Voter Suppression, Supply-Side Economics, Empathy; and Links

Heather Cox Richardson, Facebook, October 16, 2022 (Sunday)

Richardson, a political historian, posts several times a week with longish (2 to 3 screens) summaries of recent events, grounded in historical perspective. This one is about the connection between voter suppression by Republicans and resistance to Reagan’s “supply-side economics” (so-called “trickle-down economics”) in the 1980s. I’d never made the connection, but she makes it sound inevitably reasonable.

Republicans’ rejection of the idea that voters have the right to choose their leaders is not a new phenomenon. It is part and parcel of Republican governance since the 1980s, when it became clear to Republican leaders that their “supply-side economics,” a program designed to put more money into the hands of those at the top of the economy, was not actually popular with voters, who recognized that cutting taxes and services did not, in fact, result in more tax revenue and rising standards of living. They threatened to throw the Republicans out of office and put back in place the Democrats’ policies of using the government to build the economy from the bottom up.

Then came various “ballot integrity” measures, and Gingrich.

From there it was a short step to insisting that Republicans lost elections not because their ideas were unpopular, but because Democrats cheated. In 1994, losing candidates charged, without evidence, that Democrats won elections with “voter fraud.” In California, for example, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s opponent, who had spent $28 million of his own money on the race but lost by about 160,000 votes, said on “Larry King Live” that “frankly, the fraud is overwhelming” and that once he found evidence, he would share it to demand “a new election.” That evidence never materialized.

Evidence didn’t turn up or support other claims of voter fraud. Just making the claims kept the idea in the air. Then came various talk radio hosts and Fox News.

In 1998, the Florida legislature passed a law to “maintain” the state’s voter lists, using a private company to purge the voter files of names believed to belong to convicted felons, dead people, duplicates, and so on. The law placed the burden of staying on the voter lists on individuals, who had to justify their right to be on them. The law purged up to 100,000 legitimate Florida voters, most of them Black voters presumed to vote Democratic, before the 2000 election, in which Republican candidate George W. Bush won the state by 537 votes, giving him the Electoral College although he lost the popular vote.

And Republican claims of fraud are now increasingly racist and antisemitic.

Those attacks also justify ignoring Democratic election victories, for if Democratic voters are undermining the country, it only makes sense that their choices should be ignored. This argument was exactly how reactionary white Democrats justified the 1898 coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, when they overthrew a legitimately elected government of white Populists and Black Republicans. …

It was not so very long ago that historians taught the Wilmington coup as a shocking anomaly in our democratic system, but now, 124 years after it happened, it is current again. Modern-day Republicans appear to reject not only the idea they could lose an election fairly, but also the fundamental principle, established in the Declaration of Independence, that all Americans have a right to consent to their government.


New Provisional Conclusion? There are some people who simply do not understand that there should be a connection between claims and evidence. Rather, these people claim what they’d like to believe, and don’t think evidence matters any more than they think it matters for, say, their religion. And this is all possible because, as the saying goes, some people will believe anything, so whatever these people claim, many other people will believe them. Especially if what they claim is something that many people *want* to be true.


Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams, 16 Oct 2022: Do conservatives really have an empathy deficit? This is what social science says, subtitled “A new study on pandemic behavior finds another link between ideology and empathy”

Here’s an example (maybe) of “it’s more complicated than that” concerning the common observation that conservatives are, for example, concerned about their own families, but not about society in general. They seem selfish. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they were indifferent to the harm they might cause by spreading a disease to others, if it cost them their “freedom” not to wear a mask.

The writer here cites many examples of studies that have indicated just that, e.g.

A 2018 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that asked “Are Liberals and Conservatives Equally Motivated to Feel Empathy Toward Others?” concluded that “On average and across samples, liberals wanted to feel more empathy and experienced more empathy than conservatives did.”

And yet,

But even if a variety of research seems to indicate that conservatives do believe and behave less empathetically than liberals, we can’t ignore signs that we have in recent decades tilted toward becoming a less empathetic species overall. In a noted 2010 study on empathy in college students, social psychologist Sara Konrath found “sharply dropping” empathy among young people, along with a rise in narcissism. Konrath’s work is particularly interesting, because she’s come at the issue not from a specifically political perspective but a social one, paying close attention to the escalating stress and burnout endemic among youth. It’s harder to have space in your heart for others when your own resources are dwindling.


We can look at the news about abortion access or insurrections and draw our own conclusions about who holds the larger deficit of empathy in America today. We can certainly not be surprised that conservatives have behaved with less concern for the collective well-being over the course of this pandemic. But we also have to acknowledge our own biases and limitations, our own tribalism and schadenfreude. As Konrath says, “The issue is more complex than what we may see reflected in media depictions.”

Well… this strikes me as bending over backward to find some ameliorative factor in the obvious, multiply documented pattern of a conservative empathy deficit. The general principle holds.


Now it’s time for… Links without Comments! (Except for a few in parens.)

Slate, Molly Oldstead, 16 Oct 2022: Doug Mastriano’s Holy War, subtitled “In his run for Pennsylvania governor, he’s mixed 2020 election lies with a militant and increasingly influential brand of Christian nationalism.”

Forbes, Zach Everson, 16 Oct 2022: A Trump Political Committee Bought $158,000 Worth Of Books Shortly After Jared Kushner Published His Best-Selling Memoir. (This is how some books, especially those by political and religious conservatives, get onto bestseller lists: their supporters buy the book en masse. The New York Times notices when this happens and indicates ranking of such books with a little dagger symbol: †.)

Bloomberg, Jeannie Baumann, 17 Oct 2022: Trump’s CDC Changed Covid Reports Under Political Pressure, Panel Finds

Salon, Sky Palma, 17 Oct 2022: “Not how it works, senator”: Mike Lee mocked for writing op-ed endorsing himself in the third-person, subtitled “After Mitt Romney snub, Mike Lee praises Mike Lee in op-ed by Mike Lee”

The Week, 16 Oct 2022: Battling over books, subtitled “Conservative groups and Republican officials are campaigning to ban books from schools and libraries.” (Summary of recent months.)

Salon, Lucian K. Truscott IV, 15 Oct 2022: Beating a dead horse: Jan. 6 committee has proved what we all knew. Does it even matter?, subtitled “Donald Trump is encircled by multiple investigations. He could end up broke and in jail. His fans do not care”

New York Times, Steven Paulikas (an Episcopal priest), 15 Oct 2022: Same-Sex Marriage Is a Religious Freedom (title on homepage: “Why Should Your Religion Be Favored Over Mine?”)

Slate, Nitish Pahwa, 5 Oct 2022: The Underappreciated Tool for Surviving Extreme Weather (Solar panels)

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