All posts filed under: Politics

Trump’s Exit: An Optimist’s Take on What Happens Next

When staunch Trump ally and FOX News host Laura Ingraham admitted to her viewers that Trump had not won the election in late November, she attempted to sweeten the bad news with the assurance that “on January 21st, [Trump] will remain the most important person in American politics, if he wants to be.” Ingraham said Trump still had “the most compelling voice in politics,” and that he was the key to the Republican party “attracting new voters.” “I personally cannot wait to see what President Trump does next,” she declared, and predicted that he’d remain a “GOP kingmaker” for years to come. This idea of Trump as post-presidential “kingmaker” in Republican politics was farfetched even before his legacy was disgraced by the mob that attacked the Capitol with his name on their lips. Many of Trump’s positions ran directly contrary to longstanding Republican policies. As veteran Republican strategist and media figure Cheri Jacobus recently told Quillette podcast listeners, he ruled his party largely through a cult of fear, keeping heretics in line not with the …

The Battle for Moral Authority

When Amazon rejected my documentary What Killed Michael Brown? from its platform last October, I was stunned by the rejection letter’s finality. The film had failed to meet Amazon’s “content quality expectations,” was “not eligible for publishing,” and there could be no “resubmission of this title and this decision may not be appealed.” After rereading the letter several times, I was left with the eerie feeling that I had done something immoral for which I deserved to be ashamed. Fortunately the film was written, presented, and narrated by my father Shelby Steele whose years as an acclaimed author and op-ed writer for the Wall Street Journal had made him a public intellectual. When I told the writers at the Journal what had happened, they responded with several critical articles, and Amazon promptly reversed its decision and agreed to host my film on their platform, where it remains to this day. But the initial rejection still bothered me. Was this a form of political persecution? The title of the film is certainly provocative and it offers …

Politics vs. Mental Health: How the Culture War Blocked My Healing Process

Donald Trump may be one of the most intensely psychoanalyzed figures in American history, with many critics casually labelling him “narcissistic,” “egomaniacal,” and “sociopathic.” Even if you disagree with these characterizations, it’s difficult to ignore how common they’ve become. Looking beyond politics, Trump’s legacy may serve to reinforce a specious connection between political preferences and mental health. As I’ve observed firsthand, even before Trump’s rise, some therapists took for granted a link between progressive ideas and good mental health. Trump’s ascendance, along with increasing overall levels of political polarization, and the well-known liberal bias that marks the fields of psychology and mental health, has helped popularize this linkage. I was raised in a socially conservative family, in which we were taught traditional values, including respect for one’s elders, loyalty to family, and the sanctity of the soul. For the most part, we also learned a creed of self-reliance, and were discouraged from attributing personal failings to societal influences. The idea of mental health wasn’t entirely unknown to us—but it tended to be discussed in a …

Beating Up Boomer

Reviews of A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America by Bruce Cannon Gibney, Hachette, 465 pages (March 2018) OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind by Jill Filipovic, Atria/One Signal, 336 pages (August 2020) Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster by Helen Andrews, Sentinel, 256 pages (January 2021). Beating up on Baby Boomers is rapidly becoming the favorite sport of Gen-Xers and Millennials eager to deflect attention from their own privilege. Whether they are leftwing BLM sympathizers, card-carrying libertarians, or rightwing NRA members, there is one thing about which every American under 56 seems to agree: the Boomers are horrible. This month brings us the latest anti-Boomer manifesto, Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster by Helen Andrews, a senior editor at the American Conservative. Her book is among the smartest and most intelligent of the lot, but before we delve into its contents let’s take a look at some of the previous highlights of the genre. In 2017 Bruce …

Big Tech and Regulation—A Response to the Quillette Editors

Donald Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter. And Facebook, Reddit, Twitch, Shopify, Snap, Stripe, Discord, and—most crushingly of all—Pinterest. This was swiftly followed by a swathe of account purges across various platforms, ostensibly on the grounds that terms of service had been violated. Bizarrely, conservatives reacted to this development by lamenting the lack of arbitrary government intervention in private enterprise, while their liberal opponents celebrated corporate squashing of individual expression. If you don’t like it, build your own app. Arguably more important, if less sensational, has been the coordinated nuking of the efforts of those Trump fans who did, in fact, build their own app. Google and Apple banned conservative social media aspirant Parler from their app stores, effectively throttling its only viable distribution channels. Amazon then went a step further and revoked Parler’s right to host its site on its web service, AWS. For good measure, authentication service Okta and internet-to-telecoms interface platform Twilio withdrew their infrastructure too. If you don’t like it, build your own internet. The fallout has been intense and …

Three Plane Rides and the Quest for a Just Society

In the paper that started the concept of “microaggressions” on its path to prominence, lead-author Derald Wing Sue recounts an incident that happened to him (an Asian American) and an African American colleague on a short plane ride from New York to Boston. Being a small plane with few passengers, Sue and his colleague were asked by a flight attendant (who happened to be a white female) to help balance the weight by moving to the back of the plane. They complied, but wondered why they had been asked to move instead of the three white men who were last to board, and who seated themselves directly in front of Sue and his colleague. “Were we being singled out because of our race,” Sue wondered, or “was this just a random event with no racial overtones?” Sue and his colleague—who was having the same thoughts—discussed the matter: Were we being oversensitive and petty? Although we complied by moving to the back of the plane, both of us felt resentment, irritation, and anger. In light of …

Degree Requirements for Police Officers Will Not Make Us Safer

On December 7th, 2020, California State assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), introduced a bill that sought to codify a condition for police hires in the state that has already become de rigueur in so many other fields—to require that all new officers have a university degree. Jones-Sawyer is not unique amongst middle class persons in recommending such prerequisites, nor is he even the first politician to propose such a requirement for police officers explicitly; several such bills have been introduced throughout the country during the last few years and some jurisdictions already require that new police officers be university-educated. Indeed, the argument that police officers should be mandated to be university-educated extends to the 1960s, after successive racial riots in American municipalities were blamed in part on police-community tensions.1 Despite the fact that university degrees are not yet explicitly mandatory, slightly more than half of all American police officers hold an associate’s degree and nearly a third hold a bachelor’s degree.2 Yet while many individual police officers have taken it upon themselves to earn degrees, …

Republicans’ Lyceum Moment—and America’s

The assault on the US Capitol, not by foreign invaders but a domestic mob, left the American public (outside the most hardened and credulous pro-Trump precincts) bewildered and alarmed. The ubiquitous refrain from reporters on the scene struck a note of incomprehension: “This is happening in the United States of America.” The unspoken subtext was clear: such an outbreak of fanaticism was the stuff of banana republics, and no part of the American tradition. But this attitude served only to remind viewers of Gore Vidal’s quip that U-S-A stands for the United States of Amnesia. For the Trump mob’s invasion of Congress was scarcely the first time Americans have surrendered to mass frenzy. Almost two centuries ago, a spirit of anarchy seized the people, and the country began degenerating into bedlam. The source of mob violence in that day lay not with any particular partisan social or political cause. There were mobs motivated by religious sectarianism, hostility to gambling, and naked xenophobia. The passions loosed by the “peculiar institution” of slavery, of course, helped propel …

Return of the Strong Gods: Understanding the New Right

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born? ~W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming” In mid-November, just two weeks after one of the most contentious elections in American history, Democratic National Committee member David Atkins took to Twitter. “No seriously… how *do* you deprogram 75 million people?” he wondered, sounding more like a member of the Politburo than the DNC. “Where do you start? Fox? Facebook? We have to start thinking in terms of post-WWII Germany or Japan.” He continued: “This is not your standard partisan policy disagreement. This is a conspiracy theory fueled belligerent death cult… the only actual policy debates of note are happening within the dem coalition between left and center left.” As the comments flooded in, Atkins doubled down: “You can’t run on a civil war footing hopped up on conspiracy theories… without people trying to figure out how to reverse the brainwashing.” What is most striking about Atkins’s comments is not his evident belief that 75 million Americans are conspiracy theorists, nor his …

An Optimistic Outlook on 2021

The outlook, scientist Peter Turchin tells the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood, is bleak. Turchin thinks we are looking at another five years—or more likely a decade—of misery. And as 2020 draws to a close, modern civilization does appear to resemble a metaphorical dumpster fire. It really has been a terrible year, possibly the worst most people can remember. Every morning seemed to bring a new global damage report—an endlessly spreading pandemic, mounting death tolls, economies cratered by lockdowns, rising unemployment, racial inequality and civil unrest, spiraling political polarization, election turmoil in the United States, and bushfires in Australia. Countless people are ending the year feeling much further behind than they were on New Year’s Eve 2019. “Surely 2021 can’t be worse than 2020?” feels like wishful thinking. 2020 has felt particularly punishing, at least in part because the decade that preceded it was astonishingly hopeful and productive according to almost every metric of human progress. Extreme poverty was dramatically reduced, from 18 percent of the global population to just 8.6 percent. More than 158,000 people climbed …