It increasingly feels like America is reaching a boiling point, more raging bonfire than flash in the pan. Already beset by a national recession and a deadly pandemic that has now surpassed 200,000 deaths, this week has stoked new fires, including a Supreme Court battle to fill the Notorious RBG’s seat, President Trump refusing to promise a peaceful transfer of power, mass protests after police officers faced no charges in the death of Breonna Taylor and the swirling of literal fire tornadoes out West. As American anger heats up, we bring a fresh lens to its origins and the core beliefs it threatens to topple, as well as the ways we can work together to douse the flames.
Nick Fouriezos, senior politics reporter
the boiling point
1. Is This the Death of Civility?
A moralization of politics, evolving beyond simple differences in opinion, is complete. How can society achieve the consensus it needs to function if everyone regards rivals as “Nazis,” “traitors” or “enemies of the people”? Trump, the torchbearer, has at times fueled racial tensions and stomped on his perceived enemies, citizens and institutions alike. Some have become radicalized by the president’s behavior, meeting fire with fire — from erecting guillotines to accosting Senators to defending violent looters as collecting what society owes them. Meanwhile, the American Fringes have continually hijacked the discourse, worming their ideas into some of America’s most revered institutions. The loss of civility playing out on the national stage has had ripple effects, reflected in an apparent uptick in nastiness nationwide, with ordinary citizens bickering over face masks in stores, trolling each other on social media and facing off over campaign signs next door. In a multiethnic, multicultural and increasingly crowded democracy, respecting commonality while acknowledging differences has been the surest way of moving forward — but it has become a casualty of rising American anger.
Questioning fact-based truths and the media undermines democracy by enabling self-serving narratives and conspiracy theories on both sides. Without even basic facts that both sides trust on issues like mask-wearing and ballot security, finding common ground becomes almost impossible. Socially, internet users have become less generous and more aggressive toward those they perceive as enemies. Politically, fairness has been discarded by Republicans willing to flout their own talking points from 2016 in a naked power grab to fill a Supreme Court seat. The president, who notably didn’t win the popular vote, has nominated judge Amy Coney Barrett, who will likely be voted for by two appointed U.S. Senators who have never faced accountability from voters, Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia (the GOP will argue decorum went out the window with the aggressive fight Democrats led against Brett Kavanaugh in 2018). And as Donald Trump already discredits millions of mail-ballot votes in the 2020 election while refusing to promise a peaceful transfer of power, many wonder if the game is rigged.
Amid the pandemic, we have witnessed U.S. billionaires amassing nearly $1 trillion, unemployment rising to a 15 percent peak and the loss of employer-backed health insurance for 12 million Americans. Between 1975 and 2020, the top 1 percent took $50 trillion from the bottom 90 percent in wages that failed to keep up with the times. Wealth for white Americans is 13 times that of the median Black household, because while President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal helped expand the postwar middle class for white America, it left out communities of color. So American communities are struggling: They are working more and earning less while seeing the cost of living and education drastically increase. When society doesn’t feel its needs are being met, populism — from the right or left — can look inviting. Unless concrete fixes are made, “popular anger is here to stay,” writes the National Review’s Mathis Bitton.
4. Racial Harmony?
Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a world where his Black children stood hand-in-hand with white children and were judged not by “the color of their skin, but the content of their character” remains elusive. The Black Lives Matter movement has spotlighted the many racial injustices faced by people of color today. Both activists and lawmakers have called for positive change but have seen little progress.
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temperature check: where do certain groups stand on key issues?
1. White Evangelicals
Despite everything that’s happened, white Christians are actually less motivated to face issues of race than in the past. According to an online survey by the California-based Barna Group, 36 percent ofwhite Christians in 2020 were unmotivated to address racial injustice compared to 23 percent in 2019. This is likely because racial injustice issues carry more political “baggage” in 2020 than before. While a white Christian may have seen racial injustice issues as nonpartisan a year ago, today that phrase ties more directly to the left-leaning Black Lives Matter movement and liberal slogans like “Defund the Police,” which white Christians aren’t as likely to support.
2. Black Generational Divide
In polls that took place before the pandemic, younger Black voters said they were more likely to care about the economy, with about 40 percent saying it was their top issue — more than their older family members and white and Hispanic peers. They were also more likely to support shifting from capitalism to socialism than older Black Americans, although that number is still in the minority at just 33 percent. Since the George Floyd protests began, Black Americans now place policing and race as their top concerns, and, according to a Washington Post poll, overwhelmingly back Joe Biden.
3. African Americans Want Better Policing, Not No Policing
Despite suggestions from #DefundThePolice advocates that they speak for Black people, that simply does not bear out in polling — 81 percent say they want more or the same amount of police presence in their neighborhoods, not less. That is in line with polls on a host of issues where white Democrats are significantly more liberal than their African American peers. (Gallup)
4. The White Vote
White voters are abandoning Trump in key states such as Pennsylvania (tied) and Minnesota (Biden +2). They are driven by white women, the scapegoats of 2016 for many after 53 percent supported Trump. They’ve made huge swings in certain states, such as Wisconsin, which swung from +16 for Trump to -9 among non-college educated white women. Still, if white women actually do back Biden over Trump on Election Day, it will be a rarity: Only twice in 17 presidential elections since 1957 have white women chosen the Democratic candidate over the Republican one. A majority of white men still support Trump, but it’s a smaller majority than in 2016, which helps explain why Biden is leading significantly in general election polls.
5. Immigrants Are Patriotic
The left sees immigrants as an ally in an effort to reform (and, for some, fully dismantle) an inherently racist America. The right paints immigrants as unwilling to assimilate and a threat. But neither have it right. Immigrants are the most patriotic group in America, owing to their overall optimism for making life in a new country work (while others simply lack a viable exit). But immigrants share neither the far left’s pessimism nor the far right’s racism.
6. Another Seismic Party Shift?
The polling is clear: Trump has gained ground with minority voters since 2016 — marginally with Black and Asian American voters and significantly with Hispanic Americans. That isn’t enough to offset significant white flight from the GOP … yet. But it has the potential to create a new party alignment every bit as meaningful as the working-class departure from the Democrats four years ago.
Enough with the employee town halls, mealy-mouthed apologies and purple-prose press releases: It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to shut down Facebook for at least the weeks before and after Election Day. That drastic action is necessary given that the social media giant is used to spread mass election disinformation, particularly around the veracity of mail ballots, which could cause chaos in November. While Facebook has promised to ban new political ads, liberals rightly point out that doing so only prevents campaigns from counteracting the (significantly larger) organic reach of conservative outlets known to spread Trump propaganda that often goes viral. Facebook has repeatedly proven unable to police its own product, from allowing the spread of QAnon conspiracy theories to tolerating posts by paramilitary groups like the “Kenosha militia” that may have led to the shootings of protesters by teenagerKyle Rittenhouse. OZY's Immodest Proposal? Shut it down to help foster a free and fair election.
In a fascinating piece about Mitch McConnell’s impact on the Democratic Party, Vox founder Ezra Klein argues that the Republican Senate Majority Leader has escalated tactical maneuvers that have allowed Republicans — who have trailed Democrats in total votes in most of the last few national elections — to nonetheless run the country despite being a minority party. In order to get the country back to being both democratic and representative, Klein suggests Democrats may need to use nuclear options if they retake Congress and the White House in November — from axing the filibuster to adding Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico as states and even expanding and then stacking the Supreme Court. While they can certainly expect Republicans to claim foul, if Democrats can pass popular changes while in power, it may be hard for conservatives to justify unraveling them over time.
3. Enact Widespread Election Reform
After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 by essentially arguing that it had worked so well in defeating racist election practices that it no longer was needed, the United States has seen a number of attempts to suppress the vote and use local election laws to keep incumbents in power. It is time for a 21st-century Voting Rights Act, created federally with the power to override state election laws, with a nonpartisan federal group created to require best voting practices that are well-known among election experts, including options like universal access to mail ballots, automatic voter registration and drive-thru ballot drop boxes. While Democrats will likely have to take up that cause and Republicans may oppose it, the evidence is clear that voter fraud is rare … and that attempts to tighten voting security are more often about keeping the GOP in power than about protecting the election process.
If Democrats win the White House and the Senate, here are some softer ways to ease tensionsacross America.
1. Change State Laws to Proportional Voting
Many opponents of the Electoral College want to scrap it constitutionally. But states could individually change their processes to send electors more proportionally, rather than the winner-take-all system that most states employ today. All Americans would benefit if Republican and Democrat governors alike could be convinced to buy into a more democratic system of governing, one in which few could doubt the mandate of a president.
2. Halt Bad Faith Campaigns
Slogans like “All Cops Are Bastards” and “Blue Lives Matter” have pitted activists against police in ways that fire past the other’s legitimate gripes and poison the well for actual change, even if well-intended. Of course, police unionshave aggressively blocked progress on these issues, and the “us vs. them” tactics have escalated as both police critics and the police themselves have become more political. It will require a president and local leaders who are willing to douse the flames when dealing with public safety issues rather than fan them for political gain. Still, police chiefs like Houston’s Art Acevedo have shown that the right leaders are willing to court change while still living up to their sworn duty (although he, too, has his faults).
3. Pass an Internet Bill of Rights
The tiny country of Estonia has declared internet access to be a human right — offering nearly universal, free, public wifi. That comes with a national Blockchain-based government system that protects citizens’ security, allows crimes to be reported and cases to be handled online while also making access to educational, electoral and legislative documents exponentially easier. Black Americans, rural white Americans and others on the margins disproportionately suffer from a lack of digital connectivity, limiting access to public services. Shifting more police work online could limit physical interactions that have sometimes led to tragic and unjustified shooting deaths. Critically, Estonian-style digital IDs would automatically grant, maintain and prove voter registrations, thwarting common voter suppression tactics. These rights could also include access to free fact-checking resources — provided by nonpartisan outlets like Logically, an A.I.-based app fighting disinformation in an effort to improve discourse and knowledge in the U.S., India and other nations.
1. Candice and Brian Brackeen: Investing in Overlooked Communities
The venture capital gurus lead Lightship Capital, an Ohio-based fund seeding $50 million to underrepresented founders in the Midwest. With innovative tactics, including moving in with the founders of companies they’re investing in, the Black empowerment duo are finding opportunity by investing in the often overlooked.
Philanthropy is too often a white man’s game, with white leaders disproportionately funneling donated money to white-led charities … even with stated missions to advance social justice. But Walker, founder and CEO of the accelerator Camelback Ventures, is fighting to change that by providing an incubator that helps innovative and diverse leaders. His project, Capital Collaborative, brings together white philanthropic and corporate executives from across the country to teach them about racial equity.
The newest happiness guru says it’s OK to be upset. As an Ojibwe teenager who spent summers on a First Nations reservation in Canada, Frawley was told her feelings of sadness as a teenager were “depression.” But Frawley realized that the negativity and poverty in her life were actually valid things to be sad about — not signs of a mental disorder. Now a lecturer at Swansea University in Wales, Frawley’s research focuses on the way cultural influencers, like wellness companies, try to make happiness a personal problem. She advocates for a more communal, society-focused approach to well-being.
She used to run a Trump-bashing progressive website before converting to conservatism, and has used her platform the last two years to “red pill” minds to the GOP. Owens, now the founder of the #BLEXIT campaign for Black Americans leaving the Democratic Party, has never been shy with her attack lines — most recently tweeting that this time liberals can't smear Trump Supreme Court pick Amy Coney Barrett because “she’s a woman, so they can’t hire their usual fake sexual assault victims.” “Barrett has two Black children, so they can’t smear her as a racist,” she added. Owens enjoys a formidable following on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
When the former Buzzfeed News editor-in-chief took over the media column at the New York Times, he was taking on a gig made famous by the legendary late David Carr — and since has revived the column’s popularity with a combination of newsy irreverence and breaking of news that nobody else is ready to divulge, including the infamous “Steele Dossier.” As one reporter wrote, Smith has “a compulsive desire to make hamburgers out of sacred cows.”
The biracial New Jersey native turned Parisian intellectual eloquently (if controversially) speaks and writes about the importance of deemphasizing race at a time when Black Lives Matter has greatly accentuated it, decrying well-meaning wokism as racial essentialism revived and advocating for liberal multiculturalism instead.
7. Michaela Coel: Standing Her Ground
She became famous with Chewing Gum, a coming-of-age story of a young Black woman exploring her religious roots, sexuality and voice in Great Britain. Her HBO show, I May Destroy You, has been a massive hit and has paid off her gamble from 2017, when she rejected a $1 million Netflix offer to buy the show rights because the streaming giant wouldn’t give her copyright royalties. With full creative and financial control, Coel is changing the conversation in a way only the daughter of Ghanian immigrants could.
The Fox News regular is far removed from her Colin Kaepernick-bashing “Final Thoughts” days … although she still proudly backs the police, as she did recently in an appearance on The Carlos Watson Show. From mimicking Trump’s warning about a rigged election and rampant mail fraud to ridiculing the intolerance of leftists, Lahren is also experiencing life changes: The South Dakota native has hopped from Los Angeles to Nashville, Tennessee, where she is regularly recognized in the social scene. And, as she tells Watson in the revealing one-on-one interview, she’s an original conservative.