Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

In “The Danger of a Dominant Identity” Bobo says that seeing people as one dimensional dehumanizes all of us.  I wonder if that applies to Bobo’s railing about dirty hippies and those shiftless layabouts having unapproved sexytimes while Bobo slaves away in the salt mines at the Times?  As usual, “gemli” from Boston has a thing or two to add.  Mr. Cohen ponders Trump, Bannon and the looming apocalypse in “The Man Who Would Not be President.”  Prof. Krugman, in “The Medicare Killers,” says candidate Trump promised to protect entitlements, but President-elect Trump apparently has different plans.  Here’s Bobo:

Over the past few days we’ve seen what happens when you assign someone a single identity. Pollsters assumed that most Latinos would vote only as Latinos, and therefore against Donald Trump. But a surprising percentage voted for him.

Pollsters assumed women would vote primarily as women, and go for Hillary Clinton. But a surprising number voted against her. They assumed African-Americans would vote along straight Democratic lines, but a surprising number left the top line of the ballot blank.

The pollsters reduced complex individuals to a single identity, and are now embarrassed.

But pollsters are not the only people guilty of reductionist solitarism. This mode of thinking is one of the biggest problems facing this country today.

Trump spent the entire campaign reducing people to one identity and then generalizing. Muslims are only one thing, and they are dangerous. Mexicans are only one thing, and that is alien. When Trump talked about African-Americans he always talked about inner-city poverty, as if that was the sum total of the black experience in America.

Bigots turn multidimensional human beings into one-dimensional creatures. Anti-Semites define Jewishness in a certain crude miniaturizing way. Racists define both blackness and whiteness in just that manner. Populists dehumanize complex people into the moronic categories of “the people” and “the elites.”

But it’s not only racists who reduce people to a single identity. These days it’s the anti-racists, too. To raise money and mobilize people, advocates play up ethnic categories to an extreme degree.

Large parts of popular culture — and pretty much all of stand-up comedy — consist of reducing people to one or another identity and then making jokes about that generalization. The people who worry about cultural appropriation reduce people to an ethnic category and argue that those outside can never understand it. A single identity walls off empathy and the imagination.

We’re even seeing a wave of voluntary reductionism. People feel besieged, or they’re intellectually lazy, so they reduce themselves to one category. Being an evangelical used to mean practicing a certain form of faith. But “evangelical” has gone from being an adjective to a noun, a simplistic tribal identity that commands Republican affiliation.

Unfortunately, if you reduce complex individuals to one thing you’ll go through life clueless about the world around you. People’s classifications now shape how they see the world.

Plus, as the philosopher Amartya Sen has argued, this mentality makes the world more flammable. Crude tribal dividing lines inevitably arouse a besieged, victimized us/them mentality. This mentality assumes that the relations between groups are zero sum and antagonistic. People with this mentality tolerate dishonesty, misogyny and terrorism on their own side because all morality lays down before the tribal imperative.

The only way out of this mess is to continually remind ourselves that each human is a conglomeration of identities: ethnic, racial, professional, geographic, religious and so on. Even each identity itself is not one thing but a tradition of debate about the meaning of that identity. Furthermore, the dignity of each person is not found in the racial or ethnic category that each has inherited, but in the moral commitments that each individual has chosen and lived out.

Getting out of this mess also means accepting the limits of social science. The judgments of actual voters are better captured in the narratives of journalism and historical analysis than in the brutalizing correlations of big data.

Rebinding the nation means finding shared identities, not just contrasting ones. If we want to improve race relations, it’s not enough to have a conversation about race. We also have to emphasize identities people have in common across the color line. If you can engage different people together as Marines or teachers, then you will have built an empathetic relationship, and people can learn one another’s racial experiences naturally.

Finally, we have to revive the American identity. For much of the 20th century, America had a rough consensus about the American idea. Historians congregated around a common narrative. People put great stock in civic rituals like the pledge. But that consensus is now in tatters, stretched by globalization, increasing diversity as well as failures of civic education.

Now many Americans don’t recognize one another or their country. The line I heard most on election night was, “This is not my America.” We will have to construct a new national idea that binds and embraces all our particular identities.

The good news, as my Times colleague April Lawson points out, is that there wasn’t mass violence last week. That could have happened amid a civic clash this ugly and passionate. That’s a sign that for all the fear and anger of this season, there’s still mutual attachment among us, something to build on.

But there has to be a rejection of single-identity thinking and a continual embrace of the reality that each of us is a mansion with many rooms.

And now here’s what “gemli” had to say about that:

“Yes, we’re all gems with many facets, and we should appraise each other in the refulgent glow of their wondrous complexities. This would be sage advice if any organism back to the moment of abiogenesis had ever viewed its fellow creatures as anything more than food.

Those of us who have evolved made the attempt to view people as more than one-dimensional objects. We thought people should be taken care of, even if they were poor, old or sick. But we faced opposition from certain monkeys who wouldn’t be happy until they had all the bananas.

It was only recently that conservatives and liberals tried to get along, momentarily intrigued by the novel idea of a democracy. Lion and lamb cooperated, and reluctantly agreed to work together. They valued education and science. Government worked to eliminate poverty, racial hatred, unfairness and ignorance.

It couldn’t last. Things started to fall apart when a recent president changed the complexion of the White House. Something primal was triggered, and conservatives reasserted their dominant identity.

This didn’t start with Donald Trump. He’s merely the culmination of the one-dimensional thinker, the self-appointed alpha male, pea-brained but powerful, prowling for prey and groping the gazelles.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

What was evident during the campaign is more apparent after Donald Trump’s election: He is deeply ambivalent about becoming president. He’d rather stay in his lavish New York penthouse. Policy is a headache. It requires concentration. There are annoying laws against nepotism. Trump won 4.1 percent of the vote in the District of Columbia. Washington does not pine for him.

It all began as a game, turned into an ego trip, and ended in a strange apotheosis. Trump has uncanny instincts but no firm ideas. He knows the frisson authority confers. A rich boy from Queens who made good in Manhattan, he understands the galvanizing force of playing the outsider card. A man who changed his past, purging German lineage for “Swedish,” he understands America’s love for the outsized invented life. For his victory he depended on America’s unique gift for amnesia.

Trump saw the immense potential appeal of an American restoration — all nationalism finds its roots in a gloried, mythical past — after the presidency of a black man, Barack Obama, who prudently chose not to exalt the exceptional nature of the United States but to face the reality of diminished power.

The proposed restoration went beyond that. It was of the Judeo-Christian West against what Trump’s chief strategist — read propaganda minister — Steve Bannon calls “the new barbarity.” That barbarity has many components. One is the crony capitalism of the “party of Davos” — the elites who have the system rigged. Another is the dilution of Judeo-Christian values through rampant secularization, migration and miscegenation. The mass 21st-century influx of Muslims in the West may be equated, in these people’s eyes, with the mass emancipation and emergence from the Shtetl of Jews in 19th- century Europe: disruptive, threatening, a menace to the established order.

Obama is of mixed race. Who could better symbolize the looming decadence? For “Make America Great Again,” read “Make America White Again.” Trump saw that racism and sexism could be manipulated in his favor. He was the self-styled voice of the people to whom he bore least resemblance: those at the periphery far from the metropolitan hubs of the Davos consensus.

From headline to headline Trump stumbled, ending up with the last thing he wants: a minutely scrutinized life. You can wing a campaign; you can’t wing the leadership of the free world. An unethical commander-in-chief is a commander-in-chief with problems.

Trump knows all this. He was big on hat; now he needs cattle. That’s problematic. He does not really know where to begin. Clearly not at the State Department, which has yet to hear from him.

One is put in mind of H.L. Mencken: “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Except that Trump is no moron. That makes the outlook more sinister. Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, got it about right when he said of Trump: “I’m a New Yorker and I know a con when I see one.” He might have said a gifted charlatan.

Bannon, as set out in remarks reported by BuzzFeed to a conference held at the Vatican in 2014, believes that, “We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict” that will, absent a firm stand by “the church militant,” “completely eradicate everything we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”

The thing is, of course, this fight — this imagined restoration — will be waged against the very essence of the modern world: the movement of peoples and ever greater interconnectedness, driven by technology. Taken to its logical conclusion, the Trump-Bannon war can only end in apocalypse.

I believe money binds Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Trump. Precisely how we do not know yet. But there is also a cultural aspect. Putin has set himself up as the guardian of an absolutist culture against what Russia sees as the predatory and relativist culture of the West. The Putin entourage is convinced the decadence of the West is revealed in its irreligious embrace of same-sex marriage, radical feminism, euthanasia, homosexuality and choose-your-gender bathrooms. Enter Bannon.

It’s all a terrible mistake. Trump affects something close to a regal pout, close enough anyway to be perfected through Botox. He loves gilt, gold and pomp. He’s interested in authority, but not details. He yearns to watch the genuflections of the awed. He loves ribbon-cutting and the regalia of power. Used to telling minions they’re fired, he prefers subjects to citizens. In short, he’d be better off at Buckingham Palace.

That won’t happen. I see a high chance of disaster within the first year of the new presidency. Trump won the game. But now the game for him could be up. Or perhaps the world will go down in flames.

Well, that’s what we’ve heard — no more water, fire next time.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

During the campaign, Donald Trump often promised to be a different kind of Republican, one who would represent the interests of working-class voters who depend on major government programs. “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” he declared, under the headline “Why Donald Trump Won’t Touch Your Entitlements.”

It was, of course, a lie. The transition team’s point man on Social Security is a longtime advocate of privatization, and all indications are that the incoming administration is getting ready to kill Medicare, replacing it with vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance. Oh, and it’s also likely to raise the age of Medicare eligibility.

So it’s important not to let this bait-and-switch happen before the public realizes what’s going on.

Three points in particular need to be made as loudly as possible.

First, the attack on Medicare will be one of the most blatant violations of a campaign promise in history.

Some readers may recall George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security, in which he claimed a “mandate” from voters despite having run a campaign entirely focused on other issues. That was bad, but this is much worse — and not just because Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by a significant margin, making any claim of a mandate bizarre.

Candidate Trump ran on exactly the opposite position from the one President-elect Trump seems to be embracing, claiming to be an economic populist defending the (white) working class. Now he’s going to destroy a program that is crucial to that class?

Which brings me to the second point: While Medicare is an essential program for a great majority of Americans, it’s especially important for the white working-class voters who supported Mr. Trump most strongly. Partly that’s because Medicare beneficiaries are considerably whiter than the country as a whole, precisely because they’re older and reflect the demography of an earlier era.

Beyond that, think of what would happen if Medicare didn’t exist. Some older Americans would probably be able to retain health coverage by staying at jobs that come with such coverage. But this option would by and large be available only to those with extensive education: Labor force participation among seniors is strongly correlated with education, in part because the highly educated are healthier than the less educated, and in part because their jobs require less physical effort. Working-class seniors would be left stranded, unable to get the health care they needed.

Still, doesn’t something have to be done about Medicare? No — which is my third point. People like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, have often managed to bamboozle the media into believing that their efforts to dismantle Medicare and other programs are driven by valid economic concerns. They aren’t.

It has been obvious for a long time that Medicare is actually more efficient than private insurance, mainly because it doesn’t spend large sums on overhead and marketing, and, of course, it needn’t make room for profits.

What’s not widely known is that the cost-saving measures included in the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, have been remarkably successful in their efforts to “bend the curve” — to rein in the long-term rise in Medicare expenses. In fact, since 2010 Medicare outlays per beneficiary have risen only 1.4 percent a year, less than the inflation rate. This success is one main reason long-term budget projections have dramatically improved.

So why try to destroy this successful program, which is in important respects doing better than ever? The main answer, from the point of view of people like Mr. Ryan, is probably that Medicare is in the cross hairs precisely because of its success: It would be very helpful for opponents of government to do away with a program that clearly demonstrates the power of government to improve people’s lives.

And there’s an additional benefit to the right from Medicare privatization: It would create a lot of opportunities for private profits, earned by diverting dollars that could have been used to provide health care.

In summary, then, privatizing Medicare would betray a central promise of the Trump campaign, would specifically betray the interests of the voter bloc that thought it had found a champion, and would be terrible policy.

You might think this would make the whole idea a non-starter. And this push will, in fact, fail — just like Social Security privatization in 2005 — if voters realize what’s happening.

What’s crucial now is to make sure that voters do, in fact, realize what’s going on. And this isn’t just a job for politicians. It’s also a chance for the news media, which failed so badly during the campaign, to start doing its job.

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One Response to “Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman”

  1. Russian Sage Says:

    Two stories this morning seemed interesting. Ivanka’s presence at meeting with the Japanese PM. The second Donald’s tweet taking credit for keeping a Ford production plant in Ky rather than moving to Mexico. That plant’s operation for trucks was never planed to be moved in the first place. So Ivanaka is OK but not Hillary. Rudy and the DoD general for Sec Def with foreign business deals are OK but not Bill. Kushner’s role is interesting. His family money bought him a seat at the table by a marriage of convenience. A blind trust for him and whatever for Ivanka. All that was fine with his supporters. Wouldn’t a discussion of his predilections be better served by comparing him with his opponents than regurgitating articles about his personality. I guess the answer is it’s obvious why his supporters drew a blind eye to his lies and misdeeds. How long will Bannon be around after Kushner shoved Christie’s friends out the door? That the NYT among others sounds so weak in its efforts to report potential malfeasance by Rudy, Donald, Roger et al is beyond me. Are they scared now that Donald owns the courts? Perhaps they should be. BTW not only are there more whites who could be disenfranchised by vouchers for private health insurance to replace Part B but there are more whites on welfare who have more to lose with the presumed alterations reported for the ACA. And u know what? I believe the body politic to be such suckers the Donald tweet about Ford will be reused when he runs for reelection.

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