Even before yesterday’s inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the new President and Vice President of the United States, there were calls for unity—even empathy—and not just from Joe Biden. Such calls seemed very premature at the time, given the efforts of Trump and his allies to overturn the election result. With the failure of those efforts, despite a literal assault on the entire legislative branch incited by Trump resulting in five dead, such calls for unity and healing look even more naive.
Too many so-called conservatives (and some of those further left on the political spectrum) would rather put unity ahead of accountability. MAGA adherents and believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory essentially invaded the US Capitol and delayed the legislative branch from executing its responsibility to certify the Electoral College results at the urging of the president and his allies. They may have been aided and abetted in this insurrectionist act by multiple members of the GOP in both the Senate and the House. At least one shared the location of Speaker Pelosi on Twitter, as if to direct insurrectionists to her location. The wife of a Supreme Court justice may have funded the transportation to the Capitol for some of these insurrections. Even the death toll, the damage to the US Capitol, and the risk to their own lives did not prevent some Republicans from voting against certification of the Electoral College tally once the Capitol was secured.
Placing unity before accountability too many times before is what has led the country here. Unity before accountability killed Reconstruction, subjecting black Americans to almost another century of domestic terrorism, property theft, and subjugation at the hands of whites. The Nixon pardon, the Iran/Contra pardons, and the lack of accountability for those who engaged in torture and warrant less wiretapping of US citizens all placed unity before accountability. All of these actions paved the way for President Trump to be acquitted despite clear evidence that he tried to shake down the president of Ukraine in exchange for the announcement of an investigation into Hunter Biden.
Less than a year has elapsed between the Senate’s acquittal of Trump on two impeachment charges and the insurrection on January 6. Only a tiny number of GOP House members put their country ahead of their party in voting for a second impeachment. A second acquittal for Trump seems likely–and we will live to regret it.
Recently I’ve found myself having variations of the same conversation on social media regarding the minimum wage. Those to my political left have made statements such as “if your business would fail if you paid workers $15/hour you’re exploiting them.” Those to my political right–some current or former business owners, some not–argue that minimum wage increases had a definite impact on their bottom line.
I have two problems with the first argument: (1) it oversimplifies and trivializes a very serious issue, (2) these days, the arguers tend to aim it at small business owners. Worker exploitation is real, and conflating every employer who follows the law when it comes to pay and other facets of employment harms the cause of combatting serious harms. The outgoing Trump administration has been trying to reduce the wages of H-2A workers. Undocumented workers in sectors like agriculture, food, home-based healthcare, and others fare even worse. In some cases, drug addiction treatment has turned thousands of people into little more than indentured servants, with complicity from judges and state regulators. Until recently, large corporations like Wal-Mart and Amazon evaded accountability for low worker pay and mistreatment despite having significant percentages of workers on food stamps and Medicaid and a high rate of worker injuries.
Another variation of the first argument takes a starting point in the past (like the 1960s) then says the minimum wage should be whatever the rate of inflation would have grown it to be between then and today. If you go back to when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive (for example), the minimum wage today “should” be $22/hour. You can pick any point in time and say what the minimum wage should be based on inflation, but that’s not the same as grappling honestly with how industries have changed and/or how the nature of work has changed in the half-century plus since the civil rights era.
One challenge with the second argument is that the examples cited are typically restaurants or food services–businesses that operate at low margins and have high fixed costs in addition to being labor-intensive. Even in that sector, the impacts of a $15/hour minimum wage are not necessarily what you might expect. But not every business is the restaurant business, and a single sector cannot govern the parameters of debate for an issue that impacts the entire economy and the broader society get a broadly beneficial result.
At this point in the discussion, someone usually brings up automation, followed by someone mentioning universal basic income (UBI). What I have said in the past, and will continue to say, is that automation is coming regardless of what the federal government, states, and/or localities do with the minimum wage. As someone who has written software for a living for over 20 years, the essence of my line of work is automating things. Sometimes software augments what people do by taking over rote or repetitive aspects of their jobs and freeing them up to do more value-added work. But if an entire job is rote or repetitive, software can and does eliminate jobs. The combination of software and robots are what enable some manufacturers to produce so many goods without the large number of workers they would have needed in the past.
Talking about UBI enlarges the conversation, but even then may not fully take on the nature of the relationship between government, business, and people. We do not talk nearly often enough about how long the United States got by with a much less-robust social safety net than other countries because of how much responsibility employers used to take on for their employees. Nor do we talk about the amount of additional control that gives employers over their employees–or the cracks in the system that can result from unemployment. The usual response from the political right whenever there is any discussion of separating health care from employment is to cry “socialism”. But the falseness of such charges can be easily exposed. Capitalism seems to be alive and well in South Korea, and they have a universal healthcare system–a significant portion of which is privately funded. Germany is another country where capitalism, universal healthcare, and private insurers seem to be co-existing just fine.
The conversation we need to have, as companies and their shareholders get richer, share fewer of those gains with their workers, and otherwise delegate responsibilities they used to keep as part of the social contract, is how the relationship between government, business, and people should change to reflect the current reality. The rationale always given for taxing capital gains at a lower rate than wages was investment. But as we’ve seen both in the pandemic, and in the corporate response to the big tax cut in 2017, corporate execs mostly pocketed the gains for themselves or did stock buybacks to further inflate their per-share prices. Far from sharing any of the gains with workers, some corporations laid off workers instead. Given ample evidence that preferential tax treatment for capital gains does not result in more investment, the preference should end. People of working age should not be solely dependent on an employer or Medicare for their healthcare. A model where public and private insurance co-exist for those people and isn’t tied to employment is where we should be headed as a society.
We need to think much harder than we have about what has to change both to account for the deficiencies in our social safety net (that corporations will not fill), and an economy on its way to eliminating entire fields that employ a lot of people today. Bill Gates advocated in favor of a tax on robots year ago. The challenges of funding UBI and whether or not it’s possible to do that and continue to maintain the social safety net as it currently exists need to be faced head-on. Talking about the minimum wage alone–even as multiple states and localities increase it well beyond the federal minimum–is not enough.
cultural domination of progressive views on race, sex, immigration and other topics in mainstream media and academia
the distortion or banishment of other views on those topics from those institutions
the prospect of irreversible cultural change
It suggests that despite fairly broad, moderate conservative control of the country’s political institutions, conservatives want their views of race, sex, and immigration to control cultural institutions as well
it suggests that the ongoing, multi-decade project of building competing conservative institutions has failed to produce any prestigious ones
Note the absence of any explicit mention of economic issues in the list of topics driving conservative angst
I came across this parsimonious student loan forgiveness proposal in a tweet earlier today. The author, Beth Akers, even had the nerve to call this stingy proposal a student-loan jubilee. The $5000 (which isn’t even cash, but a 1-time tax credit), is just 1/6th the average total student debt for recent college graduates. She ends her piece this way:
More than half of Americans have built their lives and made ends meet without a college degree. Call universal student loan cancellation what it is: elitist.
The conservative think tank crowd never seems to have a problem with the government giving away money to businesses, and are quick to hand wave away any evidence of abuse of such programs by big businesses. But the moment there’s even a chance of the government doing something to help individuals, we get to hear a lot of concern about taxes and budgets, along with faux populism.
A cursory amount of digging reveals that the picture of who owes student loan debt is different than the stereotypical “whiny millennial” (some of whom are much closer to 40 than they are to 20). A Forbes piece from February of this year is particularly enlightening. The piece is worth reading in full but here are some of the facts I found most interesting:
- Of the $1.6 trillion in student debt owed, Texas and Florida rank 2nd and 3rd in the number of borrowers and amounts owed (California and New York rank 1st and 4th).
- Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan are also in the top 10 by number of borrowers and amounts owed
- Arizona and Florida rank 1st and 3rd in the nation in average student loan debt per capita
- Over $300 billion of that $1.6 trillion is owed by people aged 50 or older.
- The 50+ cohort of student loan borrowers is about the same size as the 24 and younger cohort (a little over 8 million borrowers), but the amount they owe is nearly triple the size of their younger counterparts.
So not only is student loan debt not merely the province of the young, nor is it restricted to “coastal elites”. You could be eligible for retirement and still owe Sallie Mae. If the student loans you owe are private, there’s no guarantee that debt will be forgiven upon your death.
I am quite fortunate when it comes to student loan debt. Graduating with a computer science degree from a state university with zero debt (thanks to parents who paid in full, and a state smart enough to subsidize in-state tuition) meant that I didn’t incur any student loan debt until I decided to go to grad school. In the interim, I was able to buy a home.
Attending grad school part-time at night while working full-time (as my parents did for their undergraduate and graduate degrees, while raising my sister and I) and paying at least some tuition while in school mean that the amount I currently owe is well below the average for recent college graduates. Even so, it will be another decade from now before I’ve finished paying off Sallie Mae. I’ll be thinking seriously about higher education for my own children then, since my twins will be in high school 10 years from now.
What the green eyeshade crowd is missing is that the $1.6 trillion owed by students is preventing them from putting their earnings elsewhere in the economy, such as home ownership or investment. That debt is almost certainly a factor in whether or not people choose to have children. Akers harking back to an era where a college degree was not a necessity to live a middle class life does not change the facts about the type of globalized economy we live in today. Nor does it change the fact that automation isn’t just changing “low-skilled” labor, but also some of the jobs that a college degree formerly provided a gateway to. If you actually want to grow the middle class in the United States in anything approaching a sustainable fashion, a solution to student loan debt (both the current amounts, and a mechanism to prevent forgiven debt from simply growing back to even higher amounts) is just one part of a larger conversation.
With Amy Coney Barrett now on the Supreme Court and weighing in on cases, the payoff to the evangelical right for their unstinting support of Donald Trump becomes even clearer than it has already been. She joined a narrow majority to block COVID-19 limits on church occupancy. Despite numerous cases of COVID-19 outbreaks tied to church events (whether worship, choir practices, or other gatherings), despite over a quarter million Americans dead from COVID-19, the Supreme Court majority ignored the known science around how COVID-19 spreads because of “religious liberty”. Much has been made of the fact that six of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are Catholic, but there were Catholic justices (including the Chief Justice) in the minority. Even the Pope was critical of those protesting restrictions on church attendance.
As someone who felt compelled to quit my first full-time job out of college because of constant pressure from my employer to work on my day of worship (as a Seventh-day Adventist, my family and I typically attend church on Saturday), I am angry that religious liberty is being used as the pretext to invalidate measures intended to preserve public health. When those measures (and stricter ones) have been applied elsewhere (parts of Europe, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, etc), we’ve seen them work successfully in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19. Particularly because the same Supreme Court was not at all concerned about religious liberty when it came to the Muslim travel ban (the Quakers, among others, see the hypocrisy clearly), the ruling seems especially hollow. Plenty of churches (including my own) have stayed remote throughout the pandemic, either broadcasting services from empty sanctuaries except for themselves and musicians, or from home. I’ve given offering and tithed online. It is by no means an ideal experience, but given my own comorbidities it is better than risking my twins being orphaned.
Because Supreme Court confirmation fights (and the attendant press coverage) have focused so narrowly on where a nominee stands regarding Roe v. Wade, no attention has been paid to their stances regarding other issues quite relevant to life–and death. Invalidating restrictions on church occupancy during a pandemic is just one of the ways in which “pro-life” applies very poorly to describing where a justice actually stands. As the clock runs out on the Trump presidency, the Department of Justice under Bill Barr is accelerating the pace of executions. Barrett has already participated in her first capital punishment case on the Supreme Court. She did not recuse herself, nor register her opposition to the execution going forward as justices in the minority did.
I suppose it has always been this way, but when a lot of people talk about religious liberty, they only want it for themselves–and no one else.
I’ve loved science fiction and fantasy for as long as I can remember. But I hadn’t thought much lately about exactly where that love began until a phone call from my mom today. She called to let me know that David Prouse had died. While James Earl Jones was the unforgettable voice of Darth Vader, David Prouse was who we all saw.
Before tonight’s conversation, where she reminisced about taking my sister and I to see it in the theater, I distinctly remember her taking me to see Return of the Jedi in the theater when I was 9. I remember the anticipation of seeing and just how much I enjoyed it. But when she mentioned my sister being in a stroller, I paused. Because my sister and I are 4 1/2 years apart, she wasn’t talking about when we saw Return of the Jedi. My mom was talking about the preceding movie—The Empire Strikes Back. While I’ve seen it many times since then in almost every conceivable format save LaserDisc, I didn’t remember the very first time. She thought I would be scared of Darth Vader, but as she told me I mostly stared in awe.
So Rest In Peace to David Prouse. Thanks to you—and my mom—for starting my journey into science fiction.
Predictably, the calls for empathy for “the other side” have already begun. This tweet from Ian Bremmer is one example:
Now is the time for every Biden supporter to reach out to one person who voted for Trump.— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) November 7, 2020
Empathize with them.
Tell them you know how they feel (you do, from 2016).
Come up with one issue you can agree on.
While I understand the sentiment, I find these demands for empathy to be premature. The speed with which these demands have come (and the people they tend to come from) tell me that they do not know anyone who has been hurt by the effects of Trump’s policies–much less have been hurt themselves.
One of my former co-workers had his wife prevented from joining him here because of the Muslim ban. He and I were working on a contract at the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service at the time. Another co-worker from that time was married to someone from one of the banned countries. Imagine trying to explain to your child what the president said about the place you come from, and your faith.
For years I have listened to Trump and his supporters attack birthright citizenship–the very thing that makes me an American. I’ve seen his administration make it harder to become a citizen legally and try to strip citizenship from naturalized citizens like my parents. I have quite a few friends from the places Trump called “shithole countries”. I’ve stressed out along with my staff and friends at work about whether or not their visas would be renewed as they navigated a process made deliberately harder by the Trump administration.
The people who voted for Trump–twice in some cases–meant for us to endure another 4 years of these assaults on citizenship, faith, and dignity. Even as I write this, some of his supporters are amplifying Trump’s baseless charges of voter fraud. To ask those who opposed Trump to show empathy to his supporters now shows a real lack of understanding for the profound harm Trump’s presidency has inflicted on marginalized people (and likely will still inflict because his presidency doesn’t officially end until Inauguration Day in January 2021).
Sympathy may be possible later, perhaps even empathy–even though his supporters certainly displayed none who disagreed with them in 2016–because those of us who at least attempt to take our Christianity seriously believe Matthew 5:44 to be a command, not a suggestion. But it will not be on anyone else’s timetable.
As of this writing, we lack certainty regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. But we know enough to be sure that 2016 was not an anomaly. Trump has already surpassed his vote total from 2016 by over 4 million votes. In the midst of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly a quarter million of our fellow citizens—due in significant part to the incompetent handling of the pandemic—Trump still has a path to a second term. Despite the open corruption and self-dealing, despite Trump’s racism and misogyny, despite impeachment and a trial for pressuring President Zelensky into opening an investigation into Biden, 4 million more voters want a second Trump term.
Those 4 million additional votes for Trump include improving on his performance with Hispanic voters. While it is easier to see hindsight (as most things are), the combination of the Supreme Court preventing Trump from cancelling DACA, the targeting of previous fear mongering about “caravans” not being directed at Cuban-Americans (or not perceived by them as such), and the successful branding of Democrats as socialists by their GOP opponents seems to have resulted in a faster and clearer result favoring Trump in Florida than in 2016. Even some of those targeted by the caravan rhetoric have not been swayed from their support of Donald Trump. This election should mark the official death of the “demographics is destiny” idea that Democrats have been operating under for many years. As Chris Ladd puts it perfectly in this paragraph from a piece written November 2, 2020:
“Democrats’ POC coalition was premised on the notion that these targets of white racism would recognize their common interests and unite in resistance. Thing is, many don’t want to risk sharing the fate of Blacks in America. Educated whites and more affluent immigrants generally feel safe from being treated like Blacks, but less affluent newcomers on the margins of whiteness don’t. Rather than joining forces with this coalition, many immigrants see an alternative path to safety – becoming white.”Becoming White: The Weakness in Democrats’ “People of Color” Coalition
Another key factor in Trump’s apparent Florida victory: the successful imposition of what is effectively a poll tax by Florida’s GOP governor and legislature prevented nearly a million Floridians who had completed sentences for felony crimes from voting. They did this in clear defiance of the 65% of Floridians voted in favor of automatic restoration of voting rights in 2018.
While the Democrats appear to have retained control of the House of Representatives (including all 4 original members of The Squad), the majority will be smaller than it was after the 2018 midterms. Even as Cori Bush joins The Squad, QAnon will seat its first congresswoman, and Madison Cawthorn (known for a bucket list that included visiting Hitler’s Eagles Nest) will become the youngest member of North Carolina’s delegation to Congress–and of the entire body.
As significant as the uncertainty regarding the presidential election is, the GOP appears to have retained control of the Senate as well. The electorate not seeing fit to punish any of the senators who have enabled all of Trump’s excesses has created a huge opening for a slightly more subtle authoritarian to successfully challenge Biden, Harris, or whoever else the Democrats put up for the presidency in 2024. Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Tucker Carlson, and/or one of Trump’s children seem likely candidates to at minimum form exploratory committees if not follow through and run to succeed Donald Trump. Even in the event Trump loses the 2020 election, I would not rule out the prospect of Donald Trump running for re-election in 2024.
The Senate remaining in GOP hands even if Biden wins kills most (if not all) prospects for meaningful legislation to reform the issues we’ve seen during the past four years. If the latest anti-ACA lawsuit succeeds with the 6 conservative justices now seated on the Supreme Court, millions of Americans will lose the healthcare insurance they gained because of it and millions more (including myself) with pre-existing conditions at risk of becoming uninsured (and uninsurable) due to changes in employment. Without control of the Senate, Democrats would have little power to put a legislative fix into law. The same would be true of nearly any law the GOP chooses to make a court case out of. Because this same Senate has stocked the lower court with Trump appointees (mostly political hacks with law degrees rather than serious jurists), such cases reaching SCOTUS if lower courts don’t rule the way the GOP prefers seems more likely than not. GOP control of the Senate almost certainly puts a wrench in any plans Biden has for staffing cabinet and sub-cabinet positions requiring Senate confirmation.
While it appears that Biden may yet win the presidency, we know that for the second consecutive election and the third in just 20 years, a minority of American voters has (for now) successfully stymied the will of a majority of American voters at the ballot box thanks to the Electoral College.
Perhaps unlike most people of Jamaican or West Indian descent, I was somewhat conflicted by Biden’s selection of her to be his vice president. During her presidential run, a lot of people focused on her responses to the questions about whether or not she smoked weed in college (and what music she listened to). What put me off about her response was not that she smoked, but that she used the Jamaican part of her heritage as an excuse to lean hard into a stereotype about the island and its people. Her father apparently had a similar reaction.
Even without the bad weed joke, some of my conflict was regret that Colin Powell wasn’t first. I came of age politically at a time when his name was bandied about as a possible vice president and when he thought about running for president himself. As a teenager, I was thrilled at the prospect that someone just like me–right down to both parents immigrating here from Jamaica–would run for president. I even said at the time (and again in a recent family group chat) that I’d have volunteered for a Colin Powell presidential campaign.
Despite my conflict, I wish the Biden-Harris ticket success. They would give this country at least a chance to move toward its stated ideals. And as for the commentary in some quarters regarding how insufferable Howard graduates will be, or AKA sorority sister will be, (or Jamaicans), I welcome that prospect. Jamaica has always punched above its weight culturally. A vice president of Jamaican descent would just be the latest example.