In his talk Be Valiant in the Fight of Faith Elder McConkie is unabashed in his embrace of the rhetoric of war. “Be valiant,” he says, “Fight a good fight. Stand true. Keep the commandments. Overcome the world.” And lest you think that words like “fight” and “overcome” are too subtle to be conclusive, a couple of paragraphs later he is even more clear:
As members of the Church, we are engaged in a mighty conflict. We are at war. We have enlisted in the cause of Christ to fight against Lucifer and all that is lustful and carnal and evil in the world. We have sworn to fight alongside our friends and against our enemies, and we must not be confused in distinguishing friends from foes. As another of our ancient fellow apostles wrote: “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
This kind of us-vs-them logic is not very popular these days, but Elder McConkie was not shy about it, stating:
We are either for the Church or we are against it. We either take its part or we take the consequences. We cannot survive spiritually with one foot in the Church and the other in the world. We must make the choice. It is either the Church or the world. There is no middle ground. And the Lord loves a courageous man who fights openly and boldly in his army.
I want to make a couple of observations about this. First, it would be a mistake to write off the strong language of Elder McConkie as peculiar to his personality or to the particular time (the Cold War 1970s). The black-and-white view is not unique to his writing. It is a pervasive strain within scriptures. The quote above (“Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?”) comes from James 4:4. Another stark example comes from Nephi: “Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil.” And of course Jesus himself made the same kind of dichotomy, as in “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
Second, we don’t need to water down these stark statements to avoid crazy extremism like occupying federal buildings. The war is real, but it is “not against flesh and blood, but against… spiritual wickedness in high places.” Or, to cite a couple of non-scriptural sources, we’ve got Sirius Black declaring, “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us.” Or, even more eloquently, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
There is a war. In that war there are only two sides. At any time, a person is fighting for either the light or for the dark. We do not need to mitigate or explain away or rationalize the teaching that the world is at war, but we do need to understand it.
So, what is the point? If we’re in a war, but that war is not like a historical war with armies and swords or guns, then what’s the point of talking about war? One of the best explanations of this comes from one of my all-time favorite blog posts: The Military Mental Model of Mormonism. In it, MC explains precisely why viewing the conflict as a war is practically relevant in our day-to-day lives, and contrasts the “military mental model” with the “schoolhouse model.” Neither is the complete and total truth—the struggle of our mortal existence does involve leaning—but the military mental model has some particular insights that make it indispensable. I strongly urge you to read the entire post, but I’ll just summarize one of MC’s points (he makes three) which is that the military mental model answers the question: “Am I really going to be kept out of heaven for drinking coffee/wearing a bikini/watching vulgar movies? Is God really that uptight?” MC explains that:
… in the military model it’s a silly question. “I’m really going to get killed for not wearing my helmet during our transport to the base?” Maybe you will, maybe you won’t; depends whether you get attacked along the way or hit a roadside bomb. The rule is there to protect you, not to evaluate you. There will likely be many bikini-wearers in the Kingdom of Heaven (well, former bikini-wearers). But not everyone who makes the choice to dress immodestly will find that decision to be so free of spiritual consequences, as “way leads on to way.” It’s not fair. One guy never wears his helmet and never gets hit. The other takes it off just for a second to wipe his sweat and takes a bullet. That’s war. [emphasis added]
Lastly, I think it’s abundantly clear that Elder McConkie understood all of this, which is why the practical side of his talk is about self-examination. He doesn’t talk about how to identify if someone else is on the right side or not, but how to question if we ourselves are fighting valiantly with a long list of questions we are to use to gauge our own place in the war, not anybody else’s.
My approach to reading the council of prophets and general authorities is simple: I’m greedy about it. I don’t want to pick and choose. To the extent possible, I want to synthesize all of it into a single, cohesive, harmonious world-view: the scriptures, the General Conference talks, my personal experiences and beliefs, and everything I learn or think I understand about science, philosophy, history, psychology, and everyday life. I don’t have containers or boundaries: I want to incorporate it all.
It’s a tricky, error-prone process, and it’s never finished. There are always pieces that don’t fit quite right where I’ve placed them, pieces left over with no place to go, and holes in the model I’m building with no pieces that seem to fit there. The errors come from lots of places. Even if we believed scripture were absolutely perfect, I would still have to interpret and apply the words I read, and that introduces errors due to my own imperfections and limitations. Add to that the fact that the scriptures were written in languages I don’t know for audiences of cultures that are alien to me, and you can see how my problems multiply. Then, for good measure, toss in the fact that these leaders aren’t perfect and, for that matter, are given general rather than specific council.
All of this means we have plenty of excuses to set aside the council that seems outdated, naïve, or even embarrassing. I get it. All I can say is: stay greedy. Hold onto as much of it as you can. And the parts that don’t make sense just yet; set them aside if you must for the time being, but don’t discard them and don’t give up on the hope of one day seeing things in a new light and being able to make sense of them after all.
Sounds ridiculous, right? Especially when you start talking about including a “big, beautiful door.” But according to Peter Andreas of Brown University, “the wall will not only be for real, but it may be one of his biggest political successes.” After pointing out the fuzzy meaning of “wall” (Trump even said “certain areas” may be a fence), Andreas reminds us that “Trump’s predecessors carefully avoided calling any new border barriers a “wall.” Before Trump, the term was politically taboo, viewed as sending the wrong message to Mexico and to the world.” Trump’s breaking of this taboo made his rhetoric jarring to detractors and fresh to supporters, but it doesn’t change the fact that “[s]ince the early 1990s, politicians of all stripes have scrambled to show their commitment to border security. During that time, annual federal funding for border and immigration control mushroomed from $1.5 billion to $19.5 billion. According to one estimate, Washington spends $5 billion more on border and immigration control than for all other federal law enforcement combined.” The explosion in border control “has been lethal for many migrants trying to cross, with thousands of deaths to date, while enriching the smugglers on whom migrants must rely.” On top of this, “it has been politically rewarding for both Democrats and Republicans alike. Trump is simply taking it to the next level.” Despite Trump’s scoffs at our current border security, almost 700 miles of his proposed 1,000 mile wall “are already in place, and portions of it very much look like a formidable metal wall. It is hard to imagine Trump tearing all that fencing up and starting from scratch. What’s more realistic is That Trump will simply add more miles of fencing; reinforce existing fencing in key, visible places; and deploy even more border guards, stadium lighting, and the latest high-tech detection and surveillance equipment.”
“In the end,” Andreas concludes, “Trump’s wall is likely to be the latest addition to the border barrier-building frenzy first launched by President Bill Clinton, greatly expanded by George W. Bush and continued by Obama. But Trump will take full ownership of it as the only president willing to actually call it a wall.”
An October article in Harvard Business Review asks, “Do immigrants take American jobs, or help our economy grow? Do immigrants drain our welfare funds, or can they help refill public coffers as our baby boomers retire?” Furthermore, “state and local governments have clamored to launch initiatives to attract more immigrant entrepreneurs, hoping they will found businesses and create more jobs. Globally, many countries are doing the same — for example, Chile pays overseas entrepreneurs to come visit for six months through its Start-Up Chile program, as a way to build global bridges and foster an entrepreneurial culture at home…Good statistics on immigrant entrepreneurship are exceptionally difficult to assemble, and therefore it’s challenging to create productive policies. Likewise, most standard government sources that are publicly accessible can only tell us about immigrant self-employment, which leaves a big question mark around job creation and economic growth.” The authors–one from Harvard Business School and the other a Senior Research Scientist at Wellesley Centers for Women–explain,
Our recent research aims to address this. We have built a platform that uses restricted-access Census Bureau datasets to explore differences in the types of businesses formed by immigrants and their medium-term survival and growth patterns. The core building block is the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) database, but it incorporates other sources like the Longitudinal Business Database.
This platform gives us a comprehensive view of immigrant entrepreneurship over a long duration (1995 – 2008). The database currently covers 31 U.S. states, with more being added as their unemployment insurance (UI) filings data become available. It spans firms of all shapes and sizes, so long as they have one paid employee or more. For the first time, we can analyze a spectrum of companies — from “Main Street” businesses to VC-backed Silicon Valley firms. We can see what happens to these firms after they have been founded, and whether, for example, immigrant-founded firms perform differently from the start-ups of natives.
And what did they find?:
Immigrants constitute 15% of the general U.S. workforce, but they account for around a quarter of U.S. entrepreneurs (which we define as the top three initial earners in a new business). This is comparable to what we see in innovation and patent filings, where immigrants also account for about a quarter of U.S. inventors.
On the whole, immigrant entrepreneurship is somewhat stronger for VC-backed firms, with 31% of VC-backed founders being immigrants, compared to 25% of all entrepreneurs in 2005.
Immigrant founders launch firms that are smaller than native-founded firms. The average initial employment for firms founded by immigrants exclusively is 4.4 workers, compared to 7.0 workers for firms launched exclusively by natives. When both types of founders are present (i.e., “mixed founder team”), the average is 16.9 workers.
We quantify subsequent firm performance by analyzing employment growth and closure rates. The firms founded by immigrants close at a faster rate than firms founded by natives, but those that survive do grow at a faster rate in terms of employment, payroll, and establishments for the next six years. Previous research has found that this phenomenon — called “up or out” — is how young firms create more jobs. Compared to older firms, which show modest growth regardless of their size, young firms and new entrants have more dynamic patterns that foster greater job creation. Immigrant-founded firms display more of this behavior.
Now that we can study the age of arrival, we found that immigrants coming to the U.S. as children are more likely to start larger firms than immigrants arriving as adults. Moreover, firms created by immigrants who have grown up in the U.S. are generally associated with better outcomes, in terms of lower closure rates and higher representation among larger firms. Much remains to be done here, but we hope this serves a spring board to the study of other migrant traits.
The authors conclude, “Global talent flows will continue to be a fundamental force shaping the U.S. economic and business landscape. This is especially true for entrepreneurship given the economic dynamism that startups unleash and the disproportionate role of immigrants in this process.”
In 2014, 84% of Americans who were asked this question were unaware of such declines in global extreme poverty. In fact, 67% of adult respondents thought global poverty had been on the rise over the past three decades. Unsurprisingly, 68% did not believe it would be possible to end extreme global poverty within the next 25 years (Todd 2014).
A recent study analysing the public awareness around the world of the Sustainable Development Goals confirmed that this widespread ignorance is not a US anomaly (Lampert and Papadongonas 2016). A significant majority of respondents from several countries, both developing and developed, are unaware of this achievement (see Figure 1). Interestingly, Chinese citizens appear much better informed about global poverty trends than those of the US or Germany.
But the public should take heart:
The new Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report 2016 launched this October by the World Bank explains why (World Bank 2016b). The figure below shows that the number of extremely poor people worldwide – measured by the very low $1.90 a day standard – has fallen by 1.1 billion people over the last two and a half decades, a period in which the global population grew by almost 2 billion (see Figure 2). This is true for all regions in the world without exception, from relatively richer Eastern Europe and Latin America to poorer Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. True, each region has reduced their poverty numbers at different paces. But the numbers leave little room for doubt – extreme poverty has been effectively and dramatically reduced.
The World Bank is aiming to end extreme poverty by 2030. While there are obstacles to achieve this goal, the above should give us a reason for optimism.
Perhaps more important, it gives us a reason to be thankful.
My skepticism of media narratives has reached (possibly) an all-time high, so lately I’ve been trying all the more to read about a given topic from multiple sources, including those I disagree with, just to have an idea of what all sides are saying. There have been plenty of cases where I’ve found information that paints a different picture than current conventional wisdom does. But I have to say, so far, the topic of the alt-right isn’t one of those cases.
I realized pretty much the extent of my knowledge on the alt-right were the angry statuses from Facebook friends and headlines from (mostly left-wing) media that I skimmed. Even right-wing sourceshave spokenagainst them, so I’ve really only heard one narrative about this group: they’re racists, white nationalists, and probably Nazis.
But I know there are people out there who don’t agree. Steve Bannon, former chief editor of Breitbart and Trump’s incoming chief strategist, has specifically rejected the idea that he’s a white nationalist, but simultaneously explains Breitbart is the platform for the alt-right. These two ideas aren’t technically incompatible–for example, he could be against white nationalism but pro-free speech. Still it seems incongruous that someone who says he rejects white nationalism would be proud of hosting a platform for white nationalists, so to my mind these two statements implied that Bannon does not think the alt-right are white nationalists.
The Intellectuals – people who pride themselves on thinking only rationally, which in this case means stripping away “self-censorship, concern for one’s social standing, concern for other people’s feelings, and any other inhibitors to rational thought.”
Natural Conservatives – people primarily concerned with preserving their homogeneity, stability, and hierarchy, specifically with preserving their own tribe and culture (western European culture).
The Meme Team – trolls. People who take great joy in being as offensive as possible, getting media to write articles about their offensiveness, and laughing about it.
The 1488RS – Nazis. “14” for the 14 words “We Must Secure The Existence Of Our People And A Future For White Children” and 88 because the 8th letter of the alphabet is “H” so it’s “HH” which is “Heil Hitler.” Yes, I’m serious.
I expect these four categories crossover, but that’s how the authors compartmentalized the movement.
While this article gave me a much more detailed picture of what “alt-right” is supposed to mean, I can’t say it did much to undermine the narrative that the alt-right is comprised of racists and Nazis. I’m sure not literally everyone who associates with the alt-right is a racist, but that’s a pretty low standard. Anyway, brief thoughts on three of the four groups:
The Intellectuals: I’ve spoken with plenty of people who make no distinction between honest/blunt/direct and rude/cruel/offensive. That’s what the description of The Intellectuals sounded like to me. I understand the argument that we shouldn’t be so concerned with offending people that we become unclear or even dishonest. We shouldn’t sacrifice truth in the name of deference. I agree with that. But I firmly believe it is possible and preferable to express our views both honestly and kindly. It’s hard to be patient with people who try to excuse cruelty in the name of truth telling.
The Meme Team: Society should ignore The Meme Team entirely. Don’t feed the trolls. …But I know we won’t ignore them. It seems like trolls always get fed.
The 1488RS: They sound awful. So awful, in fact, that the rest of the alt-right (according to this article) also wishes they would go away, and feels they give the alt-right a bad name (not wrong there). In a sense I feel about the 1488RS the same way I feel about The Meme Team. The former aren’t trolls in that they are apparently sincere, but either way I worry that giving them attention gives them strength. As of right now there are very few Nazis in the country, and I’d like it to stay that way.
To some extent I feel that way about the whole alt-right movement: I’m worried that we (the rest of society) are growing and sustaining them by giving them such disproportionate attention. When Hillary Clinton decided to do a speech condemning how Trump has been embraced by the alt-right, they were thrilled. The WSJ quotes Richard Spencer, alt-right founder, saying,
“When your movement is going to be mentioned by name by the presidential candidate leading in the polls, you can safely say that we’ve made it. Our fundamental obstacle was people having no idea who we are.”
The Natural Conservatives: I saved this group for last because it’s the only one I found interesting. A lot of the description sounded exactly like white nationalism to me, but I was struck by this passage:
The alt-right’s intellectuals would also argue that culture is inseparable from race. The alt-right believe that some degree of separation between peoples is necessary for a culture to be preserved. A Mosque next to an English street full of houses bearing the flag of St. George, according to alt-righters, is neither an English street nor a Muslim street — separation is necessary for distinctiveness.
Some alt-righters make a more subtle argument. They say that when different groups are brought together, the common culture starts to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Instead of mosques or English houses, you get atheism and stucco.
Ironically, it’s a position that has much in common with leftist opposition to so-called “cultural appropriation,” a similarity openly acknowledged by the alt-right.
This passage caught my eye because I wondered if there really is a parallel here between the left’s condemnation of cultural appropriation and the alt-right’s desire to keep western European culture separate from other cultures.
First of all, to be fair, I have a lot of left-wing friends who have turned a skeptical eye toward the concept of cultural appropriation, wondering if it goes too far. For example, they generally do frown upon white people dressing as nonwhite caricatures for Halloween, but they aren’t convinced it’s wrong to do yoga as a form of exercise. They reject mocking and taking credit for aspects of other people’s cultures, but they embrace enjoying and appreciating those same aspects. I don’t think that’s inconsistent.
At the same time, there are voices on the left that take a much broader approach to cultural appropriation, such that the concept includes actions such as eating Mexican food without being interested in Mexican people as a whole, wearing cornrows or dreadlocks, or buying into Disney’s version of Pocahontas. This understanding of cultural appropriation doesn’t require purposefully mocking or taking credit for aspects of other peoples’ cultures; it includes any time the dominant culture (usually white people) can enjoy aspects of other cultures without having to understand, acknowledge, or navigate the more complicated realities those peoples have lived with or currently live with.
It seems to me that even this broadly applied definition of cultural appropriation is distinct from the cultural preservation the alt-right’s Natural Conservatives are talking about. The left is concerned about embracing aspects of other peoples’ cultures without realizing how that embrace can affect those people. This isn’t about trying to ban yoga–it’s about yoga becoming so ubiquitous people don’t even realize where it originally came from. In contrast, the Natural Conservatives are concerned with their culture being condemned and erased. As the article puts it:
[The regressive left] is currently intent on tearing down statues of Cecil Rhodes and Queen Victoria in the UK, and erasing the name of Woodrow Wilson from Princeton in the U.S. These attempts to scrub western history of its great figures are particularly galling to the alt-right, who in addition to the preservation of western culture, care deeply about heroes and heroic virtues.
Here the examples are about specific icons, but there are other factors that play into this fear of cultural erasure. For example, both the alt-right and the right generally are concerned about the rise of secularism and the anti-religion (especially anti-Christian) sentiments that accompany it. Steve Bannon talks about that a lot in this extensive 2014 interview, Glenn Beck does too in this 2012 piece, and here is The Federalist talking about the issue this year, 2016. Related but perhaps more specific examples include the now taboo views that marriage is between a man and a woman, that there are only two genders, and that those genders are different in meaningful and predictable ways.
To be clear: I’m a pro-gay marriage secularist, so, even though I am a conservative, I personally don’t share the feeling that my culture is under attack in these specific ways, because I don’t share those particular views. But I can empathize with how those who have held those views their entire lives would feel that way, especially with how relatively rapidly some of these changes have happened and how aggressively (conservative) dissenters are berated. Charles Camosey, a #NeverTrump conservative, expressed the sentiment well:
However, much as I empathize with the desire by many to preserve cultural conservatism, and much as I reject the equivocation of any such desire as inherently racist, I do think the description of Natural Conservatives sounds bigoted, and I find it alarming. For example:
While eschewing bigotry on a personal level, the movement is frightened by the prospect of demographic displacement represented by immigration.
If I’m understanding right, this argument against immigration is not about national security or economics–it’s about culture, and not wanting immigrant culture to mix with western European (or American conservative white) culture. Is that not the definition of white nationalism?
The really interesting members of the alt-right though, and the most numerous, are the natural conservatives. They are perhaps psychologically inclined to be unsettled by threats to western culture from mass immigration and maybe by non-straight relationships. Yet, unlike the 1488ers, the presence of such doesn’t send them into fits of rage. They want to build their homogeneous communities, sure — but they don’t want to commit any pogroms along the way. Indeed, they would prefer non-violent solutions.
I would hope nonviolence would be more than a mere preference. I did not find that passage at all comforting, especially since the authors later suggest that if the Natural Conservatives can’t find a compromise with the left, they will turn to the 1488RS for “solutions.”
Moreover, this Breitbart article is easily the gentlest description I’ve seen of the alt-right. The piece came under fire for underplaying the nastiness of the movement, drawing criticism from not only anti-racists but also neo-Nazis who likewise felt they were being whitewashed. It says a lot that a piece that favorable is still unnerving.
New York Times reporter and best-seller John Tierny published an excellent article with City Journal in which he argues that the Left has waged a far more damaging and effective war on science than the Right, despite narratives to the contrary. The whole article is worth reading, but among his examples include:
Extensive confirmation bias (and other biases) in the social sciences that result in skewed research, particularly regarding research comparing left-wing people and right-wing people.
Taboos against valid research: for example, discouraging or outright condemning research that (a) explores genetic differences between genders or races (unless the genetic differences relate to differences in sexual orientation) or (b) finds negative impacts of single-parent households, LGBT parenting, or putting children in childcare versus stay-at-home parenting.
Politicizing (and thus corrupting) research on (a) genetics and animal breeding (contributing to the eugenics movement of the early 20th century), (b) overpopulation (contributing, Tierny argues, to China’s immoral and disastrous one-child policy), (c) environmental science (contributing to many different problems, such as increased death tolls from malaria when DDT was restricted or the spread of dengue and Zika virus due to needless fears of insecticides), and (d) food science (pushing low fat diets and greatly increasing American consumption of carbohydrates).
Tierny argues that possibly one of the greatest casualties of the Left’s war on science is the reputation of scientists. As he puts it: “Bad research can be exposed and discarded, but bad reputations endure.”
The whole article is worth reading, but here is a sampling:
In a classic study of peer review, 75 psychologists were asked to referee a paper about the mental health of left-wing student activists. Some referees saw a version of the paper showing that the student activists’ mental health was above normal; others saw different data, showing it to be below normal. Sure enough, the more liberal referees were more likely to recommend publishing the paper favorable to the left-wing activists. When the conclusion went the other way, they quickly found problems with its methodology.
The narrative that Republicans are antiscience has been fed by well-publicized studies reporting that conservatives are more close-minded and dogmatic than liberals are. But these conclusions have been based on questions asking people how strongly they cling to traditional morality and religion—dogmas that matter a lot more to conservatives than to liberals. A few other studies—not well-publicized—have shown that liberals can be just as close-minded when their own beliefs, such as their feelings about the environment or Barack Obama, are challenged.
Social psychologists have often reported that conservatives are more prejudiced against other social groups than liberals are. But one of Haidt’s coauthors, Jarret Crawford of the College of New Jersey, recently noted a glaring problem with these studies: they typically involve attitudes toward groups that lean left, like African-Americans and communists. When Crawford (who is a liberal) did his own study involving a wider range of groups, he found that prejudice is bipartisan. Liberals display strong prejudice against religious Christians and other groups they perceive as right of center.
Conservatives have been variously pathologized as unethical, antisocial, and irrational simply because they don’t share beliefs that seem self-evident to liberals. For instance, one study explored ethical decision making by asking people whether they would formally support a female colleague’s complaint of sexual harassment. There was no way to know if the complaint was justified, but anyone who didn’t automatically side with the woman was put in the unethical category. Another study asked people whether they believed that “in the long run, hard work usually brings a better life”—and then classified a yes answer as a “rationalization of inequality.” Another study asked people if they agreed that “the Earth has plenty of natural resources if we just learn how to develop them”—a view held by many experts in resource economics, but the psychologists pathologized it as a “denial of environmental realities.”
For his part, Holdren [a previous advocate of forced population control in the U.S.] has served for the past eight years as the science advisor to President Obama, a position from which he laments that Americans don’t take his warnings on climate change seriously. He doesn’t seem to realize that public skepticism has a lot to do with the dismal track record of himself and his fellow environmentalists. There’s always an apocalypse requiring the expansion of state power. The visions of global famine were followed by more failed predictions, such as an “age of scarcity” due to vanishing supplies of energy and natural resources and epidemics of cancer and infertility caused by synthetic chemicals. In a 1976 book, The Genesis Strategy, the climatologist Stephen Schneider advocated a new fourth branch of the federal government (with experts like himself serving 20-year terms) to deal with the imminent crisis of global cooling. He later switched to become a leader in the global-warming debate.
Yet many climate researchers are passing off their political opinions as science, just as Obama does, and they’re even using that absurdly unscientific term “denier” as if they were priests guarding some eternal truth. Science advances by continually challenging and testing hypotheses, but the modern Left has become obsessed with silencing heretics. In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year, 20 climate scientists urged her to use federal racketeering laws to prosecute corporations and think tanks that have “deceived the American people about the risks of climate change.” Similar assaults on free speech are endorsed in the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform, which calls for prosecution of companies that make “misleading” statements about “the scientific reality of climate change.” A group of Democratic state attorneys general coordinated an assault on climate skeptics by subpoenaing records from fossil-fuel companies and free-market think tanks, supposedly as part of investigations to prosecute corporate fraud. Such prosecutions may go nowhere in court—they’re blatant violations of the First Amendment—but that’s not their purpose. By demanding a decade’s worth of e-mail and other records, the Democratic inquisitors and their scientist allies want to harass climate dissidents and intimidate their donors.
In the circles I run in, there was tons of coverage and discussion about the myriad comments Trump has made over the years that many of us consider blatantly sexist. When the Hollywood Access tape came out, I took (and still take) his comments as an admission of sexual predation, a topic that means a great deal to me. I was already a #NeverTrump conservative, but the Hollywood Access tapes made it much more difficult for me to understand how people of good conscience, especially women, could vote for this man.
My feed started to include articles such as The Atlantic’s “The Revolt of the Conservative Woman” and viral tweets from conservative women feeling betrayed by their party’s defense of Trump. Between his apparent gross disrespect of women and the opportunity to elect the first female president, I thought women would vote in droves for Clinton and against Trump. Article’s like FiveThirtyEight’s “Women are Defeating Donald Trump” seemed to think so too.
But clearly I was missing some major parts of the puzzle. (Apparently a lot of us were, including the pollsters.) As Walker pointed out recently, Trump’s support among (all, not just white) women was only slightly lower than the average for Republican presidential candidates since 2000 (42% compared to an average of 44.2%). Clinton’s support among women was exactly average for the Democratic presidential candidates since 2000 (54%). Women weren’t driven to the polls to vote against Trump or for Clinton—overall turnout among women was only 1% higher than in 2012.
So what happened? What pieces of the puzzle was I missing, that women were neither particularly repelled by Trump nor particularly inspired by Clinton?
What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.
Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at Huffington Post authored a letter to white women that started with “Fellow white women, I’m done with you.” In sync with a lot of the commentary I’ve read, it showed no curiosity as to the perspectives, hopes, fears, or values of millions of women that led them to vote for Trump (or at least not vote for Clinton). Instead, and again, it simply told them what they didn’t care about, what their moral failings were, and what they must do now.
While I appreciate the frustration, I think this approach is an awful strategy. Lambasting people, especially conservatives, for bigotry has not been terribly effective at changing their minds (or votes). Berating the other side seems to mostly get them to tune out entirely when the inevitable accusations of prejudice begin. And the rampant shaming of Trump supporters clearly did nothing to dissuade them throughout the primaries (when shaming was coming from conservatives and liberals alike) or the rest of the election. Why would it work now, when they’ve won? They have less reason than ever to be concerned about the opinions of people who show no understanding of their perspectives or interest in their wellbeing.
But it’s not just that I think accusing people of bigotry is poor strategy; I think it’s poor reasoning too. In this post I go through three theories of how voting for Trump was bigoted and explain whether I think those theories make sense.
Theory 1 – Internalized sexists: women voted for Trump instead of Clinton because they are sexist against female candidates.
How Trump measured against Clinton is a major factor. The pantsuit nation adored Clinton, of course, so for them this was no contest at all. But we aren’t looking into what HRC’s biggest fans thought; we’re exploring the millions of women who disagreed.
It’s not that everyone who voted for Trump thought he was wonderful: exit polls show that 20% of people who voted for Trump had an overall unfavorable opinion of him. Nearly a quarter of Trump voters said he wasn’t qualified for or did not have the temperament to be president, and a full 17% of people who voted for Trump to be President said they would be “concerned” if he were elected!
But 28% of Trump voters said they chose him mainly because they disliked Clinton. Trump received about 60M votes, which would mean about 17M cast their votes primarily as a vote against Clinton. Along the same lines, while voter turnout for Trump was slightly lower than it had been for Romney, voter turnout for Clinton was much lower than it had been for Obama.
Some will argue that these numbers show sexism: people so rejected the idea of a female leader they either stayed home or voted for someone they despised just to stop Clinton. Actually women get accused of sexism no matter which way they vote: Women who backed Clinton are accused of bias, just “voting with their vaginas,” and the rest of us are accused of not voting for her because we’re misogynists. It’s a lose-lose.
But these theories ignore the fact that women don’t generally vote based on gender, and gender stereotypes end up being less relevant than party affiliation in voting decisions. In other words, we vote based on political positions. The reality is that most of the women voting for or against Clinton did so based on a variety of competing concerns and priorities, just as most men choose their candidates.
CNN reported that millennial women in particular “rejected the notion that gender should be a factor in their vote.” As FiveThirtyEight put it:
Clinton’s stunning loss Tuesday night showed that issues of culture and class mattered more to many American women than their gender. The sisterhood, as real sisterhood tends to be, turned out to be riddled with complications.
On average, for the last 5 presidential elections, 89% of Democrats chose the Democratic nominee and 91.4% of Republicans chose the Republican. Last week 89% of Democrats chose Clinton and 90% of Republicans chose Trump. If internalized sexism were a major factor in terms of female nominees, we’d expect 2016 to show a drop in Democrats voting for the Democrat (as internally sexist Democratic women abandoned Clinton) and perhaps even a jump in Republicans voting for the Republican (as internally sexist Republican women were motivated to stop Clinton). But there was no such change.
Similarly, if internalized sexism was a major factor we’d expect Clinton to get a lower proportion of women’s votes compared to previous Democratic nominees. Yet, as mentioned above, she got exactly the average proportion of women Democratic nominees have had in the last five presidential races. Or, if we’re operating under the idea that only conservatives can be bigots, we’d at least expect a higher proportion of women to vote for Trump in order to stop Clinton. Yet Trump got just slightly less than the average proportion of women Republican nominees have had for the last five races.
If anything, these stats suggest women weren’t influenced by gender at all.
Theory 2 – Indifference to sexism: women cared more about party lines than taking a stand against Trump’s misogyny.
There are several assumptions embedded in this line of thinking: (A) The women who voted for Trump accessed the same information we did about him. (B) When they assessed that information, they came to the same conclusions we did about the degree of Trump’s misogyny. (C) There was nothing else in the balance for them in this election that could have meant more to them than Trump’s misogyny.
2a. Trump voters were likely accessing different information.
Hopefully it’s not a secret that conservatives and liberals consume different media. I wish I had time to do an entire blog post on how drastically this impacts our views of each other and of our political landscape. But the main point is we should be very careful when assuming that everyone else—especially people that run in different social circles and already hold different perspectives—“knows” the same “truths” we know. Which stories get reported and how they’re described varies a lot, and sadly, at least in my experience, most people don’t look for sources from worldviews they don’t hold. Or, if they do, it’s not in an attempt to observe and understand, but to feel outraged and argue.
So when John Oliver does a witty, biting piece on “making Donald Drumpf again” and you see it reposted over and over, that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. The people who already hated Trump were a lot more likely to see it than anyone else. Late night comedy is, after all, a bastion of liberal derision.
2b. Trump voters were likely interpreting information in different ways.
That’s not to suggest Trump supporters were wholly unaware of criticisms against him. I think it’s unlikely, for example, that many Trump supporters didn’t at least hear about the Hollywood Access recording. But the context in which conservatives in general, and enthusiastic Trump supporters specifically, interpreted that was often quite different than how leftists saw it.
Many people (including me) were disgusted and horrified by Trump laughingly talking about getting away with kissing and groping women without their consent. But many others mostly heard politically-motivated faux outrage. The same people so focused on Trump’s comments and the sexual assault allegations against him remained dismissive or defensive about the long history of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Bill Clinton—and Hillary Clinton’s role in silencing Bill’s accusers. Clinton fans retorted that Hillary isn’t responsible for Bill’s behavior, but that misses the point. She’s responsible for her behavior: she referred to these women as “floozy,” “bimbo,” and “stalker,” and put great effort into “destroying” their stories.
Good luck telling conservatives they must take a principled stand against sexual assault while refusing to acknowledge that the Clintons basically embodied rape culture.
Of course the Hollywood Access tapes are only one example of Trump’s sexism, but the pattern remains the same. Whatever example you point to, if outraged accusations of bigotry are coming from leftists or the media, conservatives are extremely skeptical. In fact, getting back to point 2a, conservative circles are more likely to have articles about people who made upstories ofhate crimes – stories which, before being shown to be false, often caused viral online outrage (as well as extensive donations to the alleged victim).
I find this problem very frustrating. I do believe the left is too quick to claim bigotry, but I believe the right is therefore too quick to dismiss actualbigotry. Robby Soave of Reason.com summarized this view well:
[It’s] the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.
After all, these same voters have watched as every Republican candidate in recent memory has been accused of waging a “War on Women.” If Democrats are going to claim that Mitt Romney and John McCain hate women (and they did), then they shouldn’t be surprised when voters ignore them when they say Donald Trump hates women. If every Republican is a misogynist, then no Republican is.
I don’t believe the right’s resistance to recognizing bigotry is all the left’s fault. I think that’s a factor, but ultimately we’re all responsible for assessing each situation and trying to be fair-minded about it.
Even so, I think many conservatives viewed the outrage over Trump as nothing more than yet another chapter in a long history of selective and manufactured leftist outrage, and so they discounted it. So even if they had watched John Oliver, they probably would have just rolled their eyes at another leftist show mocking conservatives again.
2c. Trump voters were weighing a lot of additional concerns apart from bigotry.
But there were a lot of conservatives who heard about the problems with Trump and were seriously concerned. Many of them became the #NeverTrump crowd, but others still voted for Trump. Why? Because they weren’t balancing the problems of racism and sexism against nothing. They were taking those issues and factoring them in with a lot of other issues, weighing each one, and coming to a decision. Even women who voted against Trump had other concerns they considered more important than sexism.
Many reject as ridiculous this concept of weighing multiple factors, saying it’s a weak excuse to try to cover up bigotry. They assert nothing could outweigh the civil rights threats Trump represents, and therefore the people who came down on Trump’s side, by definition, just didn’t care enough about civil rights.
Interestingly, I saw the same reductive thinking from conservatives trying to berate #NeverTrump people into voting for him. If you didn’t vote for Trump—if you voted for Clinton, or even if you voted third party—you must not care about massive government abuse and corruption, our country’s impending economic collapse under an overregulated welfare state, and, possibly above all, the killing of tens of thousands of babies.
Does that last part sound hyperbolic to you? Because, for a huge portion of the pro-life movement, that was the assertion. Many pro-lifers view abortion as morally equivalent to any other unlawful human death. If you want to imagine the abortion debate from a pro-life perspective, just replace the concept of “fetus” with “toddler,” and listen to how the arguments sound. So when Hillary Clinton campaigned on a platform of no restrictions through all three trimesters and requiring Medicaid to cover abortions, that was an absolute deal breaker for many people. Abortion happens in this country roughly 1 million times a year. Imagine for a moment you were choosing between (1) a candidate who stirs racial animosity and blatantly disrespects women and (2) a candidate who unapologetically embraces policies making it legal to murder a million toddlers a year. Who would you pick?
If your first response is to explain why that second description is false, you’re missing the point. Yes, I understand that for many, abortion is nothing at all like killing a toddler and even the comparison is offensive. I’m not trying to convince anyone here how to feel about abortion. I’m trying to convince people that you can’t sincerely talk about what motivates others if you refuse to acknowledge their actual perspectives. People who voted for Trump could (a) recognize Trump’s racism and sexism, (b) care greatly about those issues, and (c) still believe the threats Clinton represented were more dire. The only way you can genuinely believe that every single vote for Trump represented at minimum a callous disregard for civil rights is if you ignore or dismiss the circumstances and value systems of millions of people.
Passion about abortion likely affected many of women who voted for Trump. LV Anderson was aghast that more than half of white women would vote for a man who said he’d appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is amazing to me that so many people are still taken off guard when women are antiabortion. Half of American women are against abortion, and that has been true since long before Trump entered the primaries. Yet each time thousands or millions of women don’t go for the pro-choice position, pro-choice people are just so surprised. This is another example of the same pattern: be totally unaware of what people have repeatedly said they care about, and then be surprised and angry when they vote for the things they said they cared about all along.
I’ve used abortion as an example of competing values, but it’s only one of many. A recent New York Times article profiled women who voted for Trump. While 22-year-old Nicole Been mentioned her deep opposition to abortion as part of her stance, other women discussed Trump’s approach to veterans, their own dire financial situations, and their disillusionment with Democratic efforts to improve their lives. Another New York Times article profiled college-educated women who voted for Trump; they, too, opposed abortion, but focused more on economic security and job and college prospects for their children.
Note that racial anxiety is one of the recurring themes. The left seems to want to reduce this narrative to bigotry and nothing more, and I’ve spent a lot of time here explaining why I think that’s inaccurate. But the right seems to want to reflexively deny bigotry had any part to play, and I don’t think that’s true either. At minimum there was certainly a racial component to Trump’s candidacy. Looming large in the support of Trump were concerns about minority groups getting unfair preferential treatment and resources, immigrants taking resources and increasing criminal activity, and terrorists threatening our safety.
Theory 3 – Institutionalized sexism and racism – regardless of personal motivation, women who voted for Trump supported a platform that would disproportionately harm minority groups.
A major hurdle with discussions of racism and sexism is the use of the same words to mean very different things. In my right-leaning circles, “racism” generally means an individual’s disdain or animosity towards others based on race. Same thing with “sexism,” but based on sex. In my left-leaning circles, “racism” and “sexism” often mean individual disdain or animosity, but can also mean cultural norms and systemic and institutionalized systems that disproportionately negatively impact minority groups.
So when someone claims that a vote for Trump was racist, they could either mean (a) the person casting the vote has disdain or animosity toward people of other races or (b) the person casting the vote, regardless of his or her motivations, helped to uphold systems that have major negative impacts on women and nonwhite people.
The interesting thing about the “effects not intentions” version of racism is that it can be empirically verified. Motivations can be pretty complicated, multifaceted, and irrational. Effects can be objectively measured. So if “racism” (or sexism or Islamophobia or homophobia) is defined as “policies and practices that hurt these groups,” and if electing Trump ends up hurting these groups, then it follows that electing Trump was racism, by this definition.
3a. It’s reasonable to believe electing Trump will end up hurting these groups.
Trump campaigned on ending sanctuary cities, suspending visas, and deportation. If implemented, those policies would disproportionately affect undocumented immigrants (about half of which are Hispanic or Latino, followed by Asian) as well as American citizens from families with mixed citizenship statuses. Whether you agree with these policies or not, and whether you personally care how these policies affect others or not, it’s hard to deny that they will negatively impact immigrants and their family members who are American citizens.
Trump has talked about requiring immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to register upon entering the U.S. Alternatively he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the country; while he clarified this would not apply to American citizens, it’s hard to believe such policies and related rhetoric about Muslims won’t affect public perception of and reaction to Muslims already living here. The FBI has released data showing a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015. Some are worried this trend is related to Trump’s rise and campaign rhetoric; others say there are other factors–such as 2015 terrorist attacks–that likely played a part. But I think either of those reasons underscores the central point: when the public increasingly perceives a group as dangerous, violence against innocent people in that group becomes more likely.
It seems like Trump’s potential effects on African American communities have been less of a focus, but there are reasons for concern. (This link includes some reasons I think conservatives will dismiss as more faux outrage, but, for what it’s worth, I believe some of these points are pretty valid.)
While Trump didn’t propose specific policies against LGBT folk, the 2016 Republican Party platform did object to legalized gay marriage and take other positions seen as anti-gay. Because Trump was the Republican nominee and can now nominate SCOTUS judges, many believe he will work to adopt those Republican positions. I think it’s unlikely gay marriage will get overturned, but I don’t think it’s a certainty, and I see why many people are worried their marital status could be threatened.
Trump has a history that suggests a pretty disrespectful view of women, not to mention (again) his statements in the Access Hollywood recordings. To the extent women believe support for Trump signals societal dismissal of sexual assault, that belief could have another chilling effect on women reporting assaults and seeking help. I watched this play out on both the national level and with women I know personally after the Access Hollywood firestorm. Women (and men, for that matter) who have experienced sexual assault listened as friends and family who were Trump supporters minimized, dismissed, and, in my opinion, very generously interpreted Trump’s statements. That was difficult. Victims of sexual assault hear those reactions and believe the reactions would be the same if they came forward with their own stories. I can understand why people fear this kind of dismissal of sexual misconduct will only get worse now that Trump will be president.
A vote for Trump lent support to these policy proposals and attitudes, even if the person voting didn’t personally support one or any of the above. In this sense I think Theory 3 is truer than the other theories—I think a Trump administration will very likely make life harder for these groups.
3b. First problem: negative effects count as racism regardless of what they’re being weighed against.
Consider Trump’s campaign regarding Islamic terrorism. I do believe requiring (mostly) Muslim immigrants to register upon entering the country, or refusing to let them enter at all, will negatively affect the public’s views and behavior toward Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants already here.
But I also recognize that the people who support these measures believe they will significantly increase our national security and safety. Based on my understanding of Theory 3, what Trump voters believe about these measures (and how those beliefs speak to their motivations) is irrelevant, because Theory 3 is all about effects on minority groups, not the intentions of the people pushing these policies. Whether they sincerely believe these measures will save American lives doesn’t change whether or not this approach is defined as racist.
And we’ve only talked about what they believe, not what is objectively true. Apparently NSEERS, the similar Bush-era program that required immigrant registration, was ineffective at preventing terrorism; it sounds like it was just more security theater, but in this case directed at specific groups. But suppose, hypothetically, immigrant registration made a huge difference in national security. Suppose—as I suspect is the belief of some who support this idea—that without immigrant registration we’d have more San Bernadino and Pulse nightclub shootings. Or another World Trade Center.
If these policies actually prevented terrorism deaths in our own country, does that change whether they are racist? If I understand Theory 3 correctly, it does not. In this way Theory 3 rings a bit hollow for me, because while it is at least technically accurate and objectively measurable (does X policy negatively impact Y community or not?), if it ignores all other factors I still consider it misleading.
3c. Second problem: conflating Theory 3 with Theories 1 & 2.
In my experience, the left frequently blurs the line between “negative impacts” and “personal animosity.” A great example is the Slate article “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Supporter.” Chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump supporters do not merit empathy because they “voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes.” He cites other authors who have claimed Trump’s victory does not reveal an “inherent malice” in the populace (referring to the “personal animosity” definition of racism). Bouie counters with the “negative impacts” definition:
Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency…If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.
But, as the title of the piece suggests, Bouie is not condemning only the effects of voting for Trump; he’s condemning the Trump voters themselves. He asserts that it is myopic and even “morally grotesque” to suggest Trump supporters are good people. He compares Trump voters to the men in the early 20th century who organized lynchings (they “weren’t ghouls or monsters. They were ordinary.”) and the people who gawked and smiled at those lynchings (“the very model of decent, law-abiding Americana.”) He sums up: “Hate and racism have always been the province of ‘good people.’”
Note the switch here. Bouie is no longer talking about practical outcomes; he’s talking about hate. He has switched from the “negative impacts” definition of racism back to the “personal animosity” definition. So is he saying that most Trump supporters did not have inherent malice but should be condemned for the policies they supported? Or is he saying that anyone who can support Trump has to be, at least in part, motivated by hate?
And this is often how I see the conversation going. To (heavily) paraphrase:
Person A: If you voted for Trump, you’re racist.
Person B: I’m really not. I disagreed with a lot of what he said but I thought Clinton would do more damage in XYZ ways.
Person A: Yeah, you may not personally feel racist but you supported racist policies. It just shows you think the concerns of white people are more important than the actual human rights of everyone else.
Person B: That’s not what I think at all!
Person A: It’s not about what you personally think! It’s about what you supported!
In other words, in principle motivation is supposed to be irrelevant because racism is about effects, but in practice accusations of racism nearly always boil down to motivation—at best a selfish indifference and at worst outright malice. So, in principle, I think Theory 3 has some merit and is worth talking about. In practice, I find I just end up repeating the arguments I made for Theories 1 & 2.
Before I even finished reading Elder Maxwell’s talk from this session I had to fire off an email to my mum, dad, and wife. The subject line was just “I see why everyone loved Elder Maxwell” and the body was just, “This talk is awesome.”
As it turns out, Why Not Now? is not Elder Maxwell’s first talk in General Conference. I found a list here, and his first GC talk was in 1970, which is before the first session covered by the General Conference Odyssey. He spoke again in April 1974, but I confess that talk did not leave much of an impression on me. The talk—Response to a Call—was just that: a reaction to his calling as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve.
But this talk, Why Not Now?, was something different. I think I highlighted more of the talk than I didn’t. I was bowled over by both his sincere love: “to such individuals [those who “do not participate fully in the Church”]… be assured there is a real craving for your companionship and a genuine need for your unique strengths.” And then I was knocked over again by the passion of his message. Writing that “if… you really do not wish to commit now” he gave a list of things such individuals should avoid if they want to maintain their position half-in, half-out of the Church, including:
Do not look too deeply into the eyes of the pleasure-seekers about you, for if you do, you will see a certain sadness in sensuality, and you will hear artificiality in the laughter of licentiousness.
Do not look too deeply, either, into the motives of those who deny God, for you may notice their doubts of doubt.
Do not risk thinking the unthinkable, lest you find yourself drawn with a deep and powerful pull toward the reality that God does exist, that he loves you, and that finally there is no escaping him or his love!
I’m not going to write anything else about this talk. I’m just going to urge anyone and everyone who is reading this post to make time today to go and read the full talk. It’s worth it.
And as for me? I’m really looking forward to reading many, many more talks from Elder Maxwell in the future.
In the research, economists Ryan Edwards and Francesc Ortega break down the economic contributions of unauthorized workers across different industries, while also exploring how mass deportations would affect those industries and looking at the effects of legalization. Undocumented immigrants constitute 4.9 percent of the American workforce. Some industries rely more heavily on these workers. In agriculture, for example, illegal immigrants represent 18 percent of the workforce. In construction, they constitute 13 percent; 10 percent in leisure and hospitality.
If all those workers were to disappear, gross domestic product (GDP) would go down by about 3 percent (that’s $5 trillion) over a 10-year period. “Once capital has adjusted, value-added in Agriculture, Construction and Leisure and hospitality would fall by 8–9%,” Edwards and Ortega write. “However, the largest losses in dollars would take place in Manufacturing, Wholesale and retail trade, Finance and Leisure and hospitality.”
And as for the opposite counterfactual, the one in which the country’s undocumented workforce was suddenly legalized? The authors find that legalization would increase private-sector GDP by about 0.5 percent, with larger gains (anywhere from 1.1 percent to 1.9 percent) in leisure and hospitality, construction, and agriculture.
Edwards and Ortega’s conclusions are consistent with past research, which overwhelmingly concludes that immigration is good for the economy at large, and that legalizing undocumented workers is beneficial to both the economy and native workers.
Metallica’s first studio album in eight years was released today. When I first heard that they were returning to the studio, I was a little skeptical. I love Metallica, but 2003’s St. Anger took a toll on me. And even though 2008’s Death Magnetic was leaps and bounds better, I kind of felt like the band was on its way out. But so far, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with their new album Hardwired…to Self-Destruct. I expected good things after hearing the singles “Hardwired“, “Moth Into Flame“, and “Atlas, Rise!“.