Magdi Semrau

The real problem with conservative thought on college campuses

Eric Kaufmann published last month a perplexing account of ideological diversity on college campuses for National Review. He opens the piece by noting that, in a recent survey of female college students, only 6 percent said they would date a Trump supporter, which, as Kaufmann see it, "reveals the predilection among many young elite Americans for progressive authoritarianism." Kaufman then segues into an account of discrimination against conservatives and the problem of liberal over-representation. This, he maintains, like race-based discrimination, merits federal intervention. Solution? Mandating "viewpoint neutrality" in higher education.

Kaufmann's piece was roundly and rightly criticized for its troubling implications regarding free speech as well its bizarre inferences about dating and authoritarianism. I won't rehearse those arguments. But there is something else worth noticing.

Many commentators, including some on the left, have uncritically accepted two of the premises underlying Kaufmann's argument. One, that social justice is increasingly illiberal. Two, that ideological imbalance on college campuses is a societal problem.

For example, in his critique of Kaufmann, New York's Jonathan Chait writes, "Despite veering off immediately into absurdity, Kaufmann does identify a real problem. Many elite American institutions, most dramatically but not exclusively in academia, are becoming ideological monocultures in which commitment to progressive goals is becoming a formal or informal criteria for membership within the community."

This description of a "monoculture" echoes concerns previously voiced by writers from across the political spectrum. In 2019, Nicholas Kristof wrote, "Yet while I admire campus activism for its commitment to social justice, I also worry that it sometimes becomes infused with a prickly intolerance, embracing every kind of diversity except one: ideological diversity." Similarly, the signatories of the 2020 Harper's letter, ranging from leftists to conservatives, also critiqued the social left's "restriction of debate." In this same vein, George Packer's most recent piece in The Atlantic characterized current social justice in America as bordering on tyranny.

When writers—from the left, center or right—reference "ideological conformity" or "monoculture," they often offer little in the way of details. References to homogeneity of thought surely sound troubling. But it all remains very abstract. What's missing is concrete description. So let's unpack these claims a bit to see the box is empty.

Democracy relies on debate between citizens. This does not presume every debate is worthwhile, though. Nor does it imply ideological conformity is always bad. We should not, for example, be concerned about conformity concerning the tooth fairy or the shape of Earth. It's good to agree that the human body is made of cells, that Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and that 2 + 2 = 4. Conformity is often the result of the truth.

Some might protest. The problem of ideological conformity doesn't revolve around objective facts, some say; rather, it's about the lack of representation of conservative thought. OK, but be specific. What conservative thought has been silenced?

Critics of "monoculture" aren't concerned that the work of Milton Friedman or Frederick Hayek is excluded from economics courses—such a concern would be false. In 2021 alone, Google Scholar yields around 8,000 results for articles mentioning these authors. Nor should we worry that anti-capitalist sentiment is taking over college campuses, given the sheer number of works churned out extolling the merits of markets. Universities from Georgetown to Cornell to Texas Tech have whole institutes devoted to this subject. Libertarians, conservatives and liberals all participate.

So one has to ask, again, what conservative thought is being ignored exactly? More likely, the complaint is that college classrooms lack positive representations of the current political beliefs of the Republican Party. And herein lies a small problem: the political beliefs of the GOP are, in fact, diametric to the entire project of education.

Just to make a quick list: according to current Republican belief, climate change is, at best, a natural phenomenon unaffected by human behavior and hardly worth worrying about. More often, it doesn't exist. The party also continues to deny the results of a fair and secure democratic election. Republicans have also argued that masks are an ineffective public health measure, covid is just like the flu and George Soros, a Jewish billionaire, pays protesters who disagree with Republican Party policy. Within the party, doubts still remain about whether Barack Obama was born in the United States.

The list goes on. Just the past few weeks have seen Fox News run endless anti-vaccination commentary, including the assertion that guidelines are akin to apartheid. Breitbart featured headlines on the Marxist threat to Taylor Swift. The Federalist published deep dives into Obama's potential connections to critical race theory. The American Conservative published a piece arguing the mass graves of Native children in Canada were "good, actually" as they were a product of a "sincere concern for the salvation of their souls." In the Meantime, Claire Lehmann, the editor of Quillette, spent her week tweeting about Black women's nails as a signal of possible drug abuse.

Given all this, why exactly should we be worried about Republican thought being less well-represented on college campuses? Are we concerned that students won't learn enough falsehoods? That they won't be exposed to enough racism? That covid denialism isn't being taught in biology class? That psychologists aren't seriously considering debates over whether or not Black people are intellectually inferior?

Or maybe conformity really boils down to colleges and universities recognizing and promoting the scientific consensus that gender is fluid, which aligns with guidance from the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association? Is this the terrifying monoculture?

Look, colleges should be maximally permissive in order to protect academic freedom. They should do everything they can to be ideologically blind while hiring. No one should try to ascertain an applicant's ideology. Trump supporters should be hired just as readily as Biden supporters. No professor should be sanctioned for teaching conservative economic theories. Nor should any professor get in trouble for being skeptical of critical race theory or Marxism or any other intellectual framework. However, professors should be sanctioned when they fail to do the basic requirement of their job: education. Modern conservative thought is antithetical to this project.

So do I fear this liberal monoculture in academia? No. One, academia is actually quite ideologically diverse. Two, in cases where "ideological conformity" does exist—such as "the earth is round" and "racism is bad"—perhaps we shouldn't be that fearful of it.

Overall, if analysts are concerned by the lack of representation of conservative ideology, they should be more explicit about which ideas within the Republican potpourri of falsehoods and bigotry should be adopted in college curricula.

Here's what George Packer's 'the Four Americas' gets wrong

George Packer's "The Four Americas" appears in the July issue of The Atlantic. The piece describes four divergent narratives about our country and ourselves. The central claim is that, given these different views of our country's history, culture and meaning, we, the citizens, do not occupy a shared reality. Thus, conflict is inevitable and interminable (intractable). Packer's argument is complex and I won't attempt to be comprehensive. There is, however, a significant issue that should not go unaddressed.

Packer's four Americas seem limited to, well, four white Americas.

Much of Packer's very long piece develops the titular four-part taxonomy. While there's something recognizable in each of the descriptions, the endeavor is unavoidably reductionist. Consider the four Americas, described roughly:

  • "Free America" encapsulates the history of American intellectual conservatism. This America is defined by libertarian tendencies, devotion to capitalism and an emphasis on individual liberty, conceived of as freedom from interference.
  • "Smart America," as far as I can tell, consists mostly of college-educated white Americans. Its citizens watch HBO, eat heirloom tomatoes and enjoy cultural novelty. They, like Free Americans, embrace market capitalism. Some favor a limited social safety net, but by and large, they are wary of economic redistribution. They are not anti-America, but they are not patriotic either.
  • "Real America" is populated by Palinites (after Sarah Palin) and Trumpists. They are white, populist, religious and strenuously patriotic, if not nationalistic. Their love of Trump and the rage he embodied was, according to George Packer, a "kind of revenge" against cultural judgment and fueled by economic anxiety.
  • "Just America" is home to the so-called social justice warriors. In Packer's analysis, they are troubled by actual injustices, but their response is never proportional. Their critique of language—asking for a non-standard pronoun—is a kind of verbal tyranny. They want to abolish assessments in public education. They are also, somewhat puzzlingly, nihilistic, Packer says. They are convinced that America is incapable of change. Just as they march for justice, they seem convinced justice can never succeed. Overall, "Just Americans" value subjectivity over reason. The very notion of individual achievement is anathema. In "Just America," according to Packer, "merit as separate from identity no longer exists."

No taxonomy of a nation's identities will be perfect, but Packer's is particularly messy. "Free America" better describes an intellectual movement, than a substantial category of American voters. "Real America" is perhaps Packer's most accurate category, describing an actual demographic with political power. "Smart America" is somewhat impressionistic—a mishmash of stereotypes about upper-middle class white people, some conservative, some liberal. The union-smashing, capitalism-loving members of "Smart America" do not necessarily vote the same way as the heirloom tomato-lovers who are skeptical of patriotism. Given the scope of Packer's project, however, some gross generalizations are to be expected—and perhaps charitably overlooked.

That said, Packer's account of "Just America" is problematic. More than simplifying what's complex, his characterization misrepresents the subject it seeks to portray.

Packer's depiction of "Just America" consists, centrally, of a series of straw men. It is also paradoxical. In one instance, "Just America" attacks American systems to the extent that what was once "innocent by default" is now "on trial." But, in another instance, Packer writes, "What is oppression? Not unjust laws—the most important ones were overturned by the civil rights movement and its successors." Rather, per Packer, activists have relinquished oppression to ineffable subjective impressions.

We're also told that, as "Just America" views our country, progress as impossible. But they are also concerned to protest police brutality. But, of course, nihilists don't march in protests. The reader is invited to see "Just America" as increasingly oppressive —policing even the words you use—but also frivolous, performative and hollow.

Citizens of "Just America" demand that our language acknowledge things such as "systemic racism," "white privilege" and "anti-Blackness." The importance of what these phrases refer to is in Packer's rendering never given serious consideration. Further, Packer's presentation unhelpfully omits the fact that such emphasis on language is the product of scholarship and activism by people of color. Packer's problematic treatment of "Just America" suggests a more pervasive problem. He has four Americas to work with, yet he still is unable to find a place for Black people.

For example, while there's plenty of room for ordinary white Americans in so-called "Real America," few Black families would likely call it home. "Just America" is the only category that potentially includes Black people and people of color, but even that is limited to analysis of academics and activists. And even then, Black academics and activists would struggle to live comfortably in this America because, as Packer has defines it, the anti-racism protests of 2020 could be defined as "disproportionately Millennials with advanced degrees making more than $100,000 a year."

Herein lies the real crux of the problem with Packer's piece. His categorization of the Four Americas seems to entirely exclude Black people and people of color.

What about the millions of Black Americans who care deeply about racism but are not scholars, politicians or activists? Black people appear, in Packer's telling, as either the targets of "Real America"'s racism or the focal point of "Just America"'s ineffectual-but-also-oppressive activism. In the Four Americas, Black people are defined by white people's responses to them. Black people are a useful foil, hardly requiring positive characterization. White people get to have their social justice warriors, their patriotic picnic-throwers and people who straddle both worlds. White people have esoteric academics, Chomsky devotees, libertarians, helicopter moms and workers who feel marginalized by globalism. Black Americans have no narratives of their own.

They exist only as a shadow within white imagination.

Where, in the Four Americas, are the Black mothers who not only fear for their children's lives, but know, intuitively, that their sons and daughters will face disadvantages in education, employment, and healthcare? Where is the Black working class? Where are the Black service members who make up 30% of the Army?

Black Americans are also ideologically diverse. There are Black leftists and Black conservatives. There are intense debates among Black Americans about slogans like "Defund the Police." There are Black Americans who are disillusioned by the two political parties and then there are those who passionately organized for Hillary Clinton. There are religious Black Americans and atheist Black Americans. There are Black Americans who protest the Fourth of July and others who celebrate it just as devotedly as the Trumpist white people in Packer's "Real America."

It's not just that Black Americans are ideologically diverse. They have internal disagreements about justice, especially the racial injustice that pervades their lives. They, too, live in a complicated America filled with unity and tension, including divisions about their own narratives. Their Just America is far from just one thing.

Are there Black citizens in each of the Four Americas described by Packer? Yes, to some extent. But they are all strangers, from out of town, temporary guests, passing through and never settled. None of George Packer's Americas are defined by Black people's interests or history or quests for justice and freedom. None substantially reflect Black citizens' contribution to our country's history, culture or meaning.

Reading Packer's essay, one cannot help but sense a certain irony. He decries the centering of subjective experience in activism and yet he's produced an essay about America entirely filtered through the lens of his own subjective experience. He hints at the tyranny of language—upset by words such as "whiteness"—in the very same essay that describes an America in which Black people are conspicuously absent. From this perspective, Packer's essay itself lends credibility to some of the correctives issued by residents of so-called "Just America." Perhaps those citizens are not the petty tyrants they are made out to be. Perhaps their concerns should be taken seriously.

Mitch McConnell's big bluff: Here's the real reason he wants to keep the filibuster so badly

Last week, United States Senator Kyrsten Sinema expressed ongoing support for the filibuster, arguing that "it is a tool that protects the democracy of our nation" and prevents our country from "[ricocheting] wildly every two to four years back and forth between policies." Then, over the weekend, Joe Manchin echoed a similar sentiment, writing that Democrats have "attempted to demonize the filibuster and conveniently ignore how it has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past."

Sinema and Manchin have been rhapsodizing over the filibuster and the virtues of bipartisanship for months, so these arguments are far from surprising. One obvious problem is they fly in the face of overwhelming evidence that bipartisanship is (mostly) dead. However, there's another, more troubling problem that warrants our attention.

Sinema and Manchin maintain that the filibuster protects not only our democracy, but also the Democratic Party. If we rely on a mere majority for legislation, the thinking goes, any leftward movement will be met with an equal rightward shift when the GOP inevitably returns to power. Thus, we are to believe that the filibuster not only ensures stability, but, in the long run, actually protects Democratic Party's legislative interests.

This analysis presumes that both parties are equally interested in passing legislation and that both equally benefit from a procedure that impedes democratic change. A moment's reflection on the contemporary GOP shows these assumptions to be false.

Consider this question: why didn't Mitch McConnell nuke the legislative filibuster during the first two years of Trump's presidency when the Republicans held control over both chambers of Congress? The Senate majority leader—with the support of Senate Republicans—happily abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court justice nominees. This was after McConnell had refused to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, essentially hobbling another branch of government. At the time, McConnell even declared: "One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, 'Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy."

So is there something about the legislative filibuster's role that's more valuable to McConnell than other norms he's broken? No. He only wants to maintain the legislative filibuster because, despite what Sinema and Manchin claim, the procedure ensures an imbalance of power that benefits Republicans while harming Democrats.

A 60-vote threshold would benefit any conservative party over a progressive counterpart by minimizing change. Even if a conservative party desires regressive change—such as the privatization of a public entitlement (e.g., Social Security or Medicare)—their next priority is, at the very least, maintaining the status quo. The GOP is thus well-served by a procedure that favors inaction at the federal level.

The asymmetrical benefit of the filibuster doesn't stop there. The GOP doesn't want to build anything. They want to either destroy the safety net we have or, at the very least, ensure it doesn't get more expansive. This predictably results in congressional gridlock. Major legislation is rarely passed, which makes distinguishing the two parties' agendas difficult. And guess who benefits from this state of affairs?

Republicans.

An amorphous mass of congressional inaction fuels voter apathy which, in turn, negatively impacts Democrats more than Republicans among key constituents, such as young voters. Why vote in the midterms if neither party does anything meaningful?

Republicans further benefit from national gridlock because their policies are unpopular. Majorities support Democratic policies on a variety of issues, ranging from gun control to immigration to healthcare. For example, as polarized as we are as a nation, if voters hear a party-neutral description of the public option, 68 percent endorse it. Meanwhile, though Republicans were successful at ginning up opposition to the Affordable Care Act throughout Barack Obama's presidency, their actual attempt to repeal it correlated with increased support for the Democratic position.

So Democratic policies are popular on a national level. Republican policies are not. Republicans know this, which is one among their reasons for maintaining a dysfunctional Congress. Meanwhile, Republican causes are well-advanced on the state and local level, as well as through packing the federal courts with right-wing judges.

Consider abortion. Two months ago, McConnell threatened that, if Democrats abolished the filibuster, Republicans would respond by putting a variety of conservative measures, including a ban of abortion, on the docket once they regained power. McConnell was essentially making a similar argument as Sinema and Manchin: if Democrats abolish the legislative filibuster, Republicans will respond in kind.

McConnell is likely bluffing. A national fight over abortion would be disastrous for the GOP. Fifty-nine percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Younger Americans are pro-abortion by a whopping 69 percent. Pushing an abortion ban through Congress would not only serve to fully differentiate the two parties. It would also likely energize young voters and eliminate Democrats' midterm turn-out disadvantage. There's no better way to get a 25-year-old white guy passionate about voting than by telling him that he'll be stuck with a kid if the condom breaks.

Thus, Republicans are much better served by fighting on the state and local levels while packing the courts. This allows them to chip away at popular policies under the radar while resting peacefully with the knowledge they control the Supreme Court.

Importantly, if the ACA or Roe get struck down by the courts, the GOP won't be directly blamed. The dire consequences would be a step removed. McConnell and other shrewd Republicans recognize this. They know their battles are better fought on furtive ground. They also know that, due to the unpopularity of their policies, congressional gridlock serves as a shield. Voters will see nothing getting done and blame both parties. Apathy—which especially afflicts young voters—will prevail. Democrats and their popular policies will suffer when they're unable to enact them.

Sinema and Manchin overlook the differences between the parties and how these differences are asymmetrically bolstered by congressional inaction. The filibuster doesn't make our democracy more robust; it impedes democratic change, vastly privileging one party's agenda over the other's. Crucially, these benefits occur in an electoral system whose quirks give disproportionate power to Republican senators.

Like many Democrats, I am growing tired of Sinema and Manchin's arguments over the filibuster. The bipartisanship they hail does not exist. Retaining the filibuster won't fix that. Nor does it equally benefit both parties. Republicans know this, which is why the legislative filibuster is the only "democratic norm" they will fight to protect.

Republicans want to turn crime into their new cudgel — but here's the truth about the murder rate

We've been hearing a familiar drumbeat: violent crime is rising and Democrats are to blame. CNN published an article entitled "Defund the police encounters resistance as violent crime spikes" and The Daily Beast opined, "If violent crime rates keep rising like they have over the last year, it will reaffirm long-held stereotypes about bleeding-heart liberalism." Republicans are, predictably, seizing on the issue. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, declared: "From coast to coast, American families are facing an explosion of violent crime on their streets and in their neighborhoods."

The party of "law and order" is clearly salivating over exploiting the crime rate and, unfortunately, many in the news media are amplifying hyperbolic inaccuracies. The truth about the crime rate is more complicated and less politically expedient.

So what's actually going on?

The FBI hasn't yet released final numbers for 2020, but estimates based on preliminary data indicate a rise in homicide and aggravated assault rates in 2020, compared to 2019. Robberies and rapes, on the other hand, are expected to have decreased over the same period. Similar effects can be seen in preliminary data from 2021.

How should we interpret these data?

If the Republicans actually cared about national rates of homicide and aggravated assault, they'd do something about all the guns.

Well, first of all, contrary to Republican propaganda, violent crime is not generally on the rise. Homicides and aggravated assaults have risen—and this is concerning—but other forms of violent crime are actually in decline. Additionally, while we might be seeing the beginning of an actual increase in homicide and aggravated assaults, we can't really tell at this point. Crime rates fluctuate quite a bit from year to year, so we can't actually extrapolate a broader pattern based on one or two increases. Such fluctuations also seem extreme given that violent crime is a low probability event.

To put this in context, the homicide rate in the United States has dramatically fallen since the 1990s. However, within this decline, there have still been fluctuations, which can be seen in data from the FBI. Homicides rose after 2000 and declined after 2007, culminating in a record low in 2014. Homicide rates then rose again in 2015, before beginning a decline in 2017. Even the surges were below 90s levels. That said, however, "HOMICIDE SPIKE" makes a much more compelling than the real story, which is this: there is a lot of variation and criminologists can't completely account for it.

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The 2015 rise in homicides also inspired GOP attacks on Democrats, as well as dire predictions by the news media. The New York Times, for example, published a piece about a "Murder Surge," writing that, "the country's murder rate jumped more last year than it had in nearly half a century." 2015 seemed to portend a grim future of continuously increasing murders. Then homicides fell again. No one said much else.

Now, in 2021, the current change in homicide rates has once again brought multiple theories to the public for debate. So, why have rates risen? The best answer is that we really don't have the data yet. Anyone who stipulates a definitive causal factor—like "Defund the Police" intimidating law enforcement officers—is just making things up. We can say, however, that some hypotheses are clearly better than others.

A hypothesis that makes a lot of sense is that 2020 was unique. In 2020, the entire social order was disrupted. As a pandemic gripped America, state and local governments took unprecedented actions to restrict human contact. Americans witnessed their fellow citizens dying. Hospitals buckled, businesses closed and millions lost employment. During this disruption, George Floyd was murdered, which inspired large protests against racial injustice across the country. It is not at all surprising that such general societal unease would correspond with rising crime.

There are also less reasonable hypotheses, namely that police are so intimidated by criticism they can't function. A similar hypothesis was floated around under the name "The Ferguson Effect" after crime rose in 2015 and has since been debunked.

And here's just some basic logic to apply to this claim: if increased crime were due to police being newly shy in the face of protests, why would the homicide rate rise while rape and robbery rates fell? Is there something specific about racial justice protests that makes police less able to control murders, while becoming more efficient at preventing rape and robberies? Absent more data, this doesn't seem plausible.

Additionally, the limited national data on violent crime rates obscure important local differences, including the relationship between the type of policing and crime. Areas like West Memphis, Tenn., and New Bedford, Mass., have actually observed decreases in crime that officials attribute to community-based policing. Camden, NJ, credits stronger community relationships for more efficient detective work in solving homicides. And Baltimore, often cited as one of the crime capitals of the US, has seen a 20 percent decline in violent crime. Baltimore observed this difference after deprioritizing the policing of minor offenses, such as drug possession and sex work.

So what does this all mean?

It's already clear that Republicans will attempt to use the national rise in homicide rates to their advantage, blaming Democrats for a terrifying scourge of carnage and fear. News organizations are following suit, going so far as to publish articles on a "plague of violence." Hyperbolic headlines risk instilling fear in Americans, when, in fact, the data tell a more complex story. How should liberals respond?

First, liberals should say they have proposals that would likely reduce not only violent crime, but all crime, such as social support in healthcare, education and housing.

Second, we already know, regardless of year-to-year changes, the US homicide rate is far too high, a fact liberals are also attempting to address through gun control. Our homicide rate vastly exceeds other Western democracies because our society is saturated with guns. No matter how much the rate changes every year, over 70 percent of all homicides are carried out with a gun. This is one trend that is not fluctuating.

So, the next time you see Republicans whining about violent crimes, remind them that violent crimes are not increasing overall. Homicides are up, but the overall rate is still low. The streets are not on fire. Rapes and robberies are down. "Urban" America is not descending into dystopia. Maybe we're seeing the beginning of a new crime wave, but we might be just witnessing random variation or the unique effects of the pandemic.

Either way, year-to-year increases in the homicide rate are less concerning than the fact that homicide in the United States is generally elevated compared to other countries. "Defund the Police" is not responsible for any of that. Tools that allow for the quick and efficient destruction of human lives are. If Republicans actually care about the homicide rate, they should do something about all the guns.

The dark history behind a revealing Fox News chyron

For decades, the GOP claimed the mantle of an economically conservative party and exploited societal issues such as racism and abortion to bolster their electoral support. Yet over the past few years, a reversal has occurred, such that the GOP's cultural identity now eclipses any pretense of an economic agenda. As an example, just this week, Fox News declared, "Critical Race Theory Replaces Economy as Top Issue."

Over the course of the 1980s through the 2000s, American conservative thought was often framed as primarily economically oriented. The Republican Party, however, gained electoral support by appealing to societal resentments. From Ronald Reagan's "welfare queen" to encouraging turnout with anti-LGBTQ legislation, the GOP augmented cultural wars. It knew how to exploit culture to win elections and power.

Yet during all this time, the GOP had an economic agenda—"fiscal conservatism"—that appealed to voters less moved by resentment. This agenda revolved around deregulation of industry, reductions in government spending and tax cuts. The GOP also had an even broader vision: deconstruction of the social safety net as established by the New Deal and the Great Society. From Reagan to Newt Gingrich to George W. Bush, Republican leaders mounted attacks on the safety net, largely centered on privatization and incentives to encourage Americans to choose other options.

The GOP's coalition thus entertained a hodgepodge of interests, ranging from those animated by culture wars to those more concerned with tax policy and their own pocket books. The GOP's image as a fiscally responsible party was primarily catered to the latter group, but their popularity was increasingly reliant on the former.

This dynamic was in full swing during President Obama's first term. To oppose the Democratic president's policies, the GOP leaned into economic complaints about the deficit. Billionaires funded "populist" anti-government uprisings. The success of this opposition was partially, if not primarily, driven by racist backlash against the first Black president, yet to some extent, the GOP seemed convinced they were also winning an economic argument, rather than just subsisting on bigoted fumes.

The GOP miscalculated the nature of the beast they cultivated, a mistake that, in hindsight, was evident during the 2012 election. Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan, like Romney, rhetorically focused on economics over culture. At the time, Ryan's star was so bright it was considered almost heretical to question his economic bona fides. And Ryan wasn't just any economic conservative—he was radical. His proposals would effectively launch the safety net back to the 1950s.

So, at least in 2012, it looked like the GOP chose the conservative economic message. They relied, as they had for decades, on prejudice for electoral success, but their rhetorical focus was on extreme conservative economics. And then they lost.

In response, the RNC commissioned an election autopsy, which reported that the GOP should moderate itself on cultural issues, such as LGBTQ rights. It recommended the GOP pass comprehensive immigration reform and reach out to minority voters and organizations. Finally, the report stressed the GOP was in an epistemic bubble: "We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people," the authors wrote, before warning the party had "lost the ability to be persuasive" to other voters and risked "driving in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac."

The GOP stayed in the cul-de-sac. In 2016, the party nominated Donald Trump, who ran a campaign fueled by racism and rage, while leaving his economic agenda unspecified beyond rants about China and vague promises about healthcare.

Then Trump won.

After Trump's victory, the GOP held the holy trifecta of the presidency, the Senate and the House and was therefore well-positioned to reanimate the old battles of Reagan, Gingrich and W. Bush. Yet they not only squandered this opportunity, they seemed to be fully unprepared. For example, despite voting for ACA repeal over 70 times while Obama was president, no Republican leader—including the wonky Paul Ryan—had a plan for what to do with healthcare after demolishing the current system. The GOP cobbled together clumsy legislation, which they then failed to pass. It was clear: they had no real conservative economic vision for healthcare beyond "not Obamacare."

The 2017 tax cut legislation had a different outcome, but also served to undermine the GOP's brand as thoughtful economic conservatives. Whereas the ACA battle showed they had no real vision, the tax cuts revealed their eight years of screeching over the deficit was unprincipled pablum. Meanwhile, Trump's presidency was consumed by incompetence, criminality and racism. Though they packed the courts, the GOP didn't rebuild its economic brand in American minds; rather, it chose to defend Trump during endless scandals while embracing the cultural resentments he inflamed.

Both of these actions—the abandonment of any pretense of economic seriousness and the embrace of bigotry—likely contributed to the Republican Party's hemorrhaging of white college-educated suburban voters. This damage to the GOP's coalition facilitated a Democratic sweep of the House in 2018, as well as Biden's victory in 2020. Notably, the GOP made little attempt to win over any voters based on an economic agenda during either election. Instead, again, they chose the path of a culture war, with buzz-phrases such as "socialism," "defund the police" and "law and order."

Since the inauguration, the GOP has made a few flaccid endeavors to gin up opposition through appeals to their old economic standbys: excessive spending and looming deficit. Yet this rhetoric is doing what it did in 2009. Biden is perceived as moderate and, due to his whiteness, is not as vulnerable a target as Obama. It also hasn't helped the GOP that, during the Trump presidency, they chose to deprioritize any real economic messaging, as well as to undermine their previous reputation as conservative intellectuals. Meanwhile, Biden's economic policies remain popular.

So what is the GOP left with? They do not seem to be attempting to appeal to the white-college educated voters they've lost. Instead, they are doubling down on Trumpism as their final political form. They have spent the past months raging against "woke-ism," "critical race theory" and the imagined genitalia of a plastic potato.

The party has clearly decided that a grand culture war, rather than an economic agenda, is how they will maintain power. In this sense, the GOP is becoming almost indistinguishable from radical far-right parties in Europe, groups that also engage in fuzzy economics while focusing their primary rhetoric on nativism and bigotry.

None of this means that the GOP no longer entertains their longer goal of deconstructing the safety net. Many in the party are still deeply committed to this agenda and, once they regain power, they will likely turn once again towards gutting entitlements. However, in terms of messaging, the GOP seems to realize their base is unmoved by this economic agenda. And so they've made yet another choice: to embrace their emerging identity as a party that is fully oriented towards a cultural battle rather than a party with any real vision for the American economy.

The decades of deceit behind the 'Big Lie'

Since the 2020 presidential election, the phrase "The Big Lie" has been deployed to describe the former president's undermining of American democracy. This phrase has its roots in authoritarian propaganda, most notably in Adolf Hitler's assertion that if you tell a lie often enough, it will become truth in the minds of your audience.

Trump's own "Big Lie" began with a refusal to concede electoral defeat. This deceit was then formalized in frivolous lawsuits and it ultimately inspired an insurrection on January 6, 2021. Since then, members of the GOP have either explicitly endorsed Trump's "The Big Lie" or tacitly allowed it to flourish in the consciousness of their voters, such that 60 percent of Republicans now believe the 2020 election was stolen.

However, Trump's own "Big Lie" is not actually a singular falsehood; rather, it is the culmination of a long attack on our shared reality. The undermining of the democratic process itself is only possible due to the decades of disinformation that preceded it.

Where did the Republican lies begin? The assault on Medicare is a good starting point. In 1961, Ronald Reagan argued that Medicare was a stealthy vessel for complete government control over not only medicine but society. In this narrative, those who claimed to care for the vulnerable were exploiting the same to usher in socialism. Reagan warned that if Medicare prevailed, Americans would soon be telling their children and grandchildren "what it once was like in America when men were free."

The Republican Party followed Reagan's lead. It didn't take long before all government programs were called "socialism" and were framed as inherent threats to freedom. This GOP project was accelerated by the great white backlash against the passing of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. White people should not only fear the social safety net, they were told, but any government intervention to ensure equal citizenship.

After the 1960s, the GOP's attack on truth began to encompass not just antipathy towards government, but a broader rejection of institutions. Consider the issue of climate change: In the 1980s and 90s, there was at least some bipartisan recognition of the problem and support for addressing it.. The Republicans mounted a propaganda campaign in response. They were successful. In 2001, there was a 13-point gap between Democrats' and Republicans' belief in climate change. It's 53 points now. The Republican Party had therefore not only undermined government but science, too.

Since then, the Republicans lied about WMDs in Iraq. They lied about Obamacare, calling the market-based plan "socialism" and warning that it would lead to so-called "death panels." Though many did not explicitly lie about Barack Obama's birthplace, most of the Republicans allowed that lie to fester. It was among the biggest of them all: The president of the United States may not be an American given he's Black.

The GOP's status as the party-of-lies was then accelerated by Donald Trump, who told an estimated 30,573 falsehoods during his presidency. From the moment Trump took office and lied about the crowd size at his inauguration—something we could confirm or deny with our very own eyes—it was clear his presidency would be different. Trump proceeded to lie about things as varied as US intelligence on Russia's interference in the 2016 election to the extraordinary number of men who wept in his presence.

Then came COVID-19. Trump and the Republican Party compared the novel respiratory coronavirus to the flu, rolled their eyes at liberal hysteria, and pushed unscientific treatments with potentially deadly consequences. And, importantly, the Republicans didn't just lie to protect themselves; they actively exploited the crisis for broader cultural and political advantage. This is nowhere more evident than the almost religious fervor they employed to discourage the simple act of wearing a face mask.

Initially, it seemed possible that lying about COVID might finally be the breaking point in the GOP's history of dishonesty. Every other lie the GOP has told had distant effects, allowing them to escape accountability. From attacks on the safety net to climate change, the GOP evaded consequences because the harmful effects of their policies were temporarily distant. It seemed implausible that they could pull off equivalent deceit about COVID. That their falsehoods could overpower the pleas of doctors or the accumulation of hundreds of thousands of dead Americans.

Yet Republican lies took hold even in the face of immediate evidence. The pernicious effects of their disinformation continues. Now, in 2021, the GOP has shifted from being anti-mask to being anti-vaccine, with 43 percent of GOP voters expressing "vaccine hesitancy." Though general anti-vaccination efforts have gained steam over the past decade, there were few partisan divisions prior to COVID. In 2015, for example, Democrats and Republicans both endorsed standard vaccinations in roughly equal numbers. Thus, the political divides about vaccination are relatively new.

It is within this broader context that we should view the "Big Lie." This lie—which strikes at the heart of the democratic process— is only possible because of the GOP's longer assault on truth. Medicare is socialism. Welfare is for greedy, lazy people. Climate change does not exist. The president is Black and therefore not American. Russia didn't interfere in the 2016 election. COVID-19 is just like the flu.

In some ways, it might seem like we have reached the culmination of the GOP's deception. They have so thoroughly radicalized their followers that many no longer value medical advice about their own personal safety, let alone believe the results of a democratic election. How can it get any worse than this? It seems that it can.

Liz Cheney, who committed the crime of recognizing Biden as the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, has been expelled from party leadership. Believers of Q-Anon are clawing their way into Congress. Republicans continue to turn a blind eye, despite the clear anti-Semitic and racist nature of the movement. The rest of the party denies their previous leader, Donald Trump, inspired an insurrection against the US government. Now the House GOP leader says he doesn't support a commission to investigate it.

2020 was not just a year in which many denied the results of an election. They put their own health at risk for a culture war. None of this would have been possible if not for decades of deceit. The "Big Lie" is, in fact, the "Long Lie": the generational priming of minds to reject all evidence and view any authority—from the government to scientists—with hostility and distrust. From lies about Medicare to lies about Obama's birthplace, this project has been long in the making. The entire GOP is responsible.

The media grossly distorted a new study about Democrats and race — here's what it really said

Political scientists released last month a pre-print entitled "Racial Equality Frames and Public Policy Support: Survey Experimental Evidence." Its findings traveled widely across social media and were reported in multiple press outlets, from the New York Post to the Times. Jonathan Chait, from New York magazine, tweeted, "Democrats lose support when they frame their ideas as anti-racist," a post which was shared by a reporter from NBC News. The message, according to journalists, was clear: If the Democrats mention race in campaign messaging, it will hurt them electorally.

The passionate reaction to the research paper was likely inspired by a decades-long debate. How should Democrats tailor their messaging? Does talking about social justice, especially anti-racism, hurt them? These questions found new life during the 2016 Democratic primary, as well as in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump. Perhaps, some posited, Clinton's loss was due to so-called "economic anxiety" among white working-class voters, a claim that has since been debunked. Or perhaps Democrats' demise was tied to an over-emphasis on racism and other issues of social justice, such as LGBTQ rights. Given this background, it's unsurprising that this new research was met with enthusiasm. It fit nicely within an existing narrative.

There was, however, one small problem: people almost universally misinterpreted the results. The researchers did not, in fact, find broad evidence that mentioning race was detrimental to support for Democratic policies. So what did they actually find?

The researchers recruited 5,089 participants and exposed them to Democratic policies on issues ranging from climate change to housing to Medicare. Participants read policy descriptions that were either neutral or framed in terms of class, race or class+race. Participants ranked approval on a scale of 1-7 (strongly agree to strongly disagree). The researchers compared responses between the neutral condition and the conditions of class, race or class+race. If a given frame induced responses significantly more positive or negative than the neutral condition, the researchers could infer that the frame increased or decreased policy support. Let's take a look at the results.

When the researchers looked at the whole sample, they found that class-framing marginally increased support for all policies by .09 scale points. They did not, contrary to journalistic reports, find that race- or class+race-framing decreased support. The researchers also looked at results divided by partisanship. They found that both the class and class+race frames increased support among Democrats. For Republicans, the class+race framing decreased support. However, class-only framing was non-distinguishable from the neutral condition for Republicans. For self-identified independents, none of the frames significantly increased or decreased support.

What do these results mean? If we look at all Americans, class-framing might subtly increase support for a policy. But mentioning race does not decrease support. The only case in which an actual detrimental effect was observed was for Republicans. And yet it was widely reported that if the Democrats campaign on race, it will hurt them.

How should Democrats incorporate these findings? Perhaps they could exploit the fact that class-framing can increase support for any given policy. Maybe such framing could be of particular use in specific states or congressional districts. Democrats should not, however, infer that mentioning race or racism is detrimental. At least, not unless they are concerned with avoiding backlash among Republican voters.

Furthermore, moving beyond this one study, there are complex effects in political messaging that occur outside of specific policy frames. For example, Democratic rhetoric doesn't occur in a vacuum. It occurs alongside Republican messaging. As some experts pointed out to the Times' Thomas Edsall, since the Republicans are explicitly racist, it could harm the Democrats if they are not explicitly anti-racist.

We should also consider real-world results. For example, after the 2016 election, many posited that Democrats should de-emphasize social justice. As a national party, Democrats did the opposite and proceeded to a historic victory in the 2018 midterms.

Not only did Democrats win while explicitly championing social justice, they won with diverse candidates. Sharice Davids, a Native American LGBTQ woman, flipped a seat in Kansas. Lucy McBath, a Black woman, flipped Newt Gingrich's old seat in Georgia. And, although we lost the Texas senate race, Beto O'Rourke came within two points of Ted Cruz, a margin that was previously unimaginable. O'Rourke achieved this while embracing racial justice, stating, "I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, anytime, anywhere, in any place."

We can also see these effects beyond the 2018 midterms. The transformation of Virginia—the heart of the old confederacy—is notable. Democrats there have won the Holy Grail: the legislature as well as the governorship. With that, Virginia Democrats have advanced an agenda that is economically and socially progressive, including expanding Medicaid, passing LGBTQ protections, and banning hair discrimination. Joe Biden went on to win Virginia by a historically large margin in 2020. Has there been a backlash? Probably somewhere. But Democrats are still winning elections.

We should also consider the entirety of the 2020 election. In the wake of George Floyd's murder, as protests erupted across the country, there were murmurs about 1968. Would these anti-racism protests be Democrats' downfall? Some went so far as to suggest that Joe Biden should have a "Sister Souljah moment"—the idea that Biden needed to throw at least a few Black people under the bus to counteract the swell of anti-racist sentiment. But Biden was steadfast in his support for racial justice and proceeded to not only win the election, but flip Arizona and Georgia.

What does this all mean? Well, first, that many misinterpreted the results of a scientific study and argued, without evidence, that mentioning race in policy-framing was detrimental. Fact is, it showed a backlash among Republicans only. Next, while this research is of real value, no one should view a single study as the last word. We should consider its findings as one piece of a larger puzzle that includes real-world results.

Finally, when considering all of this information, Democrats and journalists alike should also ask Black Americans about their opinions on how to emphasize race in policy. Black voters are, after all, the base of the Democratic Party, the reason the party has any power in the first place. Their support should not be taken for granted.

How the right wing uses language as a weapon

Right-wing operatives have recently mounted a campaign against the idea and practice of "wokeness." The word has the pretense of a neutral reference, but is increasingly used to debase and belittle the underlying meaning of anti-racism and anti-bigotry. Similar rhetorical tactics have a long history in conservatism, as they allow the GOP to obscure policy objectives, while simultaneously evoking negative and positive emotions. Overall, the GOP benefits from imprecise language soaked with connotation. Unfortunately, journalists and some liberals keep falling for it.

In the case of "woke" and "wokeness," conservatives are undermining a positive idea with derisive figurative language. Consider a converse example, in which the Republicans advanced an ugly principle through positive framing: waterboarding. It was described as "enhanced interrogation" by conservatives, and that was repeated by the press corps. However, if you actually describe what's involved in waterboarding—making a person temporarily experience drowning—Americans respond with repulsion. Conservatives knew this, so they chose to be evasive. "Enhanced interrogation" is more palatable than both "torture" and "simulated drowning."

Language can be exploited to great political effect. Words convey meaning two ways. By denotations, the actual real-world reference of a given word or phrase. And by connotations, the feelings they evoke. The GOP systematically uses language that obscures denotation and advances connotation. The case of "wokeness" is not so different from "enhanced interrogation," but, in this case, the underlying denotation—awareness of social injustice—is good whereas the connotations are unfortunately negative. As they did with "enhanced interrogation," conservatives are using figurative language to obscure deeper principles and create a fog of feeling, rather than reason.

The GOP's use of such language—figurative, imprecise, but laden with connotation—gained prominence in their backlash to the civil rights movement. After a certain point, it was of little benefit to conservatives to explicitly state they were opposed to equal rights for Black Americans, so they adopted fuzzy terms. This strategy was famously outlined by the late Lee Atwater, a chief architect of modern GOP rhetoric:

You start out in 1954 by saying, '[n-word], [n-word], [n-word].' By 1968 you can't say '[n-word]'—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff, and you're getting so abstract. Now, you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. … 'We want to cut this' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "[n-word], [n-word]."

Here, Atwater specifically argued that, to advance racism, conservatives should embrace abstractions, given that racial slurs no longer confer electoral success. This tradition of linguistic manipulation continues to pervade our discourse. From "illegal alien" to "states' rights" to "politically correct" to now "woke," the Republicans have perfected the art of language devoid of concrete specifics, but charged with big feels.

That language has this power presents a challenge for journalists. Reporting should be informative and neutral. Yet with increasing frequency, the press corps uncritically adopts whatever linguistic frame has currency. The result, predictably, is neither informative nor neutral. What do Republicans actually mean when they criticize "wokeness?" It's unclear. Yet journalists repeat their rants without clarification.

Consider what "woke" actually denotes. The origin of the expression is unknown, but references to "staying woke" in African-American English can be traced back to Lead Belly's recording of "Scottsboro Boys," a song about young Black men who were falsely accused of rape. Recently, "woke" gained prominence during the 2014 Ferguson protests when it was used to signal awareness of anti-Black racism. "Woke" then proliferated online where its meaning broadened to describe anyone who was aware of systemic racism. Finally, the meaning shifted to encompass an awareness of bigotry in general. Now, lexicographers define "woke" as "aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)."

While the current use of "woke" arose from African-American English, "awake" as a metaphor for awareness has deep cross-cultural roots. Wakefulness as revelation is referenced throughout both Buddhism and Christianity as well as in the work of poets and playwrights. It is, in fact, the same metaphor underlying the "Age of Reason"—or the Enlightenment—such that Kant wrote, "Enlightenment is the release of man from a state of bondage. … Have the courage to use your own understanding!" "Wokeness" was present in American political movements long before BLM. Republicans—proud descendants of Abraham Lincoln—might be interested to learn that an early anti-slavery faction within their own party called themselves "The Wide Awakes."

So, what "wokeness" denotes is overwhelmingly positive: awareness of bigotry and concomitant opposition. Yet, recently, as conservatives have co-opted it, the term has become derisive. "Woke" people are unserious. You're allowed to roll your eyes at them, because they are sensitive and sanctimonious. In this sense, "woke" has unfortunately become a dysphemism. Whereas euphemisms soften underlying meaning (the dead "passed away," for instance, or the woman is "with child"), dysphemisms do the opposite (the dead "croaked', for instance, or the woman got "knocked up").

What's denoted by "woke" has been eclipsed by connotations. When we hear "woke" now, we do not think of its history as a metaphor for awareness. We certainly do not think of the Enlightenment. We think of pious scolds. And then, perhaps unwittingly, we transfer this pejorative connotation to the underlying principles of social justice.

We can't expect rhetorical honesty from the GOP, but we can ask more of the press corps that reports on conservatives' use of "woke." When reporters repeat the GOP's derision of "wokeness" without explaining the underlying denotation of the word, they are serving as a conduit of conservative propaganda. Such reporting is neither informative nor neutral. The meaning of what's said is, at best, obscure and imprecise. Failure to report the underlying meaning allows the negative connotations to prevail.

So, if an elected official claims "wokeness" is bad, journalists should ask them what they mean! Journalists could ask, for example: "Is anti-racism bad? What about anti-bigotry in general?" If they refuse to define what they intend when they deride "wokeness," journalists should do it for them by citing the dictionary definition.

We are in an existential battle. The forces of bigotry are strong, and, in many ways, our electoral system allows them to flourish. However, the evidence is clear: the actual principle of "wokeness"—the broad "awareness of social injustice"—is increasingly popular. We cannot let conservative rhetorical manipulations muddy this fact.

A paradoxical view of Black people emerged as a defense for the killing of George Floyd

In the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, the defense mounted a perplexing account. Mr. Floyd, we were told, had an enlarged heart and inelastic lungs. Mr. Floyd was so weak that his death was all but inevitable. Had Mr. Floyd been healthier, he might have survived the relentless pressure of a knee upon his neck. But, then, the defense's narrative seemed to change: Derek Chauvin's use of lethal force was, in fact, necessitated by Mr. Floyd's purported superhuman strength.

Was Mr. Floyd so physically weak he succumbed to an innocuous use of force? Or was he so strong that restraining him required extraordinary force? One defense witness offered a unifying explanation: perhaps Mr. Floyd's terrifying strength was caused by heart disease itself. Or, perhaps, a tumor triggered a fight-or-flight response that elevated his blood pressure. In this narrative, Mr. Floyd died because his underlying fragility triggered superhuman strength which, in turn, triggered fatal weakness.

It may be tempting to attribute this illogical argument to desperation on the part of the defense. This would be a mistake. Chauvin's defense was sadly rational. The prejudice it sought to exploit is pervasive and longstanding. In American society, Black people are viewed as both preternaturally strong as well as uniquely weak.

White people must fear Black people and use extraordinary measures to protect themselves. Except, of course, when white violence or negligence triggers Black illness or death. Then, it is the fragility that precipitates the demise of Black bodies. Either way, one thing is clear: In American consciousness, Black people can rarely be victims. This notion—that Black people are at once too strong and too weak—has deep roots in American history, beginning in slavery and continuing in modern medical racism.

During slavery, doctors postulated that Black people were especially susceptible to Tuberculosis and malaria. That this susceptibility was produced by the conditions of slavery was not seriously considered. Rather, vulnerability to disease was identified as a feature of Blackness. Enslaved Black people were also, according to doctors, uniquely resistant to pain, even as they suffered disproportionately of all manner of disease. Doctors used these false premises—inherent medical fragility paired with pain resistance—as justifications for the use of Black bodies in horrific medical experiments, ranging from intentional infection to gynecological mutilation to the boiling of flesh. The purported frailty and strength of Black bodies made Black human beings, in the eyes of many doctors, a perfect specimen for scientific exploration.

Even today, health outcomes for Black Americans, by virtually every measure, and at every stage of life, are comparatively poor. Some of this disparity can be explained by socioeconomic and environmental factors. Black people are disproportionately struck by poverty. They are more likely to live in segregated neighborhoods afflicted by pollution and nutritional deprivation. They suffer from inadequate access to healthcare. These factors matter. But they do not tell the whole story. Disparities persist even when socioeconomic or environmental differences are controlled for.

Indeed, researchers are finding that racism itself is an environmental variable that crosses socioeconomic barriers and induces life-long health complications. From diabetes to reproductive care, the evidence is converging. The chronic stress of anti-Black racism, independent of other variables, ravages Black American bodies. Little is spared. From brains to kidneys to bones, Black American bodies endure trauma, misdiagnosis and neglect. These patterns begin at birth and persist until death.

For example, Black babies are less likely than white babies to have early hearing loss identified and treated. Black children are less likely to receive tubes to treat otitis media, a crucial intervention that correlates with language development. In school, Black children are under-diagnosed with ADHD and over-diagnosed with conduct disorder, compared to their white peers, even when their symptomology is similar.

As Black Americans enter adulthood, health disparities become even more stark. Black men, for instance, are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and less likely to be diagnosed with depression than their white male peers. Diagnoses of dementia—critical for early intervention—are also chronically delayed for Black Americans.

Racial disparities are especially stark in reproductive outcomes. Black women are more likely to experience miscarriages, preterm birth and stillbirth when compared to white women of the same socioeconomic status. Black women are less likely to get breast cancer, but they are 43 percent more likely to die after diagnosis. Black women are also more likely to undergo hysterectomy. In cases of heart disease, Black people are less likely to receive diagnostic angiography and preventative catheterization.1

Black people are also often blamed for health outcomes, in both subtle and overt ways. The most obvious examples are in the right-wing media, as well as in specific cases such as the criminal defense of Derek Chauvin. However, we can also see examples throughout even ostensibly unbiased sources, such as the medical literature.

Type II diabetes has long been blamed on the "African American Diet." Differential success of diabetes treatment has been attributed to poor "medical literacy." Poor medical literacy is cited as a factor in the delayed diagnosis of Black infants' hearing impairment. Note the explanatory variable of "medical literacy" places responsibility on Black patients, not their doctors. This is in spite of research indicating that racial disparities in doctor-patient communication results from doctors' behavior, such as reduced listening, personal interaction and devotion of time to outpatient care.

The blaming of Black people has, in some cases, extended beyond "poor medical literacy" or "bad diets" to the nature of Black bodies themselves. One literature review went so far as to state "variation in obesity and body-fat distribution" may be a primary factor in the late diagnosis and poor prognosis of breast cancer in Black women. Similarly, doctors have explained that the systematic late diagnosis of Lyme disease in Black people is attributable to early signs of disease being difficult to detect on dark skin, to which one Black doctor responded: Is it actually that hard to identify on Black skin, or have doctors just been exclusively trained to treat white people?

And then, finally, we must address Black pain. Multiple studies have shown that Black patients are under-diagnosed and under-treated for pain. Black patients are less likely to receive pain treatment for almost any diagnosis, even in the case of visible physical harm, such as a broken bone. Even Black children with appendicitis are less likely to be given pain treatment than white peers are. Research has shown white medical workers endorse racist stereotypes related to pain. One study demonstrated that an astonishing number of white medical workers endorsed a variety of racist myths, such that they believed Black patients' skin is thicker and their blood coagulates more quickly. These judgments most certainly correlate with treatment decisions.

The clearest example of racial disparities in medicine is in kidney disease. Here, we can see a trajectory beginning with negligence and ending with tragedy. We all learn that Black people suffer from disproportionate rates of kidney disease. We are told this is the fault of Black Americans. But we do not learn that Black people are:

  • 23 percent less likely to be assessed for transplantation, even when all other variables are controlled (e.g. socioeconomic status; disease stage).
  • 18 percent less likely to be placed on a transplantation list.
  • 53 percent less likely to receive a life-saving organ once on the list.
  • And we certainly do not learn that, all other variables being equal, Black Americans are more likely to receive a limb amputation than white Americans.

Let that sink in: This country does not only deny life-saving organs to Black Americans, but we also lop off their toes, feet and legs at disproportionate rates.

The treatment of Black bodies and minds in medicine reflects broader societal biases about Black pain. Physiological research indicates that white people exhibit decreased physiological responses to the emotional and physical pain of Black people. To put this plainly: if a white person witnesses a Black person experiencing pain, their neuronal responses remain close to baselines. They sweat less. Heart rates barely budge. And, although diminished responses to Black people in pain do correlate with overt racism, they also persist in white people who score very low on cognitive measures of racism.

This history—the rejection of Black pain and dehumanization of Black bodies—was the clear pretext for the criminal defense of Derek Chauvin. Mr. Floyd was to blame for his own death, because he was weak. However, his body could also be abused, because he was so strong. Chauvin's defense team was not unreasonable to attempt this, because they must have known, intuitively, as we all know, that a Black man's body is not viewed as the same as a white man's body. That a Black man's pleas for his mother or even oxygen will never be as worthy as a white man's same suffering.

These societal biases—and the cruelty they facilitate—were clear in our country's response to COVID-19. As the pandemic struck, it became apparent that Black people would be hit especially hard. And thus the frame shifted to a constant repetition of "Well, the only people who suffer will be those with pre-existing conditions."

The more we heard a right-wing refrain about diabetes, obesity, asthma and other ailments, the clearer it was: if you're Black and you die from COVID, it is your fault. We need not take extraordinary measures to protect you. The Trump administration itself admitted it was not compelled to relieve those who were not "[their] people."

Here, as in the murder of George Floyd, Black bodies were on trial. Black people were, again, to blame for their own suffering. In law enforcement, Black bodies induce white violence. In medicine, Black bodies deserve nothing more than white negligence.

In the case of Derek Chauvin, the defense placed George Floyd's body on trial. The jury rejected this argument in a verdict we should celebrate. But the problem is much bigger than this single case. Black bodies and minds are abused from birth until death. Before we can adopt policies that might fix the problem, we need to appreciate its scope and history. We must recognize our society characterizes Black people as too strong as well as too weak. Above all, we need to recognize our society's systematic abuse of Black bodies, and our almost pathological denial of Black victimization.

Why Republicans are suddenly panicked by the market they used to love

Did Mitch McConnell cancel the market? Answer: No. He was never a real fan.

For the past few decades, the GOP's interests aligned harmoniously with those of corporations. Businesses amassed wealth while staying out of social issues. The GOP, in turn, rewarded businesses with tax cuts. The status quo was fine.

This state of affairs allowed the Republican Party to reward itself with the mantle of the "pro-market" party. However, as society has become more socially liberal, businesses are adapting to their customers' evolving preferences. A longstanding symbiosis has been upset and the Republicans have begun panicking.

The Senate minority leader issued an ominous warning to corporations who stood in opposition to voter suppression laws in Georgia, stating, "My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics," adding these corporations would "invite serious consequences if they became a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country."

Many noted that McConnell's stance was blatantly hypocritical. How can a conservative party that has argued that corporations deserve the rights of speech now be telling these same entities to shut up? And, certainly, one wouldn't expect the party of markets to be troubled by corporations responding to customer preferences. So what happened to the Good Old GOP, champions of markets and freedom?

The answer is simple. The Republicans never defended markets on principle. It was always an alliance of opportunity. The rhetoric of markets was a useful instrument—an anti-government cudgel—wrapped in the language of freedom. The GOP's claim, since Reagan, was that the markets promote freedom and the government does not. Thus: lower taxes and shrink the government. Start with eroding protections for civil rights.

The branding was effective. The GOP is widely perceived as the pro-market and pro-liberty party by conservatives and liberals alike. But, if you start to poke beyond this veneer, a different picture emerges. Its love of markets, it seems, is as sincere as its periodic despair over the deficit, which reliably animates opposition to Democratic policies, but recedes as soon as the resident of the White House is a Republican.

To understand the GOP's relationship with the market, we need only to consider its entire platform since Reagan. Republicans have consistently advanced policies that facilitate what economists call market failure. Such failures occur when conditions, such as monopolies, information asymmetries, and externalities, prevent the market mechanism from operating properly. By this measure, the GOP does not fare well.

Consider, first, how the GOP's deregulatory policies proliferate negative externalities. The predictable result? Depletion of resources, increased pollution, and poisoned communities. In these cases, the Republican Party seems conveniently unconcerned about personal responsibility. They're happy to have businesses impose costs on the rest of us, and eager to ensure that responsible parties escape accountability.

The second issue stems from the GOP's cavalier attitude toward monopolies. While some Republicans opine about anti-trust when it suits their interests, the party as a whole continues to encourage monopolies. For example, few Republicans have expressed any qualms about Sinclair—a rightwing group—buying up local media stations, thus creating an information monopoly. While the GOP may wax poetic about the marvel of markets, their favored policies hamper their proper function.

That the GOP's commitment to markets is disingenuous—tenuous and unprincipled—is elsewhere apparent. For example, markets could better improve people's welfare if wealth and income wasn't so concentrated. Yet the GOP's fiscal policies reliably produce income inequality, as if by design. This correlates with lower market participation. Rather than using markets to improve lives, the GOP prioritizes the returns of a tiny minority. Or, to take another example, consider the GOP's resistance to increasing the labor force, such as investing in childcare. They favor policies that keep individuals in perpetual debt, unable to engage in a variety of markets, such as housing. They also oppose legislation that alleviates job lock, such as the ACA.

We should not believe this party ever cared about markets. They loved the rhetoric of markets. It was useful. It allowed them to adopt a faux neutrality in their opposition to civil rights. Their hostility towards government could be dressed up as principled support for freedom. Yet they have stood by while markets crumbled, content to encourage the accumulation of wealth, as others drowned in bankruptcy and poverty.

Despite all of this, the GOP is regarded as pro-market. Their rhetoric worked. Why? Because American consumers were largely content with the social status quo. There was little reason for corporations to take a stand on social issues. Thus the happy symbiosis between Big Business and the party of corporate tax cuts was preserved.

But now the times are changing. The GOP hasn't undergone a reformation, nor have CEOs developed a collective sense of social conscience. The real shift is occurring within American society. The market reflects this. It has become relatively unpopular to be a bigot. Majorities of Americans now support same-sex marriage and pluralities support the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course, let's not overstate the point. The country still has a problem with bigotry (we elected Trump, after all) and much of the anti-bigot movement might be performative or aesthetic. But, overall, people who identify as non-bigots are in the majority, especially among the younger generations.

Big businesses recognize this shift and its implications. They see how the path to profit has changed. They don't necessarily oppose the Georgia voter suppression laws because of deeply held moral principles. They just see the writing on the wall. Customers prefer companies that oppose bigotry and stand up for civil rights. Businesses, to survive, are doing what the GOP has always said they should: listening to the market. But the message of the market has changed. The GOP can't accept it.

As corporations have come out against Georgia's voter-suppression laws, Republican voters have launched their own boycotts. If the pro-market party truly cared about the freedom of the market, they would say, as they always have, "let the market decide." But now, given they're unhappy with the market's decision, they can't say that. The market is becoming less useful. The marriage of convenience is over.

So what is the GOP left with? Not much. Since they won't adapt to changing preferences—of consumers or voters—they'll resort to something else. There is already some indication of what's to come. They might deploy more of the empty populist rhetoric that served the previous administration. Or they might try to find some middle ground. They might argue, as The Wall Street Journal did in an editorial last week, that "markets" are still sacred; but the heads of business are nefarious. Perhaps they'll ultimately settle on a strategy. But at the moment, the party is panicked.

The GOP's future is uncertain. What's clear, however, is that the party will continue to do whatever it takes to pursue their actual goals: bigotry, wealth and power.

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