This week, after our summary of Trump-related news (which ranges from unusually encouraging to unusually ominous), and before our rich array of background links, I weigh in on the suddenly topical subject of white women in Alabama. If you disagree with my take—or agree with it, or for that matter have any negative or positive feedback about anything you see in this newsletter—feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t respond to emails individually, but we read every one carefully and sometimes respond to them in the newsletter. And, if you have positive feedback but don’t have time to write a whole email, here’s another thing you can do with positive energy: use our Twitter and Facebook icons to share sections of this newsletter or the whole thing.
THE WEEK IN TRUMP
Roll, Tide: Doug Jones’s upset victory in Alabama’s Senate election, coming after Democratic electoral successes in Virginia and other states last month, fostered hopes of a Democratic wave in next year’s mid-term elections. Skeptics noted that most Democratic congressional candidates won’t have Jones’s good fortune of facing a far-right opponent accused of racism, anti-Semitism, and child molestation. Indeed, Moore’s loss may reduce the influence of his patron Steve Bannon, who has vowed to back anti-establishment Republicans in 2018 primaries and has a soft spot for far-right ethno-nationalists. Optimists noted that most Democratic congressional candidates won’t be running in a state as red as Alabama. In any event, Jones’s victory narrows the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49.
Net Not Neutral: The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2, along party lines, to rescind the 2015 Obama-era rule guaranteeing “net neutrality,” which had compelled broadband providers to make all content equally accessible to consumers (as opposed to blocking or slowing down some sites, and/or charging consumers or content providers for selectively high-speed delivery). Such broadband providers as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast lobbied heavily for the change. A likely early consequence will be for these companies to favor, if subtly, content from companies they own (for example, NBC in the case of Comcast, Yahoo in the case of Verizon). The FCC’s move will be challenged in court by a number of states.
Rallying Around Mueller: A number of observers expressed concern this week that Trump is paving the way for the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. They note, for example, that conservative media seem to be coalescing around claims that Mueller, and perhaps much of the FBI, is corrupt and wants to bring down Trump. Some Trump opponents are calling on Congress to protect the Mueller investigation, and some are encouraging people to prepare to take the streets in the event of a Mueller firing. Moveon.org has a web page for coordinating protests and an increasingly well-populated map showing where you can find the nearest protest site.
Tax Deal Done: Republicans in Congress seemed poised to pass a final version of their big tax bill, having hammered out differences between versions passed earlier by the House and Senate. The final version has a slightly higher corporate tax rate than the earlier versions, and is more generous than the earlier versions to some individual taxpayers—including graduate students, who won’t, after all, have to count free tuition as income.
Korean War II? Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was open to negotiating with North Korea without preconditions, only for the White House to overrule him the next day, after which he changed his tune. Sen. Lindsey Graham put the odds of Trump launching an attack on North Korea at 30 percent—and said the chances would rise to 70 percent if North Korea tests another nuclear bomb. International relations scholar Daniel Drezner, previously skeptical that war was likely, wrote in the Washington Post, “I now worry that Trump, Kelly and McMaster actually think there is a military solution.”
Iran War I? UN Ambassador Nikki Haley shared the stage with a very large Iranian missile fragment for the purpose of declaring that Iran is “a threat to the peace and security of the entire world.” She also said, “you will see us build a coalition to really push back against Iran and what they’re doing.” Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, said Haley was “laying the groundwork for a US-Iran war on behalf of Saudi Arabia.” But on Friday Defense Secretary Mattis tried to downplay the prospect of heightened military tension with Iran.
Underwhelming Infrastructure Plan: Trump received a cool response from Democrats to his forthcoming infrastructure plan, reports Politico, and their votes will be needed to clear the 60-vote Senate threshold.
THE THING ABOUT WHITE WOMEN IN ALABAMA
It’s been a tough week for white women in Alabama. I don’t mean “white women” in the sense of actual human beings. I mean “white women” as a demographic category.
Things started out innocuously enough. In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s Senate election, the fact that most women had voted for Doug Jones, whereas most men had voted for accused sexual predator Roy Moore, fostered a natural story line: “Against the backdrop of a national reckoning on sexual misconduct,” wrote one analyst, “the most striking aspect of the vote may have been the unmistakable message sent by the women of Alabama about how much was too much.”
It was an appealing and in some ways plausible narrative: This had been the #MeToo election, a story of powerful sisterhood.
But then the sisterhood started to break up. It didn’t take long for people to note that, actually, the only reason “most women” could be said to have voted against Roy Moore is that more than 95 percent of black women did. About two thirds of white women voted for him.
There ensued some unflattering characterizations of large numbers of white women. New York Times online columnist Mona Eltahawy tweeted that “the majority of white women voters chose a child molester in Alabama and voted for a sexual predator for the White House.” She blamed a “toxic mix of racism, (white Evangelical) religion and internalized misogyny.” Journalist Lauren Duca, in a tweet that got over 19,000 likes, said that “Alabama is yet another example of the willingness of too many white women… to stomach sexist oppression as a condition of racial supremacy… Internalized misogyny is one hell of a drug.”
It feels good to say unflattering things about people you disagree with on issues you care deeply about. (I should know; I’ve done it as recently as two weeks ago, in this very newsletter.) This seems to be the brain’s way of getting us to say—and believe—unflattering things about our rivals and enemies. Evolutionary psychologists say it’s a built-in tendency, but even if they’re wrong, it’s definitely a tendency.
And of course, sometimes these unflattering things are true. But often they’re not. And since one tenet of mindful resistance is that we should try to understand what motivates our ideological opponents, it is my duty to now scrutinize the characterization of many white women in Alabama as driven by racism, “internalized misogyny,” mindless religious zeal, and so on.
The first thing to note is that the question of how white women influenced this election goes beyond the question of how they voted. The turnout of evangelicals, relative to other groups, was lower in this election than in past elections—not by a lot, but by enough to make the difference in an election this close. To those conservative white evangelical women who, faced with a choice between a Democrat and an odious Republican, voted with their feet (that is, by not moving them), I say: Thank you.
The second thing to note is that whites who did go to the polls showed a much higher propensity to vote for Democrats than in past elections. Only a third of white female voters voted Democratic, but that was more than twice the percentage in 2012, the last time there was much exit polling in Alabama. We don’t know for sure how many of those women voted Republican in previous elections, but it’s a safe bet that some did.
So, should you find yourself charged with the task of defending the white-women-in-Alabama demographic, there are at least two things you can say with a fair amount of confidence: some white women stayed home rather than vote for Roy Moore, and some white women, though traditionally Republican voters, voted for Doug Jones. But these two things still leave us facing the fact that most white voters, including white women, voted for Moore, a creepy-seeming guy, rather than vote for Jones, a decent-seeming guy. What’s the deal with these voters?
As legions of commentators noted before the election, the biggest single problem with Jones, in the eyes of Alabama conservatives, was his being pro-choice on abortion. This strikes many progressives as hard to fathom: How could you let an issue like abortion get you to vote for someone credibly accused of sexually preying on a 14-year-old girl and being a bigot?
The key phrase here is “an issue like abortion.” Abortion is a different kind of issue for ardent pro-lifers than for ardent pro-choicers. For pro-choicers, abortion is about a woman’s rights. For pro-lifers, abortion is literally murder. I personally don’t agree with that characterization of abortion, but it’s not an obviously crazy characterization, and if you do agree with it, that changes things: You are deciding between a candidate who has a history of sexual predation and bigoted utterances and a candidate who, if elected, could make it easier for people to commit murder. (And, that’s assuming you buy the allegations of sexual predation; people are pretty good at not buying allegations made against allies.)
In other words: it isn’t that you find sexual predation and bigotry unobjectionable—as both Eltahawy and Duca seem to assume—but rather that you find them less repugnant than abetting murder.
Now, I suppose that Eltahawy or Duca might argue that for conservative women to be preoccupied with abortion is itself to evince “internalized misogyny.” Well, conceivably. And certainly one’s position on issues like abortion can have roots that extend to various attitudes and experiences. For example: I personally think white evangelical opposition to abortion has its historical roots partly in a backlash against the increasingly open pre-marital sex that was ushered in by the sexual revolution. (Back in the 1970s, when I was a sophomore in high school in San Antonio, Texas, my history teacher, Mr. Lightfoot, said, “The people who favor abortion are the people who want to have their fun and not pay for it.)
Still, all such conjectures about the historical, cultural, and psychological forces acting on voters who were motivated by the abortion issue are just that: conjectures. What we know with much more confidence is that there were a fair number of such voters—people who voted for Moore but, had Doug Jones been pro-life, would have either voted for Jones or not voted. And this itself is enough to cast doubt on the idea that, when it comes to white women in Alabama, the big story line this week should be racism or “internalized misogyny.”
Another problem with this story line is that it isn’t particularly helpful and may be harmful. It points to no obvious solution, and it probably sounds, in Alabama, like the kind of thing you’d hear from condescending, if not contemptuous, liberal coastal elites. In other words: it reinforces the image of liberal coastal elites that helped get Donald Trump elected and could help him get re-elected if it persists.
—Robert Wright (@robertwrighter)
FiveThirtyEight said the Jones win in Alabama is the latest evidence that a Democratic wave is building for the 2018 midterm elections: “There have been more than 70 special elections for state and federal legislative seats in 2017 so far … Democrats have outperformed the partisan lean in 74 percent of these races.”
The Alabama race exposed Republican weakness in the suburbs, said the Washington Post: “…Jones flipped or came close on Tuesday in suburban counties that Trump had won around Birmingham and Montgomery … These shifts alarm Republicans because many of their most vulnerable House incumbents represent suburban districts around places like Minneapolis and Philadelphia.” (Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer branded the Republican tax bill a “suburban tax.”)
A New York Times piece sketches the likely consequences of the end of net neutrality, as does a Wired piece. In November, NYT’s Farhad Manjoo argued that net neutrality repeal would be just another nail in the internet’s coffin: “Today’s internet is lousy with gatekeepers, tollbooths and monopolists … They have turned a network whose very promise was endless innovation into one stuck in mud…”
A Washington Post piece says the tax bill may increase the incentive for US companies to move overseas.
The NYT ran a piece detailing how Trump spends his days. “… Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines … One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.” WaPo’s own exploration into “the personal insecurities of the president” looked at their effects on national security: “… his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him. Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally…”
The WSJ wrote about how elite colleges are increasing outreach to rural and poor white high school students.
Newsweek reported: “A United Nations official investigating poverty in the United States was shocked at the level of environmental degradation in some areas of rural Alabama, saying he had never seen anything like it in the developed world.” The official said, “Raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits.”
Nick Turse, at TomDispatch, reported that “Donald Trump’s First Year Sets Record for U.S. Special Ops”: “In 2017, U.S. Special Operations forces, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, deployed to 149 countries around the world…That’s about 75% of the nations on the planet and represents a jump from the 138 countries that saw such deployments in 2016 under the Obama administration.”
—by Robert Wright and Aryeh Cohen-Wade