I’ve been thinking about the two families we’ve encountered over the past two weeks. The Biden family is emotionally open, rendered vulnerable by tragedy and driven by a powerful desire to connect. The Trump family is emotionally closed, isolated by enmity and driven by a powerful desire to dominate.
Occasionally this week one of the female members of the Trump family would struggle to stick her head above the muck of her family’s values and display some humanity. But Donald, Don Jr. and Eric showed no such impulse.
Trump family values are mean world values. Mean world syndrome was a concept conceived in the 1970s by the communications professor George Gerbner. His idea was that people who see relentless violence on television begin to perceive the world as being more dangerous than it really is.
By the 1990s it was no longer violent programing that drove mean world culture, but reality television. That’s an entire industry designed to give the impression that human beings are inherently manipulative, selfish and petty. If you grow up watching those programs, or starring in them, naturally you believe that other people are fundamentally untrustworthy.
These days mean world culture is everywhere. It’s a siege mentality. Menace is everywhere. We’re on the brink of the cataclysm. This week’s Republican convention was a four-day cavalcade of the mean world alarmism.
Mean world thrives on fear and perpetuates itself by exaggerating fear. Its rhetorical ploy is catastrophizing and its tone is apocalyptic. The Democrats are not just wrong, many speakers asserted this week, they are “subverting our republic,” abolishing the suburbs, destroying Western civilization and establishing a Castro-style communist dictatorship. The Democrats, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida said, want to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.”
The St. Louis couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey are the team mascots of mean world. They see Black Lives Matter protesters walking past their mansion and decide they’re in the middle of a race war. They come out waving their guns.
Mean world transforms people. When Kimberly Guilfoyle appeared on the Charlie Rose Show in 2004 with her husband at the time, Gavin Newsom, now the governor of California, she seemed eminently normal and kind. But now she’s playing by mean world rules and at the G.O.P. convention she seemed like a bellowing lunatic.
The implicit argument of the Republican convention was that Joe Biden is too old, or soft, or compassionate to survive in mean world. He’ll cower before rising crime rates. He’ll get pushed around by the hard left. He’ll get swallowed in the maelstrom. “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” is how Mike Pence put it.
This is the Republicans’ strongest argument, especially if murder rates continue to soar and if Portland and Kenosha-style mayhem becomes commonplace this fall. Democrats have foolishly allowed themselves to be portrayed as the enemies of policing. There’s a lot of fear floating around America right now, available to be exploited by someone.
But let’s also be clear about what the real threats are. In many ways this election is about two rival versions of threat perception. It will be won by whichever party more persuasively identifies what we should fear.
Yes, there have been disgraceful scenes of far left physical and verbal brutality, which get magnified on Twitter. The far bigger threat, however, is that we have a president too busy fighting a culture war to respond to a pandemic and an economic crisis, or even to perform basic governance. What part of 180,000 coronavirus dead does Donald Trump not understand?
The larger threat is that we’re caught in a polarization cascade. Mean world fanatics — on the left and right — are playing a mutually beneficial game. Trumpian chaos justifies and magnifies the woke mobs on the left. Woke mobs magnify and justify Trumpian authoritarianism on the right.
The upshot of the mean world war is the obliteration of normal politics, the hollowing out of the center and the degradation of public morality. Under the cover of this souped-up, screw-or-be-screwed mentality, norms are eviscerated, truth is massacred, bigotry is justified and politics turns into a struggle to culturally obliterate the other side.
Joe Biden is going to have to take on this widespread anxiety about personal safety by insisting that the real source of danger is Trump’s chaotic incompetence and that Trump’s mean world extremism is corrosive to the social order. When the social order dissolves, people suffer.
Biden could point out that disorder from left and right will only accelerate so long as Trump is in the White House. He could make clear that compassion is not weakness, that the toughest thing is to stand in a hailstorm of hatred and insist on kindness and consideration.
In a civilized society law and order is not established with a bullying jackboot. Law and order is established through the calm, regular enforcement of decency, so people across society behave like stable, honorable human beings.
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Coronavirus: Ministers balance science and politics in latest rules – BBC News
It’s not a day for optimists, even though the prime minister himself is one of that tribe.
Tomorrow, it will be six months exactly since he told the nation to stay at home.
This time, Boris Johnson stopped well short of slamming the country’s doors shut.
But what really stood out in his long statement in a miserable-looking Commons was his message that the limits put in place today will last another six months.
Even if you are very fond of your own company, lucky enough to have a secure job you enjoy and a comfy spare room where you can do it, it is quite something to contemplate.
The government now expects that all our lives will be subject to restrictions of one kind or another for a whole year – March 2020 to March 2021.
As each month ticks by, it becomes harder to imagine a return to anything like normal political life, or, more importantly, the way we all live.
We may not be waiting for a return to life as we knew it, but grinding through a moment of change.
‘Shelter the economy’
But if you were listening carefully, something else was different too.
The country became familiar with the slogan “Stay At Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” – it was emblazoned on government lecterns, repeated again and again by government ministers in interview after interview, on bus shelters, pop-up ads on the internet, wherever you looked.
That phrase was retired after the most intense period of the lockdown, but echoed today with one important additional condition.
Boris Johnson’s driver today was to “save lives, protect the NHS” and “shelter the economy”.
As we discussed here yesterday, concerns about the economy played more strongly in Downing Street after fierce resistance from backbenchers, and arguments from the next-door neighbour in No 11 of the economic risks of a short, sharp closure programme.
Fears about how the country makes a living have always been part of the decision-making process for the government, grappling with these acute dilemmas.
But the political appetite inside the Tory party for sweeping restrictions has certainly dimmed.
The changes announced today do make economic recovery harder, the “bounce back” the government dreamt of looks harder to achieve, but they are not as draconian as they may otherwise have been.
Ministers used to make great play of following the science, now they are certainly following the politics too.
Only the unknowable progress of the disease will, in time, suggest which call was right.
Covid: How the coronavirus pandemic is redefining Scottish politics – BBC News
The pandemic has probably done more than anything to define Scottish devolution in 21 years of Holyrood decision making.
Before coronavirus, the Scottish Parliament’s policy choices – from free personal care for the elderly to minimum pricing of alcohol – made it distinctive.
Now, Scottish ministers are making life and death decisions affecting everybody almost every day.
The exercise of emergency powers to combat Covid-19 commands public attention like nothing before.
We’ve had six months of lockdown restrictions and after a recent period of relaxation, they are tightening again as coronavirus cases rise.
Paying attention is essential to knowing whether or not you can go to work, visit your granny or have friends round for dinner.
It is First Minister Nicola Sturgeon rather than the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who is deciding for Scotland because public health is devolved.
Many of her decisions so far have matched those by the UK government for England and the devolved administrations for Wales and Northern Ireland.
That was especially true in the early stages of the crisis when there was much talk of a four nations approach – but differences have emerged over time.
The Scottish government has generally been more cautious about lifting restrictions than the UK government.
Bars and restaurants stayed closed in Scotland for longer and it was slower to lift quarantine for people arriving from Spain, before this was reimposed across the UK.
By contrast, the Scottish government was the first in the UK to restore full-time classroom education in schools after the summer.
Scottish ministers did coordinate with the other administrations to introduce the “rule of six” for people attending social gatherings.
However, on closer inspection, the Scottish rule differs from that for England in two key respects.
It is more restrictive in limiting the six people to two different households and more flexible in exempting children under the age of 12.
This is devolved decision making in action as never before.
Some argue divergence across the UK is confusing and undesirable, but opinion polls consistently suggest the Scottish public trust Holyrood to set the pace.
After a period in which Conservatives argued that Scotland should leave lockdown in lockstep with the rest of the UK, a multi-speed approach became accepted.
The pandemic, however unwanted, has given Ms Sturgeon an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and the public seems to appreciate that too.
An Ipsos Mori survey for BBC Scotland in May suggested 82% of people thought Ms Sturgeon was handling the pandemic either very or fairly well.
By contrast, only 30% from the same sample of around 1,000 Scottish adults gave Boris Johnson similar credit.
More recent polling has produced similar indications even although coronavirus outcomes are not profoundly different between the UK nations.
The Office for National Statistics reported that England had the highest increase in excess deaths in Europe to the end of May. At that point, Scotland had the third highest behind Spain.
While politicians of all stripes have been working to suppress coronavirus, coronavirus has suppressed much of our everyday politics.
Previous Holyrood priorities like completing an expansion of free childcare, introducing new devolved benefits and reviewing the school curriculum have been deferred.
Major controversies such as the Scottish government’s mishandling of complaints about the behaviour of the former first minister, Alex Salmond, seem less potent.
The Scottish government parked preparations for an independence referendum in 2020 to prioritise its response to the pandemic.
That has not meant opinion on the major constitutional question in Scottish politics has remained static.
As coronavirus has swept the country, a trend has emerged in opinion polls suggesting there is now majority support in Scotland for independence.
Some analysts suggest this could be directly linked to the focus on devolved leadership in the crisis.
The trend has worried Conservatives enough to change their Scottish party leader and some in Scottish Labour have unsuccessfully tried to change theirs.
Those who favour the union point out that Scotland has been supported by what they call the “broad shoulders” of the UK economy throughout the pandemic.
Lockdown is largely underwritten by the Treasury with huge funding for furlough and other schemes to support business.
Nationalists say this help would be replicated by Holyrood if it had the economic powers of independence.
Unionists question the scope for doing so in a country which, as a devolved part of the UK, had a notional deficit of £15bn before the pandemic took full effect.
Economics will always be important in the debate over independence as will the public’s sense of identity.
In the 2014 referendum, Scotland voted 55%-45% for continued union. If indyref2 was held tomorrow, the polls suggest the result would go the other way.
There is much that could sway opinion further – both for and against independence – in the coming months.
The economic crisis the pandemic brings, the impact of Brexit and the efforts of politicians to overcome the continuing health emergency could all have a bearing.
The public could weary of politicians telling them what they can and can’t do especially if their livelihoods are on the line.
Arguments over all this and more will find expression in the campaign for next May’s Holyrood elections.
Together with elections to the Welsh Assembly and local government in England, these will be the first major votes of the pandemic.
A pandemic that has already given new definition to devolved power and could be playing a role in shaping opinion on the future of the Union
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