Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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Between Yale and Me

We’re only young and naive still
We require certain skills
The mood it changes like the wind
Hard to control when it begins –”Young Blood,” The Naked and Famous

“A story can take you through a whole process of searching, seeking, confronting, through conflicts, and then to a resolution. As the storyteller and the listener, we go through a story together.”
―Maxine Hong Kingston

BD Days

It all started with a book and FOOT.

Before incoming freshman move onto campus and get oriented during a week known as Camp Yale, many opt for one of Yale College’s multi-day preorientation programs. The offerings include living on a farm, hiking in the woods, a program for international students, and a “Cultural Connections” option that is more campus oriented. Given that I was a suburban kid of untapped country heritage, I opted for one of the six-day Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips (FOOT) to the Berkshires, located near the northern end of the Appalachian trail in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts.

It was great fun. We stowed away watches and phones, set up camp in the woods, hung our food to keep it from bears, climbed waterfalls by day, and lay beneath the stars at night. The group, my first social circle at Yale, was as effortlessly diverse as my group of friends in my majority-minority Virginia high school. One of the two upperclassman leaders was a black guy; the other a white girl. The freshmen included a Sikh, a Muslim, some Asians, Jews, Christians, and a broad range of colors. Our cultural differences were many and great, and it was fun to explore them. I learned the phrase “hella,” which I now use overmuch; about the awkward zoo (including old favorites: awkward turtle and inappropriate llama); and of the existence of curious shibboleths of American affluence like hummus, nutella, veganism, and Whole Foods.

It was only much later I learned that even this early, innocent decision of preorientation trips was fraught with demographic tension. You see, apparently, “students of color” go to Cultural Connections (which used to exclude white students) and affluent white kids do FOOT, so some contingent of people saw in the latter program’s existence another chapter in the endless book of segregation, privilege, and systemic racism in the whole ordeal. And, of course, I was on the wrong page.

I stumbled upon this delightful chapter sometime after a mandatory freshman orientation event in Woolsey Hall, where some 1,400 new Yalies were forced to endure the desultory ravings of the black president of Spelman College (my deepest condolences to those poor, unfortunate souls) who declared all white people racist by definition. Incoming freshmen had been required over the summer to read her book to this effect, and to this day, I distrust any assertion linked to the claim that Yale avoids talking about race. Subsequently, I had the eye-opening experience of explaining that black kids did not uniformly or even largely agree with or relate to that speaker’s opinion to a mostly white group of fellow freshmen and a senior or two who were employed by Yale College as freshman counselors (a position as vaguely and imperfectly analogous to an RA as a residential college is to a dormitory).

In so many instances of the “conversation about race” we always seem to need even as we keep having it, I noticed claims of debilitating systemic racism on campus often came back to “institutional” factors like the demographic split among preorientation programs, the purported cliquishness of FOOT leaders, supposed bigotry in fraternities, or the differing reactions (and range of offense) at that mandatory “white people are eo ipso racist” reading assignment and presentation. The familiar dynamics of recent campus discussions (especially if you swap out the reading assignment/presentation with the Halloween emails), suggests the divide in perspective on this issue yawns as widely as ever.

Which brings us to the controversial allegations against SAE.

Among the oddest and more taxing recurrences in racial discussions are the spectacles of ludicrously improbable tales that do not hold up under scrutiny. The latest such instance, the obstinately bizarre tale of a “white-girls only,” anti-gay party at SAE strikes a particularly personal chord. Relatively responsible media have reported on why the alleged incidents likely never happened. But for my part, it seems prudent to tell why the stories were never believable in the first place, except perhaps to those largely ignorant of Yale fraternities or who desired to thread an insidious mythology of oppression through the malleable fabric of wounded souls.

When I first came to Yale as a prefrosh (our term for prospective student) during Bulldog Days (our midweek welcome period for admitted students), I had never consumed an alcoholic drink, attended a fraternity party, or even stepped foot in New England. Fashioning myself a curious and bold adventurer, I wanted to kill all those birds with a single three-day trip. I do not recall where I got my first beer, but I do remember that I wound up at SAE that night feeling less bold and adventurous and more awkward and stomach-achey.

Several brothers and their friends came bearing copious bread (an excellent resource at parties) and effusive, welcoming conversation about their own experiences and how well I would fit at Yale. I had never felt more like a group of virtual strangers wanted me to belong among them. I attended many dozens of fraternity parties over four years, from massive, crowded ragers to summer rooftop gatherings with brass monkeys and cornhole. I had amazing and raucous times at Sigma Chi (my neighbor for a year), AEPi, Sigma Nu, Sig Ep, and elsewhere. But SAE was a perennial favorite, stemming from that first Bulldog Days encounter.

The Yale chapter of SAE had always been a diverse and friendly group for as along as I’d known of them, and it showed in every one of the innumerable gatherings I attended there. One of my first gay Yale hookups began with stolen kisses on their dance floor. A wonderful bond with an attractive Latino friend of a friend from Princeton blossomed over multiple summer nights in their backyard. I carried home a belligerently drunk friend, who is utterly delightful when sober, from their porch in the wee hours. I’ve conquered and been vanquished at beer pong in their basement in as many episodes as there are hidden gargoyles on a New Haven campus. A Vaseline wrestling party I helped organize as an elected class councilmember (long story) came to life in their living room. I took my own prefrosh to their Bulldog Days parties every year, because I knew I could trust the environment and its keepers without fail.

When a black SAE brother and fellow Southerner noted, after the infamous fiasco at the Oklahoma chapter, that he found such racism unimaginable at his home in the Yale chapter, my outsider experience corroborated the sentiment. I’ve told friends for years that were I to do Yale all over again, I would rush SAE. (I have a closer personal connection to the Virginia chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa, but their Yale chapter shuttered long ago.) That is as true now as it was back in 2009, when I realized, with familiar upperclassman horror, that I never got around to joining all the groups I liked.

The slander against SAE is certainly not the first time college kids have invented incidents of oppression to buttress peculiar narratives about institutions. The black student body president at Mizzou announced confirmed KKK sightings amid racial protests on campus, only to later admit his sources made it all up. There was the libelous Islamophobia hoax at a the George Washington University. Also the rush to declare leftover decorations a hate crime in Delaware. And the homophobic receipt hoax. And the fake racist vandalism at Claremont McKenna. And fake hate crime and sexual assault reports elsewhere. The list goes on. And on.

I would not necessarily compare the probable non-victims of SAE to the aforementioned bigotry hoaxes—maybe these were vaguely sincere, alcohol-fueled misunderstandings. But if, as racial protesters at Yale and elsewhere say, these claims supposedly contribute to a broader narrative of truth, why would their likely nonoccurrence not do the same? To say nothing of the incidents of racial harassment against nonwhite people who complicate the prevailing narratives (see: SAE brothers inveighed as race traitors, “social justice” protesters spitting on black kids, etc.). What is it about the mythology of systemic oppression that makes it so conducive to fabrication and slander?

I do not know the answer to that question, but such notions haunted me at Yale, where I would encounter frequent double standards and doublespeak about supposed microaggressions and vestiges of racism/sexism/bigotry. They taunted me when other aspects of my cultural heritage were publicly attacked, as in that memorable debate when a certain liberal leader of the Yale Political Union dismissed military officers as cowards and parasites. That this particular gentleman (ahem) obviously lacks the intestinal or moral fortitude to put on any uniform is par for the course. They chided me when (usually white) female students from the Northeast denounced as “sexist” and “chauvinistic” various behaviors I had learned were manners from the women (and men) of my family and community who would regard their omission as barbaric.

Such questions percolated amid instances of the insidious classism, ironic parochialism, and smug tribalism that permeate jokes about the kind of people who shop at Walmart (read:my people) or feel comfortable around guns (also my people) or tell racist jokes as a way to mock racism (my people, again) or join the military or believe race-based affirmative action is deleterious to nonwhite people or talk seriously about virtue instead of rote “solidarity” signaling, no matter how absurd (still my people). These questions arise whenever people, especially administrators, talk of “cultural appropriation” as though reasonable people can actually be expected to agree that such a concept is coherent, has any merit, or is undeserving of contempt. Or when Yale assumed all minority students needed “ethnic counselors” and to be added to email lists to get “ethnic” campus updates because we are apparently that different from other “ethnic” people or whites, who evidently could not be “ethnic.”

Since it need be said, and said again, demographic groups are not monoliths, not at Yale or anywhere. I had—and may still have, if my Yale-enhanced upward mobility hasn’t yet compromised my roots—more in common with peers from middle- and working-class families in the South and Midwest, whatever their color, than with affluent black activists whose obtuse Sith mind tricks around their staggering privilege inspire revulsion or frustration rather than solidarity. I learned in grade school that Puerto Rican food isn’t spicy, many American Latinos don’t speak Spanish, many Amerindians don’t care about the Redskins (or are fans), black African immigrants (who are disproportionately well-educated) are often more culturally like Europeans than black Americans, homemade Korean barbecue and Ethiopian food are much better than commercial variants, and countless other nuggets of my multicultural background that many Yalies from much more segregated upbringings might have found useful in thinking about diversity, culture, and campus.

As such, I shared many bonding moments with white, black, and Latino Yalies about such things as our common Southern childhood anthem, “Go out back and pick a switch” (for the record, I abhor corporal punishment); or getting checked for ticks at dusk after playing in the woods, while our parents chatted over lemonade or iced tea on the porch; or the cake bizarrely masquerading as cornbread in the dining hall; or how to wash and iron clothes. (Believe it or not, there are a disturbingly large number of Yalies who cannot do their own laundry.) And I recall with particular fondness a senior-year Thanksgiving day in Virginia when some black family friends from Arkansas shared a dinner joke at the expense of a black family in New Jersey about the inadequacies of Northeastern cooking.

I’m also reminded of a conversation I had with a white Mississippi belle of the Yale Political Union’s Tory Party—and later with the racially diverse members of Yale’s Southern Society—about how curious it was that Yale Dining served fried chicken and definitely-not-your-mama’s collard greens on the holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. More saliently, I remember the time I helped a white, middle-class farm boy prefrosh from Wisconsin navigate the insidious intricacies of financial aid policy at elite schools, which allowed him to secure a better aid package from Yale and convince his parents that their remaining contribution was a worthwhile investment. That particular conversation, and the consequent friendship, was only possible in the first place (he was the prefrosh of a friend who introduced him to me) because of how profoundly we shared the disorienting experience of being middle-American pioneers on alien terrain.

One could suppose I was the most out of sync with the zeitgeist of Yale when I was the most insistent that we not define ourselves or make assumptions about others based on race. But I do not believe this is true. The late unpleasantness, notwithstanding, I have always believed—and still do—that the spirit of Yale, if there is such a thing, is committed to free inquiry, the battle of ideas, and honest engagement with different perspectives and ideas, whatever the background of people who hold them. When I think of the crippling failures of Yale, I think foremost of mental health, not systemic bigotry, and I hope with eyes wide open that the University improves mightily on that front. But I cannot do justice to the conversation that topic well deserves in a paragraph, though I would recommend you read this article.

In the end, I choose to believe that, at its core, Yale remains the beacon of the search for truth pulsating through the inspiring visions of Master Christakis, in his thoughtful homage to the principle of charity, and the defenders of the Woodward Report, which holds sacred the academic principles of free speech and vigorous debate. I do not recognize the oppressive, racist, paranoid Yale the protesters represent and describe with eloquently aggrieved incoherence against refreshingly thoughtful critics like Conor Friedersdorf. And I take comfort in my conversations with countless Yalies who believe, as I do, that it does not exist.


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Spare the Rod, Spoil the Racism

“It is tough to watch another person being beaten. And I’m not a proponent of what some might view as child abuse. But when the person being beaten is harming his community and his future and the person doing the beating is his angry mother, she gets no argument from me — because she was right.” –Jonathan Capehart

Thank God for a good mom!

I do not see Toya Graham as a hero. Rather, I find her ordinary, sympathetic, and reasonably enraged by the enormity of injustice proliferating around her, from reports of horrific police brutality to the arsonist riots. In short, I see her as a loving mother doing what she can in an awful situation most of will hopefully be blessed never to experience.

I can understand why many people in and watching the media have hailed her for snatching up her riotous son from his criminal path. She did a good thing, and hopefully her son will profit from her care. I cannot understand why anybody should think the celebration of Graham is the latest footnote in a long essay on “white supremacy” that apparently underlies the multicolored criticism of the Baltimore riots.

Among the many contemptible expressions that littered the reactions to the responses to the riots was this particular gem of mind-numbing inanity from Salon’s Joan Walsh:

“The hypocrisy of the white mainstream applauding Graham is sickening. Let’s be honest: many white folks are reflexive critics of the greater frequency of corporal punishment in the black community.  Witness the media horror at Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson beating his young son. If Graham beat her child like that in the aisles of CVS, you can be sure somebody would call CPS.”

It is difficult to know where to begin with the things that are wrong with this paragraph (among the many other things wrong with the broader article). So for starters, let’s posit that a mother slapping at a teenage boy for participating in a riot is on a different plane of action from a professional football player whipping a small boy so viciously that the boy suffered bleeding wounds on his back, legs, and genitals. Let’s also posit that had Graham “beat” her teenage son in the aisles of CVS for attempting to burn down that CVS, nobody would call CPS, though many Americans would still call that mother a hero.

I will even go so far as to add the radical claim that many a parent would have handled themselves with considerably less self-control were their child to join a riot and then treat his outraged mother with such repeated disrespect as that teenage boy did his mother. It is unclear to me what race has to do with any of that.

In the interest of being philosophically and discursively charitable, I clicked on the link Walsh included in that excerpted paragraph and discovered another Salon article from Brittney Cooper, a biracial Princeton alumna from D.C. who now teaches middle school in New York City. The article peddles a familiar (and erroneous) trope that white people do not discipline their kids, while black people do. Moreover, it ties in the discredited myth that Michael Brown was murdered, rather than killed for attacking an officer, to suggest the purportedly broad racial disparity in corporal punishment is indicative of black parents focusing too much on “producing well-behaved children in a world that clearly hates them.”

Cooper’s article and argument are infinitely more sympathetic than Walsh’s subsequent screed, and I can certainly share her frustration at unregulated children frolicking as public testaments to infuriating parental disengagement (or worse, appeasement). But ultimately the analysis is flawed in part by presuming a dark conclusion—that the world hates black people—and extrapolating false claims—that Michael Brown was murdered, or whites are profoundly averse to disciplining their children—from that conclusion.

Spanking—or, more clinically, corporal punishment—is not a black phenomenon. It is and has been an incredibly common mode of discipline across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. While there may be some degree to which that method is declining, especially among the kind of well-to-do urbanites who comprise the media elite, corporal punishment remains far more prevalent than most media would have you believe.

Insofar as there are demographic differences, spanking is exceedingly common in the South, regardless of race or class. A Time article on a Dallas study from 2011 documented several dozen families in which spanking small children, even for petty misbehavior, was so common and “normal” that the presence of recording devices in their homes did not keep parents from doing so.

“The parents who recorded themselves represented a socioeconomic mix: a third each were low-income, middle-income and upper-middle-class or higher. Most were white; about a third were African-American.”

Relatedly, Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight took an extensive look at the General Social Survey’s findings about opinions of the acceptability of spanking. As of 2012, the GSS noted the highest levels of acceptance of corporal punishment among blacks, Republicans, born-again Christians, and Southerners—each at about 80 percent. The nation as a whole was at 70 percent (about where whites are generally).

As interesting as the racial disparity may seem (10 points), it’s smaller than other disparities—regional (more than 15 points between South and Northeast), political (about 15 points between Republicans and Democrats), and religious (10-15 points between born-again Christians and everybody else). Moreover, blacks are famously more likely to be born-again Christians than other American racial groups. Likewise, most black Americans live in the South, and many of the minority who don’t have deep roots in the region. Similarly, Republicans—notably underrepresented among African Americans—are also more likely to be born-again Christians and live in the South, and as mentioned above, all four groups accept spanking at roughly equal rates.

As far as actually spanking children, beyond just accepting the practice, an ABC poll on the topic also found a pronounced regional disparity:

“Among Southerners, 62 percent of parents spank their kids; that drops to 41 percent in the rest of the country… The U.S. Department of Education has reported that school-sanctioned spanking is most prevalent in Southern states – Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana.”

Taken altogether, the relatively higher rates of approval for corporal punishment among black families is not quite as dramatic or distinctive as some media would have you believe. In all likelihood, the cultural differences between white Southerners—who are mostly Republican and largely evangelical—and black Americans—who are mostly Southern and largely evangelical—are simply not remotely as large or profound as some might think.

I’ve bonded with many fellow Southerners, black and white, over being sent out back as children to “pick a switch” and the various ways we would try (in vain) to find one that would not hurt much. I’ve also heard permutations of that singularly haunting phrase, “I thanked my parents for every spanking/whooping/beating I ever got,” with eerily kindred pride from countless people (most recently a young, Yale-educated, middle-class white woman from Mississippi) across the spectrum of color.

The experiences of fellow Southerner Elizabeth Spiers is an insightful example of the broader cultural point:

“My parents are Southern white fundamentalist Christians, and we grew up in a working class community where nearly everyone else was a fundamentalist Christian and about 65% of the population was white. I don’t think I can recall a single person I knew who didn’t get spanked as a kid. I also went to school for twelve years at a tiny segregation academy* that was not parochial, but still had teachers who felt comfortable reading Bible stories in class and taught Creationism as a competing theory to evolution. There were 32 kids in my graduating class and no black students. Corporal punishment was doled out as a response to any sort of misbehavior and the principal would even spank 16 and 17 year old guys who were on the football team.

So spanking was part of life–at school, at home and throughout the community. I got spanked and slapped across the face as a kid, and so did my brothers. And the fact that my parents did this made them no different from anybody else’s parents.”

The demographic peculiarities of her community and school aside, there is not much in that description of the pervasiveness of corporal punishment in Southern Christian life that would not strike many a black person in America as intimately familiar.

There are many problems that disproportionately plague black America, and there are various remnants of racism that make the struggles of life harder than they should be. But noting that black people are known to spank their kids or pretending that white people either revel in that violence or disdain it in racial snobbery is perhaps even less productive or valuable than arguing over the imaginary racism of describing looters and arsonists as “thugs.”

In closing, I should note that nothing written here should be construed as my endorsing corporal punishment. Having grown up in a world inundated by the crack of the disciplinary belt (and a legion of other objects)—like Spiers, Cooper, and so many other Americans—I wholeheartedly agree with Spiers’s take on the subject:

“That said, I can tell you right now that if or when I have them, I will never hit my kids. I don’t believe in it morally, philosophically–and I don’t believe it works.”

Amen to that.

Remind me again—which one is the "regional party" that has lost touch with America? 
h/t @rkylesmith


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Rising Tide of the Big Tent

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” –Edward Kennedy, failed presidential candidate

Nothing lasts forever.

Nothing lasts forever.

In the rosy-fingered wake of the Republican wave of 2014, the Party of Lincoln will be in complete legislative and gubernatorial control of 24 states, which together amount to nearly half the population of the United States. As Reid Wilson reports in the Washington Post, Republicans now hold majorities in a modern record 68 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers (16 of which are supermajorities) among 49 states. (The Nebraska legislature is unicameral and nonpartisan, though effectively Republican.) Compare this to only six states completely controlled by Democrats, accounting for only 15 percent of the country.

As it stands, Joe Manchin may wind up among the last of the Senate’s red-state Democrats—assuming, of course, he continues to resist the Elysian lure of the elephantine caucus. Among purple-state Democrats, a modest number remain, but the unexpectedly close scares in New Hampshire and Virginia (still a shock to most, and where I’m proud to say my boyfriend, many our friends, and I voted for Ed Gillespie)—combined with the surprising Democratic loss in North Carolina—has essentially put this crowd on notice. Whereas, six years ago Southern Democrats like Mark Pryor and Mark Warner could rack up impregnable victories with high-soaring rhetoric and ostensibly centrist appeal, now almost anybody can lose nigh on anywhere. It’s as though George R. R. Martin somehow got ahold of the scripts of our elections.

Even as red-state Democrats have faded, Republicans have proliferated at every level of blue and purple states. There will be Republican governors from progressive Maryland to liberal Massachusetts. There will be Republican Senators from left-leaning Maine to purple Colorado. In supposedly blue Iowa, which birthed Barack Obama’s presidential ascent and has only voted for a Republican Commander-in-Chief once in seven elections since Ronald Reagan, conservatives will control both U.S. Senate seats, three of four House seats, the governor’s mansion, and the state House. And, of course, in President Obama’s own political backyard, the GOP of deep-blue Illinois will have the governor, a Senator, and nearly half the U.S. House delegation.

By contrast, a broad array of Democrats once hailed as rising stars have gone with the wind, like the debris of a star-crossed missile under a mid-Atlantic sky. Alexander Burns sings the dirge of the midterm Democrat over at Politico:

“At the start of the 2014 campaign, Democrats envisioned an election that would produce new national stars for the party in at least a few tough states – Georgia Sen. Michelle Nunn or Kentucky Sen. Alison Lundergan Grimes, for instance, or maybe even Texas Gov. Wendy Davis. Even if the party fell short in those “reach” states, Democrats hoped to produce new heavyweight blue-state Democrats – Maryland Gov. Anthony Brown, the country’s only black state executive; or Maine Gov. Mike Michaud, who would have been the first openly gay candidate elected governor.

Any of them could have landed on a vice presidential short list in 2016.

Instead, all of them lost.

Joining them were numerous down-ballot Democrats widely viewed as future contenders for high office: attorney general candidates in Nevada and Arizona who looked like future governors; aspiring state treasurers in Ohio and Colorado who could have gone on to bigger things; prized secretary of state candidates in Iowa and Kansas as well as countless congressional hopefuls around the country.”

Predictably, some progressives, including President Barack “my policies are on the ballot, unless they lose” Obama, are chalking up the bulk of their popular rejection to midterm demographics. Americans don’t “really” agree with Republicans, the thinking goes; it’s just that the Democratic “coalition of the ascendant” didn’t turn out—but they would have saved the Democrats, had they showed up! As it happens, we have exit polls, and they paint a more interesting—and more conservative—picture. As ABC reports (my emphasis):

Young adults, a Democratic mainstay…supported Democrats only by 54-43 percent, down from a 60-38 percent margin in their House vote two years ago. Nonwhites – a growing share of the electorate – slipped to 25 percent of voters, more than in any previous midterm but also 3 points off their share in 2012.

Single women, another core Democratic group, gave the party their smallest margin, 60-38 percent, in exit polls back to 1992. Women overall voted +5 points Democratic for House, 52-47 percent – down from +11 in 2012. Men, for their part, voted +14 Republican, 56-42 percent.

Key Republican groups came out swinging. Eighty-five percent of conservatives voted Republican, the most on record (albeit by a single point from 2010). White men voted Republican by 64-34 percent, the widest GOP advantage in this group in data since 1984. Seniors – 22 percent of voters – backed Republicans for the House by 57-42 percent.

And independents, back to their swing-voter status in this election, voted Republican by a 12-point margin, trailing only the 2010 and 1994 GOP advantages in this group.”

In other words, no midterm in history—including the Democratic wave of 2006—has featured higher minority turnout than this 2014 GOP wave. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, the 25 percent of the electorate that was nonwhite in 2014 actually exceeds the mere 23.7 percent minority showing in the “most diverse in U.S. history” Obama wave of 2008.

Let me say that again: the 2014 midterm electorate that restored complete GOP control of Congress was less white than the presidential-year electorate that first propelled Barack Obama to the White House. The difference, of course, is this that blacks, Hispanics, and Asians voted more Republican this time around.

Likewise, according to multiple exit polls, including those conducted by The Washington Post, NBC, and Wall Street Journal, the 2014 electorate was markedly less conservative and less supportive of the Tea Party than in 2010—though a modestly higher percentage of liberals, moderates, and middle-class Americans voted Republican this year. Republicans won among college graduates, independents, suburbanites, the employed, the unemployed, and voters who paid attention to the campaigns, and GOP completely erased an Obama-era deficit among Asian-Americans.

The picture for long-term progressive planners gets even grimmer when looking at some key states Democrats plotted to recapture. In the abortive left-wing hope of majority-minority Texas, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott not only performed strongly among Hispanics, but he also won a solid majority of women voters against a female challenger who arguably embodied the progressive charge of a so-called “War on Women.” Her fellow vanquished champion of “women’s issues,” Colorado Sen. Mark “obnoxious…insult to those he seeks to convince” Udall, saw his advantage among nonwhite voters collapse from a margin of 36 points in 2008 to merely 10 points in 2014. In Georgia, nonwhite turnout reached a record high even as Michelle Nunn surprised most observers by failing even to force a runoff. In Nevada, soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will be the last statewide Democrat left in a place where the Hispanic Republican governor (who might make a promising U.S. Senate candidate in 2016) was reelected with more than 70 percent of the vote.

With the latest defeat of Alcibiades Charlie Crist, after the collapse of Alex Sink, the Democratic bench stool in Florida has essentially been reduced to the aging Southern charm of Bill Nelson and, perhaps, the inherited (political) fortune of panhandle Rep.-elect Gwen Graham, who will become the sole white Democrat in Congress elected from the Deep South. Supposedly purple Florida has no statewide elected Democrats (except U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson), a nearly 2/3 GOP congressional delegation, and yet another GOP supermajority in the state House. Florida has not seen Democratic majorities in either chamber of the legislature since at least 1996 (1992 for the state Senate), and my home state has not elected a Democratic governor since Lawton Chiles in 1994 (the year I started kindergarten), one of the longest such streaks in the South—after only Texas.

In other words, Democrats across the country can now finally empathize with the insatiable aching for a political savior—any savior—in the weary, embittered hearts of their comrades in the Sunshine State. Most of the swing districts—and there are dozens left—are now held by Republicans. There are districts as blue as D+7 that soon may be held by Republicans, pending final counts. The GOP bench is young, deep, and diverse—like the country—whereas the Democrats are enervated and grasping at atrophic platitudes.

To put it bluntly, while the Democrats wrote off the GOP as a regional party in 2012, the reality is now looking decidedly the reverse. Republicans won seats in every region and socioeconomic makeup of the country, including in cities (like New York and St. Petersburg), suburbs, and small towns. Democrats, by contrast, are largely reduced to urban enclaves, majority-black districts, and the coasts of the blue states. This has long been the case in Florida; now that the trend has obtained nationally, it will be fascinating to watch the results.

It’s also interesting to note that LGBT issues, to the extent they came up at all, were largely championed by Republican candidates from Maine to California to Florida. While not all of those contestants prevailed, many won easily. In my home state, Carlos Curbelo unseated an incumbent Democrat in the southernmost district on the continent, and Rep. David Jolly, who purportedly won the ire of many a social conservative for his endorsement of same-sex marriage, won his race by a greater than 3:1 margin. Both seats lean Republican. Given that Republicans will be defending seats mostly in the blue and purple states—like Pat Toomey’s—next cycle, this encouraging trend is likely to continue.

Republicans are by no means out of the woods demographically—the singularly unpopular Rick Scott, for one, hemorrhaged quite a bit of nonwhite support in his nail-biting reelection, and the midterm electorate was predictably older and smaller than in presidential years—but there is much cause for optimism. If the GOP moves swiftly to consolidate and expand recent demographic gains ahead of 2016, the future of American politics could very well turn out much differently than progressives like to imagine. If the Party fails as miserably as the Democratic supermajority of not-that-long ago, then everything could yet be undone.

For now, though, it’s time to prepare to govern. We have miles to go before we sleep.


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Violence and Its Discontents

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” –Philippians 4:8

“Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.” –Psalm 130:1

In light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, emotions are running high on all sorts of fronts. Families are grieving lost loved ones, parents are terrified for the safety and wellbeing of their children, gun control activists are agitating for more gun control, and many others are wondering about the state of mental health and public safety in this country. Above and beyond all this, many Americans are wondering how on Earth a bunch of elementary school kids—who didn’t even yet exist on 9/11—can be murdered in cold blood by a bafflingly determined madman.

What is wrong with the world?

Allow me to being with a public service announcement: contrary to popular belief, I do not have the answers to all problems. (Take a moment to recover from the shock; I’ll be here.) I do have observations based on experience, research, and input from others. I was raised to understand that people kill people, not guns. Most of my friends from Virginia, the military, and various suburbs and towns across America seem to agree. To this sentiment, many Ivy League, Blue-State, and liberal friends prefer Eddie Izzard’s wry retort: “the gun helps.” Valid points abound.

So yes, I already read the “Twelve Facts” of Ezra Klein. They’re rather interesting and informative. I also read Jeffrey Goldberg’s far more thoughtful and balanced feature in The Atlantic; I highly recommend it to the more open-minded among you. (I assume if you’re still reading anything I write, you are exceedingly open-minded, thoughtfully conservative, liberally masochistic, or else collecting more evidence that gay, black conservatives are ruining America.)

Some levity aside, this is my attempt at a serious discussion, not a sermon. So let’s talk.

America is a very violent country. We are by no means the most dangerous, but we shan’t be winning any public safety awards from Western Europe or Japan. We also have a lot of guns, which correlates with more gun homicide within the U.S. (see: the South vs. the Northeast) and across the world (see: the U.S. vs. anywhere). Nevertheless, Vermont exists, gun-related violent crimes fell sharply as sales rose meteorically in my adoptive Virginia, and overall homicide rates have risen with gun bans but fallen with right-to-carry policy in various jurisdictions. There is also the intriguing debate over the inverse correlation between concealed carry and crime.

As Klein and others have pointed out, the percentage of households with guns had been declining in the last several years. However, gun ownership has lately risen to the highest levels since 1993, thanks mostly to women, Democrats, and people outside the South (and possibly the recession). Guns are used (not necessarily fired) in self-defense at least 108,000 to 498,000 times per year. For women, in particular, handguns have proven vital in protecting their homes, thwarting rape, repelling violent assault, protecting their babies, and defending their children from hostile men. As of last year, nearly half of all American households have some sort of firearm.

While gun presence generally correlates well with gun violence, neither is a reliable indicator of overall violence. Britain, for example, is more violent (though not more murderous) than most of Europe and the U.S., notwithstanding her disarmed citizenry. Relatively gun-loving Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden have lower homicide rates than more restrictive France, Australia, the Netherlands, and, of course, the U.K. In the U.S., 20% of violent crimes had something to do with weapons, of which only one-third (7% overall) were firearms. Put another way, more than 90% of reported violence in America has nothing to do with guns.

Which brings us to mass murders.

These macabre eruptions of evil are more like terrorist attacks than “ordinary” violence. For one, they are aggressively premeditated around the law, with contingency plans. (The Columbine shooters brought bombs; the Aurora shooter booby-trapped his apartment.) Secondly, these tragedies, while increasing, are more societally disruptive than reflective of overall crime trends. Violent crime is at extraordinarily low levels, and more Americans die from lightning than mass shootings. Given that many of these massacres, from Columbine to Sandy Hook, were ultimately murder-suicides, it might be time to talk about mental health policy among our cultural issues. An assault weapon ban won’t stop tragedy. Preventing 1% of suicides would save more lives than were lost to mass-murdering lunatics in this entire deadly year.

Suicides, the majority of gun deaths, increased even as rates of gun homicide declined in the last decade. Waiting periods for gun purchases might prevent some deaths without denying the right to responsible gun-ownership. But such restrictions are, at best, only a marginal solution to a broader problem. Nearly half of suicides—which outnumber all homicides—are committed without guns. (Of the greater casualties from “unintentional injury”, fewer than 1% involve firearms.) It might be worth discerning why, for example, suicides appear concentrated in the West, Florida, Upper South (especially Appalachia), and parts of the Midwest but least prevalent in the Deep South (particularly, the Black Belt), Mid-Atlantic, southern New England, parts of California, South Texas, and other parts of the Midwest. Such an approach could be informative, politically viable, and effective. To be honest, I just don’t know.

The dark and maddening truth of the matter is that there are no simple resolutions to evil. Ignoring the politics, gun control is not a panacea and does not come without cost. More to the point, if long-time trends have been instructive in understanding the evolution of marriage (interracial and gay) and abortion law in America, they are also useful in understanding gun laws. In all likelihood, we’re not getting many more of them, sensible or otherwise, regardless of who is in office.

If I have touched a nerve, feel free to insult me, curse the Red States, and vomit bile on “American barbarism” while clinging to infographics of European statistics like postcards from the island of misfit policies that are not to be. But at the end of the day, the Second Amendment will outlive every futile paean for gun control. I want young, promising people to stop dying for no reason, and I don’t see how that cause will be won in the lost battles of yesteryear. Perhaps we can start by ending the insidious practice of immortalizing monsters.

Now is the time to find lasting solutions to underlying problems in our national culture of violence that go far beyond guns. I don’t know what such solutions will look like, but I hope we’re all open to thoughtful suggestions and humble reflection.


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Identify the Vote

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” ―Oscar Wilde

I got my first card from the U.S. Department of Defense in 1999. I was far too young for whiskey or cigars, but it came in handy for occasional trips to the Commissary, the Post Exchange, my school, or even to get home. In 2001, the Department of State issued me a passport ahead of my family’s relocation to Germany. I used it to cross the English Channel and for a few international flights. By the time I got to Yale, which gave me yet another ID card, I had a driver’s license from the State of Florida (since traded for one from Virginia). Four IDs, one man. Guess I was popular with the bureaucrats.

In more than 30 states, new voting laws are stirring partisan rancor. Current and proposed requirements range from none—including some vetoed (e.g. N.C. & Minn.) or ruled unconstitutional (Wisc.)—to photo-optional to particularly strict photo standards in five states. The GOP claims to be preventing fraud it can hardly find; Democrats argue 750,000 voters will be unable to vote in Pennsylvania alone. Throughout the South—where Texas, Mississippi, Florida, and South Carolina are courting federal preclearance (as is New Hampshire)—the laws are being compared to Jim Crow, as many critics see a concerted effort to disenfranchise minorities and the poor. Nevertheless, most people favor voter ID laws. What ought a reasonable person to make of all this?

While I was growing up in the Army, the cards were free and ubiquitous, and they did what they were supposed to do. I doubt it’s feasible to standardize voting laws across the states, but two lessons from the military community seem broadly applicable:

1) It is reasonable to require reliable identification to access restricted activity.

1a) Voting is (supposed to be) a restricted activity and a fundamental right.

2) Reliable identification ought to be provided to anyone entitled access to some restricted activity.

Put simply, we should require IDs at the polls, and state governments should make sure all registered voters can attain IDs with reasonable ease or avoid the requirement. As it happens, many states, including Georgia and Virginia (both already precleared), already do this. I suppose some on the Left will nonetheless maintain that these laws persecute the poor and the brown among us. But while some concerns are reasonable and noted, the audacious claim that these common-sense checks are everywhere malignant strains credulity even more than Hank Johnson’s continued presence in Congress.

The expectation that registered voters acquire proper identification is no more cumbersome than requiring that they leave their houses in order to vote. If the response is that certain demographics will not read their mail or otherwise notice new laws—and thus be disproportionately harmed—then I wonder how we expect these people to know where to vote, let alone for what. After all, voting locations change and redistricting happens. Are we actually to believe a sizeable portion of the electorate is impervious to information? If so, to what end are we to move heaven and earth—and their unidentified souls—to drag such ignorance to the polls? And how are we to do so?

Then again, I don’t know anybody—young, old, black, white, poor, brown, or other—who completely lacks identification. I’m just a middle-class guy from the suburbs. What do I know?