“Why are we so angry?” Here’s Why.

I recently noted the publication of Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse’s book,  Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal. The conservative publication, The Weekly Standardsummarized the main point of the book (my emphasis):

Many of the seemingly insoluble troubles afflicting Americans, Sasse thinks, stem from the decline in voluntary associations—or, to use the modern term, mediating institutions: the families and societies and associations and churches and synagogues that traditionally kept Americans together. The family unit has fractured. An overwhelming majority of children are born out of wedlock. Church attendance has cratered. Friendships, with technology and increased mobility, have fragmented. Politics has become the center of life instead of family, church, sports, or clubs. These associations and institutions once mediated between citizen and citizen, and citizen and government, and all at lower stakes than the national stage.

In his book and on television explaining his thinking, Sasse relies heavily on Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations on ordinary voluntary associations, “religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive,” among Americans when the country was barely fifty years old. Tocqueville said,

What is great in America is above all not what public administration executes but what is executed without it and outside it.

Sasse latches onto this old observation, which has arguable elements of truth in it, and himself downplays the importance of politics in our lives. And it is here, despite some good points he makes about American culture, where I have a major disagreement with him. He writes:

It seems clear that in America today, we’re facing problems that feel too big for us, so we’re lashing out at each other, often over less important matters. Many of us are using politics as a way to distract ourselves from the nagging sense that something bigger is wrong. Not many of us would honestly argue that if our “side” just had more political power, we’d be able to fix what ails us.

Yes, we are facing problems that feel really, really big. But politics is not a distraction “from the nagging sense that something bigger is wrong.” It is our politics that is the big—really big—problem. And many of us would argue that if our side had the requisite political power, we could fix many of the problems that ail us, problems like affordable access to comprehensive health care for instance. Sasse magnifies his point:

We’re angry, and politics is filling a vacuum it was never intended to fill. Suddenly, all of America feels marginalized and ignored. We’re all standing there in the dark, feeling powerless and isolated, pleading: “Don’t you see me?”

Sure. Many Americans feel marginalized and ignored and that makes them angry. But just who does Sasse think the “you” is in “Don’t you see me?” Senator Sasse is a you. So is Bernie Sanders. So is every other politician holding office. Our politics is the you. And our politics, our political system and the way it works and doesn’t work, is naturally where people in a democracy turn when they feel marginalized and ignored. Folks may turn to a family member, a friend, a doctor, or a pastor for one-on-one help with many of their problems. But there is nowhere to go, but to politics, for solutions to persistent poverty, for answers to inadequate access to healthcare, for ways to reduce income and wealth inequality created by an economic system severely skewed in favor of the moneyed class.

Image result for mitch mcconnellSasse asks, “Why are we so angry?” Well, many of us are angry precisely because our political system is unresponsive to the needs of ordinary Americans. Many of us are angry because much of our political system is controlled by rich people willing to fund politicians who will do their bidding, often against the interests of everyone else. Many of us are angry because minorities still have to fight for basic rights and because women still have to fight for control of their own bodies. Many of us are angry because our kids can’t afford to go to college or get buried in debt trying, the same kids who will suffer because there is precious little political will available for fighting climate change. Many of us are angry because we are awash in guns and nothing ever gets done about it. Many of us are angry because so many Americans die without or go bankrupt getting healthcare in the richest country in the world. And, yes, many of us are angry because a corrupt and vulgar buffoon was elected to high office without the consent of the majority and with the help of a ruthless Russian autocrat.

I present the latest concrete example of the source of our anger: the Republican tax cut, which the Treasury Department confirms increased the deficit to $779 billion for fiscal 2018, the highest annual deficit in six years. Much of the increase is attributable to a 31% decline in revenue generated via corporate taxes. The overall revenue growth rate for the year, a paltry 0.4%, was “the eighth lowest in the past 50 years,” according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and it is actually lower than it appears, “since the fiscal year totals include revenue raised from the pre-tax law code.” One wonders: Just where are the Republican teapartiers, who were supposedly obsessed over the increasing national debt and deficit spending when the Scary Negro was president? Huh?

What the Republicans did with their new tax law, and why it should make all Americans angry, is once again put us on the path to “serious” talk of cutting and gutting so-called entitlement programs. A Bloomberg story published yesterday began:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed rising federal deficits and debt on a bipartisan unwillingness to contain spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security…

There you have it. These programs exist, and subsist, precisely because of politics and they are essential to the well-being of countless Americans, no matter how relatively unimportant Ben Sasse might think politics is. And the only thing that might stop the actual cutting and gutting of those essential programs are angry voters next month, voters who understand that a lot of our problems can be solved by informing the Senator Sasses around the country that we aren’t just mad, we’re damned mad, and changing the political guard is at least something we can do to demonstrate our anger and outrage and demand for decency.

Let’s vote, dammit.

Some Things, And Some People, Deserve Our Contempt

“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent instrument or tool that we have in a democratic society and we must use it.”

John Lewis

If you have watched any television news programs the last day or two, you no doubt have come into contact with Senator Ben Sasse, who has written a book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal. As NPR’s Michael Schaub put it, “Sasse’s book aims to figure out what it is that’s made American politics so tribalistic and vicious, and to offer suggestions for reconciliation.” One reason for the vicious political tribalism, according to Sasse, is the prevalence of modern technology, including smart phones and the Internet, which have left people “feeling more isolated, adrift, and purposeless than ever before.” Sasse says, “We’re hyperconnected, and we’re disconnected.” Schaub continues:

The nation, Sasse writes, has descended into a set of “‘anti-tribes,’ defined by what we’re against rather than what we’re for.” He blames confirmation bias and the rise of inflammatory political rhetoric for this, writing that “liberals and conservatives no longer believe the same things, we don’t understand how our opponents believe what they believe, and we soothe our lonely souls with the balm of contempt.”

This analysis assumes that “our opponents” don’t deserve “contempt.” But, oh, they often do. I’m especially thinking here of Republicans who, through voter suppression tactics, are trying to shape the electorate in their own image, which is to say they are trying to make it older and whiter than it really is. And many of those tactics are working. As Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith pointed out (“Why Republicans Are Suppressing Black Votes: An aging, white Republican Party reliant upon unvarnished racism cannot survive without choosing its electorate”):

Roughly 16 million voters were removed from state rolls in the three years following the 2013 Supreme Court Shelby County decision that neutered federal pre-clearance in the Voting Rights Act — unsurprisingly, the effect has been discriminatory. Another Supreme Court ruling in June allowed Ohio to continue its practice of purging voters who fail to respond to a mailer and to vote in consecutive federal elections. Mostly black and urban neighborhoods were targeted. Ohio is a state run by Republicans, after all.

Smith also points to the “unconscionable seizure of Hispanic-Americans’ passports along the Texas-Mexico border and the targeting of college students for invalidation in New Hampshire and Wisconsin.” Another example is also in Texas, where Republicans made it harder for students to vote by not allowing student IDs to suffice as identification.

Image result for republican voter suppressionThen there is the situation in North Carolina, with its swing-state status and diverse electorate, where, in 2016, a District Court found Republicans had unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts for partisan reasons, extremely diluting the power of Democratic votes, especially minority ones (black voters make up almost 25% of the electorate). The problem is that the U.S. Supreme Court butted in and essentially forced the District Court to allow Republicans to use the unconstitutional districts for this upcoming election, due to time constraints.

Then there is North Dakota, where the Supreme Court blessed a voter ID law that clearly discriminates against Native Americans, who just happen to overwhelmingly support Democrats. Oh, and don’t forget Georgia, where the Republican candidate for governor, who happens to oversee the election process as secretary of state, has put around 53,000 voter registration applications—70% of them are from aspiring black voters—on hold, as part of both a short- and long-term scheme to suppress minority votes.

Finally, there is the issue of “felony disenfranchisement,” which, according to The Sentencing Project, has robbed one of every 13 African-Americans of their voting rights. While this is a problem in both red and blue states (only two states have no restrictions whatsoever), the most extreme restrictions are found in mostly red states. Felony disenfranchisement affects more than six million Americans. Six million Americans.

It’s hard to imagine what could be more anti-democratic, and anti-American, than inventing ways to discourage voting and suppress potential voters. It’s a weird democracy that has an electoral system that allows such conspiratorial manipulation. We should have automatic universal registration, say, when one gets a Social Security card. But we don’t. We have a system in which one party, the Republican Party, finds it a fundamental need to pass laws designed to keep it in power by making it difficult, if not impossible, for some people to participate in our experiment with democracy.

And, despite what Ben Sasse says, the people who practice the dark art and dark science of voter suppression—his fellow Republicans—richly deserve our utter contempt.

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