for the attraction. While Donald Trump does a very bad job of living up to the ideal that Wayne presented, the fact that so many men are nevertheless attracted to him speaks to just how desperate they are for some kind of restoration.
There are of course models of masculinity that are more contemporary and more equitable than John Wayne’s. But it is by no means always clear what that equity entails, nor how exactly a man should live up to it. More, in this hyper-partizanized, niche-marketed society, no contemporary model can hope to achieve the cultural dominance that John Wayne once had. For both reasons, we are unlikely to see it transcended. Trump is therefore correct that if one wants to talk without irony about manliness or masculinity, one can only look backward. That means there is no common contemporary standard by which to reject Trump’s posing.
If our country is to move beyond Trump, it will have to change in significant ways. That change must include a cultural notion of manliness that transcends the one that John Wayne presented, but which strives, without disdain, to incorporate its best elements. Such a model would discredit Trump; it would show him to be nothing like what a man should strive to be. But it must also enable men to find a place in this brave new world--as men. It must make it be possible for them to achieve and maintain therein worthiness, purpose and value. This is no small feat, but Trump’s success surely demonstrates the necessity.
Sep 13, 2016
This post is from Debra Hawhee, director of the Center for Democratic Deliberation and McCourtney Professor of Civic Deliberation. Debbie is an expert on rhetoric and feminism, as this piece ably demonstrates. She will be addressing these issues as one of the esteemed faculty presenters at the MID class this semester Trump: The Candidate and the Campaign.
The Definite-Article Others
Sometimes a whole lot can be conveyed by the use of a simple word. Take the word “the” for example. Okay, that doesn’t tell us a whole lot. Let’s broaden the context to a specific phrase, “the women.” At a late-summer rally in North Carolina, Donald Trump claimed his campaign was “doing well with the women.” This tidy little phrase contains all the problems that show up in the televised encounters with particular women or the blaming of women for sexual assaults that have been on display so far in Donald Trump’s campaign.
Grammatically, “the” is of course an article, a definite article. This usage is not technically incorrect, but it falls somewhere between the use of a definite article to talk about a specific group of people (the Brits) and that used to identify an object or group of objects (the books). People learning English are taught that a definite article is used when that which you are referring to is identifiable (give me the magazine” versus “give me a magazine”). In the contexts of invoking a constituency, the use of a definite article carries a kind of presumptuousness. Simply place the article “the” in front of a non-dominant identity group (“the Latinos, the Hispanics,” “the blacks”), and you’ll get a feel for how such a seemingly subtle construction puts a box around an identified group, a box to which everyone in that group fits in an undifferentiated way, a box that can then allow everything in it to be placed together—over there. The definite-article others.
At times the presumptuousness is right there in the broader context—“Ask the gays!” Trump declared in what turned out to be his most memed utterances so far. Such phrases—“the women,” “the gays”— call to mind the 1992 Independent candidate Ross Perot’s use of “you people” and “your people” in his first (and only?) appearance before the NAACP. “The women” doesn’t directly address women. Instead, it conveys the caution of a late-nineteenth-century anthropologist arrived from a distant land to study the habits of a tribe previously unknown to humankind. The same sort of speech pattern is also how the 1970s sitcom character Archie Bunker elicited swell after swell of canned laughter.
Let’s be clear: this usage is not deliberate, and that’s what makes it all the more revealing. The “the” in these instances bespeaks at best a discomfort with how to invoke identity groups, with the identity groups themselves. At worst it indicates a closed-mindedness, the rhetorical equivalent of the wall Trump keeps promising to build. Trump never says “the men” or “the white men.” He has the first-person plural for that.
I study and teach rhetoric, which means I care about words, their artfulness or inartfulness, what they do to, for, or with people and things. Words carry political dispositions, attitudes, comfort levels. And sometimes the tiniest phrases reveal a whole lot. In this case, one of the most common words in the English language shows why Trump, contrary to his insistence, is not doing all that well with the woman.
Sep 10, 2016
Abe Khan just joined the department of Communication Arts and Sciences. MID had a big role in this hire and we are very pleased to welcome him to Happy Valley. Abe's research centers on protests and other forms of political activism by athletes. Wouldn't you know it, as soon as he arrives,there is a story that is right in his wheel house: Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem. Abe is a very busy assistant professor, but he was generous enough to offer the following to our blog. It should help you understand why we are so pleased to have him on board.
Arguing with Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem during an NFL preseason game should have occasioned vigorous public debate regarding the problem of police violence, the fairness of the criminal justice system, and the persistence of racial conflict. Kaepernick, to the surprise of some, was thoughtful, sincere, and unambiguous in . “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Implicitly invoking the recent accused of Freddy Gray’s murder in Baltimore, Kaepernick’s comments, simultaneously earnest and provocative, attempted to give meaning to the symbolism contained in his protest: “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” News of those acquittals was largely consumed by the flames of a vitriolic presidential campaign. Last summer, Baltimore was engulfed in the flames of a black, underclass insurrection, and one wonders what kind of public expression could better remind us of those events than the : refusing to salute the American flag.
Of course, Kaepernick’s interpretation of that violence, his assumption of police culpability, and his imputation of police motives are each subject to plausible refutation, but refutation is a condition of argument, and Kaepernick’s fiercest critics seem to have little interest in argumentation. Instead, the response to Kaepernick reflects a broad cultural impulse to . Colin Kaepernick claims that there are bodies in the street, but his critics rarely address the evidence that supports this claim, nor the variety of arguments towards which the claim points. Instead, Kaepernick has faced persistent attempts to simply disqualify him by denying him the authority to speak.
There are variations on these themes, but criticism of Kaepernick clusters into three basic positions: (1) Kaepernick has not been oppressed enough to speak, (2) Kaepernick is not black enough to speak, and (3) Kaepernick is disrespecting America, its troops, and its flag. I worry not only that these positions squander the opportunity to have useful debates, but also commit corrosive political errors. So, I want to address each of these in turn.
Oppression is not experienced uniformly. There are in fact large patterns of racism in society that are typically related to socioeconomic class. The black poor have it worse, of course, than the black middle-class. But that doesn’t mean that that oppression is an alien concept to those who find themselves inside the black middle-class. (You may remember Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard University professor who was .) The truth is that people of color both in the US and around the world experience varying levels of social exclusion, ostracism, and vulnerability, and that those experiences are felt differently, and sometimes very differently. To say that Colin Kaepernick lacks the authority to speak because he hasn’t been “oppressed enough" is to dispute his lived experience, and that’s not something anyone has authority to do.
Many claim that Kaepernick stands in a of black protest embodied in pro athletes like Jackie Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, and Arthur Ashe. Consider, however, that Robinson’s experiences were not Kareem’s, which were not Ali’s, and which were not Ashe’s, differences which tend to be lost inside the banal observation that these figures were all “fighting for the same goal.” In many cases, they were not. Jackie Robinson and Malcolm X in 1964, for example, not long after Malcolm and Ali had formed an i. I think that we can both acknowledge a full variety of black freedom struggles in sport and hear Colin Kaepernick in a way that affirms his experience. When we address ourselves to the hard work of meeting others inside their histories, we make argument possible. We may come to disagree with Kaepernick, of course, to hold anyone to the standard of absolute oppression, or to try to parse whether someone is oppressed enough, is to paralyze our political discourse.
Disqualifying protest speech in this manner, in fact, reinforces the oppressive conditions against which protestors agitate. For such a standard requires that the oppressed must constantly perform their oppression in order to be heard. This is precisely what reduces the oppressed to victims, instead of recognizing them as agents of their own history. Political theorist into which victims are placed: “To speak at all they have to demonstrate how they are harmed and vulnerable, how they are weak, inadequate, or suffering. They must speak as those who have lost, those who are losers. One who feels the political impulse to struggle, who is ready to fight against injustice, is not injured enough to speak.” To say that Colin Kaepernick to speak is to endorse both the idea that the poor in America . It is to identify with whatever is implied in asserting that slaves tasked with building the White House . Not only do we simply argue about who’s more oppressed (a key to any divide and conquer strategy), but we also deny the oppressed an affirmative role in naming and resisting their oppressors. In this case, Kaepernick wants to draw our attention to racism, so let’s have that debate, instead of mining his biography for the authority to speak.
This position hides in more distant corners of public life, but it was advanced most prominently by former NFL star that Kaepernick, “is not black.” When corrected, Harrison reportedly noted that he “didn’t even know that Kaepernick is mixed.” The problem is that Kaepernick’s racial identity is irrelevant to his point. Moreover, we are all “mixed.” Race, of course, , if not meaningless. Race is a categorical system invented by humans to manage and control other humans. That doesn’t mean it isn’t real — it is — it to do real things. But to say that Kaepernick cannot speak because he isn’t “black enough” or because he “is mixed” is to repeat racism’s error. It is an argument which gives race its meaning, validating the categorical utility of race instead of undermining its power. To the extent that we are all “mixed,” nobody would ever be “black enough” to talk about racism and its effects. I’m “mixed.” My own father is South Asian, but my mother is white. Does that mean I am somehow prohibited from explaining the funny looks I get at the airport? Or that I am afraid of Trump’s “deportation force?” Am I still allowed to be a professor of African American studies?
Second, this position recalls a dubious history. The idea that someone isn’t “black enough” to speak is simply the reverse of the idea that someone isn’t “white enough” to speak. Before the end of Jim Crow, what classified a person as “black” was a policy called the “.” In other words, “one drop” of "black blood" meant that you were susceptible to legal mistreatment. Now, if that’s all it took to disqualify people of color from the protection of the law, why hold “one drop” of whiteness against a person of color who wants to express her or his opposition to the legally sanctioned, judicially endorsed mistreatment of other persons of color? This is a line of reasoning that not only disavows the possibility of interracial solidarities, but willfully ignores both the way our culture and the particular indignities experienced by Colin Kaepernick in being conferred with such a status.
The accusation that Kaepernick is being “unpatriotic” or “disrespectful to our troops” commits two errors. First, it is a deflection, a ship passing in the night. Kaepernick made no comment on the military, the troops, or even foreign wars. He wasn't talking about Iraq, or ISIS, or drones. There are bodies in the streets, he said, and people getting away with murder. The argument from patriotism avoids these facts in favor of about the virtue of military service. At their worst, these scripts valorize nationalist militarism, but their routine function in the Kaepernick controversy is to redirect argumentative attention from police violence, legally sanctioned murder, and the history of racism with which such discord is infused. It is not simply that patriotic assertions leave us blind to the facts in question, but that they deploy the courage required for service as a from the right to his convictions.
With an ironic twist, in this context – one in which a professional football player has violated the symbolic expectations associated with ritualized nationalism – the argument from patriotism is literally the opposite of a courageous argument. Saying that you love the troops and that you love America and the others must hate the troops and hate America is — without exception — the safest possible claim in American political culture. (quoting Socrates), “It is not difficult to praise Athenians in Athens.” Is it any more difficult to praise American soldiers in the United States? More specifically, is it any more courageous to ? Even if we bracket football’s symbolic reliance on military tropes – a game predicated upon the occupation of enemy territory – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed the need to secure the League’s for the military. To ignore the argument toward which Kaepernick’s gesture intends to point is fundamentally craven. It is a feeble retreat from the risky arena of meaningful debate, a move toward the shelter of platitude.
Second, the patriotism claim assumes that the flag and the anthem belong exclusively to the military. Yes, they help constitute the symbolism of the flag, but they do not exhaust the symbolism of the flag, and we can only know that -- we can only get to the idea that the flag and the anthem can mean other things -- when someone like Colin Kaepernick (or or or ) does something like he did. Kaepernick’s point is, in part, “If that flag belongs to black people too, if the troops are supposed to protect black people too, then maybe we should stop letting cops get away with murder.” Like may have wondered before raising their black-gloved fists in Mexico City in 1968, how do you make that point without turning away from the flag and making your case? What the flag means — indeed, what the republic stands for — is precisely what’s at stake.
I believe there are sensible reasons to disagree with Colin Kaepernick (even if I am likely to refute those reasons), but racial tests, oppression tests, and stale patriotism aren’t persuasive, principally because they are not arguments. Like Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson before him, Colin Kaepernick has in the service of his conscience. It is a risk that deserves our attention. Are the risks the same as those faced by Ali? No, of course not. As Jackie’s? Certainly not. But like both of them, Kaepernick, his protest, and the cause which motivates him are not going away. The entire Seattle Seahawks squad, , intends to present a gesture of solidarity on Sunday. Instead of disqualifying its participants, let’s recognize that they have something useful, important, and urgent to say: There are bodies in the street.
Aug 29, 2016
Poll reveals 3 types of Independents
Political conventions focus attention on strong partisans. But not all Americans call themselves Democrats or Republicans, or for that matter Libertarians or Greens. Many prefer to think of themselves as Independents.
With the McCourtney “Mood of the Nation Poll,” we can look at these Independents in a unique way. The poll is a scientific survey that allows ordinary citizens to tell us what is on their minds, without being restricted to a small number of predetermined answers. It also includes standard polling questions such as party identification, allowing us to see who these independents are and what are they thinking about this campaign. The most recent poll posed a series of open-ended questions to a representative sample of 1,000 Americans between June 15-22.
Determining who is an Independent is not straightforward. CNN, in its post-convention survey, reports that “28 percent described themselves as Democrats, 24 percent described themselves as Republicans, and 48 percent described themselves as independents or members of another party.” This is not far from our survey. Our breakdown shows a greater number of Independents (35 percent) than Republicans or Democrats.
That’s a lot of Independents. But when we dig deeper, we find that they’re not all the same. There are actually three groups of independents: Those who lean Democratic, those who lean Republican and what we might call “pure” Independents.
Leaners tend to vote as a partisan but do not necessarily want to call themselves one. For example, in our poll, 10 percent of the population calls itself Independent, but support Hillary Clinton at roughly the same rate as Democrats (this is before the convention), while they are even less supportive of Donald Trump then those who call themselves Democrats. The same is true among Republican-leaning Independents. They support Trump in even greater numbers than pure Republicans, and Clinton even less so.
Once we remove the leaners there are actually fewer than 20 percent of the population who we can call true Independents. This group is still in play, and important for creating a winning majority. What do we know about them?
Based on our data we can conclude the following:
▪ Relative to partisans and partisan leaners, true Independents are more likely to call themselves moderate. As the parties have polarized and sorted themselves into ideological camps, pure Independents are likely uncomfortable in either party.
▪ They are younger than either party. Absent a long voting history, these younger voters have not yet found a partisan identity, and perhaps never will.
▪ They are less politically engaged: True Independents are less likely to be registered to vote (and therefore less likely to vote), and they acknowledge paying less attention to the news.
But our open-ended questions allow us to go deeper. In particular, we asked them what, if anything, made them hopeful about American politics, and what made them angry. Their answers suggest they are greatly hostile toward contemporary American politics, and they have little hope that this election will improve things.
When asked what they were angry about, pure Independents were most likely to answer simply “everything.” But after that, they go through a series of responses that suggest disillusionment with politics. Close to half of them (47 percent) gave an answer that suggested anger with politicians or the system.
They think the system is rigged, they consider politicians to be liars who break promises, and they are angry about what they see as bickering and fighting among politicians.
These quotes were typical of the Independents we surveyed:
▪ A 52 year-old woman and self-described “homekeeper” from Minnesota who pays little attention to politics and who is not registered to vote wrote: “Nobody really listens they say what they think you want to hear and make promises they can’t keep. They need to remember everyone has to work together to get things done and they can’t make a blanket statement to try to cover everything, they have to work ach (sic) problem out and know they are doing the best they can.”
▪ A 62 year-old retired man from California who pays attention to politics “some of the time,” calls himself liberal and who is registered to vote wrote: “I hate it when they reveal each other’s dirty laundry, especially when they all are guilty of lying, and not living up to their promises.”
Given Independents’ hostility to politics, they seem like they could be ripe for the picking by the Trump campaign. His is an “outsider” campaign that regularly disparages traditional politics, and Clinton is a long-standing practitioner. Our latest poll shows that Trump is leading in this group.
On the other hand, these pure Independents hold out very little hope for American politics. Unlike partisans — who can point with some hope to their party’s candidate winning — when we asked pure Independents what they were hopeful about, a whopping 61 percent said “nothing.” Given that fewer Independents are registered and many do not pay attention to politics, they are far from a sure bet.
As the election proceeds, we will continue to track this group, and see whether either campaign can address their concerns about a system that is corrupt and not working, and break through their prevailing sense of hopelessness.
Michael Berkman is director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and a professor of political science.
Aug 11, 2016
This unusual election year, however, raises another possibility: the very strategy that Republicans used to secure Congress could backfire. Their “great gerrymander” could become another “great dummymander.”
Jul 26, 2016
This preliminary data is from research our team conducted just yesterday! It is not only really interesting it is hours old. We are lucky to be able to share these results.
On Monday, our first day outside of the Democratic National Convention, we surveyed a number of events spread between City Hall/ Dilworth Park and the Wells Fargo Center, including Capitolo Park, Marconi Park, and FDR Park. These events included:
1. Occupy the DNC Convention
2. The Migrant Rights March on the DNC
3. Bernie Sander's march
4. Equality Coalition March on the DNC
5. Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign
Compared to the rallies and protests at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, events were much bigger and much more varied. We estimate approximately 5000-10,000 people turned out across the city for an event on Monday. This constitutes 10-20 x the number of people outside the RNC.
In our first day surveying people we talked to 223 individuals over the course of the day. Response rates were very high; 87% agreed to complete the survey.
Data has not been cleaned and so results are very preliminary, but here is a sense of what people were telling us on the streets on Monday.
First, people outside the convention were largely focused on issues of money and corruption in politics. Racism and racial inequality, which was a large theme in Cleveland at the RNC, was less prevalent as a theme.
Despite the media emphasis on a Dump Trump movement at Cleveland, the people participating in events outside the DNC are much more focused on changing the party’s nominee (at least those participating on Monday).
One of the outstanding questions today will be whether what occurred inside the convention last night influences today’s events, since there are a number of scheduled events today.
Jul 21, 2016
Between the time I first obtained a position on Dr. Banaszak’s research team and when we actually left for Cleveland, I spoke to a number of people about my summer job--family, friends, even a University Health Services doctor when I came down with a poorly-timed cold a couple days before the convention. In all these conversations, there were two questions I was asked the most:
1. “Wait, are you a Republican?”
To this, I usually hastily explained that the purpose of the trip was to conduct research about protesters, not to participate in protests ourselves or attend the convention.
2. “Are you scared/worried/anxious?”
Now, this question threw me for a loop every time. While I typically responded that I was “scared but excited,” fear (in any form) never really set in. Even after getting briefed about the possibility of tear gas or police intervention, the thought that I could potentially be in danger never truly occurred to me. That’s not to say that I wasn’t aware of what was going on. Between the media’s speculation and the palpable tension in both political parties, going to the RNC warranted some trepidation, at the very least.
Arriving in Cleveland and witnessing firsthand the tall, cage-like barriers and the seemingly endless stream of police officers, however, did help put things into perspective. The city was clearly prepared for the worst, and I needed to acknowledge that the worst might happen. I can’t say that I was any more ‘fearful’ than I was when I initially set out, however; being surrounded by so much security detail at such a publicized event made me feel, well, secure.
On Tuesday, my team attempted to attend a flag burning. The scene did not allow for research; there was simply no way to squeeze through the crowd of media and police to begin the interviewing process. But we did manage to see snippets of pretty much everything that we had been told to be on the lookout for: anarchists with black bandanas over their faces, a brief scuffle between protesters, and a police blockade--all while a man with a megaphone and a violently anti-LGBT sign droned on about the sinful nature of women, gay youth, and non-Christians. (We would later find out that the burning resulted in a brawl between police and protesters.)
I think it was then when I fully recognized the intensity that protest can carry. While being warned about what demonstrations can lead to is well and good, most precautions are left in the realm of theory until one actually comes face-to-face with a real life situation. When I found myself in this one, I learned, that a crowd can have a powerful mix of emotions and energy: excitement, anger, curiosity, exasperation--and yes, a little bit of trepidation.
Jul 20, 2016
If it’s one thing that’s consistent among protests and demonstrations, it’s that they’re all relatively unpredictable. One can spend all day criss-crossing Cleveland to track protests and still turn up empty-handed--a point that became increasingly clear as a journalist stopped us to ask us where all the ‘good’ protests were.
Case and point: on Monday, we trekked all the way from Tower City Center to the West Side Market (a literal uphill journey) to intercept what was supposed to be an Iraq War Veterans for Peace march. As we crowded under a scraggly curbside tree to rest and hydrate, everything seemed to be going according to plan: the road was blocked off for the march, and the attending police officers all confirmed that they hadn’t seen any protesters go by just yet.
As we waited, however, it soon became obvious that we had either missed them completely or that they had never come by in the first place. While we never actually found out whether it was the former or the latter, we did learn (through some Instagram sleuthing) that the march wasn’t nearly as large as we anticipated it to be.
In the meantime, though, we did get to witness the self-proclaimed “RNC Interactive Band,” which was essentially just a series of homemade carts covered front-to-back with various surfaces to drum on. The band parked itself on an island in the middle of the road, and its wig-wearing members eagerly shouted at passersby to join them in making music (some of whom happily agreed). Their platform was, reportedly, that they were “anti-Trump, but pro-Trump’s hair”--hence the blond wigs.
The band was, ultimately, another testament to just how unpredictable protests can be; that is to say, sometimes the smallest demonstrations can make the most noise.
Jun 30, 2016
People want the opportunity to vote in referendums. They are not going away, nor should they. But partisans on both sides almost always make one-sided, hyperbolic, or even outright deceptive claims. That fact, plus the often short time frame, means the typical voter often ends up confused, ill-informed, or both. Democratic governments should offer citizens the opportunity to learn from a non-biased source what the measure actually entails before the election. John references his work with the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission as one way to provide that kind of information. The commission convenes a panel of randomly selected citizens to deliberate on a ballot measure. After three to five days of weighing rival claims about a proposed policy, the panel writes a citizens’ statement. This page appears in the official voters’ pamphlet, which the Oregon Secretary of State distributes to every registered voter.
How many voters do you think wish they had had such a pamphlet before the Brexit vote?
Jun 20, 2016
This Friday marked the end of my third week spent as a Nevins Fellow in Washington D.C interning with the Close-Up Foundation. Close-Up is a civic-education organization dedicated to cultivating civic skills, values and culture in the minds of America’s youth. These include: an understanding of and appreciation for democracy; an ability to develop and communicate one’s own political positions; and an awareness and sympathy for political and philosophical differences.
For these first few weeks, I have been shadowing the program in real-time, quietly observing students from a diverse set of backgrounds and life experiences interact, debate, deliberate and discuss. I watched students consider the benefits and drawbacks of the differing visions of government championed by Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, and MLK Jr. I listened to a student-led debate over the future of American energy policy, the civic purpose of war memorials and the need for prison sentencing reform. I witnessed primarily Spanish-speaking students from Texas deliberate with Georgian students over immigration and the different role that drugs play in their respective countries.
While this work has technically been laborious, it has been a needed and rewarding respite from the disheartening nature of today’s political debate, in which grandstanding, posturing and partisanship is prioritized ahead of finding the common ground. In a world which consistently promotes cynicism and doubt, these kids and this program have given me hope in the human condition and the prospects for a healthy political dialogue. I believe that if every child were to experience the essence of this program—that is, if they had to the chance to sit down across from someone with whom they disagree politically, whether that be for cultural, geographical, educational, or economic reasons, and actually put in the effort to understand the principles and experiences which make-up that person’s political perspective—we would have a thriving and elastic democracy, one that was able to respond quickly and effectively to political emergencies or controversial topics that today would put it under considerable stress, such as immigration reform or the unsustainable accumulation of federal debt.
If I took anything away from these first few weeks, it is that schools, at all levels, should place a greater emphasis on not only the nuts and bolts of politics, but deliberation and communication itself. It will not matter how able the rising generation is at math or science if we have no ability to cooperate effectively with each other and put aside our differences; it will not matter how many engineers we have trained if the political system has not created an environment in which engineers have available to them the resources needed to successfully utilize that training. For this to ever become a reality, however, both parents and school administrators will need to find the courage to allow open and honest dialogue about our country.
I have come to believe, from my experiences at Close-Up, that if skills promoting political and social efficacy are developed effectively through dialogue, any person, regardless of background, will have the ability to unlock the universal nascent potential lying dormant within themselves to make a positive and lasting difference on our society. When this is done, our differences will not be an impediment to progress, but rather a vehicle for reaching it; diversity will no longer be bemoaned as a source of division, but rather a source of unity and solidarity. Close-Up has opened me to this truth, and I plan on carrying it, and acting upon it, into wherever the future takes me.
Jun 03, 2016
I posted on Facebook weeks ago that Donald Trump’s securing of the nomination was making Republicans engage in logical back flips. They had to justify their endorsement of what is, simply put, unjustifiable. But Paul Ryan’s ‘capitulation to ugliness’ is, to me, in some ways the most appalling example.
I had the privilege of meeting Paul Ryan a number of times when I worked at Wingspread in Racine, WI (which was in Ryan’s district). That was many years ago, but you could already tell that he was going places. I found him poised, charming, decent, smart, and passionate. I didn’t agree with him about the color of the sky, but I liked and respected him.
So it is with a more than a little chagrin that I learned yesterday that Paul Ryan had endorsed Donald Trump for President. After their meeting last month, it was abundantly clear that such an endorsement was coming, sooner or later. But that didn’t make it any less disappointing.
I understand that politicians are not saints, and that they often have to swallow hard to put themselves in a position to win. Compromise is necessary not merely in the realm of policy, but in morality as well. And I understand that Trump puts all Republicans in a very difficult position. But there has to be a point where your love of country and commitment to democracy overwhelm your desire to achieve partisan goals, let alone to save your own political skin.
For Ryan, as well as Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and a host of fellow Republicans, there apparently there is no such line. Even though they all said publicly that Trump is overwhelmingly unqualified to be President, all have come around to supporting the nominee.
Was there ever a lower moment for the Republican Party?
Jun 03, 2016
We have been posting fairly regularly to Facebook and we now have a Twitter feed as well. But we have wanted the opportunity to post longer commentaries and this blog is the right way to do it. We will be talking a lot about the ongoing campaign, of course, but we also want to broaden the conversation to talk about democracy, writ large.
Should be interesting.
Your comments are always welcome.