A lot of my exercise is rolling my eyes. Partisan talking points are a huge source of that. As I posted recently on Facebook: “If y’all keep insisting on tying gas prices to the president, Keystone and everything else that shows you have no idea how gas prices actually work, I’m gonna have to insist that eye-rolling be counted as aerobic activity.”
Feel the burn!
(The president, no matter who it is, doesn’t really affect gas prices, which are based on the cost of a barrel of oil worldwide, not just in the U.S., plus refining costs, transportation, etc. TC Energy already has a functioning pipeline—Keystone XL was to be an extension of it—and isn’t obligated to sell its oil to the U.S. The bulk of the oil sent via Keystone XL to be refined in the U.S. would be sold overseas, so it wouldn’t relieve supply issues here.)
But it’s not just talking points that irritate me. The whole “culture war” going on right now is tedious, overblown and smacks of political opportunism. How else do you explain all the bill mills that turn out cookie-cutter insert-state-here legislation for hot-button issues? (What? You thought that those remarkably similar bills on whatever issue is bugging the crap out of certain people were completely original? Seriously, have you seen the kind of people getting elected to legislatures? They seem far more interested in destruction and obstruction than anything else … well, except for showing out for the media.)
There are legitimate issues out there to focus on, such as blatant discrimination, drug abuse, and violence. Instead, we’re visited by culture wars telling us, for example, that critical race theory (which is graduate-level legal scholarship) is being taught in public schools simply by virtue of labeling everything one might not agree with as CRT (activist Christopher Rufo is pretty proud of pulling off that rebranding); that transgender women are going into public bathrooms and assaulting biological women (based on usually apocryphal accounts of men wearing dresses to assault women in bathrooms, which isn’t the same as being trangender); that women with third-trimester pregnancies are going in to have abortions “just because” (if a woman has carried a baby for that long, she’s expecting to have and raise a child or to hand the baby over to someone who can); or that people are committing widespread election fraud because of the lack of “voter ID” (such confirmed cases are rare, and when they’re caught, it’s because of the rules already in place, which include a check of identity in most places; closing precincts, restricting voting hours and days and other ways of placing undue burdens on voters are more dangerous).
In striking down four new voting laws passed by the Arkansas Legislature as unconstitutional Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen said, “In the judicial sphere you don’t prove something is illegal just because you’re afraid something might happen. That’s speculation.”
My friend and honorary cousin Earl Babbie, Campbell Professor Emeritus in Behavioral Sciences at Chapman University in California, now living in Hot Springs Village, would call that a “soluprob”: a solution looking for a problem. “Solutions without problems are a lot like shooting at ghosts,” he says on soluprobs.com. “You don’t hurt the ghosts, but you wreak havoc with anyone or anything in your line of fire.”
Issues like CRT, bathrooms, voter ID and others are are ginned up to provoke rage because, hey, you don’t think so clearly when you’re enraged, so you might not question the provenance and credibility of the stories, or perhaps the intent behind the sharing of them.
And if you’ve felt an apocalyptic vibe lately, it’s not just you. Jack Butler of the National Review was quoted recently on the view of many on the New Right (primarily young radical conservatives) have of the U.S. right now: “We’re in the battle at the end of time, and the prince of darkness is already at the door, and the whole world is now a contest between activist left and activist right.”
Good lord, have you seen some of the nuttiness, not just of the QAnon cultists, but of the people who want to completely scrap capitalism? I mean, capitalism has its problems, especially when allowed too much leeway, but it’s not quite the evil it’s portrayed to be (similarly, socialism [not communism] isn’t all bad either).
It’s bad enough some feel we’re in the end times, but they have to make everything a battle between left and right. The radical elements (small but loud, and quite often destructive and combative) are being allowed to steer the parties, and with the right moving to the center on fiscal issues, that makes the economy less divisive. But never fear. Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution wrote in The Atlantic in January: “To the extent that a left-right divide is still meaningful, it matters much more on race, identity, and the nature of progress than it does on business regulation, markets, and income redistribution. Because the former are fundamentally about divergent conceptions of the good, they are less amenable to compromise, expertise, and technocratic fixes. These are questions about ‘who we are’ rather than ‘what works.’”
I thought we were Americans, who once upon a time tried to make things work. Maybe we could try that again, perhaps by listening to the huge group of unaffiliated in the middle. Maybe a little collaboration might help. Couldn’t hurt.
Hamid wrote of the new strategy on the right, “As Democrats hemorrhage working-class support—not only among white people but also among communities of color whom the party was counting on—the new right sees an opportunity. Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia gubernatorial elections was an early test case. Youngkin, a Republican, was happy to pledge increased spending on education, for example. Few in his party seemed to mind. What mattered was culture, which is precisely what the otherwise mild-mannered former executive zeroed in on in the campaign’s final weeks. Education was the dividing line, but these weren’t your old Bush-era debates about charter schools, class size, teacher training, test scores, and budgets. Republicans may have weaponized the threat of ‘critical race theory,’ but school closures and remote learning undoubtedly forced parents to pay closer attention to what their kids were actually learning—or not learning. The divide wasn’t about whether kids were solving their math problems; it was about values, history, and culture—the fear that the state, through its schools, was discarding the pretense of neutrality and instead promoting contested ideological propositions.”
Hamid worries, as I do, that we’re in for a long haul in a culture war that may never end: “To distinguish themselves from each other in a two-party system, they will have to underscore what makes them different rather than what makes them similar. And what makes them different—unmistakably different—is culture. This isn’t just instrumental, though, a way to rally the base and mobilize turnout. If one listens to what politicians and intellectuals in these two warring tribes actually say, it seems clear enough: They believe that civilization is at stake, and who am I to not take them at their word? If the end of America as we know it is indeed looming, then the culture war is the one worth fighting—perhaps forever, if that’s what it takes.”
Do you really have to wonder why I’m an independent? I just don’t have the patience to deal with partisan politics.
I can feel the eye-rolling starting again. Excuse me.