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“Trump Drives Spike Into Culture War Politics”: Trump’s Second-Best Contribution To The Quality Of America’s Civic Life

Days before the Indiana primary, Ted Cruz paraded his two young daughters in matching pink dresses and spoke darkly of “putting little girls alone in a bathroom with grown men.”

This was a visual that, frankly, we could have done without. Thankfully, Donald Trump locked it in Ripley’s museum of the politically bizarre by trouncing Cruz in that conservative state’s primary.

It was Trump who had said that transgender people should use “whatever bathroom they feel is appropriate.” It was he who noted that there have been “very few problems” with transgender people using ladies’ rooms. Trump didn’t say — but could have — that men presenting themselves as women have been using women’s facilities for a long time, with the other occupants none the wiser or unconcerned.

So has Trump deep-sixed the culture war gambit in Republican politics? The formula is to draw votes by pounding on some controversy of little consequence to most people, preferably with a sex angle attached. The 2004 presidential election in Ohio was a textbook case. Placing a measure to ban gay marriage on the ballot probably gave George W. Bush — whose main game was tax cuts — a narrow victory.

Our friends the Koch brothers routinely give money to socially conservative groups to win over middle- or working-class followers otherwise not served by the family’s economic agenda. The brothers themselves have shrugged at gay marriage, saying they have no problem with it.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the working-class whites targeted by culture warriors don’t really care all that much about these issues — or care a lot less about them than they do about their falling incomes. Perhaps they’ve been voting all these years for an attitude, hitting back at the “liberal elites” who they feel rap them on the knuckles when they speak their mind. Trump’s magic potion involves adding attitude while subtracting threats to Social Security, Medicare and other government programs average folks depend on.

Trump has stomped on so many of the right wing’s most cherished wedge issues — while winning majorities among the Republican base — it gets you wondering how big that tide of moral umbrage really was. How much of it was a mirage pulled off with talk radio’s smoke and mirrors?

Abortion is a truly difficult issue. Your writer believes an abortion should be easy (and free) to obtain early in a pregnancy and limited later on. Others oppose abortion altogether, and it is this group’s genuine concerns that the right seeks to stoke.

As a result, it’s the rare Republican who will put in a good word for Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides a variety of women’s health services in addition to abortions. But Trump praised the organization for doing the former without apology. And he won races in the heart of value-voter America — including the entire Deep South.

For liberals and moderates alike, Trump deserves gratitude for putting away Cruz. (Too bad about John Kasich, though.) It spared us from having to hear his running mate, Carly Fiorina, go on about Planned Parenthood’s harvesting “body parts” from a kicking fetus, a complete fiction.

Making things up happens to be a Trump specialty, so there’s some poetic justice in his volleying back some outright fabrications. His suggestion that Cruz’s father helped John Kennedy’s assassin is a classic of the genre.

Putting an end to culture warmongering as a political strategy — or at least dialing it back — could go down as Trump’s second-best contribution to the quality of America’s civic life. His best contribution would be to lose badly in November. Luckily, on getting himself not elected in the general, Trump has made a strong start.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, May 5, 2016

May 6, 2016 Posted by | Culture Wars, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trump Upends Coalition”: How The Bathroom Controversy Exposes Rifts In The Increasingly Fragile Republican Coalition

It wouldn’t be an election without a good dose of culture-war sexual politics, and now Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are arguing about bathrooms. Specifically, the question of the law that North Carolina passed — mandating that transgender people use not the bathroom of their identity but of the sex written on their birth certificate — is now a part of the presidential campaign. When Trump was asked about it yesterday, he gave a perfectly sensible answer — but it was the wrong one. And in doing so, he highlighted just how fragile his impending nomination makes the complicated Republican coalition.

Here’s how it went down:

Trump said there was little controversy before the law was passed, and the measure has done nothing but hurt North Carolina economically. Businesses including American Airlines, Facebook and Google have condemned the measure, and the National Basketball Association hinted it might relocate next year’s all-star game from Charlotte.

“You leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble,” Trump said on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday. “And the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic. … I mean, the economic punishment they’re taking.”

Trump’s comments were met with fierce opposition from Cruz, who defended the law last week.

Cruz seems positively giddy to be able to talk about this issue. He describes the idea of transgender women using women’s rooms as, “Men should be able to go into the girls’ bathroom if they want to.” You’ll notice the contrast of “men” and “girls,” used so that you’ll think this is some sort of issue about pedophiles preying on children. To emphasize the point, he concludes, “Grown adult men — strangers — should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls.”

I won’t even bother refuting that rancid fear-mongering, except to say that the legislators in North Carolina were unable to cite a single case where a transgender woman assaulted someone in a bathroom in North Carolina, let alone any “little girls.”

But now Trump is gingerly walking back his statement, saying that the question should be decided at the local level, which is the best he can do to make Republican culture warriors less suspicious of him. And that’s where we get to the nature of the GOP coalition, which Trump doesn’t quite seem to grasp.

There was always an implicit bargain within that coalition, one that said that even if various kinds of conservatives had different priorities, they would sign on to each other’s agendas. The supply-siders would say that unfettered gun rights are deeply important, even if most of them don’t actually own guns. The antiabortion crusaders would say that military spending should always be increased. The neoconservatives would praise tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s a circle of interdependence and common cause, and to a great degree, they all came to believe in each other’s positions, even if they didn’t agree on what the top priority for the party should be.

But Trump has upended this bargain, partly because he has nothing resembling a coherent ideology, but also because he doesn’t appreciate the need to keep the coalition together. There are some issues, such as guns, where Trump has adopted the standard Republican position (without a trace of evident sincerity). But on others, he has been willing to anger parts of the Republican coalition. Perhaps it’s because of a careful calculation about what will play well in the general election, but I suspect it’s more impulsive — since Trump didn’t rise through Republican politics, he doesn’t have an intuitive sense of what’s important to which conservatives and what will make them angry.

So when a question he hasn’t thought about comes up, he just gives an answer that seems right for him at that moment. Then what often happens is that people who understand what Republicans think about that issue — reporters and Republicans themselves — say, “What?!?,” somebody clues Trump in to why his allies are mad, and within a day or two he comes back and clarifies what he meant to say, which winds up being something more palatable to the party. This has happened multiple times.

On issues that touch on sex, Trump’s impulses often seem basically libertarian (there are those New York values!), and as he tries to shift them so they can work within the GOP, he winds up ticking people off and going through multiple iterations before he can come up with the appropriate answer. So he says the wrong thing on transgender people, and he says that women should be punished for having abortions (which runs counter to the “We’re taking away your reproductive rights for your own good because you just don’t know any better” stance of the pro-life movement) but also says that there should be exceptions for rape and incest, which the hard-core pro-lifers don’t like either.

The bathroom issue highlights how Red America and Blue America are moving farther and farther apart. If you live in a state controlled by Republicans, your state legislature and your governor will ensure that gay people aren’t protected from discrimination, make abortions almost impossible to obtain, slash social services, undermine unions, make sure you can take your gun to church and generally do what they can to turn your state into a paradise of “traditional” values and right-wing economics. If you live in a Democratic state, your representatives are probably busy raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, expanding government-provided health care and child care, protecting people from discrimination and generally doing all the things the people in red states find horrifying.

Presidential candidates from either party can come from either kind of state, but if you cross over — if you’re a blue-state Republican or a red-state Democrat — you have to assure your voters that you believe deep in your heart that their kind of state embodies all the proper values. Trump doesn’t do that, or at least he doesn’t do it often enough.

For those who are already behind him, it doesn’t really matter. His supporters don’t have specific issues that are absolute deal-breakers, in large part because his campaign is built on personality. Cruz, on the other hand, has a campaign built on ideology. And when there’s a chance to pick up a culture-war baton like this one, he isn’t going to let it pass.

Does that mean that once Trump is the nominee, the social conservatives who really care about the culture war aren’t going to vote for him? Might they just sit the election out? We don’t know yet. What we do know is that they’re the ones who are most likely to get the short end of the stick from the GOP nominee, even as Republicans at the state level work like mad to advance the right’s social agenda.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 22, 2016

April 26, 2016 Posted by | Culture Wars, Donald Trump, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mike Huckabee Is A Raging Hypocrite”: Inside The Religious Right’s Incoherent Faux-Morality

In recent decades, American politics have been dominated by a series of escalating ideological conflicts that have come to be known as “the culture wars.” And, with Christian moralizers like Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal entering the 2016 fray, this is unlikely to change any time soon. So, as we brace ourselves for another GOP primary defined by “traditional values,” one question it’s worth asking is: Do these conservatives (and their supporters) have any right to claim the high ground?

Republicans such as Huckabee and Jindal love to use their religion as a prop: They judge and preach and condemn under the cover of Christianity. And they assume this grants them a kind of moral superiority. Well, it doesn’t. Huckabee and Jindal are political hucksters. They fancy themselves Christians, but their preachments are foul and their values are un-Christlike. They are exactly what many other current GOP candidates are as well: political entrepreneurs. If they climb atop the Christian cross, it’s because they want to be seen by more people. They’re chasing votes, not salvation.

As the presidential race kicks into gear, Democrats would do well to remember this. For too long the GOP has controlled the moral narrative in this country. Conservatives have wisely appropriated the language of values, but they’re rarely challenged on this front. When Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Rick Santorum bloviate about family values, someone should ask: What, precisely, are your values? And what are their effects in the real world?

Most conservatives (in today’s GOP, at least) exalt life in the abstract, but they don’t defend it in practice. Whether it’s abortion or capital punishment or contraception or civil rights, they consistently advocate policies that degrade life and run counter to their own values. Despite their avowed humanitarianism, they’ve little regard for human suffering. And that’s because they’re not interested in serving life or other people; they’re dogmatists masquerading as moralizers.

Conservatives, for instance, admonish liberals for not protecting the sanctity of life.

But these same conservatives are often indifferent to the struggles of real people living real lives here and now. They’re not particularly concerned with poverty or inequality or torture or war crimes or a hundred other ethical issues. And they’re never compelled to explain the widening gap between their rhetoric and the political reality they’ve helped create.

Take the GOP’s position on abortion. We know, for example, that banning abortions doesn’t decrease the number of abortions. Sex education, contraception, and access to proper health care — these are the policies that reduce abortions. And yet pro-life conservatives oppose them at every turn. And they insist on fighting wars they’ve already lost. The Supreme Court, after all, has spoken: abortion is legal in this country. (Although they’re doing everything in their power to turn the clocks back.) But rather than pursue policies that might actually reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies, something that virtually everyone could get behind, conservatives instead push for policies that actually lead to more, not fewer, abortions. That’s incoherent, and positively stupid, running counter to the ostensible goals of social conservatives.

The GOP, in its current manifestation, is incapable of dealing with its disjointedness. The religious wing of the party thinks only in terms of doctrine. Whether it’s abortion or climate change or marriage equality, reality always gives way to dogma. Because so much of conservative discourse is tinged with fundamentalist rhetoric, compromise or change is virtually impossible. This is terrible for the Republican Party, and even worse for the country.

The corporate wing of the GOP is partly to blame for this predicament. People like the Koch brothers have artfully hijacked social conservatism in order to peddle a particular brand of libertarianism. As a result, we see Christian politicians (like Paul Ryan) professing their love of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy could not possibly be more antithetical to Christianity. Many of the “value voters” (most of whom are Christian and Republican) similarly conflate economic libertarianism with Christianity, as though one follows from the other. This is an absurd contradiction, and it shouldn’t go unchallenged.

These inconsistencies will be on full view at the upcoming Value Voters Summit, where the religious right gathers each year to promote social conservatism. According to the organizers of this event, the “Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.”

This event, which is sponsored by the Family Research Council (a recognized hate group) and funded by various PACs and front organizations, offers a snapshot of contemporary conservatism. And who are the moral luminaries invited to speak at this summit? In addition to all of the Republican presidential candidates, people like Phil Robertson, Tony Perkins, and the thrice-married Rush Limbaugh will all take the podium. These men are hardly paragons of moral wisdom, and while they may be Christian, their values are anything but. Robertson, for instance, has been a fountain of ignorance over the last year or so, spewing hateful bile in several interviews and speeches.

Amazingly, these are the people who speak for “value voters.” These are the representatives of the religious right. Not a single one of them has the right to lecture anyone (especially liberals) about morality or faith. Christians are called to uphold the living love of Christ, not the blind bigotry of people like Perkins and Robertson. Republicans too easily forget that, and liberals ought to say so. Besides, there’s a much better case to be made that alleviating poverty, reducing inequality, and promoting social justice are Christian causes rooted in fundamentally Christian values.

It’s time for liberal Democrats to make that case.

 

By: Sean Illing, Salon, May 8, 2015

May 11, 2015 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Culture Wars, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Change Your Stand, Or Shut Your Mouth”: ‘The Culture War’ — A Battle The GOP Can’t Win

The argument is over and conservatives have lost. Some of them just don’t know it yet.

That’s the takeaway from the remarkable events of last week wherein the states of Indiana and Arkansas executed high-speed U-turns — we’re talking skid marks on the tarmac — on the subject of marriage equality. Legislatures in both states, you will recall, had passed so-called “religious freedom” laws designed to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. In Indiana, the governor had already signed the bill and was happily dissembling about the discriminatory nature and intent of the new law.

Then reality landed like the Marines at Guadalcanal.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence made a fool of himself on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” five times refusing to answer a simple yes or no question about whether the bill would protect a business that refused to serve gay people. Angie’s List, which is headquartered in the state, delayed a planned expansion. NASCAR, the NCAA, the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA, and a host of businesses condemned the law. Conventions pulled out and some states and cities even banned government-funded travel to Indiana.

Down in Arkansas, where similar legislation awaited his signature, Gov. Asa Hutchinson was no doubt watching with interest as Pence was metaphorically shot full of holes. Then he received a tap on the shoulder from a very heavy hand. Walmart, the largest retailer on Earth, born and headquartered in Arkansas, urged a veto, saying the bill “does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.”

Both governors promptly got, ahem, religion. Hutchinson sent the measure back to legislators for revision. Pence signed a measure to “fix” a law whose glories he had spent so much time touting.

And here, a little context might be instructive. Twenty years ago, you recall, we were essentially arguing over the right of gay people to exist. The debate then was over whether they could serve in the military, adopt children, be fired or denied housing because of their sexuality, Ten years ago, public opinion on most of those issues having swung decisively, we were fighting over whether or not they could get married. Ten years later, that point pretty much conceded, we are arguing over who should bake the cake.

The very parameters of the debate have shifted dramatically to the dreaded left. Positions the GOP took proudly just 20 years ago now seem prehistoric and its motivations for doing so, threadbare. This is not about morality, the constitution or faith. It never was.

No, this is about using the law to validate the primal sense of “ick” that still afflicts some heterosexuals at the thought of boys who like boys and girls who like girls. And the solution to their problem is three words long: Get over it.

Or, get left behind. Consider again what happened last week: Put aside NASCAR, the NBA and Angie’s List: Walmart is, for better and for worse, the very embodiment of Middle-American values. To rephrase what Lyndon Johnson said of Walter Cronkite under vastly different circumstances, if you have lost Walmart, you have lost the country.

On gay rights, conservatives just lost Wal-Mart.

The adults on the right (there are some) understand that they are out of step with the mainstream, which is why they’d just as soon call a truce in the so-called “culture wars.” The fanatical, id-driven children on the right (there are far too many) would rather drive the GOP off a cliff than concede. Somebody needs to sit them down and explain that when you have taken an execrable stand and been repudiated for it as decisively as the right has been, you only have two options: Change your stand, or shut your mouth.

At this point, either one will do.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Culture Wars, GOP, Religious Freedom Restoration Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Culture-Warrior-In-Chief”: If You Liked The Handling Of The Terri Schiavo Case, You’ll Love President Jeb Bush

As Republican presidential hopefuls begin to pile into yet another clown car, we hear again and again that Jeb Bush is the sane, “establishment” choice for the job.

Anybody who thinks that Bush would provide a less radical alternative to the likes of Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee should just think back to a decade ago, when Bush was at the center of one of the most egregious government intrusions into private lives in recent memory, a macabre cause célèbre that sickened people across the country but delighted the right wing.

Ten years ago this week, Terri Schiavo died. She had been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, many of which had been taken up with a legal battle between her husband, who wanted to remove the feeding tube that was all that was keeping her alive, and her parents, who wanted to keep it in place.

The Schiavo case was a weighty one. But the religious right, with the help of Jeb Bush and his big brother in the White House, turned it into a vicious, public culture-war battle.

Who can forget when Bush, under increasing national pressure from the religious right, personally wrote to a judge in Schiavo’s case? When Bush’s lawyers and the Florida state legislature rushed through a blatantly unconstitutional law allowing the governor to issue a “one-time stay” of a court order? When Bush convinced Republicans in Congress to intervene, with Bill Frist memorably offering a snap medical “diagnosis” of Schiavo on the Senate floor without ever seeing the patient?

Throughout the ordeal, Bush used every connection available to him to intervene in the Schiavo case. Even after Schiavo’s death, he tried to instigate a criminal inquiry into her husband.

As Schiavo’s husband chillingly told Politico this year, if Bush and others could do this to him and his wife, “they’ll do it to every person in this country.”

“That man put me through misery,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “He acted on his personal feelings and religious beliefs, so how can he talk about limited government?”

It’s no wonder that Bush is now downplaying his role in the Schiavo case. At the time, an overwhelming majority of Americans wanted the government to get out of the family’s private struggle. But the case still has a strong resonance with the religious right, and to many of them, Jeb Bush is its hero.

Bush displayed a similar respect for “limited government” when, as governor, he tried to personally intervene to stop a 13-year-old girl and a 22-year-old rape victim from having abortions. These cases, like that of Schiavo, show an astounding willingness to ignore heart-wrenching personal stories in favor of an unyielding ideology, to blow up private stories into national culture war battles, and to sacrifice a stated commitment to “limited government” to an intense state interest in a single person’s most intimate decisions.

And let’s not forget Bush’s comments during his first gubernatorial run comparing what he called “sodomy” to pedophilia and drunk driving — over the top, even for the right wing. Just this week, he immediately came to the defense of Indiana’s legalization of discrimination only to walk back his comments in front of big donors. So much for his declaration that he is his “own man.”

Bush may be the pick of the Republican establishment, who hope that maybe he won’t come across as crazy to mainstream voters. But his history in Florida shows that he is just as ready as Huckabee or Cruz to be the culture-warrior-in-chief, and he has a record to prove it.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Blog, The Huffington Post, April 2, 2015

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Culture Wars, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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