Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Roots of Hating DREAMs

In cancelling DACA, Attorney General Jeff Sessions positively cited our nations' immigration policy shift in 1924, when we enacted racial quotas to sharply limit immigration from "non-White" parts of the world. At that time, Jews were part of the "non-White" horde, and these new laws were integral in keeping out Jewish refugees attempting flee Nazi atrocities before and during World War II. It was a policy of death, enacted on a foundation of racism. No wonder Sessions loves it.

There probably aren't that many Jewish DREAMers today, but the Forward found at least one -- a young man from Venezuela who's lived in America since he was six. He came to this country legally along with his mother, who had a work visa. Unfortunately, when she died of cancer while he was still in elementary school, that visa was canceled without him being aware of it. This is just one example of many showing why the "rule of law" attack against DACA kids is utter nonsense. What exactly is the lesson supposed to be: "That will teach you to let your mom die of kidney cancer"? It's grotesque.

Attorney General Sessions said that, in ending DACA, we are not saying that DREAMer youth are "bad people." He's right. We're saying we are.

Americans have no birthright to a country we can be proud of. We write our own history. As Richard Rorty once observed: "There is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there ourselves." We decide what sort of country we are, and that means it's on our shoulders when the decision we make turns out to be ... this.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Who We Thought They Were, Part II

The headline said: "Why a Republican Pollster is Losing Faith in Her Party." I immediately thought: "I bet it's Kristen Soltis Anderson."

I was right.

I've known Kristen since high school -- we were on the debate circuit at the same time, albeit she a few years older than I. It's been a bit weird watching someone you know become, you know, an official Big Deal (fun fact: Washington Post reporter Bob Costa was also part of this same era of debaters -- the conservative Student Congress set has done very well for itself!). Kristen was always on the more moderate side of her party, and as a pollster had long been pushing reforms to the Republican Party to make it more appealing to young voters -- tamping down on right-wing social issues and focusing on matters of economic opportunity.

But the reason I knew this article was talking about Kristen wasn't because she's a moderate, per se. It's because as a pollster, I suspected Kristen would not be able to shrink from a reality that many others in her ideological camp -- more intellectual, moderate, thoughtful Republicans -- are somehow still in denial about:

The brand of politics represented by Donald Trump is, as of now, the dominant form of Republicanism in the United States.

It isn't an aberration. It isn't a hijacking. It isn't a tiny minority that's somehow taken over.

Most Republicans fundamentally like the things Donald Trump does and the politics he represents. And that includes him at his most wretched -- for example, the aid and comfort to the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville. Quoth Anderson:
Anderson’s fear is that in a rapidly diversifying America, Trump is stamping the GOP as a party of white racial backlash—and that too much of the party’s base is comfortable with that. Trump’s morally stunted response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month unsettled her. But she was even more unnerved by polls showing that most Republican voters defended his remarks.

“What has really shaken me in recent weeks is the consistency in polling where I see Republican voters excusing really bad things because their leader has excused them,” she told me. “[Massachusetts Governor] Charlie Baker, [UN Ambassador] Nikki Haley, [Illinois Representative] Adam Kinzinger—I want to be in the party with them. But in the last few weeks it has become increasingly clear to me that most Republican voters are not in that camp. They are in the Trump camp.”
The portion of the party coalition willing to tolerate, if not actively embrace, white nationalism “is larger than most mainstream Republicans have ever been willing to grapple with,” she added.
Polls showing Trump’s approval among young people falling to 25 percent or less justify her pessimism. And yet, as she noted, Trump’s approval among Republicans, while slightly eroding, remains at about 80 percent. Only one-fourth of GOP partisans criticized his handling of white-supremacist groups in a recent Quinnipiac University national survey.
That's the key point. Most Republicans of Anderson's political orientation simply won't admit that white nationalism is not some fringe phenomenon in their ranks. It is, as of now, the dominant position in Republican Party politics.

I can understand why Anderson thinks the Republican Party is worth saving. One could certainly say there are elements of conservative ideology that are not tied to White racist resentment and are worth preserving and defending. But those engaged in that project need to be honest about the status quo. And the status quo is that what drives the median Republican voter, right now, isn't economic opportunity or limited government or human liberty or any of the other markers that might justify an intellectually and morally defensible conservatism. It's a vicious form of identity politics that manifests in and celebrates things like DACA elimination, the Arpaio pardon, the transgender service ban, the Muslim immigration ban, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

They are exactly who we thought they were. Some recognize that now. Most remain in denial.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

These Are Jewish Trump Voters

If you asked me to describe a Jewish Trump voter without sparing the snark, I'd have trouble topping how they talk about themselves:
[Elise Freedman] fears “an elite globalist movement that has control over what we hear and what we read. I think there’s a deeper conspiracy going on with George Soros funding the antiestablishment organizations, from Black Lives Matter to Antifa.” The media “is complicit” in this scheme, she believes, adding that the White House contains “saboteurs” remaining from the previous administration who are undermining the president in their ongoing effort to bring him down.
What's extra wild is that they almost all say that the real worry is growing antisemitism on the left. And listen, left antisemitism is a real and scary thing we should all be attentive to. For example, we can justly worry that, if allowed to proceed unchecked, left antisemitism could evolve into people believing in a self-described "conspiracy" of "elite globalists", working hand-in-hand with the media and the deep state, using their Jewish money to undermine civilization as we know it.


Whither "The Good Place"?


NBC's comedy "The Good Place" returns soon for its second season -- excellent news for anyone who saw season one (if you haven't seen season one, stop reading this post -- because, again, *spoilers* -- and binge it on Netflix or Hulu). But it'll be interesting to see what direction it goes in its sophomore year.

The big twist at the end of the first season is that the titular "Good Place" was a lie. Eleanor and all of her friends were in "The Bad Place" all along -- the entire set-up was an elaborate construct to get them to torture each other while they all thought they were in paradise. Michael, the architect of their afterlife "neighborhood" and seeming friend and ally, was actually the puppetmaster behind it all.

In general, I'm not a huge fan of the "person who seemed by all appearances to be an ally is actually the big bad!" twist genre (it almost completely ruined "Dollhouse", for example). The question is whether the character's behavior up to that point continues to make sense with the knowledge that they were secretly playing for the other side. Jill and I rewatched the first season yesterday (yes, we started and finished it in one day), and I think that Michael passes that test, albeit not with flying colors -- there are a lot of instances where it seems like he is (for lack of a better word) nicer than he should be given what his ultimate objectives are.

But one major alteration that this twist causes is that, from the audience's vantage, it dramatically changes the stakes for the characters. In the first season, the drama surrounding the core quartet was "would they be caught" and/or "would they be sent to the Bad Place". In season two, that drama will mostly be absent -- they already caught and they already  are in the Bad Place, even if they don't know it yet.

So I think the big shift in Season Two will be a reorientation of perspective towards Michael.

Of the main characters, Michael is the one we've gotten to know the least (if only because most of what we thought we knew about him was a façade). Moreover, if the stakes have functionally dropped for the quartet, for Michael they've risen astronomically. At the end of Season One he had to beg for the chance to reset his grand experiment, and while Shawn agreed he also warned Michael that he was "way out on a limb". And while we don't know if Michael's description of "retirement" was accurate, the way Shawn talks about it to Michael in private suggests that it may well be, and it represents the consequences if Michael does not successfully create his auto-torture machine this time around.

Meanwhile, Michael's gambit in round two is to separate the four torture targets from one another in the hopes that they don't form a merry band of support and mutual growth. But that also makes it harder for them to truly torture each other. Eleanor's new soulmate -- a hot but seemingly shallow mailman -- is exactly the sort of person she could settle down into, if not a truly "happy" existence, than at least a comfortable one that doesn't keep her perpetually on edge. I can imagine Season Two focusing on Michael's increasingly frantic efforts to ensure that his targets are unhappy without either giving up the ruse or building up a sufficient relationship between them to create a repeat of Season One.

In any event, I'm excited to see where "The Good Place" goes. It's one of the funniest and most creative shows on television, and the only place where one is likely to see characters reading books by T.M. Scanlon to boot. The question is whether it can maintain that momentum and emotional edge in the new world its written for itself. Color me optimistic.