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American Politics Is Back to the Future – New York Magazine

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Real-life conditions that promoted conservative culture-war themes were important in the rise and reign of Ronald Reagan.
Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

If you spend a lot of time following politics, it often seems as though battles between Democrats and Republicans occur across a constantly evolving landscape of public opinion in which smart and not-so-smart party strategists duel, with not a lot of long-term coherence or meaning.

But from a historical context, recent American politics is best understood as a perpetual war between two roughly equal coalitions of progressives and traditionalists in which virtually all issues are “cultural” in the sense of reflecting deeper currents of values, hopes and fears along with tangible interests. What should concern progressives right now is that we may be entering an era in which perpetual conservative claims that progressives are ruining America seems to have a salience they haven’t had for decades. This possibility is best understood by comparing today’s “culture wars” to those that underlay the last big Republican uprising in the 1970s and 1980s. The similarities are growing hard to ignore or deny, as are their sheer number:

Fear of crime returns

The great American crime wave of the late twentieth century began in the early 1960s and ended in the early 1990s. Violent crime rates rose very steadily throughout this period, feeding the expectation that barring radical public policy interventions they would climb forever. The wave abruptly ended even as one of the most radical interventions, a federal-state-local War on Drugs, took root with terrible consequences for a generation of incarcerated Americans, particularly Black men. But the decline in violent crime from around 1993 until the late 2010s was as steady and uninterrupted as the preceding rise. And while conservative “law and order” politics with its savage racial undertones never went away entirely, it certainly lost its salience until Donald Trump brought it back with a vengeance, just as the incidence of some crimes (notably homicide) began ticking – and in some cities surging – up again, though levels have generally fallen this year compared to last.

While it’s clear that crime fears and anti-crime policies have been and continue to be a convenient outlet for white racial grievances, there’s an even deeper way in which rising crime touches on traditionalist sentiments. Crime represents the most extreme example of a breakdown in order and authority. and thus, often without evidence, it is attributed to progressive trends in policy and culture that are thought to undermine order and authority. In the traditionalist mind, criminals represent the chaos of unregulated appetites and moral relativism, the barbarians perpetually at civilization’s embattled gates. That is why even before the recent spike in violent crime rates, conservative politics were being roiled by increases in the typically non-violent “crime” of unauthorized immigration. The rage of “base” Republicans against “amnesty” proposals from GOP pols like George W. Bush and John McCain reflected a powerful belief that rewarding defiance of immigration laws represented a great offense to the moral sensibilities of law-abiding Americans, along with a threat to national identity (more about that later).

Inflation is back

Another powerful and evocative conservative-friendly issue has recently returned after an even longer absence from lists of most important public concerns: inflation. This was a constant political preoccupation from the mid-1960s until the end of the 1970s, spiking during the Ford and Carter administration in two brief but terrifying incidents of double-digit inflation (in the latter case, combined with double-digit interest rates, relatively high unemployment, and negative growth). Without question, the “stagflation” of the Carter presidency had a lot to do with the 39th president’s unpopularity, and with the rise of his successor, Ronald Reagan (although the induced recession that eventually killed inflation was actually initiated under Carter’s nominee as Fed chairman, Paul Volcker).

But it’s important to understand that then as now, inflation and its painful remedies weren’t just “economic issues” but moral issues which tended to divide the two parties. Wage and price inflation was widely regarded as an instrument for redistribution of wealth from creditors and from putatively virtuous retirees living on fixed incomes to debtors and those with strong unions. And it’s also significant that hard-core right-wing Americans perpetually crave for a return to the gold standard as an antidote to “political” currency manipulation.

There is today no vocal constituency favoring inflation, so the issue is a great boon to conservatives willing to condemn its many evils. Republican prescriptions for combatting inflation aren’t as politically safe as just demagoguing the issue or attacking Democratic spending as inflationary. There is a temptation to which some opinion-leaders on the right (and even some politicians like Tom Cotton) succumb of cheerleading for recession as a moral tonic for a nation that has tolerated profligate economic policies too long.

School wars are raging again

To those who think of education as a “Democratic issue,” the sudden explosion of “parental rights” protests involving school curriculum and COVID-19 policies which Republicans are avidly encouraging is something of a shock. There’s a tendency for some Democrats to dismiss these controversies as a fad that will soon fade in the light of conservative hostility to public education and education funding.

But cultural battles over public school policies were a Republican-friendly staple of politics from the 1960s well into the 1980s. And they had both a racial and a sexual component, much like today’s controversies over Critical Race Theory and “obscene” school library books displaying non-traditional gender and sexual roles.

On the racial front, southern white conservatives vocally and sometimes violently opposed school desegregation in the 1960s. But both in and beyond the South, the fight to maintain de facto if not de jure segregation persisted for many years. The “school busing” controversy that roiled urban and suburban schools around the country in the 1970s was a huge factor in the politics of that decade, with the anti-busing movement enlisting Democrats (including one Joe Biden) as well as Republicans. Additionally, many scholars trace the origins of the Christian Right to the battle to maintain tax-free status for church-based “segregation academies” that sprang up like mushrooms whenever public schools were desegregated.

School wars were not limited to racial controversies, whatever. There were, beginning in 1974, high-profile “textbook wars” in which traditionalist, often conservative evangelical, parents battled school boards over books and other instructional content that didn’t comport with their values, ranging from strict sexual morality to literal scriptural accounts of the Creation. This movement in turn was one of several contributors to the school voucher and home-schooling movements that became and have remained integral to Republican politics in most parts of the country. In fact, the rhetoric of “parental rights in education” that was the bread-and-butter of Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia gubernatorial candidacy was well-honed in Republican fights for letting parents determine whether public education dollars should be redirected to private schools.

Red scares have returned from the grave

One culture-laden issue that has obtained a surprising new life for today’s Republicans is the alleged threat of socialism, a potent campaign issue for Donald Trump in 2020 and a unifying rallying cry for the congressional Republicans (and their 2022 candidates) waging total war on Democratic legislation. In tone and in symbolic freight, contemporary alarms about socialism sound the same notes as Cold War alarms about communism, suggesting a totalitarian threat that is as much (or more) internal as external, tainting progressives as treasonous to American values and interests. The equation of today’s socialists (real and imagined) to yesterday’s communists is particularly effective in immigrant communities from countries where oppressive forms of Marxist one-party government are fresh memories. Needless to say, many conservative religious believers view any sort of socialism as inimical to their freedom to worship and to pass along their values to their children, who are allegedly being exposed to socialist agitprop in secular schools and universities and via popular culture.

If this sleight-of-hand New Cold War continues to work it could be of inestimable value to Republicans. Anti-communism was famously the glue that held together the conservative movement of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s with its competing factions of business-oriented quasi-libertarians and church-based cultural traditionalists. It may serve the same purpose for today’s conventional conservatives, theocrats and populists.

It’s not at all certain that we have entered a new era of Republican ascendancy based on perennial culturally reactionary impulses. There are counter-pressures that work in the opposite direction, such as the strain of American culture that is hostile to privilege and believes in the inevitability of social progress, But progressives should not imagine that the themes driving the Republican comeback from 2020 are ephemeral or isolated from each other. The great battle to shape America according to visions of its “great” past or potentially greater future is ongoing, and will likely follow all-too-familiar patterns.

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Canada joins U.S, EU and Britain in imposing new Belarus sanctions

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Canada imposed new sanctions on Belarusian officials and entities in coordination with international partners on Thursday to protest against what it called attacks on human rights and acts of repression, Ottawa said.

A foreign ministry statement said Canada was acting together with the United States, the European Union and Britain. Separately, the U.S. Treasury imposed restrictions on dealings in new issuances of Belarusian sovereign debt and expanded sanctions, targeting 20 individuals and 12 entities.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren)

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For Now, Post-Roe Politics Are Unknowable – Bloomberg

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Important Note: We’re retiring this newsletter in favor of a new feature on Bloomberg.com that allows readers to sign up for emails of my latest columns. I’ll still be writing them every morning, but you’ll only receive them in your inbox if you hit the blue link under my name here — click to the page, then click on “Follow+” to sign up.

By many accounts, the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is likely to abolish the constitutional right to abortion, either because the court will constrict the right until it’s meaningless or, more likely, because it will flat-out overturn the controlling cases. I’ll let others weigh in on the practical consequences of such a decision, and on what other rights and precedents may be next on the current court’s agenda. I’ll stick, for now, to some speculation about the electoral fallout.

To begin, I’d agree with political scientist Jonathan Ladd that the effects on public opinion are impossible to predict. Of course, those who feel strongly about this issue will have the expected reactions, but most people don’t care deeply about abortion. My best guess is that whatever people tell pollsters, at least in the short run we shouldn’t expect significant changes in overall public opinion. Most people who aren’t invested in the arguments now will presumably go back to not being invested once the decision falls out of the news cycle.

As far as the 2022 elections are concerned, the conventional wisdom is that those who would be losing in court — abortion-rights supporters — would be more energized, all else equal. How much will that mitigate the energizing effects of policy loss among Republicans after two years of unified Democratic government? My guess is that the plausible answers range from “some” to “just a little.” As far as voting is concerned, most of those who care strongly about abortion are already sorted to the corresponding parties, so I wouldn’t expect much of a short-run shift.

But that doesn’t mean there will be no effects at all. For one thing, abortion is about to become a much more significant policy issue in state and national elections. Yes, candidates have run on the issue up to now, and state legislatures have acted on it. But even though some of the laws that survived court scrutiny did have significant effects, there was always a sense that the campaign talk amounted to shadow-boxing, since there were severe limits on what any politician could actually accomplish. That will change.

There may also be real possibilities for change within each party’s coalition. On the Republican side, it’s possible that we’ll eventually get some demobilization of single-issue party actors — but it’s also possible that continued fighting at the state and national level could energize those voters further. It’s unknown whether overturning other court decisions on social issues, from contraception to marriage and more, will generate the same politics within the party that abortion has.

On the Democratic side, the effects seem easier to predict. Over the past few years, as women have become more central to the party coalition, so have the policy questions they care about. It sure seems like the demise of abortion rights would only accelerate that trend while providing common ground for various different groups of women within the party. (There are plenty of women who strongly oppose abortion rights or are relatively indifferent, but among Democratic party actors there’s a pretty united front, and if anything the court’s decision should solidify that consensus.)

In the long run, we’ll see how decreased access to abortion will shift public views, as people begin to see stories in the media — and examples within their own lives — of the effects of new restrictions. For 50 years, those stories have mostly dropped out of the national conversation. Meanwhile, I don’t see any particular reason to expect an increase in either media stories or personal experiences sympathizing with the other side — we shouldn’t see an increase, for example, in stories about women who regret abortions, but we could see more women harmed from illegal procedures. Over time that might change things significantly, and could have unpredictable effects on voting coalitions and on the parties themselves. But whether that will actually happen? There’s no real way to know.

1. Henry Farrell at the Monkey Cage talks with Mary Sarotte about Putin and Ukraine.

2. Irin Carmon on the Supreme Court and abortion.

3. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Michael Strain on policy divisions within the Republican Party.

4. Amy Walter on President Joe Biden’s approval ratings.

5. And Ed Kilgore on the Georgia gubernatorial election.

Important Note: We’re retiring this newsletter in favor of a new feature on Bloomberg.com that allows readers to sign up for emails of my latest columns. I’ll still be writing them every morning, but you’ll only receive them in your inbox if you hit the blue link under my name here — click to the page, then click on “Follow+” to sign up.

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The inflation debate could preview the next big shifts in Canadian politics – CBC.ca

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The most interesting battle of the 44th Parliament’s early days has been the recurring back-and-forth between Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre.

This running debate between two of the most prominent figures in Canadian politics maps out some of the fault lines that might define the present and near-future of the national debate.

Once one of Stephen Harper’s most enthusiastically combative lieutenants, Poilievre has spent the past two years cultivating an online following — even playing footsie with some of the Internet’s conspiracy theorists.

This past spring, six months before the fall election, Erin O’Toole decided he didn’t want Poilievre to be the Conservative Party’s spokesperson on fiscal matters and shuffled him to another job. O’Toole’s team insisted it wasn’t a demotion — though it’s not hard to imagine that Poilievre might have been a bit too edgy for the non-threatening and moderate campaign O’Toole ran this fall.

But Poilievre was returned to the position of “shadow finance minister” after O’Toole and the Conservatives stumbled to a disappointing election result in September. Poilievre now seems like something of a spiritual leader for the Conservative side.

Before the election, Poilievre enthusiastically attacked federal spending and the Bank of Canada’s purchase of government bonds. He now points to this fall’s inflation figures as vindication of his arguments. On Twitter, he has adopted the oh-so-clever hashtag of #Justinflation to underline his claim that the prime minister is to blame for recent price increases.

‘Just inflation’ catches on

Poilievre also has taken to using the phrase “just inflation” during question period — barely skirting the rule against using another MP’s proper name — and four other Conservative MPs joined him in doing so in the House on Tuesday.

Inflation has dominated questions from the Conservative side through the first week of the 44th Parliament. So Freeland was prepared when she and Poilievre faced each other directly last Thursday.

After Poilievre needled Freeland for acknowledging that inflation is a “crisis” and challenged her to admit that it’s a “homegrown problem,” Freeland stood and listed off numbers that suggest Canada’s level of inflation is in line with the rest of the G20.

At her next opportunity, Freeland referred Poilievre to the words of a National Post columnist (“The Conservatives may not want to listen to me about inflation, but I suspect they read the National Post”) who wrote that inflation is a “global phenomenon” and also described Poilievre as “charging out of his corner, arms wind-milling.”

Poilievre tried again and Freeland challenged him to tell Canadians that he thinks a pandemic is a time for “austerity.”

In her own way, Freeland is a good match for Poilievre — and each might define something about their respective sides.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, sits beside then-Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland as they take part in the APEC Summit in Manila in 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

 

An erudite former journalist, Freeland is one of the key figures of the Trudeau era. She was the Liberal leader’s first star recruit nearly a decade ago, then the woman he chose to put front and centre against Donald Trump, and the deputy prime minister he needed after the bruising campaign of 2019. Now she is the first woman to be put in charge of federal fiscal policy.

Poilievre, who casts himself as a populist fighter, is also a keen student of rhetorical combat. He once said that his approach is based on an understanding of the minutiae of legislation and a mastery of “simple facts.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals — content to drown the proceedings in values statements — have not always shown much interest in trying to win question period. In her own news conferences, Freeland has tended to prefer long and careful explanations.

Freeland pushes back

For those reasons, Freeland’s recent efforts stand out.

After former Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz told CTV on Sunday that inflation in Canada was not caused by federal spending, Freeland waved his words in front of the Conservative benches — and reminded the Official Opposition that Stephen Harper appointed Poloz to preside over the bank.

On Tuesday, she corrected Conservative MP Gerard Deltell on the rate of inflation in Germany and challenged Poilievre to specifically identify which pandemic support program he would have cut.

But as more voices have jumped into the inflation fray, Poilievre has pivoted slightly to focus on the rising cost of housing.

On Monday, Poilievre raised the case of a 27-year-old constituent who couldn’t afford to buy a house and wanted to know why prices had increased so much over the last year. In response, Freeland pointed to the money families would save thanks to the federal government’s push for expanded child care.

Vulnerabilities on both sides

Poilievre came back to note that his constituent wouldn’t be able to start a family until he could afford to buy a house.

There are unanswered questions for both sides here.

Freeland might not be directly responsible for the cost of groceries or the price of a detached home in Southern Ontario, but if neither issue resolves itself, the Liberal Party will have to worry about dealing with a frustrated electorate.

On housing, the Liberal election platform at least included a plan — one that was rated higher than the Conservative offer. But that might not be enough on its own to solve the problem.

The sky-high cost of housing is a significant point of vulnerability for the Liberals. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Poilievre’s hawkish stance on government spending, meanwhile, is undermined by the fact that his party just ran on a platform that promised nearly identical levels of spending. And the one major cut the Conservatives were willing to campaign on — walking away from billions in promised spending on child care — might be impossible to pursue if Ontario joins the federal child care plan.

Regardless, the cost of living and public spending will be some of the most valuable terrain in Canadian politics for the next while.

A fall economic statement is expected this month, with a budget due in the spring. So Poilievre and Freeland are likely to see a lot of each other in the coming weeks and months.

Beyond that, you can use your own imagination.

If O’Toole were to lose his tenuous grip on the Conservative leadership, attention would quickly focus on Poilievre — either as a potential candidate or as a potentially influential figure in deciding who leads the party next.

Whenever Trudeau decides to step aside, Freeland will be foremost in the pool of possible successors.

But we don’t need to get ahead of ourselves. There is already much to confront over the next year. And much might depend on how well Freeland and Poilievre make their respective arguments.

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