Friday Five – September 17, 2021

Hey, folks! I’ve been messing around with the format of these posts for some time now, trying to determine the best way to continue sharing content I think is worth highlighting while taking into account my increasingly busy work and personal schedules. For now, I’ve decided to narrow this series down to just five pieces each week to ensure I can be more consistent about posting. These pieces will typically be analytical or editorial in nature, similar to the “perspectives” section from the old format of the Friday 5&5 posts.

I hope you find the content I have culled throughout the week to share helpful and insightful. And, as always, if you feel so inclined to leave a comment (either here or on social media), please do! I am always happy to have good-faith exchanges on just about any topic.

1. It is becoming the norm — expected, even — for Republicans to push conspiracies of “voter fraud” if they lose an election, and that is dangerous for democracy.

So is this really how it’s going to be? Are more and more Republican candidates across our great land going to treat it as a requirement that they cast any and all election losses as dubious or illegitimate by definition?

We’re now seeing numerous examples of GOP candidates running for office who are doing something very close to this. Which suggests the legacy of Donald Trump could prove worse for the health of democracy than it first appeared.

It isn’t just that Republicans will be expected to pledge fealty to the lost cause of the stolen 2020 election. It’s also that untold numbers of GOP candidates will see it as essential to the practice of Trumpist politics that they vow to actively subvert legitimate election losses by any means necessary.

  • NPR: Officials Fear a New Normal as Republicans Make Baseless California Fraud Claims
  • Meet the Press: Baseless GOP claims about election fraud remain dangerous for a democracy

2. Differences in educational attainment are widening America’s political rift.

As they’ve grown in numbers, college graduates have instilled increasingly liberal cultural norms while gaining the power to nudge the Democratic Party to the left. Partly as a result, large portions of the party’s traditional working-class base have defected to the Republicans.

Over the longer run, some Republicans even fantasize that the rise of educational polarization might begin to erode the Democratic advantage among voters of color without a college degree. Perhaps a similar phenomenon may help explain how Donald J. Trump, who mobilized racial animus for political gain, nonetheless fared better among voters of color than previous Republicans did, and fared worse among white voters. […]

The rise of cultural liberalism is not simply a product of rising college attendance. In fact, there is only equivocal evidence that college attendance makes people vastly more liberal. Far from the indoctrination that conservatives fear, liberal college professors appear to preach to an already liberal choir.

But it is hard to imagine the last half-century of liberal cultural change without the role played by universities and academia, which helped inspire everything from the student movements and New Left of the 1960s to the ideas behind today’s fights over “critical race theory.” The concentration of so many left-leaning students and professors on campus helped foster a new liberal culture with more progressive ideas and norms than would have otherwise existed.

3. Many Americans are not prepared for a Trump 2024 campaign.

When Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, the coverage evolved from treating him as a novelty to treating him as a surprising contender to folding him into traditional coverage patterns, usually undeservedly. If he announces his 2024 candidacy shortly, how will he be covered? As another presidential contender? As a guy who tried his hardest, however shambolically, to steal the 2020 election? As someone who isn’t Biden, so: good enough?

America had never seen a candidate like Trump in 2016. If he runs in 2024, even without his approach to politics changing, he’ll again be a candidate unlike any who has come before. And again he’ll catch much of the country unprepared.

  • ICYMI: Trump tried to get his supporters worked up ahead of a rally in DC this weekend called “Justice for J6” (a rally in support of the Capitol insurrectionists who have since been charged for their crimes)

4. The nationalization of trivial things has turned us all into nervous wrecks.

I call this the “big country problem”: in a nation of 300 million people, there’s always someone doing something stupid every single day of the year. If you want to scare people into thinking that liberals are going to take their guns away, it’s easy to find dozens of examples of some local nitwit doing or saying something about taking people’s guns away. If you want to scare people into thinking that fascism is overtaking America, it’s easy to find dozens of examples of some local nitwit doing or saying something about gunning down protesters in the streets.

This kind of thing happens constantly these days: local stories that somehow get picked up and go national. Nothing has really changed much on the ground, but the constant coverage of this stuff makes it look like it’s way more widespread than it used to be. And by “stuff” I mean whatever happens to be your hobbyhorse. If you want to scare people about anything, we live in a golden era. Internet culture has evolved to the point that it’s easy to do, but hasn’t yet evolved to the point where we’re all savvy enough to realize that it’s mostly meaningless.

5. Social media is basically digital alcohol.

So a fair summary of Instagram according to Instagram might go like this: Here is a fun product that millions of people seem to love; that is unwholesome in large doses; that makes a sizable minority feel more anxious, more depressed, and worse about their bodies; and that many people struggle to use in moderation.

What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds like alcohol — a social lubricant that can be delightful but also depressing, a popular experience that blends short-term euphoria with long-term regret, a product that leads to painful and even addictive behavior among a significant minority. Like booze, social media seems to offer an intoxicating cocktail of dopamine, disorientation, and, for some, dependency. Call it “attention alcohol.”