Today’s items follow up from yesterday’s, about the growing extremism and commitment to things that aren’t true by one particular American political party. As I still wonder, how did we get here?
Specific items are about changes in the Republican party since the 1960s (via letters to the New York Times); a conservative claim of victory in voter suppression; DeSantis’ war on all state-unapproved books; reasons for resentment among Republicans; DeSantis’ strategy in fighting the cultural wars.
And as a lagniappe on another theme, how the scientist who discovered sperm was so grossed out he hoped his discovery would be suppressed.
With an endpiece on a personal note.
(Topics on other themes tomorrow, promise.)
NYT, Letters, 21 Jan 2023: Fed Up With Today’s G.O.P., subtitled “Readers discuss how Bret Stephens and David Brooks feel estranged from the Republican Party.”
These are letters from readers reacting to an earlier op-ed dialogue between Bret Stephens and David Brooks — thoughtful conservatives — about their disenchantment with the current Republican party. This goes to my item in yesterday’s post by Heather Digby Parton, in part about the emergence of the religious right in the era of Falwell and Robertson.
Excepts from the letters, without attribution but separating each writer with ellipses.
David Brooks and Bret Stephens lament the former glory of the Republican Party and the nasty turn lately taken by the G.O.P., but adroitly overlook the ugliness at the core of the party over the past century and offer unconvincing evidence that the old party was anything nobler than what has replaced it.
The Republican Party may be a ruin, but it is not a noble ruin. It is a whited sepulcher infested with antisemitism, racism, Christian nationalism and conspiratorial delusions about a “deep state.”
These two talk as though their party were hijacked and its current madness were unpredictable. What nonsense!
One can trace a clear line from Nixon to Reagan to Gingrich to Cheney père to Trump, who was the logical culmination of decades of vilifying and undermining governance, the Constitution, expertise, regulation, the environment, women, the poor, minorities, immigrants and democracy.
Bret Stephens and David Brooks wonder what they could have done differently to change the trajectory of the Republican Party. The answer is that most Trumpists and populists in America don’t read their writing at all. The MAGA Republicans sit in front of a television and listen to Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity on Fox News.
…they don’t mention what I believe has been a critical destructive influence. And that is the infusion of libertarian politicians and ideology over the past 35 years or more — what someone once described to me as “the party of selfishness.”
This has led to an impulse to not just shrink government, but to completely dismantle it. It has fostered demands for personal rights and freedoms at the expense of the larger community — such as refusing to become vaccinated against Covid, or insisting on the right to carry guns in public spaces, or the abuse of public lands by private industry and individuals. It has eroded support for public schools, libraries and parks, because the libertarian playbook calls for refusing to pay for what they, personally, don’t intend to use.
The Republican Party has fully embraced this ideology, and in doing so has lost all sense of compassion for others and a desire to work for “the common good.”
So is there a reason this strain of reactionary craziness seems more prevalent now than a couple decades ago? It’s not limited to the US, either, as we see in Brazil and elsewhere. I still don’t have a good provisional conclusion about why this is happening now. (Except for social media, which enables crazies to hook up and form coalitions. But writers I respect have dismissed that.)
A few more items about Republicans and conservatives.
Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilley, 25 Jan 2023: Sometimes, Reality Itself Is a Little Too Woke, “Conservatives keep saying that ‘voter suppression’ is a hysterical liberal myth. And then one of them goes and brags about it.”
Subtitle says it all. Details in the post.
Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 25 Jan 2023: Sorry, Twitter, but Florida’s war on books is no joke. Ron DeSantis wants to keep kids from reading, subtitled “In Florida schools, every book is considered too ‘dangerous’ until the censors have combed it over”
For those who are paying attention, it’s been obvious for some time that Florida’s mega-MAGA governor, Ron DeSantis, is aggressive with book bans because he would just prefer it if kids didn’t read books at all. So while it was infuriating, it was not surprising to read that the investigative journalism team at Popular Info had discovered that teachers in Manatee County, Florida were told that every book on their shelves was banned until otherwise notified. Failure to lock up all their books until they could be “vetted” by censors, teachers were warned, put them at risk of being prosecuted as felons.
NY Times, guest essay by Thomas B. Edsall, 25 Jan 2023:The Resentment Fueling the Republican Party Is Not Coming From the Suburbs
Another long Edsall piece in which, somewhat as I do here, he quotes from many sources.
Points: rural America is losing population; rural whites are becoming more Republican; and these perceptions among rural voters:
(1) a belief that rural areas are ignored by decision makers, including policymakers, (2) a perception that rural areas do not get their fair share of resources and (3) a sense that rural folks have fundamentally distinct values and lifestyles, which are misunderstood and disrespected by city folks.
(Whereas they completely understand and respect city folks?) And so on.
Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, 23 Jan 2023: Opinion | In blocking an AP Black studies course, DeSantis tells us who he is
Florida’s Republican governor and presidential aspirant Ron DeSantis has made a name for himself by harassing Black voters, setting up a system to sue teachers for teaching race in ways that might offend Whites, singling out LGBTQ youth (while gagging teachers) and engaging in extreme gerrymandering to reduce the voting power of minorities.
Now he’s gone full-blown white supremacist, banning the College Board’s Advanced Placement for African American studies course from Florida’s schools.
In what is surely among its most explicitly racist actions, the DeSantis administration determined (on what basis?) that the course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value,” according to a Jan. 12 letter from the Florida Education Department to the College Board.
NY Times, Jamelle Bouie, 24 Jan 2023: Ron DeSantis Likes His Culture Wars for a Reason
Noting both the AP Black studies course, and also
DeSantis says he wants to ban vaccine mandates and restrict mask rules and make Florida a safe haven from what he calls a “biomedical security state.” He also wants state universities to provide the number and ages of students who have sought or received treatment for gender dysphoria, which critics argue is the governor’s first step toward banning those services.
So what is the reason?
And yet there is a reason DeSantis has made these issues, and virtually nothing else, the platform from which he hopes to build national power. By leaning into high-profile battles as a culture warrior par excellence for the most reactionary segment of the American public — last year, to give another example, he picked a fight with the Disney corporation — DeSantis has made himself the hero of conservative elites and the bête noire of liberals and Democrats without so much as mentioning his radical and unpopular views on social insurance and the welfare state.
That is, he’s avoiding talking about things he’s equally against (social security, medicare, and Affordable Care Act) since so many more people support them than relatively fringe issues he is talking about like AP classes, mask mandates, and transgender issues. The article thus concludes, citing the true motivating forces of the Republican party in the last phrase,
The best way to neutralize DeSantis as a political force might be to spend less time on cultural conflict and more time making the clear case that if given the chance, he would slash what’s left of the safety net and use the proceeds to help the rich stay rich.
And finally, from earlier this month.
Salon, Matthew Rozsa, 2 Jan 2023: The scientist who discovered sperm was so grossed out he hoped his findings would be repressed, subtitled “Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek, the father of microbiology, was horrified by how sperm looked under the microscope”
All about Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes and discoveries of “animalcules” as bacteria were called then. Scientists are supposed to be objective observers of reality; what does it say here that Leeuwenhoek reacted with disgust, a visceral reaction tied to evolutionary survival? Well, partly that Leeuwenhoek was not a trained scientist; he was too influenced by his religious beliefs.
“Without being snotty, Leeuwenhoek (the ‘van’ is an affectation he adopted later on) was not trained as an experimental thinker,” explained Matthew Cobb, a British zoologist and author of the book “Generation: The Seventeenth Century Scientists Who Unraveled the Secrets of Sex, Life and Growth.” Cobb recalled by email that when Royal Society Secretary Henry Oldenburg asked Leeuwenhoek to look at semen, the Dutch draper initially did not reply “because he felt it was ‘unseemly.'” Even though he eventually overcame his reservations, Leeuwenhoek added so many caveats to his semen research that it is clear he remained somewhat uncomfortable.
…After all, in addition to being grossed out, Leeuwenhoek was not under the impression that he had found anything special.
And he never realized that these animalcules were involved in producing babies, Cobb notes.
Science advances, but sometimes very incrementally, and sometimes sidetracked by human biases. But the process of science overcomes these biases, eventually; the truth is here, right in front of us, and bears repeated examination.
I realized today that this blog will be a decade old this coming July. True, I had a blog on another platform before that, but the tone and content changed (mostly inspired by Andrew Sullivan’s blog “The Dish” at the time) with this one using WordPress.
So maybe I’ll try to complete a couple specific static areas here, by July.