The GOP is using a range of power plays to seize political control — regardless of legitimacy

Power is the ability to get what you want, even in opposition to others. In our two-party system, the party in power can pass legislation the other party may oppose.

Democrats thought they were in power, but Biden’s inability to pass his Build Back Better legislation casts doubt on how much power Democrats actually have.

In my state of Virginia, the governor in power has signed a raft of executive orders, including banning the teaching of “divisive concepts.”

We see this as a normal and anticipated aspect of democracy. We want our party in power so they can pass the legislation we think is best.

READ: Dan Crenshaw lashes out and gets heckled when a girl asks about his Jesus comment: ‘Don’t question my faith’

But we miss a crucial element in this understanding.

The party in power has traditionally had authority as well.

Power minus authority
Sociologists talk about authority as the legitimate power that one group or individual holds over another. People are said to be in positions of authority when they can issue commands and reasonably expect them to be carried out.

We don’t say parents have “power” over their children. That implies conflict and struggle. Instead, we say they have authority. We expect children to (more or less) willingly be guided by their parents.

READ: 'Truly stunning': Legal expert shows how Gorsuch abandoned his supposed principles in vaccine rule case

And so, although authority is rooted in power, it rests on a belief that the person issuing commands is doing so legitimately. Authorities manage, command, lead and govern with consent of the governed.

Power in the absence of the consent of the governed is tyranny. Since at least Obama’s presidency, the Republican Party has been making plays for power with little regard for authority.

From complex to simple
This line of reasoning is not new. There are several lines of analysis for what is happening with the Republican Party.

Some focus on the dismantling of our system of free and fair elections and call it authoritarianism. A despotic figure rises to power and attempts to corrupt the democratic process to maintain power.

READ: Former top FBI official: 'Concerning' Ginni Thomas signed letter saying Jan. 6 participants 'have done nothing wrong'

I believe Republicans have been doing this in fits and starts since the 1960s. However, this critique gained momentum during the Trump presidency, as he seemed to be operating from a dictator’s playbook and reached a crescendo after the J6 insurrection.

Others adopt a more complex sociocultural analysis and will liken the current, Trump-led far-right turn of the Republican party to fascism.

To be sure, there is a there, there. But sometimes, it can be hard to tell what counts as fascism and what doesn’t. For example, one piece points out seven themes of fascist movements.

It’s also hard to tell what people mean when they say fascism, and resorting to a Wikipedia search doesn’t cut it. Vox did a piece where eight experts weighed in. “Is Trump a fascist?” They concluded no.

READ: 'You singlehandedly blocked the Emmett Till antilynching act': Rand Paul scorched over his MLK 'commemoration'

Authoritarianism and fascism are not mutually exclusive, as a fascist government is an authoritarian government.

Another analysis worth considering is that the Republican Party is attempting to make southern politics national.

In an interview with the Editorial Board’s own John Stoehr, professor of political science Angie Maxwell argued that the American south is a one-party system characterized by “a politics of entertainment as opposed to a contest of ideas.”

Moreover, “the long history of one-party politics in the south has created real structural barriers to progress and change.”

Maxwell argues that as more states fall under one-party rule, they will also experience problems of the American South. Stoehr subtitles his interview with Dr. Maxwell “The American south as mini-Russia.”

Authoritarianism. Fascism. Mini-Russia.

These are all fruitful ways of thinking about our current political climate. But I tend to look at these issues more straightforwardly.

The current iteration of the GOP wants power. It cares nothing about legitimacy. It’s as simple as that. We may end up describing it as authoritarianism or fascism or whatever. But it’s all about gaining power by hook or crook, and their power plays need cataloging.

Where to start?
I guess the first place is voting and elections.

  1. According to the ACLU, Republicans have introduced more than 400 anti-voter bills across the country in recent years. Voter suppression has become a major talking point on the left for a good reason. Voting is the primary way people exercise their voice. The Republicans are trying to silence that voice.
  2. The nation is becoming browner, especially where Republicans are in power. The nation’s population growth in the 2020 census came largely from racial minorities in Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. In these states, Republicans control redistricting, and they are working hard at gerrymandering districts to keep them red.
  3. The ultimate power play, thankfully unrealized, was to overturn legitimate election results. One hundred and forty-seven Republicans voted to overturn a free and fair presidential election. We can’t overlook the desire to manipulate our knowledge landscape. Severing the population from truth is its own type of power play.
  4. The Trump administration had on several occasions denied access by revoking press passes and banning reporters.
  5. If one imagines this is simply an idiosyncrasy of the Trump administration, consider that Republicans are possibly withdrawing from public debates. The RNC claims that the Commission on Presidential Debates is biased towards Democrats.
  6. Across the nation, Republicans are attempting to sever the population from the truth by instituting truth bans. Since January of last year, 33 states have “introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism.”

Power and precarity
A more complex analysis will see these power plays as fitting within an overall scheme to institute a totalitarian, one-party state. I’m not sure that is the best way to understand the dynamics at play.

These accumulate into qualitative changes in how our democracy – what’s left of it – operates. But let’s not lose the trees for the forest.

Republicans are not interested in governing with legitimate authority. Instead, they are taking deliberate action that’s designed to gain or maintain power, regardless of what the population wants.

They are taking these actions not because of a grand scheme of dismantling democracy. At least, not intentionally. They are doing these things because of precarity.

They know that if they let democracy play out, they would have little authority in this country. And so, by necessity, they suppress votes, gerrymander, contest election results and ban the truth.

The American hyper-focus on individualism makes us poorer, sicker, and sadder

It is rather easy to lament the state of our country right now.However, income inequality is at its highest in 50 years. We are richer in the aggregate, but most of the gains have gone to upper-class families. The wealth gap is even starker, with upper-income families possessing 75 times as much wealth as lower-income families. In 1983, that ratio stood at 28.

We are not healthy. Around 42 percent of our country is obese. The Obama administration passed legislation to fight the opioid epidemic. It has only gotten worse, with New York needing to open overdose prevention centers. Before the pandemic, the life expectancy for white males was declining, with what has been termed “deaths of despair.”

We are not happy. We’re still in the middle of a national referendum on racism. Racial minorities are urging us to atone for historical injustices and address contemporary forms of racism. Trans persons have quickly gained visibility, and many people are unsettled. Some are downright fearful. Powered by disinformation and conspiracy theories, large portions of the right are convinced white students are being taught to hate themselves by teachers, Donald Trump won the election, and COVID was created in a lab for biological warfare.

READ: 'Shameful and appalling': Ron DeSantis moves press conference following arrest of well-known community activist

What can be done?

A popular argument is to fault the left. In particular, that the progressive, social justice-oriented “woke” wing of the left is to blame for many of our nation’s ills. Because of this group, we are discarding our commitment to reason and rationality, individual responsibility and equal rights. Because of this group, we are putting emotional “lived experiences” and group identity politics in their place.

A shift back to focusing on individual choice and personal responsibility will be the remedy, we’re told. Instead of Americans asking a nanny state for assistance, they should commit to personal changes in culture and character. Moreover, the purpose of government is to ensure individual equality under the law, not identify groups that may have been discriminated against, and then compound this mistake by discriminating against another group. A government that attempts to correct for vague “systemic” causes of racial or gender inequality will only interfere with meritocracy. This is unfair to people who had nothing to do with whatever phantom process scholars and activists have supposedly identified.

If we make this change, away from social justice “wokism” and towards the classical liberal values that made America a great country, the logic goes, we will be wealthier, healthier and happier.

READ: Journalist highlights a key 'pivot point' in the Jan. 6 investigations that leads directly to Trump

Personal troubles and public issues
I agree with the diagnosis. I do not agree with the remedy. To be sure, we need liberal values for our democratic, capitalist society to function. But I do not detect any real decline in those values. If anything, social justice movements are trying to extend rights to more individuals. And even if we had strayed away from those values, strengthening them would not address the issues I outlined above.

Instead, these social problems continue to plague us because of a lack of imagination – a sociological imagination. If anyone has taken a sociology class in the last several decades and remembered it, you may have heard this idea tossed about. It originated with one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century, C. Wright Mills.

For Mills, the sociological imagination begins with distinguishing between the “the personal troubles of milieu” and “the public issues of social structure.” An example is unemployment. If only one woman is unemployed, we must look at that woman’s character or skills.

However, “when in a nation of 50 million employees, 15 million men are unemployed, that is an issue, and we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of the society, and not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals.”

READ: Trump and the GOP both want to steal the 2024 election — there's just one major disagreement

Mills’ sociological imagination is about properly identifying the social problem – that our institutions, laws and policies are at fault – and suggesting appropriate, evidence-based solutions.

Our wealth, health and happiness problems are not individual personal troubles that can be resolved by exhorting people to think or act differently. People’s thoughts and actions occur within a given context, and we need to have more conversations about how we can change that context. This is what we are missing as a nation.

This is the remedy.

A New Year’s resolution for progressives
Many Americans see the problems we have in society as being about the individual and character. If you don’t have money, you didn’t work hard enough. If you are unhealthy or addicted to drugs, put the needle down, put on a pair of sweats and go for a run. If you are queer or Black, stop worrying about your group identity and focus more on personal achievement. What is this “herd immunity” these folks on CNN speak about? If you think you will get sick from the covid, take personal responsibility, and stay in your house.

READ: Former national archivist discusses Trump’s desperate campaign to keep his records sealed: 'I’m talking about prison time'

This hyper-focus on the individual makes us poorer, sicker and sadder.

We should pay attention to how institutions, laws and policies create problems. We should look at our tax structure and minimum wage laws to understand wealth and income inequality. Drug and alcohol abuse are symptoms of a society failing to meet the needs of its citizens, not personal moral failings. We need to lean into discussions about systemic racism and institutional discrimination. Instead of looking at individual Trump supporters as somehow being uniquely misinformed or prone to manipulation, we need to take stock of our fragmented media environment and citizens’ lack of trust in journalists.

Let’s resolve to use our sociological imaginations more in 2022.

The meaning of white supremacy since the rise of Donald Trump

In a speech last month at Washington’s Martin Luther King Jr. monument, President Joe Biden described the January 6 insurrection as being about “white supremacy.” Later on, MSNBC did a segment on Thanksgiving in which guest commentator, Gyassi Ross, discussed its realities. Ross, who is Indigenous, sees it as the beginning of theft, genocide and “white supremacy.” After Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal, Colin Kaepernick tweeted, “white supremacy cannot be reformed.”

It seemed like the term had come out of nowhere. I decided to check Google Trends. From 2004 to about 2016, there were relatively few searches for the word “white supremacy.” Then in 2016, there was an increase in the frequency of searches, with several sharp spikes. Two of those spikes were in August 2017 and June 2020. What happened?

Donald Trump. One cannot say with certainty, but his rise, replete with far-right dog whistles and bullhorns, was probably explained by many writers through a lens of white supremacy. The spikes in search frequency in 2017 was probably because of Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally. In June 2020, it was likely due to George Floyd protests.

The January 6 insurrection. Thanksgiving. Kyle Rittenhouse. Donald Trump. Unite The Right. George Floyd. All of these phenomena are linked to something called white supremacy. As I suspect this term will be a part of common parlance for some time, it’s worth explaining it.

READ: Democrats will have a 'boatload of material' to use against 'unhinged, out-of-step' Republicans in 2022: conservative

More nuance, more rejection

The way we identify and discuss racism has changed quite a bit. That’s because the way racism is expressed has changed quite a bit.

Inquiries into racism were more straightforward 30 or 40 years ago. First, you ask: “Do you hate people of a different race than you, yes or no?” If no, they’re not a racist. Then you looked at laws and asked: “Are any laws on the books explicitly discriminating against a racial group?” If there are no laws like that on the books, then there is no racism.

Now consider how racism is discussed today. It’s rather complicated. For individuals, racism is no longer only about conscious hate and clear cases of discrimination. It’s about implicit biases and seemingly benign behaviors that have racist consequences. The focus has shifted from laws and policies that discriminate to laws and policies that may not appear at first to be discriminatory but turn out to have disproportionate effects. Scholars look at how interlocking institutions work to produce unequal outcomes, like the much-discussed “school to prison pipeline” populated by poor young Black and brown men.

All things considered, this is a net positive. Learning more about how something happens -- in this case, racial inequality -- should be seen as a good thing. Unfortunately, it is not. That, however, is primarily due to people rejecting the political consequences of this scholarship and then doubling back to question the merits of that scholarship.

READ: The real history of US anti-abortion politics began in 1662 — and is bound to the legacy of slavery

How we understand white supremacy followed a similar trajectory.

Maintaining the racial hierarchy

White supremacy has in the past meant the maintenance of a racial hierarchy with white people at the top. In a white supremacist society, white people have the most power and privilege. White supremacists actively attempt to maintain and perpetuate this hierarchy.

Liberal media outlets have linked the events surrounding Kyle Rittenhouse to white supremacy. This may seem to be a stretch for many. Or, as Briahna Joy Gray titled an episode of her “Bad Faith” podcast, “Has White Supremacy Jumped the Shark?”

Rittenhouse is the teen who armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle and drove from Antioch, Illinois, to a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He said he was going to guard a car dealership. Rittenhouse got into an altercation with protestors, killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injuring a third, Gaige Grosskreutz. He faced several counts but was cleared of all of them.

Some say these events had nothing to do with race or white supremacy. Rittenhouse is white. He killed two white people. They will point out that in an interview with Tucker Carlson, Rittenhouse said, “I support the BLM movement.” You see, no white supremacy here.

READ: MSNBC host details 'weird baroque tradition' that allowed Trump-picked justices to lie 'under oath' on womens’ rights

They would be wrong.

White supremacy is about maintaining a racial hierarchy. How that is done changes over time. People may still imagine Klansmen must be present for there to be white supremacy. Again, that would be wrong.

The Rittenhouse saga reveals exactly how people attempt to maintain white supremacy. It is white supremacy without white supremacists.

A supportive right-wing media ecosphere

Let’s start with the night of the killings. The Kenosha Police seemed to ally themselves with the militia group Boogaloo Bois. According to a statement from Boogaloo Bois member Ryan Balch, the police told the militia group “that they were going to be pushing the protesters towards us because we could deal with them … KPD made a conscious decision to abandon the people of Kenosha to people they felt [were] justified in using machines and weapons of war against.”

READ: A former Trump aide is trying to build a violent, ultranationalist, right-wing Christian takeover of the US

Then in January, after pleading not guilty to all charges against him, Rittenhouse went to a bar and posed for photos with members of the Proud Boys, a group described as neo-fascist, and flashed what many people call a “white power” hand sign (the okay hand gesture).

In the months leading up to the trial over $600,00 was raised for Rittenhouse on the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. This is not inherently problematic, as religious communities give all the time.

But the Blue Lives Matter flag on the page and the description “Kyle Rittenhouse just defended himself from a brutal attack by multiple members of the far-leftist group ANTIFA -- the experience was undoubtedly a brutal one” has a whiff of Christian nationalism.

During the trial, Judge Bruce Schroeder made several decisions that seemed to help Rittenhouse. He would not allow the two people killed, Rosenbaum and Huber, to be called victims. “Rioters. Arsonists. Looters. Refer to them that way,” he said. Despite visual evidence of a connection, he also would not allow the prosecution to connect Rittenhouse to the Proud Boys. He threw out two charges against the defendant, a curfew charge and a weapons possession charge.

READ: 'Intentional deception': Mark Meadows releases damning details about Trump ahead of hearing with Jan. 6 panel

And then there is the immediate aftermath. Far-right Congressmen Madison Cawthorn, Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar have offered Rittenhouse an internship. The Monday after the trial, Rittenhouse appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show, pleading his case and innocence before a supportive right-wing media ecosphere.

White supremacy without white supremacists

In the same way our understanding of racism has evolved, so has our understandings of white supremacy. How America’s racial hierarchy is maintained today is not the same as it was a century ago. In 2021, we don’t need white supremacists for there to be white supremacy.

Those Fox viewers tuning in to watch Rittenhouse’s interview with Carlson would say they were concerned with “upholding the right of self-defense.” The Proud Boys would say they are against “wokism.” People who contributed money to Rittenhouse’s crowdfund may say they are a “good Christian helping another good Christian.” The Kenosha police and Judge Schroeder may mutter something along the lines of “maintaining law and order.” The congressmen offering Rittenhouse an internship may say their concerns revolved around the “erosion of gun rights in this country” and so on.

That suggests an interest in maintaining the racial hierarchy.

READ: The Supreme Court shows off its contempt for women

It is a hierarchy where Black and brown people are at the bottom absorbing the lion’s share of the state-sanctioned violence meted out by hyper-aggressive police officers. Meanwhile, at the top of that hierarchy are white people who believe it’s their right to storm the Capitol to demand their chosen candidate be given the presidency.

What we talk about when we talk about white supremacy

In a speech last month at Washington’s Martin Luther King Jr. monument, President Joe Biden described the January 6 insurrection as being about “white supremacy.” Later on, MSNBC did a segment on Thanksgiving in which guest commentator, Gyassi Ross, discussed its realities. Ross, who is Indigenous, sees it as the beginning of theft, genocide and “white supremacy.” After Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal, Colin Kaepernick tweeted, “white supremacy cannot be reformed.”

It seemed like the term had come out of nowhere. I decided to check Google Trends. From 2004 to about 2016, there were relatively few searches for the word “white supremacy.” Then in 2016, there was an increase in the frequency of searches, with several sharp spikes. Two of those spikes were in August 2017 and June 2020. What happened?

Donald Trump. One cannot say with certainty, but his rise, replete with far-right dog whistles and bullhorns, was probably explained by many writers through a lens of white supremacy. The spikes in search frequency in 2017 was probably because of Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally. In June 2020, it was likely due to George Floyd protests.

The January 6 insurrection. Thanksgiving. Kyle Rittenhouse. Donald Trump. Unite The Right. George Floyd. All of these phenomena are linked to something called white supremacy. As I suspect this term will be a part of common parlance for some time, it’s worth explaining it.

More nuance, more rejection

The way we identify and discuss racism has changed quite a bit. That’s because the way racism is expressed has changed quite a bit.

Inquiries into racism were more straightforward 30 or 40 years ago. First, you ask: “Do you hate people of a different race than you, yes or no?” If no, they’re not a racist. Then you looked at laws and asked: “Are any laws on the books explicitly discriminating against a racial group?” If there are no laws like that on the books, then there is no racism.

Now consider how racism is discussed today. It’s rather complicated. For individuals, racism is no longer only about conscious hate and clear cases of discrimination. It’s about implicit biases and seemingly benign behaviors that have racist consequences. The focus has shifted from laws and policies that discriminate to laws and policies that may not appear at first to be discriminatory but turn out to have disproportionate effects. Scholars look at how interlocking institutions work to produce unequal outcomes, like the much-discussed “school to prison pipeline” populated by poor young Black and brown men.

All things considered, this is a net positive. Learning more about how something happens -- in this case, racial inequality -- should be seen as a good thing. Unfortunately, it is not. That, however, is primarily due to people rejecting the political consequences of this scholarship and then doubling back to question the merits of that scholarship.

How we understand white supremacy followed a similar trajectory.

Maintaining the racial hierarchy

White supremacy has in the past meant the maintenance of a racial hierarchy with white people at the top. In a white supremacist society, white people have the most power and privilege. White supremacists actively attempt to maintain and perpetuate this hierarchy.

Liberal media outlets have linked the events surrounding Kyle Rittenhouse to white supremacy. This may seem to be a stretch for many. Or, as Briahna Joy Gray titled an episode of her “Bad Faith” podcast, “Has White Supremacy Jumped the Shark?”

Rittenhouse is the teen who armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle and drove from Antioch, Illinois, to a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He said he was going to guard a car dealership. Rittenhouse got into an altercation with protestors, killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injuring a third, Gaige Grosskreutz. He faced several counts but was cleared of all of them.

Some say these events had nothing to do with race or white supremacy. Rittenhouse is white. He killed two white people. They will point out that in an interview with Tucker Carlson, Rittenhouse said, “I support the BLM movement.” You see, no white supremacy here.

They would be wrong.

White supremacy is about maintaining a racial hierarchy. How that is done changes over time. People may still imagine Klansmen must be present for there to be white supremacy. Again, that would be wrong.

The Rittenhouse saga reveals exactly how people attempt to maintain white supremacy. It is white supremacy without white supremacists.

A supportive right-wing media ecosphere

Let’s start with the night of the killings. The Kenosha Police seemed to ally themselves with the militia group Boogaloo Bois. According to a statement from Boogaloo Bois member Ryan Balch, the police told the militia group “that they were going to be pushing the protesters towards us because we could deal with them … KPD made a conscious decision to abandon the people of Kenosha to people they felt [were] justified in using machines and weapons of war against.”

Then in January, after pleading not guilty to all charges against him, Rittenhouse went to a bar and posed for photos with members of the Proud Boys, a group described as neo-fascist, and flashed what many people call a “white power” hand sign (the okay hand gesture).

In the months leading up to the trial over $600,00 was raised for Rittenhouse on the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. This is not inherently problematic, as religious communities give all the time.

But the Blue Lives Matter flag on the page and the description “Kyle Rittenhouse just defended himself from a brutal attack by multiple members of the far-leftist group ANTIFA -- the experience was undoubtedly a brutal one” has a whiff of Christian nationalism.

During the trial, Judge Bruce Schroeder made several decisions that seemed to help Rittenhouse. He would not allow the two people killed, Rosenbaum and Huber, to be called victims. “Rioters. Arsonists. Looters. Refer to them that way,” he said. Despite visual evidence of a connection, he also would not allow the prosecution to connect Rittenhouse to the Proud Boys. He threw out two charges against the defendant, a curfew charge and a weapons possession charge.

And then there is the immediate aftermath. Far-right Congressmen Madison Cawthorn, Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar have offered Rittenhouse an internship. The Monday after the trial, Rittenhouse appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show, pleading his case and innocence before a supportive right-wing media ecosphere.

White supremacy without white supremacists

In the same way our understanding of racism has evolved, so has our understandings of white supremacy. How America’s racial hierarchy is maintained today is not the same as it was a century ago. In 2021, we don’t need white supremacists for there to be white supremacy.

Those Fox viewers tuning in to watch Rittenhouse’s interview with Carlson would say they were concerned with “upholding the right of self-defense.” The Proud Boys would say they are against “wokism.” People who contributed money to Rittenhouse’s crowdfund may say they are a “good Christian helping another good Christian.” The Kenosha police and Judge Schroeder may mutter something along the lines of “maintaining law and order.” The congressmen offering Rittenhouse an internship may say their concerns revolved around the “erosion of gun rights in this country” and so on.

That suggests an interest in maintaining the racial hierarchy.

It is a hierarchy where Black and brown people are at the bottom absorbing the lion’s share of the state-sanctioned violence meted out by hyper-aggressive police officers. Meanwhile, at the top of that hierarchy are white people who believe it’s their right to storm the Capitol to demand their chosen candidate be given the presidency.

A sociologist explains how moral panics serve the right-wing agenda

ProPublica detailed a pattern of suppressing cases of sexual assault at Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia. After female students reported being assaulted, campus officials submitted them to victim-blaming, suggesting they violated campus policy against drinking and fraternizing with the opposite sex. Students told ProPublica that staff did not even report their cases to the Title IX office, a legal requirement. This has been going on for years. How?

How can an institution of this size and visibility carve out this immoral space and thrive in it for so long? What allows staff to feel justified in minimizing complaints of sexual assault? There are many explanations, including the obvious one that Liberty University was concerned about its image of producing good Christian women and men. But I want to offer an explanation that may not be obvious.

Moral panics are the taking of anecdotal instances and making them seem more prevalent than they actually are (the panic), then demonizing groups associated with these instances (the morality).

The moral panics engineered by a philosophically bereft and culturally out-of-step Republican Party allow pockets of America to continue patterns of behavior that most of society would deem problematic.

Let me explain.

Moral panics and immoral action
Social scientists and faculty administrators have been aware for some time that women endure all forms of sexual aggression on college campuses, from unwanted sexual advances to inappropriate touching to rape. It is a long-standing problem. It is well understood in progressive and academic spaces. A common statistic shared in these spaces is one in five women are sexually assaulted on campus.

The Harvey Weinstein case of 2017 and the subsequent #MeToo Movement was a watershed moment, inaugurating a wave of women coming forward about their experiences with sexual aggression. For many, it was simply making public what was already known.

But conservatives turned the #MeToo Movement into a moral panic, suggesting that hapless innocent men were in danger of being persecuted by liberal feminists. News organizations frequently ran stories saying the movement had "morphed into a career-destroying mob," "gone ridiculously too far" and that it was a "scary time for men."

Liberty University could then position itself as being against these feminists and what they support, and double down on practices we know are harmful. Administrators at Liberty University can operate under the assumption that they are a place free of progressive, pink-haired "feminazis." At the same time, they routinely dismiss legitimate claims of sexual assault from their students.

This is how moral panics sustain immoral practices.

The panics keep coming
I chose the Liberty example, because it is the most recent and one of the more disturbing. But also because the links between Liberty's practices and the moral panic that helped sustain it are not readily apparent. Other instances are much clearer.

Consider "cancel culture." The idea is that a hypersensitive irrational "woke mob" will call for the firing or the deplatforming of someone based solely on their ideas. A few cases where people have lost economic opportunities (rarely is someone actually canceled) are used to suggest a pervasive phenomenon. We now live in an oppressive society, they say, where people cannot speak their minds.

This narrative allows people to continue to disseminate damaging ideas without considering their impacts on vulnerable populations. They can say they are against "the wokies" and will not be silenced. So instead of operating in a moral space where people are mindful that speech is an action with consequences, people propagating racist, sexist and transphobic ideas can do so with no qualification or filter.

The panic around critical race theory (CRT) is even clearer, with candidates making the banning of it a significant part of their platform. Liberal, unionized public school teachers are the demonized group in this panic. Because scholars and K-12 teachers themselves have pointed out the ridiculousness of K-12 teachers discussing an esoteric set of ideas oriented towards law school students, anti-CRT advocates have stretched the idea of what CRT is. It now includes anything deviating from Martin Luther King Jr.'s phrase of judging one another based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin.

In response, citizens uncomfortable with talking about racial inequality can hide behind the anti-CRT banner, and legislators are now emboldened to narrow what children learn. In effect, they are upholding a white supremacist version of our history and reducing the ability of our young people to think with any depth about racism.

Let's do one more example, shall we?

Society continues to move forward on recognizing trans rights. It is inevitable that conservatives will generate moral panics giving people the cover needed to continue practicing their transphobia.

But this particular moral panic comes from an unusual space. Within the conservative media sphere, stories about trans women prisoners raping female inmates are becoming more numerous. While this does happen, and we need to find ways of preventing this, these instances are exaggerated (the panic) and they demonize trans persons (the morality). In an odd twist, conservatives have finally developed some sympathy for our incarcerated population only because it allows them to push back against what they see as "trans ideology."

The politics of panics
Moral panics have utility for people who want to resist change and continue operating in ways becoming increasingly inappropriate. People attracted to Liberty University do not want to accept a world in which women are not at the sexual disposal of men. Many white Americans are uncomfortable with a school system that critiques their ancestors and our nation's history. People are uncomfortable with the visibility of trans people and chafe at requests to treat them as equals.

Panics are tools for these people.

But they also serve a broader purpose.

The Republican Party of the 21st century is struggling with rapid change. It has always been the smaller party in terms of registered voters. Recent polling suggests it is getting smaller. Few policies Republicans can offer appeal to voters who are young, educated, less economically secure or of color. One of the ways they can maintain competitiveness is to make sure their voters are energized and vote.

My concern is that progressives legitimate these moral panics by participating in the discourse. By generating an argument against them, we operate on the battlefield conservatives chose. If these panics are at best distortions, at worst lies, maybe the most effective strategy is to double down on our own, more truthful narratives.

I have invested too much time discussing why CRT is not in our schools. Why did I do that? The anti-CRT folks and the political party supporting them were not invested in the truth. My engagement as a progressive academic only helped validate an anti-CRT opposition.

I will be doing that much less now.

Rod Graham is the Editorial Board's sociologist. A professor at Virginia's Old Dominion University, he researches and teaches courses in the areas of cyber-crime and racial inequality. His work can be found at roderickgraham.com. Follow him @roderickgraham.

America is growing skeptical of the Gospel of Big Business

My mother is a firm believer in Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. When she receives an unexpected windfall, or a report of good health from her doctor, she says she's been blessed. When things are not going well, it is God testing her faith in Him. Never, absolutely never, does she question decisions by her personal Lord and Savior.

This is the relationship many Americans have with business.

Except for a contingent on the far left, local companies, major firms and multinational corporations are revered. CEOs are venerated as job creators. The decisions filtering down about wages, benefits, and work environment are justified through the gospel of the free market.

But we need to be skeptical of our relationship to businesses.

Tributes and sacrifices
We all know about efforts made by local and state governments to court business. They are like "tributes." But the scale of these tributes can be mind-boggling. Consider Amazon. Good Jobs First has been tracking subsidies — grants and tax incentives — Amazon receives yearly. According to the nonprofit, Amazon has received over $4.1 billion in subsidies since 2000. One could imagine tax breaks for a smaller, or emergent, company. But Amazon recorded revenues of $280 billion last year. It is No. 2 on the Fortune 500 list (behind Walmart). Yet the tributes keep coming. The company has gotten $650 million in tax breaks from local and state governments this year.

There's no reason subsidies shouldn't go to a profitable company instead of an emergent one. If one sees subsidies as investment, it makes sense to give a tribute to Amazon. But what Amazon gives in return are modest wages to warehouse workers and delivery drivers plus horrible working conditions. On March 17, an Amazon warehouse worker testified at a Senate Budget Committee hearing about her warehouse's "grueling" working conditions in Bessemer, Alabama.

Maybe the tributes are more like sacrifices, and meager blessings are given in return for taking the heart out of a tax base.

It goes on. We are currently in a worker shortage crisis. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the number of job openings surpassed the number of job-seekers in July. That month, the US had 10.9 million job openings, an all-time high (the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report estimated 10.4 million job openings at the end of August).

One interpretation of this is that the COVID relief benefits have dampened interest in working. Fox Business asked in a recent story, "Are unemployment benefits the new welfare?" Quoting from a research fellow at the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability, the story claims: "Unfortunately, due to the recent COVID-19-related changes, unemployment insurance has been morphed into more of a long-term benefits program."

Yes, many people decided to receive COVID benefits instead of seeking low-paid employment. The "unemployment as welfare" line of reasoning ignores the responsibility of employers to employees. It assumes that if an employer "graces" us with a job offer, we should accept, regardless of how much it pays or the quality of work conditions. Businesses give us what we need, not always what we want. We should be thankful for what we have received.

A great awakening
Around 2015, my university decided to offer a degree in cybersecurity. The nation had coalesced around a narrative that there was a shortage of cybersecurity professionals. Our nation's president at the time, Barack Obama, allocated money for institutions that began offering degrees in this field. Our governor at the time, Terry McAuliffe, doubled down with even more money. As a result of government funding and some bright, industrious academics and administrators, we now have a fantastic School of Cybersecurity at my university.

Around this time I stopped singing from the business hymnal. I was on the front lines of my university's program development. The extent to which we attempted to meet business needs was problematic.

We wanted course content reflecting what students would be doing on the job. We even hosted seminars during which we listened to what business leaders wanted from graduates. This was already a problem for me, because I don't see universities as job-training programs.

At the same time, it became apparent to me that the tasks companies needed done did not require a four-year or two-year degree. Firms could train bright, hardworking people out of high school if they wished.

I worked with my university to create an elaborate feeder program, helping absolve businesses of their responsibility for identifying good workers and preparing them. My university's relationship with the cybersecurity industry is indicative of a broader problem.

We complain about the expense of higher education, and rightfully so. It is insane that a college graduate can expect to be saddled with $30,000 in debt. That is the average, but some end up owing much more. Universities deserve some blame. But remarkably, there are few complaints about businesses not hiring people out of high school.

Yet that is the central issue. Even if college were cheaper, a student, instead of owing $100,000 in loans for a job they could've gotten out of high school, would instead owe $50,000. Better, but they shouldn't owe anything or spend four years doing something they don't want.

Our deification of businesses makes it heretical to question this. But they also have a responsibility to identify, screen and train people.

Be a skeptic
We should question our relationships with businesses. Do localities need to offer all these tax breaks? Suppose no one offered them? I am sensing a growing pushback about these tax breaks, with evidence accumulating that these sacrifices do not lead to blessings.

On the minimum wage front, there is still an energetic Fight For 15 movement. Pushback will come from free-market proselytizers. But there are solid arguments for raising the minimum wage. Improving working conditions is a moral argument that must be articulated.

And the responsibility for worker training? I don't see anyone talking about this, which is unfortunate. The closest I have seen are commentaries about raising the profile of two-year colleges.

Understanding that everyone does not need a four-year degree is a step in the right direction but still does not put any responsibility on businesses. There is still a lot of work to do, but I feel good about where we are headed. We as a nation are becoming more skeptical.

Why are teachers in our country paid less? Because we devalue what they do

"Women's work"
Standard views by economists as to what determines wages will include worker productivity or supply and demand. Meanwhile, many economic sociologists claim that our societal assumptions about the value of a job influence the wages it can command. If a job is seen as "women's work," the wages for that job decline.

One version of this claim links the five c's — cleaning, catering, caring, cashiering and clerical work — to lower pay, because these jobs are predominantly female. One can see this without any complex analysis.


But when complex statistical models are used to tease out precise changes in pay, it gets worse. A study in 2009 showed the changes in the average wages of a profession as women move into it.

The study looked at changes from 1950 to 2000, and the findings were eye-opening. As highlighted in the Times, the pay for jobs in recreation declined by 57 percent over that period, as women entered the profession. As women became designers, wages fell by 34 percent. For biologists, 18 percent.

"It's not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance … it's just that the employers are deciding to pay it less," said Paula England, one of the authors of the study. In other words, wages are not simply about productivity or the demand for a job. It is also about how much we value what that person does.

Since the advent of mass public education in the mid-19th century, teaching has been a female-dominated profession. By the late 1880s, women were 63 percent of the nation's teachers. The percentage of women in teaching has only increased, even as other professions opened to women in the late 20th century. By 2015-2016, there were 3.8 million public K-12 teachers in the US, of which about 77 percent were female.

The long association of teaching to femininity is partly to blame for the devaluing of the teaching profession. But there is another reason.

Draining the pool
One of the best books I have read over the past year was Heather McGhee's The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. McGhee, the former president of the think tank Demos, describes the consequences of the racial hierarchy in the US.

Many white Americans view public policy, as it relates to race, as a zero-sum game. They interpret policies that disproportionately benefit Black Americans as them losing something.

McGhee uses the example of public swimming pools closing across the country in the 1960s after civil rights legislation made separate swimming facilities unconstitutional. McGhee argues that white communities saw a sharing of privileges with Black Americans as a lessening of theirs. They voted to close public swimming facilities. As McGhee puts it, they preferred to "drain the pool" rather than share it with Black Americans. McGhee, clearly linking this to the policies of the Republic Party post-1960, sees this dynamic in other public goods as well, from social programs to public infrastructure to health care.

But there is something deeper here, and this is why I like McGhee's analysis. Our public school system is supposed to be a great leveler — a dismantler of racial and class hierarchy. Our schools are supposed to be places where young people from different backgrounds can meet, mingle and learn together. It is … a kind of pool.

And so it is with teaching.

Republicans have been attacking public schools since at least Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign. Most liberal commentators will center their discussion on school choice and vouchers — something Reagan indeed brought up during his campaign. School choice, some may argue, is a way of starving a public school system. A more cynical view is that school choice would reduce the power of teachers' unions that almost universally support liberal policies.

Teachers are caretakers of that pool. As such, there is little mystery as to why what they do is devalued. Why would Republicans support a pay raise or better working conditions for people who are a part of a system they despise?

They want that pool drained and cemented over permanently.

Valuing value
Two factors work together to suppress the wages of teachers. There is the historical association of teaching as "women's work." And then there is the disdain by white conservatives for public goods that threaten to level a racial hierarchy.

Knowing the cause gives us some clues as to the cure. Until we address the undervaluing of teachers, an increase in teacher salaries or investments that improve their working conditions is a non-starter. The organizations that support K-12 teachers need to value value. Our expectations about what teachers deserve, their worth, and their social esteem are important in of themselves. Without public perceptions of teachers as valuable, lawmakers are simply not going to make teacher raises or smaller classroom sizes a major priority.

I am calling out our two most prominent K-12 organizations – The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. These organizations need to make a concerted effort to improve the public perception of teachers. They need to shift some time and energy away from partisan politics and invest it in demonstrating to the American public — and yes, this includes conservatives — the value public school teachers have in our society.

The truth about political bias on college campuses

A common point in centrist and conservative spaces is that academia has a liberal bias. This charge is levied most often at the social sciences. The logic is easy to follow. There is universal agreement that professors in the social sciences are liberal and vote Democratic. Moreover, it is in social science departments (sociology, anthropology, gender studies and the like) where ideas that challenge inequality are produced. You rarely see a sociologist or someone from African-American studies making claims conservatives find agreeable.

So this must mean their activities are biased. It must mean their research confirms liberal ideas about society, and their teaching will be about indoctrinating students into a liberal worldview. Right? No.

It is a fundamental misunderstanding of research and teaching.

It's the questions, stupid
There is a link between social scientists being progressive and the research they conduct. But the conservative narrative is wrong.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool progressive. I'd love for my research (whenever I get to do any) to support progressive policies. But I can't make up data or draw conclusions too far afield from what evidence suggests. I have my professional ethics in place. I could face severe repercussions for fabricating or grossly misinterpreting data.

Even if I could get away with such a thing, would I want to? If I'm researching a social issue, I want answers that work. I gain little from drawing faulty conclusions. What if my "progressive goggles" tricked me into seeing something that wasn't there? Social sciences work on the principle of "the preponderance of information." A faulty study would get swamped by other sociologists who found evidence to the contrary. For my biased conclusions to lead to a consensus — consensus is something scholars hope to achieve over time — other sociologists would need to misinterpret data the same way I did.

Conservatives want research that supports their conclusions. Unfortunately for them, conclusions are grounded in evidence even for the most value-laden forms of research (think critical scholarship).

This does not mean, though, that the liberal orientation of academics has no effect. I can tell you it does — just not in the way conservatives want the public to believe. Imagine 10 conservative scholars recruited to study racism in the United States. Do you know what this collection of conservatives will find? Well, racism in the United States.

The bias is in the questions asked, not the conclusions.

Conservatives want the public to believe conclusions are biased so they dismiss them without going through the trouble of thinking about them. Racism in policing? The research is biased. Transphobia in society? The research is biased. Dismiss it and read this opinion piece by a writer who, oh-by-the-way, works at a conservative think tank.

Dislike college climates? Blame your kids
The notion that campuses are hostile to conservatives has some degree of validity. But, again, not for reasons conservatives give.

You see, I am teaching in a hostile climate. My 1990-early 2000s references are met with dumbfounded looks from students. If I listen carefully, I can hear muffled snickers. In the face of this social pressure, I have officially retired any references to "Friends" and Beyonce. I am being silly here. Student opinion has minimal impact on me, and in turn, they care little about what I think of them. My influence is restricted to the grades I give.

The point here is that students are the enforcers of cultural norms on college campuses, not professors. Students are the ones who draw moral lines of right and wrong. A student brave enough to say "men are naturally better at math" will get whispers and looks from other students. That is what creates the so-called "hostile climate."

Conservatives have done an excellent job of indoctrinating folks into believing that academia indoctrinates folks. The story they tell is that the social norms that dominate college campuses are imposed from above by leftist professors who stifle conservative thought. This false narrative benefits them. They don't have to reckon with the idea that at a fundamental level, their focus on traditional family values, religion, raw capitalism and the maintenance of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and white supremacy are simply antithetical to most young people.

Toward a progressive narrative of bias
The purpose of this essay was to urge readers to think differently about the damaging narrative of bias on college campuses. It starts with the fact that academics, especially in social sciences, are liberal. There is no disputing this. Unfortunately, the claims of bias in teaching and research — narrated in such a way as to benefit conservative political ideology — don't necessarily follow. The conclusions from academic research are still valid and reliable, and whatever hostility conservative students feel on campus comes from their peers, not their professors.

This conservative narrative of bias on campus is self-serving and it's used to support the status quo. It encourages dismissal of academic scholarship and young people who embrace progressive causes.

This is unfortunate.

It's time for progressives to take control of this narrative. Admit that most of the questions asked by social scientists are of primary interest to people on the left. It's just a fact. We can admit that most young people are not interested in conservative values on college campuses.

Let's acknowledge these trends. Then put the onus on conservatives. They have to articulate what they want to be answered by social scientists and integrate that into what's already known. They will also have to realize they must discard their antiquated notions about class, race, sex and economic inequality to appeal to younger voters.

They probably won't want to do those things.

That's why they stick to a false narrative.

Many white Americans feel threatened by the increasingly diverse country — and their fear is dangerous

If you put all Americans in a bag, shake us up and pull one of us out, the odds are that you will pull out someone who identifies as white. That has held since the nation's founding. However, sometime in the middle of this century — in a mere two decades — it will no longer hold. At that time, America will be a majority-minority country.

The exact date, the tipping point, tends to change based upon the latest figures. In 2018, William H. Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote that the United States would become "minority white" in 2045, according to census projections at the time. "During that year," he wrote, "whites will comprise 49.7 percent of the population in contrast to 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Asians and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations."

This is a demographic change few would have anticipated in the mid-20th century. How we talk about this change – its social, cultural, and political implications – can be called the majority-minority narrative. Unfortunately, we are not talking about it enough.

Threat responses
Yale psychology professor Jennifer Richeson is one of the leading researchers in what can broadly be termed intergroup relations. In a summary published in 2017 of her work and others, Richeson wrote that white Americans who are threatened by a more diverse nation express support for more conservative policies, less support for diversity, and more racial resentment:

This emerging work suggests that anticipated growth in minority groups is perceived as threatening to whites' current status as the dominant racial group in the United States, which, in turn, triggers in-group-protective and, often, out-group antagonistic attitudes, policy support and behavior.

This dynamic is not unique to white people. This is a human response to perceived threats. It is, in the abstract, a reaction to the belief that an out-group is gaining in power and status and one's in-group is losing power and status. Thus, Richeson cites research showing that in Black neighborhoods, a growing Latino population perceived to have economic advantages is met with negative attitudes by black people.

But the main concern is how this dynamic will impact the white population for obvious reasons. They are the largest racial group and control most of the resources and authority positions in society.

The average person can intuit this dynamic without rigorous research. It's just common sense. If a white person identifies as "white people" being their in-group and then perceives that non-white people are being centered in society and occupying more positions of authority, they may feel threatened. They may feel they are losing something in terms of power and privilege. This would then lead to advocacy of policies that reduce this threat.

We see this already with voter suppression and anti-immigrant policies from conservative state legislatures. If we are seeing this now, what will happen when America becomes a majority-minority country? Will it be mainstream for white politicians and white people to begin advocating openly for "pro-white" policies? Will we have interethnic conflict? This is apocalyptic. But we're not talking about it.

Saying the loud part in quiet
We have all heard the expression "saying the quiet part out loud." It describes a situation in which someone voices an ulterior motive or says something meant to be kept secret in a public space (a compilation of Republicans saying the quiet part can be found here.)

The opposite of this would be voicing that secret thing, and no one responds. They hear it but pretend they don't, because it is such a horrible thing to talk about. It is saying the loud part in quiet.

Jennifer Richeson and other scholars who are studying the threat responses of whites in response to the majority-minority narrative are saying the loud part in quiet. People hear her, but say nothing.

I suspect that most people hear themselves think about it as well. Maybe it is too icky, too unpleasant to dwell on. Maybe, as is often the case with white Americans, they may wish to imagine they are colorblind. Talking about this would therefore violate that cherished myth. Whatever the reason, there is collective silence on this issue.

Tucker Carlson was rightly called out for his endorsing of "white replacement theory" — the idea that non-European immigrants are being brought into the country to replace white Americans. Tucker Carlson notwithstanding, these demographic changes are rarely spoken about openly in conservative spaces. Instead, they are communicated through dog-whistles. When people say things like taking "our" country back, the "our" means white Americans. Making America Great Again is about making it great for white folks, and so on.

In liberal spaces, when the topic is discussed at all, a more favorable narrative is preferred over one of a potential crisis. The narrative attached to majority-minority is that of a benign statistical oddity, if not a positive development in America's quest to be a melting pot.

More sophisticated analyses in liberal spaces point to the fluidity and complexity of race and of racial categorization. A simple binary of white/non-white obfuscates more than it enlightens, the argument goes. More people are identifying as multiracial, what it means to be white changes with time. (Hispanic Americans increasingly identify as white, and the rates of intermarriage are growing exponentially.) This is the case put forth in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by George Mason University political scientist Justin Gest.

City University of New York sociologist Richard Alba is one of the more forceful voices on the subject. Alba wrote The Great Demographic Illusion in 2020, which summarized his arguments, and has appeared on several media outlets discussing the complexity of racial categorization in America. Talking about America in terms of a future majority-minority country is a divisive myth, according to Alba. In an essay for The Atlantic, Alba and co-authors wrote:

The majority-minority narrative contributes to our national polarization. Its depiction of a society fractured in two, with one side rising while the other subsides, is inherently divisive because it implies winners and losers. It has bolstered white anxiety and resentment of supposedly ascendant minority groups, and has turned people against democratic institutions that many conservative white Americans and politicians consider complicit in illegitimate minority empowerment.

For Justin Gest and Richard Alba, the loud part should never be heard. It is a myth and shouldn't even be said as it creates division.

We must talk openly
I am sympathetic to their arguments, and I suspect they are more right than wrong. However, the empirical reality that Gest and Alba describe is separate from the narrative and the feelings of threat it generates.

In other words, regardless of what is actually happening in society, conservative thought leaders will generate a narrative that plays on the fears of their white base. They are already doing it and there is no reason to suspect that they will change course simply because a few well-meaning academics want them to be more accurate.

Moreover, white Americans, from across the political spectrum, are not blind to the fact that the look of America has changed drastically in the past 40 years. Theoretical understandings of the fluidity of whiteness and statistics about rising rates of intermarriage or people checking boxes as multiracial will not be enough to assuage their fears.

They can look out of their window and see that the neighborhood they used to know has gotten browner, and they don't feel as comfortable walking across the street and asking for a cup of sugar. Even the most racially progressive people may succumb to this "threat."

To combat a damaging narrative, we must talk about it. We must say the loud part not in quiet, but in spaces where it's heard and discussed. Put it out there. Then address the concerns of people.

A handful of Democrats are holding the rest of the party hostage in a critical game of chicken

It appears we're moving toward a massive investment in infrastructure. The Senate recently passed a $1.2 trillion "core" infrastructure bill as well as a $3.5 trillion "human" infrastructure budget resolution.

The core infrastructure bill, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed with a supermajority of 69 votes on August 10. This bill provides funding for, among other things, the repair of roads and bridges, an expansion of light rail systems and the modernization of the country's electrical grid. In what was a surprise for many, 19 Republicans voted for the bill, bypassing the threat of a filibuster. This was a small but major legislative victory for the Biden administration.

On Wednesday the Senate then approved a budget resolution for the fiscal year 2022 that would expand the country's social safety net. This was not bipartisan but passed on a party-line vote 50-49 through a process called reconciliation. The reconciliation process starts with the chamber budget committee setting general goals to be reached and the funds allocated to meet them. Committees are then tasked with crafting the policies to meet those goals. As an example, the Senate Budget Committee has given instructions to 11 Senate committees, one of which is the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. This committee has been given a budget of $726 billion to be used for, among other things, universal pre-K, tuition-free community college and job training programs. The separate committees then craft policy for meeting their goals, which is then combined into one omnibus bill for voting within each chamber. The Senate is now in that time-consuming reconciliation process.

The two pieces of legislation are now in the Democrat-controlled House where legislation is passed with a simple majority. The House returns this week. It would seem as if major hurdles have been overcome.

You first, no you first
But the Democratic Party is now fighting with itself.

A handful of moderates want the smaller core infrastructure bill passed and signed into law first before the arduous reconciliation process on the human infrastructure budget ends. Nine have made this pledge in an open letter sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Nine nay votes are more than enough to prevent the passage of any bill. (The House Democrats hold a slim majority of three).

Meanwhile, a larger portion led by the progressive wing, say they will not vote on a core infrastructure bill until the Senate completes the reconciliation process and passes the human infrastructure bill. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, always quotable, tweeted on August 7:

If mods want to blow up the infra deal, that's on them. I know this is tough for some to understand, but the US is more than a handful of suburbs- communities outside them aren't disposable. And just bc something is "bipartisan" doesn't mean it's good. Look at Wall St bailouts. War was bipartisan. Tax cuts for the rich were bipartisan. Wall St bailouts were bipartisan. Fossil fuel giveaways were/are bipartisan. Just because something is "bipartisan" doesn't make it intrinsically good for people or worthy of passage. Substance matters."

The logic is clear for this wing of the party. If the core infrastructure bill passes first, moderates may then withdraw their support for the human infrastructure bill – the bigger, more impactful piece of legislation. Pelosi has sided with the progressives and agreed to not bring the core infrastructure bill to a vote until the Senate has completed the reconciliation process.

In this colossal game of chicken, progressives must stand firm.

They have received a recent boost, with both senior House Democrats and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee urging the moderates to support the budget resolution.

Income inequality, not economic growth
The letter submitted to Pelosi by the nine moderates stated that "the legislation will help create millions of good-paying jobs a year across the nation and lead to continued strong economic growth."

Democrats should be focusing less on economic growth and more on economic inequality and its damaging effects on the social lives of people. Our gross domestic product can rise, but that does not mean everyone benefits equally from that growth. Our gross domestic product (GDP) has, with some bumps along the way, steadily risen over the past several decades. Meanwhile, income inequality has increased by about 20 percent since 1980.

Yes, more people will be put to work as laborers to rebuild infrastructure. But their incomes will pale in comparison to business owners and elites. Consider who will gain the most:

  • The business owners with the government contracts to do the rebuilding
  • Other businesses that will grow because of these infrastructure investments
  • Owners of stock in those businesses
  • Highly educated professionals securing employment in management, technology, and research and development

Passing the core infrastructure bill without the accompanying human infrastructure bill will only exacerbate the problem of economic inequality.

Yes, jobs are important. They will allow a person some measure of dignity and a climb out of poverty. It will be a living wage and they will be able to purchase the latest flat-screen television. But it will hardly make the lives of poor and working-class people any easier or manageable. They will still struggle to pay for healthcare and childcare. Higher education will still be cost-prohibitive. Affording housing, especially in large cities, will be a struggle.

The focus on appeasing the economic interests of businesses and elites in the guise of increasing GDP with a simultaneous hollowing out of the social safety net is a major reason why America has low life expectancy and highest suicide rates, lower rates of academic achievement, and high rates of child poverty when compared to other wealthy countries. This is despite America having the highest GDP in the world. It is also why white American male's life expectancy has dropped over the past decade. Social scientists Anne Case and Angus Deaton attribute this drop in life expectancy directly to white males dying "deaths of despair" because their prospects for achieving the American dream are so dim.

Investing in "US"
We need to make it easier for our citizens to live meaningful, rewarding lives. A mother should be able to pay for quality daycare for her children. A father of three should be able to look forward to all of his charges going off to college if they so desire. Health care should not be a privilege for those with professional jobs. A married family should be able to find adequate housing. A middle-aged person whose job has been obsoleted by new technologies should be able to find retraining and start a second career.

This is not "pushing America towards socialism" as the Republican senator from Tennessee Bill Hagerty said on Fox News recently. No, it is an investment. The moderate Democrats are focused on investing in the US as an economic entity. This is certainly needed. But they cannot do this at the expense of investing in "us" as a people.