Dealing With the Resentful Who Don’t Get Out Much

Everyone agrees Mondays are a drag. And this Monday morning, thankfully the last one of those this March, the New York Times paywall goes up – no one reads for free anymore. They’ve already lost Frank Rich, and now Bob Herbert. More may jump ship. Writers want lots of readers. The Times wants only paying readers. And at the level of use here – all the instances of citing their primary reporting or analyses or an important opinion piece – access to the Times would cost maybe four or five hundred dollars a year. That’s unworkable for many of us, so we will all find other sources, and other things to talk about. And so the newspaper of record now becomes a boutique specialty limited-circulation publication. And it’s also a decision to remove themselves from the crude and rude boisterous ongoing national conversation about the issues of the day. They’ll float above all that. And there will be good things there, kind of like that fantastic seminal discussion of some hot topic in a scholarly journal that everyone only hears about, because access is denied to all but the important people. You can build up a mystique that way, but the idea seems to be that the way to return to profitability is to severely limit circulation. That’s new in the news business. We’ll see how that goes. Maybe you can do well by generating no buzz at all.

Yes, there are ways around the paywall – any geek can defeat it with a few judicious clicks – but that’s being a bad sport, and unethical. It’s stealing. And one must respect their decision, because this is America after all – you pay for something or you do without – like with healthcare. That’s the argument from the right as you know. It really is a matter of personal responsibility – I pay the giant for-profit insurance company to cover any health issues that arise, and you do the same, and no one should be forced to chip in to cover the health issues of the fat or lazy or stupid, or the smokers, or those who spend far too much time at the all-you-can-eat buffet down the street instead of running three miles a day, or those who are just unlucky. We love our freedom – that’s what they call this. You’re on your own. Why would you want it any other way? No one should be forced to support whiners and losers.

And Paul Krugman had an item about this last week in the New York Times – America’s Superiority Complex – which you might still be able to access, as you get forty hits a month before the Times shuts you out unless you pay up. The proximate cause of his comments was one more op-ed on Obamacare, as the right calls it. And it was the usual thing – my daughter would be dead if we had socialized medicine, like in Canada or Europe – and Krugman was not impressed, because it wasn’t true. He notes that Aaron Carroll simply demolished it – simple facts do work wonders – but Krugman adds this about the author of the original piece:

Along the way he commits some of the classic howlers, like the one about how you can see how bad single-payer insurance is by the fact that Americans don’t have to wait as long as Canadians for hip replacements, which in Canada are paid for by the government, while in America they’re mainly paid for by … Medicare.

But what struck me about the whole piece was the assumption that modern medicine in general is something only we lucky free-market Americans have, while in Europe they’re still using leeches or something. In other words, it is part of the superiority complex you often encounter in U.S. politics; people just know that we’re the best, and won’t believe you when you tell them that actually they have the Internet, cell phones, and antibiotics in Europe too.

Well, they do. But then who has ever been there?

Okay – some of us have been there. But you learn to never mention the yearly trips to Paris each December to kick around, or Arles or Aix or Avignon, or June in Rouen or London in the rain, and those two years working in Canada, down the way from Toronto – you learn to say you hated that, even if it was quite fine. And it’s not that people resent you for putting on airs, or that they feel threatened or anything like that – Americans are not insecure by any means. It’s more a tribal thing. You don’t mention these things if you wish to me a member in good standing in the tribe, or in the American Family if you want to put it that way. Keep quiet about that stuff and you won’t be dismissed as unimportant.

And that’s why Krugman links to the post by Richard Florida on America’s Great Passport Divide – with a cool map showing, state by state, the percentage of those holding passports:

New Jersey boasts the highest percentage of passport holders (68%); Delaware (67%), Alaska (65%), Massachusetts (63%), New York (62%), and California (60%) are close behind. At the opposite end of the spectrum, less than one in five residents of Mississippi are passport holders, and just one in four residents of West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas.

What are we to make of that? As a tease see this at Down with Tyranny:

Visiting China this week, Bloomberg, NYC’s globalist, multinational mayor, growled about congressional attempts to prevent China from illegally dumping solar panels into the American market with the express purpose of driving U.S. firms out of business. “If you look at the U.S., you look at who we’re electing to Congress, to the Senate – they can’t read,” he said. “I’ll bet you a bunch of these people don’t have passports. We’re about to start a trade war with China if we’re not careful here,” he warned, “Only because nobody knows where China is. Nobody knows what China is.”

Former Rep. Robert Wexler, then a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, made the same observation in his book, Fire Breathing Liberal, about Know Nothing members of Congress, including members of his committee, for whom not having a passport – or even eating “foreign” food – was a badge of honor. Wexler endorsed Charlie Crist for the open Florida Senate seat and Crist lost to one of the bunch of Know Nothings Bloomberg was whining about, Marco Rubio, who’s waltzing into the Senate – and many fear the national stage – after a 49% win, Crist and Kendrick Meek splitting the non-teabaggy vote.

You can go buy a copy of Fire-Breathing Liberal of course, or consider what Richard Florida says about his research:

It’s a fun map. With the exception of Sarah Palin’s home state, it reinforces the  “differences” we expect to find between the states where more worldly, well-travelled  people live versus those where the folks Palin likes to call “real Americans” preponderate. Mostly to entertain myself, I decided to look at how this passport metric correlates with a variety of other political, cultural, economic, and demographic measures.

What surprised me is how closely it lines up with the other great cleavages in America today. The statistical correlations generated by my colleague Charlotta Mellander are genuinely striking, among the strongest I have seen for virtually any measure. While my usual caveats stand – our analysis deals with associations only, correlation and causation are not the same thing – the results are intriguing and perhaps provide another window into America’s divide.

You’ll notice on the map above that, generally speaking, the states with the smallest percentage of passport holders – i.e., states with people who don’t travel outside the country – are also the states that elect Republicans that most regularly. Mississippi is the worst, closely followed by West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas.

And those statistical correlations are striking across a range of indices. People in richer states tend to hold passports and people in poorer states tend to not – which makes sense, as travel costs some money – and the same holds true for educated people versus those with less education. As the item in Down with Tyranny puts it – “The kinds of folks who elect Haley Barbour, Mitch McConnell, Jim DeMint, Jeff Sessions, David Vitter don’t hold college degrees – or passports. They watch Glenn Beck instead and listen to Hate Talk Radio.”

But the devil is in the details:

States with higher percentages of passport holders are also more diverse. There is a considerable correlation between passports and the share of immigrants or foreign-born population (.63) and also gays and lesbians (.54). The more passport holders a state has, the more diverse its population tends to be. And yes, these correlations hold when we control for income.

What about politics? How does passport holding line up against America’s Red state-Blue state divide? Pretty darn well, actually. There is a considerable positive correlation between passports and Obama voters (.59) and a significant negative one (-.61) for McCain voters. It appears that more liberally-oriented states are more globally oriented as well, or at least their citizens like to travel abroad. Again, the correlations hold when we control for income, though they are a bit weaker than the others. …

And finally, states with more passport holders are also happier. There is a significant correlation (.55) between happiness (measured via Gallup surveys) and a state’s percentage of passport holders. Yet again, that correlation holds when we control for income.

There are stark cultural differences between places where international travel is common and those where it’s not, and we can see them playing out in the cultural and political strife that has been riving the country over the past decades. Think of John Kerry, who was accused of looking and sounding “French” and George W. Bush, who’d hardly been overseas before he became president, or for that matter Barack Obama, with his multi-cultural global upbringing, and Sarah Palin, who had to obtain a passport when she traveled to Kuwait in 2007. The trends in passport use reflect America’s starkly bifurcated system of infrastructure. One set of places has great universities and easy access to international airports; another an infrastructure that is much further off the beaten track of the global circulation of capital, talent, and ideas.

So passport-holding provides a window into America’s Big Sort (that’s the seminal book on how we isolate ourselves from each other) – it’s a pretty good indicator for all the things that divide us. It’ll do.

And Down with Tyranny adds this:

I was horrified to read in Wexler’s book about how Republican yahoos bragged about having never traveled abroad. In truth, they represent their constituents’ prejudices and fears very well. And circling back to Krugman, it helps explain easily manipulated antipathy, for example, for “socialized medicine,” especially of the Canadian variety, an antipathy that is ingrained all over the solid South.

It all comes together, and Digby adds this:

I’ve always thought that America is dual tribal culture that goes back a long way. (All the way, actually.) And during this last couple of decades the differences have been particularly pronounced. But I do recall taking some comfort during the Bush years in recognizing that as much as liberalism seemed on the run here in the US, we were actually a huge faction in the West in general. Indeed, many times during that period (and today) I felt solidarity with the large number of allies in Europe and Canada and realized that our “tribe” is much bigger than it seems. (Of course xenophobes and chauvinists are a worldwide phenomenon as well, but the American version only sees them through the prism of friend or foe.)

But there’s this too:

I used to believe that while Americans are certainly parochial we also had such a high rate of immigration that it mitigated it a bit and made us more flexible. And in some ways it has. We at least developed a mechanism for assimilation that a lot of countries haven’t. But I’ve realized in my later years that it only goes so far. We might eventually absorb “the other” but only once they agree to accept American exceptionalism.

Still there is hope:

Those who travel, however, quickly learn that while cultures differ, at the end of the day humans are humans and most problems are the fault of fundamental flaws in the species, not the race or the culture or the borders. It broadens the thinking a little.

Yes it does. Just don’t admit it.

And one her readers adds another factor:

I have long accepted your description of America as being of two tribes, and I have tried to determine what makes the difference between the memberships. Passport holding seems one more element.

My own opinion is that America is still shifting from a rural culture to a large city urban one, but our politics is structured on the rural setup from a generation earlier. This passport thing seems to confirm that. So does the red-blue county map of elections. I’ll bet that this passport thing coincides very closely to the percentage of a state’s population that lives in big cities and is second generation away from rural life. Texas, for example, has shifted from almost completely rural in the 1950’s to about half urban at present. All of Texas’ large cities (except Fort Worth) voted heavily for Obama.

So it is my opinion that liberals are slowly taking over here in the US also, and a lot of the franticness of the conservative movement is caused by the recognition of the rural losers that they are, in fact, losing the political game here. So they try to restructure voting to block urban voters and to gerrymander districts to maintain their power. I have little doubt that if the conservatives don’t destroy America they will have completely lost power in another generation except for the rural outposts like South Carolina and Mississippi. That’s why they are acting so desperate to maintain power and destroy the Democrats.

Yes, one must beware the resentful who don’t get out much. Near the end of World War I there was that song that swept the nation – How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree) – “Imagine Reuben when he meets his Pa / He’ll kiss his cheek and holler OO-LA-LA!” It’s those damned French, you see. What’s wrong with the farm?

There is no farm. It now part of a fully-automated Archer-Daniels-Midland multi-county complex. And Paris is still there, much as Reuben might remember it.

And as for the resentful who don’t get out much, see Gary Younge in the Guardian with this:

Polls suggest there are between one in three and one in four Americans who would believe anything. More than a third thought President George Bush did a good job during Hurricane Katrina; half of those thought he was excellent.

Throughout most of 2008, as the economy careered into depression, just over one in four believed Bush was handling the economy well. As Bush prepared to leave office in January 2009, bequeathing bank bailouts, rampant unemployment, and Iraq and Afghanistan in tatters, a quarter of the country approved of his presidency.

These are national polls that span the political spectrum. So you can imagine how concentrated the distortions become when filtered through the tainted lens of the right. A poll earlier this month revealed that a quarter of Republicans believe a community rights organization called Acorn will try to steal the election for Barack Obama next year, while 31% aren’t sure whether it will or not. It won’t. Because Acorn does not exist. It was defunded and disbanded after a successful sting operation by conservatives a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile, a poll last month showed that a majority of Republicans likely to vote in the primaries still believe Obama was not born in the United States. He was. But no number of verified birth certificates will convince them.

Nope. These people don’t get around much. Of course they don’t have passports. But Younge senses something new:

What is relatively new, however, is the level of logical dysfunction and hyperbole within the American right, trapped in a fetid media ecosystem where all the Kool-Aid has been spiked. In short, what you need to say and do to be credible within the Republican Party essentially deprives you of credibility outside it. The Republicans seem to realize this, but like an obese glutton at an all-you-can-eat buffet, they just can’t seem to help themselves.

When asked which of their possible contenders they believe to be qualified for the job they can think of one, Mitt Romney, and even then barely 50% believe so. The person they say they like the most, Sarah Palin, is also the one they believe is least qualified: only 29% believe she can actually do the job.

Younge goes on to cover the first caucuses in the primary process in Iowa. And he quotes Doug Gross, a Republican activist and former nominee for governor – “We look like Camp Christian out here. If Iowa becomes some extraneous rightwing outpost, you have to question whether it is going to be a good place to vet your presidential candidates.” And Younge adds this:

When I saw Rand Paul speak before 35 people in Leitchfield, Kentucky, just over a year ago, he never mentioned abortion, and nor did anyone else. “I’m not running for preacher,” he told me. “I’m running for office.” Now he’s a senator who supports slashing aid to Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, the Kentucky legislature has recently passed a bill requiring a woman to view an ultrasound before she has an abortion.

But the strategic question of where and how to strike a balance between principle and pragmatism, or even whether such a balance is desirable, still eludes them. So too does any consensus on the kind of facts – Obama’s religion and place of birth being just the two most obvious – that would enable others to take them seriously.

But would you take seriously anyone who has never been anywhere or seen anything? That tribe is not the majority any longer.

Of course Paul Krugman started all this – the buzz about what are essentially tribal claims of superiority, with a sly reference to that passport study. Lucky the New York Times will now keep him hidden away.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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