Locking in Big Changes: the 2022 American Mid-terms

John Stoehr of the Editorial Board believes that the Democrats will overthrow “the political order of the last 40 years” if they can hold the House of Representatives after all 2022 votes are counted. Of course, a big win for Biden and the Dems has been unfolding and the consequences of the Democrats expanding their Senate majority and possibly holding the House are significant. Because of the 2022 election, the U.S. will both be a more stable country and maintain its current global role as a stabilizing force in Western Europe, East Asia, and Ukraine. But the idea of “overthrowing the political order” implies consequences on a much larger scale than that, and needs to be thought through.

That’s partly because there are several ideas of “political order” that may be in play.

The main question is what would be the political order of the last 40 years that’s being overthrown. Forty years refers to the Reagan Revolution and the election of 1980 where Ronald Reagan’s victory triggered the assertion of white conservatives as the dominant force in American politics and society and inaugurated several rounds of tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of business, decline of the labor movement, and growing income inequality between the rich and the middle class. During the Reagan years, white men were advantaged politically, culturally, and economically while the claims of racial minorities, sexual minorities, and women were met with increasing skepticism if not outright derision.

Call that the orthodox model of the “Reagan Political Order.”

*But there are other ways to look at the idea of political order. If I were a conservative Straussian, I might refer to the U.S. in terms of a “liberal political order” including the representative form of government established in the 1788 Constitution, universal ideas of freedom (“all men are created equal”), and both broad and expanding rights to vote, hold office, serve on juries, and own property. In relation to this idea of “liberal political order,” the Reagan Revolution and 2022 mid-terms would both be seen in terms of redistributions of power toward white conservatives and away from liberal/minority factions. However, nothing would be “overthrown” by the Democrats maintaining their slim institutional advantage of holding the presidency and the senate while Republicans dominate the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives. It would just be that the liberal/minority coalition holds some advantages within the “liberal political order” while white conservatives hold others.

It’s also possible to view the traditional American political order as a “white republic” or “white patriarchal republic” in which constitutional processes concern the distribution of office among factions of white men while white women, racial minorities, and sexual minorities were subject to exclusion, surveillance, and control. Thus, Reaganism can be seen as reasserting white and male dominance in the face of the Black civil rights movement, feminist advocacy against patriarchy, gay rights activism and the claims of immigrants and Native Americans. Far from overthrowing the white patriarchal republic, the Reagan Revolution is best seen as reinforcing white patriarchy as a long-standing socio-political order. But there was a big difference between Reaganism and the re-assertion of white patriarchal order after the end of Reconstruction in 1877. With the end of Reconstruction, the gains of reconstruction were much more thoroughly negated and black opponents of the white patriarchal republic were much more thoroughly marginalized than was the case with the Reagan Revolution. During the Reagan years, the opponents of white patriarchy were put on the defensive but civil rights activism, feminists, gay rights protests, and labor unions formed a more or less permanent internal opposition to dominant white conservatives. White patriarchy may have asserted its dominance, but opponents of white patriarchy were able both to preserve large parts of the gains made as a result of the Civil Rights Acts, Roe v Wade, and various Warren Court decisions and maintain effective defenses of that legacy. As a result, the Reagan political order was defined both by a reassertion of the white patriarchal order and opposition between ascendent white conservatives and their liberal, minority, and feminist opponents.

In other words, the liberal/minority coalition remained strong enough to be considered part of the main dynamic of the Reagan political order.

There’s another consideration for the Reagan order. The big question hanging over Reaganism was whether white conservatives could maintain dominance over their domestic opponents. That is because the stakes were bigger than the distribution of power between conservatives and their opponents. Ascendancy by the liberal/minority opposition would not just give “liberals” the upper hand, it would threaten the white patriarchal character of the American republic as it had been defined in the Revolutionary and Constitution. Hanging over the Reagan political order was the specter of the United States becoming a very different kind of country than it had been for the previous 200+ years, a country that did not revolve around white men.

To a certain extent, that’s what happened.

Because Barack Obama initially posed himself as both a GOP-friendly Democrat AND aggressive reformer, his election in 2008 did not initially represent a sea change in American politics and society. But Obama was the first black president, the symbol of America, the nation’s most prominent celebrity, and someone on the news everyday. After the civil rights movement, white conservative tolerance for black people was always tethered to blacks only having a token presence in areas outside sports and music. But with Obama and other prominent black people like Attorney General Eric Holder being so “present” in American life, the result was a racist backlash that could be seen as early as the 2008 general election campaign and gained steam throughout Obama’s first term as a result of the “birther movement,” conspiracy theories about Obama’s wife, the Henry Louis Gates incident, the murder of Trayvon Martin, and conservative stonewalling of Obama’s initiatives. The backlash ensured that 2012 would be a test of strength between a stronger liberal/minority coalition and white conservatives who wanted “their country back.” With Obama’s victory in 2012, much more favorable opinion on gay marriage, the Supreme Court decision overturning bans on gay marriage, and the Black Lives movement highlighting police violence against black men, it looked like American culture and politics was swinging to liberal/minority ascendancy over white conservatives and the threats that entailed to traditional white patriarchal order.

Of course, the 2016 election happened with the white conservative backlash gaining even more intensity under the MAGA label and Donald Trump winning election. The result was both a factional arms race and major cultural changes on both sides. Beginning with the gay marriage decision in 2015, the liberal/minority coalition continued to strengthen in response to Trump’s election and morphed into something more like a multicultural, socially liberal society. With the expanding presence of civil rights ideas, the adoption of diversity as corporate and popular culture ethics, and the normalizing of an LGBT, Hispanic, and Native presence, the lib/minority coalition became multicultural, socially liberal and predominate enough in politics, business, education, and government that the U.S. could be described as a multicultural, socially liberal “society.”

Simultaneously, white conservatives developed what’s best called a MAGA counter-culture revolving around Trump and involving an overlapping religious right, a quickly developing conspiracy world, and gun culture that superseded the business oriented, small government, and national defense conservatism of the Reagan era. Even with the acquiescence of traditional Republicans and the advantages of President Biden and other Democrats being off the campaign trail because of Covid, the multicultural, socially liberal constituencies were stronger than MAGA and Donald Trump lost his campaign for re-election in 2020. For white conservatives, the defeat of Donald Trump did not signify his or their weakness but served to further energize 2020 election conspiracy theories, rejection of Covid vaccines, another round of vote suppression legislation aimed at black voters, and a culture war aimed especially at trans people but also against other LGBT folks and their supporters in education, business, and government. In this way, MAGA morphed from a slogan for supporting Trump to support for the Jan. 6 insurrection, political violence to achieve their political goals, and non-stop culture war against multicultural constituencies connected with the Democrats.

In other words, MAGA became a cover term for a more generalized white conservative assault on American government and society that’s best seen as permanent insurrection. The Reagan Political Order has definitely overthrown but it was just as much overthrown by MAGA as it was by the morphing of the Reagan era liberal/minority coalition into a multicultural, socially liberal “society.” White conservatives are still a bulwark for the white patriarchal Republic of the past but their main orientation is toward culture war against the contemporary society rather than defense of “tradition.” Indeed, in contemporary culture and politics, “tradition” is being re-defined in civil rights, multicultural terms.

So what do Democratic gains in the 2022 elections mean? Well, current political order is one in which a multicultural, socially liberal society both remains ascendent and is continuing to weaken the reach and appeal of traditional white patriarchy in favor of values of civil rights values and orientations. But white conservatives still have formidable power bases in the Supreme Court, right-wing state governments, and MAGA popular culture and have more or less committed to overthrowing the American democratic system if they can’t win political power at the ballot box. The Reagan political order has been overturned but the dangers associated with white conservatism have increased dramatically as a result.

Democrats Blowing Out the Insurrectionists

Society vs Backlash. America has been destabilized by two broad and related developments, the evolution of a multicultural, socially liberal mainstream and a bitter backlash among white conservative best seen in terms of permanent insurrection. Politically, the Democrats are the party of multicultural mainstream America and indeed the civil rights, diversity politics of the Democrats has been one of the main vehicles for creating and defining that mainstream. But politics is also important for understanding the destabilizing and dangerous white conservative backlash. As America’s conservative party, the Republicans have been a focus of backlash since Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and backlash phenomena like MAGA, QAnon, the Big Lie, the re-articulation of bigotry as “anti-woke,” and the campaigns against transsexual teens and drag shows are intimately connected with GOP politics.

Politics of Insurrection. The assault on the Capital building in Washington was an attack on the United States on the same level as the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor that brought America into WWII and al-Qaeda’s attack on New York City, the Pentagon, and the Capitol on 9-11. The American media has under-estimated the extent to which the insurrectionary energy of Jan. 6 continued for more than a year after President Biden’s inauguration. There were many examples of insurrectionary activity, including the continuation of the QAnon movement, all the bizarre conspiracy theories around Covid vaccines, and local insurrectionary activism in places like Idaho. In politics, insurrectionary energy focused around the Supreme Court taking a case that would allow state legislatures to ignore the popular vote in presidential elections, MAGA fascists like J. D. Vance, Blake Masters, Doug Mastriano, and Kari Lake running for governor and Senate positions, and a number of Republican candidates for the state Secretary of State positions that controlled elections in the states. GOP Secretary of State candidates in Michigan, Arizona and Nevada all claimed (one way or another) that Democratic candidates could only win by fraud and promised to attack voting by Democratic constituencies.

Blowing Out the Insurrectionists. Of all the insurrectionists who ran for major office, J.D. Vance was the only one who won and that only happened because of a major injection of cash from Mitch McConnell. Insurrectionist Republican Doug Mastriano lost by 15 in the race for governor in PA, Blake Masters by 5 for the Senate seat in Arizona, and Tudor Dixon by 10 for governor of Michigan. The most prominent of the insurrectionists running for statewide office was Kari Lake in Arizona and she’s currently trailing by 34,000 in a still undecided race and Adam Laxalt has lost in Nevada now that all the votes are counted from Las Vegas. Even more to the point, all of the insurrectionist candidates lost for Secretary of State offices in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, and Wisconsin. For example, Arizona GOP Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem lost by 5.6%, Kristina Karamo by 14% in Michigan, and Jim Marchant in Nevada by 2% (where the GOP won the governor’s race and only lost in the Senate by 5,000 votes). Insurrectionist candidates like gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels of Wisconsin wanted to guarantee that  “will never lose another election” in their states but were turned back by their Democratic opponents.

When Will Normal Become Normal? Hard left podcaster Matt Christman tweeted that Democrats did well in the 2022 mid-terms because they are the “normie” party and were able to remain “normal” despite determined Republican efforts to “flip that by associating them with crime and immigrants and gender sickos.” Christman added that “[t]his is problematic for people who are obsessed with defining themselves in counter-cultural opposition to the normie mainstream, but ON BEHALF of some imagined heartland “normal” American.” Of course, the “counter-cultural opposition” isn’t much of a force in American life and indeed it seems that multicultural and liberal Democrats have not been able to establish as “normal” even though they were successful in portraying themselves as “more normal” than MAGA Republicans. That’s because the far more powerful force of the mainstream news media agrees with both the counter-culture and Republicans in imagining a “normal America” of small towns, small business, farms, and factories in which the template is white conservatism even though Democrats do make inroads. That’s why the New York Times, CNN, and Politico sent so many reporters trekking to diners, bars, and gun shows since 2016. Like Paul Simon, they all wanted to “look for America” or at least the “normal America” that they thought was Saginaw rather than NYC, Chicago, or Detroit. In 2022, the Democrats were able to portray the MAGA extremists of small town America as threats to democracy but were not able to establish their own multicultural, socially liberal base as the American normal. Even though the Democratic coalition “is” the norm, it doesn’t “seem” to be the norm. And that’s still a problem.

Today’s Election

The Election: Today is the mid-term election for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives with elections for Governors and other state officials all over the country as well as local elections for mayors, sheriffs, county officials, city councils, judges, and a deluge of special voting districts on the local level. In my state of KY, there’s an election for county Judge-Executive, Mayor, County Attorney, Commonwealth’s Attorney and Sheriff. There are no elections for state office, but there are two constitutional amendments on the ballots, one Senate seat (held by Rand Paul) and the member of the House of Representatives from our Congressional District (KY-05). That office is currently held by the worst public speaker I’ve ever heard and one of the most obscure members of the House, long-time Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers.

National Overview: The big question in American politics is whether President Biden and the Democratic Party maintain their very slim advantage in Congress where the tie-breaking vote of VP Kamala Harris gives the Democrats a slight edge in the Senate where seats are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. In the 435 member House of Representatives, Democrats only have to lose five seats to lose their majority.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, there is a deeply ingrained historical pattern of the president’s party losing seats in mid-term elections and the Democrats are predicted by most observers to lose anywhere from 10 to 43 seats in the House in today’s election. Therefore, the Republicans are expected to have a majority in the House of Representatives and California Republican Kevin McCarthy is expected to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

The Senate is perceived to be more up in the air but the Republicans are widely seen as favored to take control of the Senate as well. The reputable FiveThirtyEight site views the Republicans as “slight favorites” to take control of the Senate with a one vote margin based on their view that Herschel Walker will defeat Rev. Rafael Warner in Georgia. The Cook Political Report also sees the Republicans as gaining one seat and regaining control over the Senate. So does long-time University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato. Republican observers see the Republicans as having big enough wins that the election looks like a Republican or “red wave.” The right-leaning web site RealClearPolitics predicts that the Republicans will gain three seats and views Democratic Senate candidates in states like Ohio reached the limits of Democratic support but were unable to push through in largely Republican states. Former GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich is even more optimistic about a “red wave” and predicts that Republicans will gain five seats in the Senate.

But there has been pushback from Democratic consultants and observer. Christopher Bouzy who is known mostly for his “Bot Sentinel” web site believes that it is the Democrats who “will gain at least two seats in the Senate and hold the House with 2 – 6 seats.” Christopher Bouzy justifies his prediction by citing registration and early voting data which focuses on young voters (18-29), women, and minorities. The idea is that early voting among Democrats is outpacing the high early voting rates in the “blue wave” election which say big Democratic gains in 2018. From Bouzy’s point of view, the increase in early voting means that numbers among Democratic voters compared to Republican voters and the polls thus are underestimating the Democratic vote.

The other argument made by Democratic optimists focuses on the thesis that the polls are over-estimating the Republican vote. Democratic consultant Simon Rosenberg is arguing that GOP polling firms have been “flooding the zone” with polls that are biased toward Republicans and that this has influenced poll aggregators like FiveThirtyEight.com and analysts like Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato to over-estimate support for Republican candidates. A couple days ago, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com admitted that the rush of GOP polls had affected his site’s poll average in favor of Republicans although he saw that more as correcting for the anti-GOP bias that had surfaced in 2016 and 2020 presidential polling. It makes a significant difference as can be seen in a Rosenberg tweet on the Senate race in George where the Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock is trying to hold onto his seat vs former NFL star and Republican Herschel Walker

That’s a 7 point difference that’s not balanced out by “Democratic-leaning polls.” Rosenberg thinks the data supports Democrats but does not venture the same of prediction as Bouzy. Seeing this kind of discrepancy and observing the high rates of early voting among Democratic voters Savvy political observers like Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo and Never Trumper Republican and former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele largely accept both that the rush of GOP polls has biased the poll average and that there’s been a late surge toward the Democrats. As a result, Marshall sees a fairly wide range of possibilities for the Senate elections with the Democrats possibly gaining 2 seats and holding the majority the Republicans possibly gaining 4 seats and thus gaining the majority. For his part, Michael Steele foresees a tight election that has a great deal of variability and think there will be a lot of surprises some of which will be favorable to the Democrats and some to the Republicans.

My own sense is somewhat the same as Steele’s. My suspicions is that this won’t be either a Republican “red wave” or a Democratic “blue wave” election and that there will be a number of surprises going both ways. In relation to national politics, I see three possibilities.

  1. GOP takes the House, Dems keep the Senate. House Republicans are a real threat to default on the national debt, will probably impeach President Biden, and will also keep a lot of Democrats off committees. But it’s likely that the government will remain functional.
  2. GOP takes House, GOP takes Senate. The situation would depend on the extent to which Establishment and MAGA Republicans can work together in the Senate. But the tendency of the national government toward chaos would increase with GOP control over both.
  3. Dems Take House, Keep Senate. This is the Christopher Bouzy scenario that’s still not taken very seriously. But if the Dems keep control over Congress despite mid-term trends, inflation, and higher crime rates, that would allow the Biden administration to keep functioning in its current way and create a great deal of consternation among Republicans. If they can’t win now, when will they ever win?

Kanye, the Mainstream, and “The People”

Joel Osteen, Youtube

After being dropped by Adidas, Kanye West (hereafter “Ye”) responded with a post on Parler:

“I lost 2 billion dollars in one day and I’m still alive. This is love speech. I still love you. God still loves you. The money is not who I am. The people is who I am.”

Like others in search of popular conservative religious/political leadership, Ye stresses his love for “the people” (“I still love you”) and God’s love for the people (“God still loves you”). Likewise, he makes the populist leader claim to identify with the people in a way that assumes that his identification means leadership over the people–“The people is who I am.” By identifying this way, Ye shapes his activism so that his will can claim to be seen as the will of the people. But Ye’s claim pales before Trump’s. Over the last seven years, Trump and his followers have shaped each other to the extent that Trump’s will can be seen as the will of the followers who he also calls “the people.” Ye’s not popular enough and his following is not committed enough to justify his claim that “the people is who I am.” Indeed, the following Ye seeks is already devoted to Trump and Ye is more of a mid-level player in the story of Trumpism than anything else.

I’m sure there’s reasons for Ye’s lack of a following, but I’m stuck on the question of what Ye means by “the people” and how we can think of “the people” in relation to the on-going struggle between the multicultural, socially liberal mainstream and right-wing white insurgency in the U.S. What Ye does NOT mean by “the people” is becoming more clear. Most obviously, Ye is like most Trump supporters in having a version of the people that most definitely does not include black people as he stresses that black people chose slavery, Harriet Tubman didn’t free any slaves, “white lives matter” instead of black, and white men are the world’s most disrespected group. Ye’s so anti-black I’m surprised he didn’t quote the Dred Scott decision on black people having “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Ye also went all out with his current war on Jews, saying that he was going “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” accusing Jews as “[owning] the Black voice” through Black people wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt, “being signed to a record label, or having a Jewish manager, or being signed to a Jewish basketball team, or doing a movie on a Jewish platform like Disney.” Like anti-Semitic bigots worldwide, Ye attributes the same all-encompassing power to Jews as the Nazis did and is apparently acting on his longstanding fascination with Hitler and the extent of Hitler’s power. One has to wonder about the extent to which Ye now approves of the Holocaust.

But what about the long list of constituencies Ye’s offended–black people, white liberals, Jews, women, Adidas, the record industry, the fashion world, the mainstream news media, and social media. For Ye, it’s the Trump right wing and especially the religious right and white men who are “the people” but is there any way to consider the broad and diverse coalition of Ye’s opponents as a “people?”

In the Western world, “the people” is a concept that’s at least as old as the Greek city states of antiquity and was long articulated in opposition to the nobility. What gave an organic quality to the idea of “the people” was the shared life of small-scale farming, the seasonal rhythms of agriculture, the work of the urban trades, and the festivities celebrating planting, the harvest, marriage, death, the seasons, the gods, and local patriotism. Because of the roots of the Trump coalition in agriculture, mining, and small town life, Trump supporters routinely see themselves as the “people.” But the rise of America’s urban belts and major interior cities has created a new dynamic in which urban life and service industries are the central dynamic and small towns and agriculture have become peripheral. Trump constituencies have been further marginalized by their addiction, depression, high rates of suicide and violence and general rejection of social norms, education, and science. In many ways, Trump constituencies are too alienated from society to form a people in the traditional sense. In this way, attachment to the “flag” isn’t so much a representation of their connection to the life of society as a substitute for that connection.

But there are also apparent problems in viewing the whole multicultural coalition as a “people.” If the idea of a “people” relies on a common life, then how can lib/left whites, black people, Hispanics, LGBT folks, Jews, American Muslims, Asian-Americans, and Native-Americans be seen as sharing a common life and thus being a people on that basis? But diversity is not as much an issue as hierarchy and class. People from different ethnic and racial groups do live a “common” life in cities in the sense that they share an urban economy, navigate a common transportation system, and work for a deluge of intersecting government agencies, corporations, mom and pop stores, and small businesses. What primarily diminishes the sense of shared life is the extreme disparities of wealth that make rent so expensive, create homelessness, and create opportunities for specialized consumption and concierge systems that for the elite of wealth.

The U.S. has only been a multicultural democracy since the 1965 Voting Rights Act overturned the legal/police apparatus for excluding black people in the South from voting. Likewise, my sense of the U.S. being a multicultural society and having a multicultural politics did not coalesce until Barack Obama’s second term and especially the 2015 legalization of gay marriage. In this sense, it’s too early as of yet for the various groups to fully coalesce into a “people.” But there are some things that have the effect of increasing the sense of shared commonality among the various groups. Among those are:

  1. Opposition to Trump: Millions of people across the multicultural spectrum participated in the opposition to President Trump and his immigration policies, deference to Putin, and attempted coup against the election of Joe Biden. The term “Resistance” faded but the common cause of “The Resistance” continued to be expressed and had an impact on the 2020 election. Despite Biden’s not engaging in public campaigning and Dems not doing public events and door knocking because of COVID, the Democrats still increased their vote by 16 million and much of that was due to the collective spirit of opposition that had been developing since Trump’s announcement in 2015.
  2. Intersectional ethics: The ethics of fully recognizing those in traditionally marginalized groups as citizens and valuing and embracing the differences among a multicultural population. This can especially be seen in the Democratic Party and their constituencies defending transsexual teens and their families against bigoted attacks from the religious right. It would have been politically advantageous for Democrats to retreat under the banner of “compromise” but multicultural constituencies would not have stood for it and Democratic politicians have assimilated enough of those ethics that they were little tempted anyway.
  3. Embracing Difference. I was 10 years old when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and remember other white people talk about “toleration” in the sense of enduring the presence of black people and others who were different (Jews, gay people, disabled folks, etc.) even though that presence was not particularly welcome. But the movement of multicultural and socially liberal people has been toward “embracing” difference and being welcoming to people of different races, ethnicities, immigrant, and disability status. The question of tolerance is directed more often at conservatives who are seen as not accepting the common morality
  4. Empathy. A key to a multicultural principle of empathy is that the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes extends to people across racial, gender, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and regional lines. At the same time, the value of empathy extends to caring for people who are traumatized, damaged, or chronically ill. to give a couple of examples from lib/left and black twitter, people have been broadly sympathetic to my growing up in an abusive family and its attendant traumas and there are continuing outpourings of sympathy and compassion for recovering addicts, cancer patients, and people experiencing deaths in their families.

In a way, the United States is developing a situation where two segments of the population are articulating themselves as “the people” in a separate and mutually opposed manner. It’s part of what makes America such an unstable nation at present.

An Incident of Virulent Racism

On Monday, this video of a blonde white woman doing two minutes of racist ranting appeared on twitter. It’s ugly, bigoted stuff and I have a hard time imagining that it was not emotionally harmful to many of the black people sitting in the same subway care or seeing the tirade on twitter. That’s the purpose of hate speech–to wound, damage, discourage, and depress. I’m white and I felt discouraged and depressed listening to that garbage.

From Luci

At the same time, I grew up in an abusive family, am writing a couple chapters on 1830’s/1840’s blackface minstrelsy, and see some familiar mechanisms at work. In blackface songs like J. W. Sweeney’s “Whar Do You Come From” and “Jonny Boker,” the “n-word” was used to humiliate and degrade black people while simultaneously providing white audiences a crescendo of shared pleasure. Every refrain would highlight the n-word as if it was the secret to salvation Shared racism has long been a foundation stone of white culture and my father tried to socialize me into racism as part of his effort to make “a man out of me” while I was a teen in the 60’s.

But the audience for the blonde woman in the subway car was overwhelmingly black and her pleasures in racism didn’t seem to be shared with other white people. Instead, the blonde woman was waging a one woman race war that she was determined to dominate through insulting black people, first by using the n-word 7 times–n-word, n-word, n-word, n-word, n-word, n-word, n-word. I’m not familiar with any writing on the ways in which insults are important to conservative discourse in the United States but white conservatives have been working overtime since the 2020 election to apply new insults like “woke” and “groomer” to intimidate and discomfit their liberal opponents. For the blonde racist, openly using the n-word and other insults like the c-word, “mental retard,” and “Black Vagina” are all ways to aggressively attack her enemies.

Another part of the oppressive power of the blonde woman’s racist speech is the transgression of the widely held norm against openly using the n-word in the U.S. Much of the original power of early blackface came from the transgression of white performers dressing up as black men and black women and the blonde racist relies on the transgressive power of the n-word to pursue her race war against the rest of the subway car. People in the car objected, called her “crazy,” and indicated that the video was going viral but they lacked the legal ability to either enforce the norms against hate speech themselves or access to any kind of police power to enforce the norms on their behalf. Unable to silence the blonde racist, they had to listen to her respond to each of their points by yelling more insults and screaming at them to “SHUT UP.”

I don’t have any solutions in which I’d have confidence. As someone who grew up in an abusive environment, I would conceivably have the ability to yell back. But I generally freeze when these kinds of ugly situations erupt and a reasonable black person might think that responding forcefully to these kinds of racist fanatics just makes the situation worse. So I don’t know what could be done about it.

But I still think it important to take note.

Democrats, Mike Pence, and the “Hang Mike Pence” Party

1. Mike and the Hang Mike Pence Party.

@Mike_Pence, Oct. 19 Freedom is under attack! Having served many years in Washington, leaders in this Nation’s capital have never been more out of touch, more intent on imposing their agenda or walking out on people who don’t have the same point of view.

Mike Pence, Today American Freedom is under attack. Big media, Big Government, Big tech and even Big business have locked arms to advance a pernicious woke ideology designed to control the American people and destroy the American Dream.

These tweets are excerpts from the beginning of former Vice-President Mike Pence’s speech to the right-wing Heritage Foundation on Oct. 19 in Washington, D.C. Mike Pence is one of the strangest figures to ever occupy high political office in the U.S. As straight an arrow as you can find in politics, Pence accepted a VP nomination from Donald Trump while knowing as much as I do that Trump is a pathological liar, con man, rapist, and flaming bigot. Once in office as the VP, Pence spent four years sucking up to Trump in the most demeaning way possible before having Trump approve of the mob trying to kill him for refusing to overturn the 2020 election. Even more weirdly, Pence travels around the country shaking hands, kissing babies, and giving speeches for all the world like he thinks he can win the 2024 nomination of a political party certain to renominate chief insurrectionist Donald Trump.

Why would Mike Pence want to be the head of the “Hang Mike Pence Party?”

2. Democrats in Touch with Public Opinion. I’m interested in the relation between the Democrats and the claims in Pence’s tweets. Of course, the truth is the opposite. Democratic leadership is more in touch with public opinion than any administration in recent history. After Pres. Biden proposed his far-reaching 3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” legislation in 2021, public support for all the various items in the bill was over 50% and in the 70’s for expanding Medicare. Indeed, what public opinion on Build Back Better revealed is that independents were almost as interested in large-scale legislation as Democratic voters. The people with whom Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi are “out of touch” are the 30% of conservative voters who hate government, science, and anything that would benefit poor and minority voters so much that they oppose legislation that would benefit themselves.

3. Democrats Imposing a Popular Agenda. To the contrary, Pence writes that “Leaders in this Nation’s capital have never been more out of touch, [or] more intent on imposing their agenda.” One of the things that’s characterized GOP leadership and voters is a sense that white conservatives have become a smaller part of the population and the Republican Party itself is losing touch with urban/suburban majorities. That’s reflected in opinion on a large range of culture war issues as well. Support for reinstating Roe v Wade for the country as a whole is at 60%, gay marriage 71%, stronger gun control 52%, women in the military 66%, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants 71%, and opposition to restrictions on transsexuals at 64%. Majority and super-majority opinion on all of these cultural issues reflects the extent to which civil rights values have become mainstream in the United States and the extent to which white conservative opponents are now a permanent minority. In 2021-2022, the Biden administration and Congressional Dems have found ways to pass over the Senate filibuster and united opposition from House Republicans to enact their agendas on the pandemic, climate, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, computer chips, and guns. In other words, the Democrats are in touch with popular opinion and “imposing their agenda” on behalf of majorities. The Democrats represent public opinion and have effectively translated public opinion into far-reaching legislation.

4. Civil Rights as Official Morality. In many ways, Civil Rights has been the official American morality on race, gender, LGBT issues, Native Americans, immigration, and disability since the 1950’s-1960’s black Civil Rights Movement and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There aren’t any well known histories of how so much came under the moral umbrella of Civil Rights but there has been a broad forward movement as more populations came under the umbrella of Civil Rights and various modes of white conservative resistance have weakened over time. To give a couple examples, the idea among white people in the 1960’s was that they would need to “tolerate” the presence of black people in “their” schools, stores, restaurants, neighborhoods, and the like. But the ethic of tolerance has given way to an ethic of “embracing” diversity and valuing all groups and cultures whether that’s racial and ethnic groups like black people and Hispanics, various religions like Islam, Hindu (Happy Diwali!), and Buddhism, and the varieties of sexual orientation and gender identity. Likewise, (heterosexual) whites are no longer considered THE reference point for a social ethics of multiculturalism as they used to be as late as the early 2000’s when our daughters were in elementary school. Black people, Hispanics, LGBT folks, and Native Americans, and other groups are routinely seen as defining reference points of their own. Given that the majority of white Americans identify with either conservatism or the extreme right, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see white people as a reference point for multiculturalism at all.

Pence claims that “Big media, Big Government, Big tech and even Big business have locked arms to advance a pernicious woke ideology” with “woke” serving as a way for conservatives to insult civil rights ethics. In fact, the major institutions of American society do have “official” ethics of valuing racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, and gender diversity, being interested in the history of black people and Native Americans in the United States, the various cultures of immigrants, and transnational cultural connections between cultures in the United States and abroad. “Big Media, Big Government, Big tech, and even Big Business” are also interested in veteran’s status, disability status and accessibility.

Pence isn’t kidding about big business. According to Delta Air: “Thoughtful action combined with a focus on championing diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and within our personal lives will play a healing role to help us keep climbing.” Likewise Walmart has “a vision of a workplace culture at Walmart and Sam’s Club where everyone is included – one where associates with unique identities, styles, experiences, abilities and perspectives are understood, supported and championed by their leaders.”

Being the party of civil rights, the Democrats are also the party of the inclusive ideology that is becoming more and more characteristic of American corporations.

In other words, Democrats are on the right side of American social morality as well as public opinion.

In Praise of Democrats

Andrew Harnik/AP

Contemporary Democrats are as admirable a political party as ever existed in the U.S. Animated by a civil rights ethic, the Democrats have been a multicultural coalition for decades and have expanded their horizon to include defending, appreciating, and promoting the interests of the whole range of LGBT folks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, the disabled population, and legal and undocumented immigrants. The first black president was elected as a Democrat and so was the first woman to be Speaker of the House. The Democrats nominated the first woman for president, and nominated and elected Kamala Harris as a black/South Asian woman for Vice-President. Likewise Deb Haaland became the first Native American cabinet officer. Indeed, the Democrats have incorporated a broad diversity of women at all levels of political leadership. As the Democratic Party became more broadly American and the GOP retreated from “national” views, the Democrats have also become the “national” party for a multicultural nation and the only “America First” party in international affairs. The America represented by Democrats is identified both in the U.S. and globally with the best America has to offer.

I just want to sketch out a few of the things the Democrats have done and a little of what’s involved in their accomplishments. Since the election of Trump in 2016, Democratic officeholders have raised their game and become more forceful in any number of ways. It begins with the Biden administration. They’ve carried out a legislative agenda for transferring wealth to the poor and middle class, addressing climate change, and making massive investments in infrastructure. The Biden people also broke the bipartisanship barrier by refusing to countenance the delaying tactics of Susan Collins and GOP moderates. Likewise, Pres. Biden upped his rhetorical game to attack the MAGA brand as a form of fascism and an imminent danger to American democracy. At an advanced age, President Biden realized that Republican office holders were unrelenting opponents instead of his “friends and colleagues.” That’s a huge step forward in Democratic Party political culture and Biden has governed accordingly The same is true of Congressional Democrats, Democratic staffers, and the more liberally minded media. Concentrated in D.C. and New York, the Democratic apparatus long saw themselves as having much in common with their white conservative counter-parts, but have followed Democratic voters in leaving a sense of common culture with conservatives behind.

The Biden administration has also done an excellent job of orchestrating American support for the Ukrainian war effort. U.S. intelligence interpreted the Russian intent to launch a full scale invasion of Ukraine early, engaged in a smart political campaign to deter the Russians, and held off full support for the Ukrainians until Ukrainian government and society showed that they were willing to fight. American support for Ukraine has been large-scale and well-timed. The Biden people have shown a great deal of subtlety in prodding reluctant countries like France and Germany to increase their commitments to Ukraine while also giving encouragement to smaller NATO members like Poland and Norway. That subtlety also extends to Biden’s dealings with Russia. The Biden have come pretty close to full tilt in backing Ukraine without doing anything that would provoke a nuclear escalation by Russia. Ukraine is a delicate situation and the Biden administration has played it extremely well.

The Jan. 6 Committee is an example of the extent to which Democrats (with help from Cheney and Kinzinger) have developed outstanding skills at staging events. The Committee and its staff sifted through mountains of documents, texts, cell messages, interviews, and other materials, constructed a dramatic narrative out of the materials, and kept their focus on Trump as orchestrating the whole range of electoral coups leading up to Jan. 6. Cassidy Hutchinson’s appearance was the high point of the Committee’s presentation but the Jan. 6 Committee also made outstanding use of the William Barr, Pat Cipollone, and Eric Herschmann testimony, and every one of the hearings has been a high-profile event. The object of the Committee was to get to the truth of the Jan. 6 Insurrection, they succeeded in accomplishing that goal, and they have been extremely effective in doing so.

Another Democratic leader who’s raised her game is Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi’s long been a great legislator whose public presence suffered from her average speaking skills. But since returning as Speaker in 2019, Pelosi has put it all together. Combining her “I’m All That” shades and red coat after meeting with Trump after the 2018 elections, her FU clapping after Trump’s 2019 State of the Union Address, and dramatically ripping up Trump’s 2020 State of the Union, Pelosi completely owned Trump for the last two years of his term. It’s easy to forget that Donald Trump is all about dominating any human encounter, but Trump’s penchant for domination meant that Pelosi’s “winning” all their major interactions was a very big deal. To cap her performance as Trump-era speaker, Pelosi took over as a kind of acting president while marshalling outside help to combat the Jan. 6 Insurrection.

Of course, Joe Biden’s inauguration as President meant that Pelosi was no longer D.C.’s most important Democrat. But she delivered the House of Representatives for the Biden agenda at every turn and pushed to shape House legislation in the most aggressively Biden direction possible. With Pelosi at the helm, a slim Democratic majority in the House passed the American Rescue Act to counteract the economic effects of the pandemic, a large-scale infrastructure bill, gun control legislation, the CHIPS Act to bring microchip production back to the U.S. from China, and the wide-ranging Inflation Reduction Acts. These bills all became law and it was BFD’s all around. The American Rescue Act provided a cushion that was a big help for poor and lower-middle class people dealing with unemployment, lower income levels, increased medical expenses, and the stress of the pandemic. Biden’s Infrastructure agenda was the first large-scale investment in infrastructure since the 60’s, gun legislation the first since the mid-90’s, and the Inflation Reduction Act was the first systematic approach to climate legislation while also containing serious reductions to health expenses.

And that was the legislation that passed by the Senate and became law. The House also passed a boatload of legislation that wasn’t brought up for votes in the Senate because of the filibuster. That includes far-reaching voting rights legislation like the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that would have brought back the Voting Rights Act, authorized same day voter registration, eliminated gerrymandering, and otherwise enshrined the expansion of voting as the most important priority of electoral law. The House also took the same aggressive, wide-ranging approach to legislation protecting abortion rights. Not only did the bill to codify Roe v Wade define abortion rights as the law of the land on abortion, it banned all the restrictions on abortion rights that had been passed by conservative states since 1973. Rolling back the 60’s and 70’s has been a mainstay of white conservative politics for the last two generations but Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leadership team, and the House Democratic caucus have shown that they have every intention of “rolling back the roll back.”

This post has largely ignored the impact of Democratic initiatives on the 2022 elections. Indeed, the controlling issue for the 2022 mid-terms is likely to be inflation. But whatever the outcome of the mid-terms, the Democratic leadership has shown themselves to be highly capable.

Lizzo, The Madison Flute, and the Conquest of “Old America”

On Tuesday night, the popular rapper, songwriter, and actor Lizzo played the crystal flute originally given to President James Madison to celebrate Madison’s second inauguration as President of the United States. Growing up in Detroit and Houston, Lizzo is a classic American story of upward mobility, risk taking, and barrier breaking, Lizzo trained as a classical flautist while developing her rapping chops in teen bands and finally taking the big leap, moving to Minneapolis and living out of her car for a year while she was breaking into the music business. Being substantially overweight, Lizzo became a huge success while also overcoming stigmas about fatness at the top levels of the music business. Her talent and drive were more than enough to overcome the traditional barriers to success for “Big Grrls.”

Twitter

Lizzo is the first person to play the Madison flute and she had arranged with the Library of Congress to play the flute as part of a DC area concert. As a result, she was in full rapper costume when the Madison flute was presented to her, played a few notes and did a little twerking before celebrating the historic nature of the event. Lizzo also used the occasion to put in a plug for the Library of Congress and history. “Thank you to the Library of Congress for preserving out history and for making history fricking cool. History is freaking cool you guys!”

Of course, Lizzo’s playing the James Madison flute was a way to advertise herself and provide a “special moment” for her fans but the event also had wider significance. What strikes me most is that Lizzo is a cultured professional performer, a pro, who is steeped in flute lore and recognized the significance of the Madison flute. Much has been made about Lizzo playing an instrument linked to a slave-owning ex-president and its importance in crossing another line associated with the slave system and white supremacy. But I also wonder if the significance runs deeper. Lizzo represents a different kind of society than the white patriarchal republican which James Madison had such an important role in establishing as an author of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In Madison’s America of Madison, white men had full rights while women, black people, and other non-whites were refused legal recognition as citizens, exposed to extensive surveillance, and subject to the slave system in the case of most black people. To the contrary, Lizzo’s America is a multicultural, socially liberal society in which the official values stem from the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s-1960’s and Lizzo’s career is an exemplar of the barrier-breaking accomplishments of black women within that society. Lizzo’s excellence as a flute player and interest in flute lore has been a way for her to assert historical roots in relation to the historical marginalization of black women. But her performance with the flute also brought the artistic legacy of the 1810’s back into contact with the mainstream of multicultural popular culture and gave the Madison flute a cultural vitality it never had before. Madison himself never anticipated this, but the best of Revolutionary era culture lives on through Lizzo.

There was also this very curious reaction.

What’s curious here are the terms “victorious revolutionary regime” and “defeated enemy.” Who is the “defeated enemy” here? The relevant parties to the exchange are Lizzo and the Library of Congress with Lizzo seeking a special moment for her fans and the Library of Congress looking to increase its public visibility. Far from being a “victorious revolutionary regime” and “defeated enemy,” Lizzo and the library were involved in a cooperative exchange and the Madison flute was not only not a “sacred object” it was obscure, unplayed, and almost unknown until Lizzo played it. That the flute can now be considered a “sacred symbol” of American history is almost entirely due to Lizzo herself. Much as the 1619 Project unlocked the potential to construct new narratives about the history of American democracy, Lizzo created a new kind of connection between the multicultural present and the White Republic of 200 years ago.

Perhaps “Martyr Made” is referring to white conservatives as the “defeated enemy.” But traces of conservative defeat are difficult to find in the Madison flute event. It’s not like the positive, upbeat messages of Lizzo songs like “It’s About Damn Time” represent hostility to conservatism let alone the conquest of conservatives. In fact, there isn’t much reference to conservatives in the Madison Flute event at all. Maybe that’s the problem though. During the slavery and segregation periods, “conservative” figures employed their economic, police, and ideological power as well as sporadic and intense violence to curtail black people like Lizzo and Carla Hayden, the first black woman to head up the Library of Congress. However, Hayden was backed up by a multicultural Biden administration and the broader American cultural elite while Lizzo is an established star in hip hop and the only vehicle for conservative involvement was protest from conservative media figures like Ben Shapiro. Laying out the full scope of white conservative impotence, conservatives had no ability to prevent the Lizzo/LOC event from happening, no capacity to punish the organizers and participants, and no ability to prevent either Lizzo or the Library of Congress from doing similar things in the future. In relation to conservatives, Lizzo wasn’t so much triumphing over conservatives as forgetting that they exist.

Further thought on Lizzo’s current moment can be derived from reflection on this tweet from reactionary right-winger Pedro L. Gonzalez, a writer and associate editor at an outlet called Chronicles Magazine which I’ve never heard of but has enough prominence that Ann Coulter follows them on twitter. Where “Martyr Made” views Lizzo playing the Madison Flute as the victorious gesture of the conquering over the defeated, Gonzales identifies white people as the group being conquered and the Lizzo event as specifically “about humiliating white people.”

Gonzalez uses the term “white” in an unreflective way and just assumes that having a European genetic heritage makes a person white in the sense of being part of a white “people.” But I don’t believe that a white “people” exists any more in the United States and that indeed the growing and increasingly bitter cultural divide among the white ethnic population is one of the unique features of current American society. Speaking very broadly, about 40% of the white population in the U.S. votes Democratic, white Democrats represent about 60% of the Democratic vote, and thus white Democrats are the largest element in the multicultural Democratic coalition. White Democrats accept the civil rights morality associated with the Black Civil Rights Movement, 2nd Wave feminism, disabilities activism, LGBT rights, and immigration activism, and liberal white acceptance of civil rights principles has been a crucial factor in civil rights perspectives becoming the more or less official ideology in the United States. Gonzales stresses in one of his articles for Chronicles Magazine that Critical Race Theory is so pernicious because it’s “anti-white,” but he quotes white writer and cultural critic Susan Sontag to justify his point. In my experience, white Democrats greatly admire black figures like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, enthusiastic about the success of barrier-breaking black cultural figures like Lizzo, deeply critical of the slave system, segregation, and contemporary white racism, and have a hard time viewing those who see America as a “white man’s country” as real Americans. White Democrats may not form a “common culture” with Black people, Native Americans, and immigrants but white Democrats are definitely a large and active element in the multicultural coalition opposing white conservatives.

Instead of humiliating white people, Lizzo created an event which all factions of America’s multicultural society could accept and enjoy, and forget for a moment about this nation’s problems with the insurrectionary right.

Culture War, The Diversity Ethic, and Nike

I’m going to talk about what’s left of the culture war. What do I mean by “culture war” and what do I mean by “what’s left of the culture war?” The culture war was originally a set of liberal vs conservative battles over pre-marital sex, abortion, school prayer, and gays in the military but morphed into struggles over fundamental things like American national identity, the status of science, the male-female binary, and the relative value of religion. To make a long story short, the left won on pretty much all counts. Following up on the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964, official discourses emphasize the equal value of black people, women, gay people, religious diversity, and the whole range of national origins. Gay marriage is now accepted by significant majorities. Values like individual uniqueness and pioneering spirit are represented by fictional figures like the adolescent Moana and gay marriage is supported by a large majority. Because of black and feminist critics, the struggle against white supremacy is now viewed as a central drama of American history while sexual violence is now at the forefront of American understandings of gender. The left used to be understood in terms of white liberals and the labor movement but is now more accurately portrayed as the multicultural left.

Enter Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson is a white conservative from a wealthy background who has been a media figure for almost 20 years. Starting out on CNN debate shows, Carlson co-founded the right-wing “Daily Caller” and now has a highly rated 8:00pm show of his own on Fox News. About a week ago, Carlson started a controversy over cultural values by asking a simple question. “How precisely is diversity our strength?” According to Carlson, “diversity is our strength” has become our “new national motto” and needs to be questioned. Carlson initially seems to direct his comments at immigrants when he further asks “Do you get along better with your neighbors, your co-workers if you can’t understand each other or share no values.” But as Tucker Carlson moves forward with his train of questioning, the more important target becomes obvious. It’s the marginalization of white conservatives themselves. “If diversity is our strength, why is it okay for the rest of us to surrender one of our central rights, freedom of speech, to just a handful of tech monopolies.” Of course, Nazis like Richard Spencer and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones from twitter, facebook, and other large-scale online outlets and Carlson seems to be referring to them when he says “the rest of us.” If anything though, Carlson is more outraged that even people who question ideas of diversity “need to be shamed, silenced, and fired” and seems to believe that white conservatives in general are under enormous pressure to accept the official values associated with diversity.

Carlson objects in particular to immigrants, but “diversity” includes a dazzling array of racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, and disability identities. The latest Nike commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick is an excellent example of how “diversity” as an all-encompassing value being promoted by corporate elites. There are legless wrestlers, triathletes recovering from brain cancer, and women kicking butt in soccer, boxing, and high school football. Speaking of football, there were several one-handed football players, also refugee soccer players scoring for the Canadian national teams and LeBron James transcending sports altogether. The current “Just Do It” commercial not only values diversity, it celebrates diversity as a path to the highest kind of individual and group accomplishment. The enormous range of accomplishment makes the world a better place and celebrating that diversity is something in which everyone can and should share. Nike tops off this brilliant commercial by anchoring it in the figure of Colin Kaepernick who best embodies the ethic of sacrificing everything for what he believes. For Nike, Kaepernick is the living embodiment of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and the civil rights legacy that also serves as the anchor point for feminism, gay rights, disability advocacy, immigrant rights groups and other movements associated with virtue and decency from the diversity point of view.

Conservatives have criticisms of the Nike commercial and alternative values of their own. But all of these pale in the face of the historical, entertainment, and moral power of the diversity ethic. Indeed, conservatives would do much better if they developed more of a critique of corporate power. For example, Nike is a $100 bill global corporation with 34 bill in annual revenue. According to Market Realist, Nike outsources all of its manufacturing to third-party manufacturers with locations in Vietnam, China, Indonesia, and 39 other countries. Although not as immersed in sweatshop exploitation as it was in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Nike contractors are still involved in abuses even though they now pay minimum wages. But minimum wage is not the standard by which Nike measures the world and by the “Let’s Do It” standard of the current ad, Nike fails miserable. Nike does nothing to celebrate the diversity of the people making their shoes and clothes, do not seem to encourage their employees to go to college, start their own businesses, or even, you know, become athletes. The people who make Nike products can’t rise within the company because they never work for Nike. Making women stand outside for two hours in the Vietnamese heat as punishment for not meeting their quota of 60 dozen pairs of shoes may not be standard practice anymore, but Nike does nothing to encourage the extraordinary accomplishments of their ads among their overseas employees. As far as I can tell, Nike has no manufacturing facilities in the United States. And it’s easy to know why. My step-grandfather Wayne West made $15-20/hr as a union bricklayer in Northern New York through the early 80’s. Nike doesn’t want to pay $15/ hour or even $5/hr to the people making its products. That’s the way it’s been with capitalism since at least the time when Karl Marx associated capitalism exploitation of the European working class with that “single unconscionable freedom—free trade.” If white conservatives want to fight the now official values of diversity, they should do so by condemning the connection between the official values, the brutal exploitation of manufacturing workers in places like Vietnam, and the declining standard of living and health among working people in the United States. THAT would be progress.

From a talk given in 2018.

Spectacles of Conservative Amusement: A Caution

In the 1980’s, Neil Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death about the narcotizing effect of television news becoming a form of infotainment that distracts from the issues being reported on. Fox News has long been thought of as engaging in conservative entertainment to promote the Republican Party and right-wing propaganda more generally. Laura Ingraham has a 10pm nightly show on Fox News entitled The Ingraham Angle and delivers steady ridicule of President Biden and the Democrats, formulations and reformulations of core white conservative values, and a more cohesive version of a GOP campaign platform than most Republican candidates can deliver on their own. With her Fox-blonde hair, late-50’s white attractiveness, and a steady stream of video around which she organizes her commentary, and the Fox chyron concentrating the message, Ingraham provides the kind of attractive, propulsive conservative messaging that Postman warned about in relation to the news media in general. She tells white conservatives who they are, what they think, and how they should experience life in a multicultural, socially liberal America that’s far from reflecting the views of white conservatives.

That brings me to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. My understanding of last week’s flying Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts stunt is that DeSantis was trying to up his status among Republican politicians by providing broadcast content for Fox News. Last week in San Antonio, Texas, a woman working for the Florida state government and known as Perla engaged in deceptive recruitment of newly arrived migrants in San Antonio, promising to fly them to Boston and offering a range of housing and employment benefits. According to the pamphlet being passed out, the migrants were promised things like opportunities to apply for social security cards, “eight months cash assistance, food, job training/placement, help with housing” and other fictitious benefits. Because of the false information given to the migrants, there has been talk about prosecuting DeSantis and Florida state government under human trafficking and other laws. It’s likely that human trafficking laws do not apply because the migrants were not being transported for purposes of sexual exploitation or labor. However, former federal attorney and MSNBC personality Glenn Kirschner believes that the migrant flights were “kidnapping by inveiglement” and ridicules DeSantis for his initial defenses against criticism.

Unlike human beings with ethics, the DeSantis people did not coordinate with anyone on Martha’s Vineyard or in the state of Massachusetts before just dropping off the Venezuelan migrants. However DeSantis did inform Fox News of the flight and there was consequently a Fox crew on hand when the plane landed. The conservative political point DeSantis wanted to make was that Martha’s Vineyard was full of “rich liberals” who would somehow panic at the sight of DeSantis and Fox News bringing the border crisis to Blue America. It’s all nonsense. El Paso, San Antonio, and big stretches of the Rio Grande Valley are already Blue America. Not that that matters to TX. Gov. Greg Abbott, Fox News, or the elderly white conservatives who watch Fox News. What these Republican voters want is to be entertained by the ridicule of white liberals and Ron DeSantis was able to market himself to Republican constituencies by delivering a new form of conservative entertainment through the Fox News television apparatus.

Much like Neil Postman worried about television as a metaphor for reality, it is also possible to worry about Ron DeSantis substituting the creation of conservative media content for the traditional governing functions of a big state like Florida. But I also wonder about the effect of government produced partisan entertainment on white conservative audiences. Postman followed Aldous Huxley in viewing the threat of modern totalitarianism more in terms of its narcotizing effect than the kind of tyranny seen in 1984 but I’m more inclined to see this kind of right-wing entertainment as addicting in the sense of requiring constantly bigger and more sensational spectacles of liberal humiliation.

It can’t be a good thing.