I sort of fell into this line of work. I wanted to write for a living and to live in a city where my friends were, which turned out to be Washington, D.C. I was less than happy working in a golf course conference room for a fledgling import-export company, living at home and pretty regularly sobbing alone in my bedroom. (It was post-crash America, and I’m decently confident that this scenario meant that I was better off than about 90 percent of recent college grads.) A guy I knew who worked at a political magazine maneuvered my résumé out of a pile, and a course was charted that has led me here, to 2019, where I think about politics all day, every day. I fantasize, occasionally, about becoming an archaeologist — I think I would like all the camping, plus the time spent in cool, musty museum labs with papyrus and pottery shards.
Up until recently, these fantasies of “something-else-besides-politics” were logical because it seemed like a lot of the country wasn’t very interested in politics. It made me feel sort of useless — who really read this stuff outside of D.C.? Was it making a difference? But now things are different — people are paying attention. Perhaps it’s because of President Trump — a 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that 52 percent of Americans said they were paying more attention to politics since his election. My colleague Geoffrey Skelley recently wrote about just how much attention likely Democratic primary voters were paying to the Democratic primary — a lot, it turns out. Forty-five percent of people in one survey done this year said they were paying “a lot” of attention to the campaign, compared with only 28 percent of people who said the same thing in a similarly-phrased poll question from 2015.
But to what end is that engagement? Last year, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 69 percent of Americans felt sad, angry or fearful when they thought about what’s going on in the country today. But only 19 percent of people had gotten in touch with an elected official in the last year, just 14 percent had volunteered and a paltry 12 percent had attended a community meeting, like a school board or city council meeting. For all the sadness some Americans feel, and for all our tuned in-ness to politics, we don’t seem to be doing much politically proactive day-to-day.
I write this not to name and shame America, but to identify with its ennui. It’s difficult not to talk day after day about the ups and downs of the election without pulling back every once in a while and wondering who all the talk and writing is for. A recent Gallup survey found that 68 percent of Americans aren’t proud of our country’s political system; according to a Pew survey from July, only 46 percent of people who say they have a generally high threshold of personal trust also say they have confidence in elected officials to act in the best interests of the public — that figure drops to 27 percent among people who express low levels of generalized trust. That’s abysmal, and they’re the kind of numbers that make a person think: If a lot of Americans have decided that they have no faith in the process, then why painstakingly chronicle it? Is political coverage in an age of disillusionment simply a self-contained symbiotic act? Are reporters like me just a little Egyptian plover bird in the crocodile’s jaw, picking at bits of food in its teeth to survive?
I’ll answer “no” for the sake of my job and because of an abiding belief that records of history must be kept — it’s probably some medieval Irish monk DNA at work. But there’s also no innate virtue in political engagement; I won’t plead with Americans to get “more political.” A friend of mine once said that she thought of journalism as helping people understand the world around them in a deeper way. It might just be that people understand American politics just fine — we have the numbers to show that they’re paying attention — it’s just that they don’t like what they see.
Disillusionment played a role in the last presidential election. Indifference, too. Trump and Hillary Clinton were historically unpopular candidates. Trump’s election was a shock in part because pre-election day polls and models were on shakier ground than in years past, thanks to the high number of undecided voters (you can read Nate Silver in depth on the phenomenon here), and a whole lot of people Democrats depended on to elect Barack Obama ended up staying home that November. There’s nothing to say that the 2020 election won’t see similar dynamics.
I’m just one woman, with only the thoughts stirring in my own brain to offer, but I think America’s ennui, its pervasive, high-information sadness, has something to do with the blurring line between what is a “political issue” and what is a “moral issue.” Partisan discourse is so strong, so all-encompassing, that to render judgements about what is a violation of those inalienable rights we are all supposed to cherish, is to take a political stance. Today, the issue of immigration — portrayed on the national stage not long ago in the dry language of H1 visas, pathways to citizenship and legislative solutions — is now a moral morass of separated families, dead children and unsanitary, overcrowded holding facilities. Massacres of elementary school children have become common enough that schools have adapted with the brisk practicality we expect of our teachers — active shooter drills help little children envision what to do in the event their nightmares are made flesh. Writing these sentences will make some readers angry since they will be seen as a promotion of a Democratic Party line — but what’s a political journalist to do when she lays her moral compass on the table, and it points in just one direction on these things?
Americans of both parties oppose family separation. You can also watch a steady, national trend toward greater support for stricter gun control over the past decade. The public expressions about the need for change on our new moral issues are clear, but the political system isn’t built to acknowledge this.
Perhaps people choose not to engage with politics because they know that partisanship’s brittle paradigm will shatter when it takes on the heft of a moral load. It isn’t equipped to handle the problems that plague our consciences. Maybe America is right to feel sad.
Manitoba Province Election could kick off today
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is expected to announce this afternoon that the province’s election is officially underway.
The election was initially scheduled for October 2020, but Mr. Pallister said earlier this summer he would call an early election for Sept. 10.
Mr. Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives swept to victory just three years ago, and ending 17 years of NDP government.
The Manitoba NDP, now led by former broadcaster Wab Kinew, are running on a platform centred on reversing many of the changes the PCs brought in, particularly in health care.
The election call means a busy few months for politicians and volunteers in the province – many of whom will spend the next four weeks knocking on doors for the provincial election, and then they will keep on knocking for the federal campaign that begins right after.
Warren’s climate-change disclosure bill is politics-as-usual
Wall Street and big businesses have always been in the crosshairs of Democratic presidential candidates. Now with new discussions about climate change and risk disclosure, the issue is becoming more attractive to their activists.
And as one of the top three Democrats seeking their party’s nomination, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is working overtime to define herself as a progressive opponent to business-as-usual. In fact, the most prominent promise on the Warren campaign’s web site is her promise to “end Washington corruption,” a rallying cry for anti-establishment candidates on the left and the right alike (including, of course, Donald Trump himself).
Yet whatever Warren’s aims, her approach is distinctly politics-as-usual if you just look at her proposed Climate Risk Disclosure Act of 2019.
Climate change is a serious challenge, and, in the absence of effective federal policies, it is increasingly becoming a serious problem.
Setting aside climate scientists, some of the people most troubled by climate-change risks are insurance executives who need new models to calculate premium payments, and keep their companies solvent over time, as climate-related damages grow.
From this perspective, greater transparency and standardization in reporting the risks that public companies face would clearly benefit insurance companies as well as those who rely upon insurance (which is almost everyone else).
Where firms have not adequately assessed their own vulnerabilities to climate change, the analysis necessary to produce such disclosures could also contribute to needed strategic planning and prudent preparations.
In early 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission came to broadly similar conclusions in managing the risks from another significant threat — cyberattacks — and issued new guidance urging public companies to examine their policies and calling for public disclosure of cybersecurity risks and incidents.
Whether climate-risk disclosure is best pursued through new legislation or through regulatory guidance based on existing law, as in the case of cybersecurity risks, is an appropriate topic for public-policy debate.
The SEC has already issued climate-risk guidance in 2010 to explain that regulations mandating disclosure of “material information, if any, as may be necessary to make the required statements, in light of the circumstances under which they are made, not misleading” applies to climate-related risks.
SEC officials have more recently emphasized the continuing relevance of this earlier guidance and stated that, while that it did not specifically address the role of boards of directors in managing risk, corporate disclosures “should discuss” board oversight of material risks.
Political assault on fossil fuels
Unfortunately, Warren’s Climate Risk Disclosure Act goes well beyond the constructive objective of improving transparency and standards surrounding climate risks; it is at heart a political assault on fossil-fuel producers and consumers.
The text makes clear that it is a so-called “messaging bill,” intended to send a political signal rather than to produce meaningful results. This is hardly surprising during a presidential campaign, yet it is unequivocally politics-as-usual rather than representing something new.
One example of this is the bill’s requirement that the SEC fix a “social cost of carbon” within two years of passage, something that neither congressional Republicans nor even some moderate congressional Democrats are likely to accept, especially through a back-door SEC rule rather than open debate in the Senate and the House of Representatives, where decisions of such consequence belong.
Likewise, the bill requires companies to estimate and disclose “direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions,” with indirect emissions defined broadly to include emissions “that occur in the value chain” of a reporting company or that are attributed to “assets partially owned or managed” by the company.
In practice, preparing such estimates seems wholly impractical; requiring them seems intended to persuade investors to throw up their hands and divest—especially since the bill would also mandate firms to use the SEC’s social cost of carbon and their reported greenhouse gas emissions to calculate the total cost of their direct and indirect emissions.
Cost thousands of jobs
It is difficult to see such provisions in the bill as anything other than an effort to shame a large share of America’s energy, manufacturing and construction sectors—something that could cost many thousands of jobs if pursued to its fullest extent.
Indeed, where proposals like the Green New Deal or the Climate Risk Disclosure Act may be most helpful is in drawing a line between those who seek realistic and practical solutions to America’s problems and those who don’t.
Realism and practicality are more important in addressing a significant and time-sensitive problem like climate change, where delays can not only produce costlier impacts, but also require costlier policies.
From this perspective, Warren’s divisive politics-as-usual climate bill may be worse than no bill at all.
Paul J. Saunders is president of the Energy Innovation Reform Project, a non-profit organization promoting efforts to develop advanced energy technologies. He was a senior advisor at the Department of State in the George W. Bush administration. His organization accepts no corporate donations.
Trump to Visit Dayton and El Paso
• President Trump will visit Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso on Wednesday as part of an effort to project a message of national unity and healing. However, local officials and residents have been divided over the visits as many hold him responsible for inflaming the country’s racial divisions.
• Texas could become competitive in 2020 because of a dramatically shifting immigrant population and increasingly moderate urban centers. There is a consensus that Mr. Trump will have to pay attention to the state and perhaps even spend time and money there to ensure victory.
• For many Latinos, a bridge was crossed with the El Paso shooting. Some Latinos are describing it as a 9/11 moment, a feeling that — even for families who have lived through multiple generations in America — they are under threat. We talked to families across America about this uncomfortable new anxiety.
• After the Dayton shooting, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio wants to pass a law making it easier for the police to seize guns from people deemed dangerous. He is also investing in psychological services for schoolchildren and ways for students and teachers to report potential threats.
• As nationwide anxieties increase in the wake of the shootings, congressional Republicans are coming together to propose gun control legislation called red flag laws. If signed into law, they would be the most significant gun safety legislation enacted in 20 years.
• While several 2020 presidential candidates have already rolled out plans to address gun violence, others endorsed new policies this week. Here’s what the Democratic candidates have proposed.
• International reactions to previous mass shootings focused on the pervasiveness of guns in the U.S. But in the days since the Dayton and El paso attacks, attention has shifted to the toxic mixture of racism, nationalism and terrorism.
• The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit against California officials, challenging a new law requiring presidential candidates to release five years of tax returns in order to be placed on the state primary ballot in 2020.
• The Democratic Socialists of America have grown larger than ever with Mr. Trump as president. They have voted to only endorse the Democratic presidential nominee if it is Senator Bernie Sanders.
• Peter Strzok, the F.B.I. senior counterintelligence agent who made inflammatory comments about Mr. Trump in text messages, sued the Justice Department and the F.B.I. for firing him.
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