Republican Moral Values

Sorry I’ve been absent for a while. This is the first day I’ve had since Wednesday that wasn’t completely scheduled. And last Wednesday Thomas Edsall wrote a column I’ve been itching to comment on, and now I can finally do it.

Edsall writes,

When Attorney General William Barr warned in a speech at Notre Dame on Oct. 11 that secular liberalism had unleashed “licentiousness — the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good,” there was a glaring incongruity.

How could Barr possibly fail to recognize that there is no better example of a man in unbridled pursuit of his own appetites than his boss?

Barr’s hypocrisy aside, his commentary — “the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has brought with it immense suffering, wreckage and misery. And yet, the forces of secularism, ignoring these tragic results, press on with even greater militancy” — is part of a renewed drive by social conservatives to demonize liberal elites.

Now, we’ve all been hearing this crap for years, right? I remember Pat Buchanan’s “culture war” speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, which I watched because I was too tired to get up off the sofa and change the channel. Buchanan said then,

 The agenda that Clinton & Clinton would impose on America – abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units – that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America needs. It is not the kind of change America wants. And it is not the kind of change we can abide in a nation that we still call God’s country.

My friends, this election is about more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe, and what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.

I don’t know where Barr stands on women in combat, but otherwise Barr 2019 and Buchanan 1992 are pretty much on the same page. As near as I can tell from his web site, Buchanan is a Trump supporter now, which is no big surprise.

Edsall goes on to note that the rightie think tank crowd has been cranking out lots of books lately with standard rightie think tank book titles like Straight to Hell: How Liberals are Evil and Destroying America and Want to Eat Your Babies. (That’s not much of an exaggeration.)

Anyway, I take it that these people blame the decline of the influence of organizeed religion (“secularism” in shorthand), the sexual revolution (remember when that was a thing?), feminism, birth control and legal abortion on an “explosion” in the rates of divorce and single parent households, which usually means just mother, no father. And, of course, children who grow up without fathers are doomed to be criminals and layabouts. And speaking of layabouts, how about that welfare state that discourages people from working?


In a 2015 study, Pew, a liberal think tank, reported that the percentage of children under 18 living with two parents in their first marriage fell from 73 percent in 1960 to 46 percent in 2014.

And then there is the fact that it is the well-educated, often secular liberal elites so detested by social conservatives who are reviving the traditional two-parent family, with declining divorce rates and a commitment to combine forces to invest in their children.

Wait, what? Liberal elites are reviving the two-parent family? Yes, indeed. The terrible irony that the Barrs and Buchanans fail to note is that the satanic trends of high divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births that they blame on liberalism has seen the biggest “explosion” in the very demographic group least likely to support liberalism: The white working class. Get this:

December 2015 Pew study found that the probability of a first marriage lasting at least 20 years was 78 percent for a college-educated woman, 49 percent for a woman with some college but no degree and 40 percent for a woman with a high school degree or less.

But note this:

In the 1980s, at the height of the divorce revolution, there was virtually no difference in the divorce rates of women and men by level of education.

Note also that the overall divorce rate has fallen considerably since Pat Buchanan made the culture war speech. This shows us 1990 to 2017.

This article argues that part of the change is the result of millennials marrying later, and making better choices, than we geeezers did back in the day. And this survey from Pew shows that these same millennials score higher on social liberalism and lower on God-believing than the geezers, also. But, as noted above, the less educated you are, the more likely it is you will divorce.

You might remember that back in 2004 the Gee Dubya Bush Administration made a big splash with its “healthy marriage” initiative, in which a ton of money was allocated for “training to help couples develop interpersonal skills that sustain ‘healthy marriages.”’ This desire to prop up marriage followed shortly after the supreme court of Massachusetts ruled that gay couples had a right to marry, so there’s that. But part of the righrtie argument for promoting marriage is that it would reduce poverty; those single, unmarried people tended to be poorer than those who married and stayed married. Married couples are more affluent and financially stable, so, obviously, if poor people got married they also would be more affluent and financially stable.

Of course, as is often the case, the righties mixed up cause and effect. Affluent and financially stable people are much more likely to marry and stay married than those who are not. Poverty is enormously stressful, which makes it hard for the very poor to sustain a relationship. It wasn’t a lack of marriage causing poverty but too much poverty discouraging marriage.

You will not, then, be surprised to learn that the healthy marriage initiative was a dismal failure. Stephanie Mencimer wrote for Mother Jones in 2012,

With congressional Republicans beating the drum about profligate and wasteful government spending, they may want to take a hard look at a federal program pushed by a host of top GOPers during the Bush-era and reauthorized in late 2010, as the Republican deficit craze took hold. Originally championed by Republican lawmakers including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and current Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a federal initiative to promote marriage as a cure for poverty dumped hundreds of millions of dollars into programs that either had no impact or a negative effect on the relationships of the couples who took part, according to recent research by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

One part of the program offered marriage education classes to unmarried couples with children.

Three years later, researchers reported that the program had produced precisely zero impact on the quality of the couples’ relationships, rates of domestic violence, or the involvement of fathers with their children. In fact, couples in the eight pilot programs around the country actually broke up more frequently than those in a control group who didn’t get the relationship program. The program also prompted a drop in the involvement of fathers and the percentage who provided financial support.

To be fair, it wasn’t all that bleak.

In a few bright spots, married couples who participated in a government-funded relationship class reported being somewhat happier and having slightly warmer relationships with their partners. But the cost of this slight bump in happiness in the Supporting Healthy Marriage program was a whopping $7,000 to $11,500 per couple. Imagine how much happier the couples would have been if they’d just been handed with cash. Indeed, feeling flush might have helped them stay married. After all, the only social program ever to show documented success in impacting the marriage rates of poor people came in 1994, when the state of Minnesota accidentally reduced the divorce rate among poor black women by allowing them to keep some of their welfare benefits when they went to work rather than cutting them off. During the three-year experiment and for a few years afterward, the divorce rate for black women in the state fell 70 percent. The positive effects on kids also continued for several years.

Wait, what? You mean that you can actually help poor families by just giving them money? What would Paul Ryan say?

Thomas Edsall contacted a number of scholars who study social disruptions like exploding divorce rates and what causes them. On the whole, they said the effects of liberal ideology and “secularism” on such disruptions can’t be proved or disproved. What they can measure, however, is the impact of changing social and economic conditions on working class men. One academic said,

My read of the evidence is that the declining economic position of less educated men (both in a relative and absolute sense) has probably been a key driver of the breakdown of the two-parent family among less educated populations for many decades.

Another wrote,

… sharp declines in the availability of middle class jobs for non-college workers (esp. men) — for example, when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and U.S. manufacturing employment fell by 20 percent in seven years — causes exactly these maladies on which these commentators are focused: a drop in labor force participation, a decline in marriage rates, a rise in the fraction of children born out of wedlock, an increase in mother-headed households, a rise in child poverty, and a spike in ‘deaths of despair’ among young adults, particularly men, stemming from drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and other arguably self-inflicted causes.

There is copious data that an when wages rise and new jobs open up, the rates of out of wedlock births drop considerably. But now that not marrying has become the norm in much of the white working class, the out of wedlock problem may not go away so quickly. Edsall:

In Appalachia four decades ago, “a 10 percent increase in earnings associated with the coal boom led to a 25.5 percent reduction in the nonmarital birthrate.” In contrast, in the sections of the country where fracking boosted the economy, “a 10 percent increase in earnings associated with fracking production led to a 12.4 percent increase in nonmarital births.”

You see the picture. It’s also the case that the researchers pooh-poohed the idea that social safety net programs increased social disruption. Looking worldwide, we can see that countries with the most generous social welfare programs have the least disruptions.

And, again, it’s the white working class — Trump’s people– who are being hit the hardest by the disruptions. Another academic:

Uniquely among major socioeconomic groups, the white working class decreased in absolute numbers and population share in recent decades. At the same time, the five measures of well-being we tracked all deteriorated for the white working class relative to the overall population. The shares of all income earned and wealth owned by the white working class fell even faster than their population share.


Put another way, the white working class — the segment of the population with the weakest ties to, if not outright animosity toward, liberalism, feminism and other liberation movements — has, in recent years, experienced the strongest trends toward social decay.

Or look at it this way: The white working class constituency that would seem to be most immune to the appeal of the cultural left — the very constituency that has moved more decisively than any other to the right — is now succumbing to the centrifugal, even anarchic, forces denounced by Barr and other social conservatives, while more liberal constituencies are moving in the opposite, more socially coherent, rule-following, direction.

I would also like to point out that in the endless argument about whether Trump support in the white working class is caused by racism or economic anxiety, I once again say, both.

But now the culture warriors have mounted what might — I hope — be their last offensive. And they have focused their hopes on a walking cesspool of corruption and ignorance called Donald J. Trump. Trump is to virtue what a black hole is to matter. He is utterly lacking in any redeeming qualities. And the culture warriors like Barr are reduced to lying, scheming, and probably commiting impeachable acts themselves to protect Trump’s position. And they see themselves as pure and noble knights trying to save civilization of the threat of liberalism.

The capacity of humans to self-bullshit knows no limits.

13 thoughts on “Republican Moral Values

  1. But now the culture warriors have mounted what might — I hope — be their last offensive. And they have focused their hopes on a walking cesspool of corruption and ignorance called Donald J. Trump.

     There's always the possibility that the current boomers who support the abomination called Trump are sounding out the last hurrah for the remnants of the 'up the establishment' crowd of the 60's. After all, Trump tells it like it is, or he leads people to believe he speaks for them?

  2. Over the past few decades, the initial goals of "Modern" Conservatism have been reduced to three things:

    – First, making libtards cry, and then drinking their bitter, salty tears!

    – Second, whatever the liberal position is on any and every matter, you must take a position 180 degrees in the opposite direction – subject to change at a second's notice if liberals look to try to compromise.

    – And third, as Adam Serwer wrote, "The cruelty is the point."

    Sure maha, economics can also be a factor.  But only as far as economic matters can be used by conservative leaders as wedge issues to keep the bases's hatreds and fears stoked, and keep the focus of those on non-Chritians, non-heterosexuals, minorities, immigrants, liberal elites, etc…

    The Reich-Wing's hypocrisy knows no boundries!  Especially regarding morality.  The 60's have never ended, even as we "Boomers" have aged or died!

    Their ability to "project" is beyond impressive.  They have weaponized it!

    And their base is infinitely gullible!  Their reality is not real.  They disbelieve any logical, rational, or mathematical explanations – "That's YOUR math!  We have our own."  "That's 'fake news!'. We gets news from Fox, Rush, Sean, Facebook, conservative blogs, etc…"

    We liberals don't hate them.  We feel kind of sorry for the misguided rubes.

    But boy, do they hate us!  We are vermin, devils, witches, etc…

    It is critically important that tRUMPism is defeated in 2020.  

    I don't want to be too much of an alarmist, but many of our lives may depend on it.  As do the futures of our young people!

    The Reich-Wing grows more violent by the day. 

    Stay vigilant!

    And help GOTV!!!!!!!!!!!


  3. It is indeed an historical irony that the so-called conservatives are in fact a radical insurgency unconcerned with conserving any values at all. But the irony has a reverse side, namely that the Left is now the conservative faction, favoring norms and institutions to safeguard us from tyranny.

    When I was a lad, my Dad cynically predicted that I would become a conservative in my old age. I retorted that if so then it will be on my own terms. Now I see that we were both right.

  4. I don't really care about the culture wars – the capacity of humans to delude themselves and others knows no end. No amount of data will convince these people since they're not data-oriented to begin with.

    I do care when a Bill Barr wrongly uses his position to push this agenda.

  5. I'll second everything C U N D Gulag wrote and try to add a little. Not only is the blame and hatred from the right usually a projection of everything they're insecure about, reality is irrelevant to them. One of the most interesting things Christopher Wylie discovered working for Cambridge Analytica is that righties (authoritarians) will follow ideas and leaders that are objectively batshit insane (his term) as long as they're consistently batshit insane. Those with leftist characteristics aren't so easily ideated. None of that is really new, but it's now supported and manipulable by big data techniques, making it a bigger advantage in politics.

    People can't be reasoned out of something they weren't reasoned into. The only way to beat them is overwhelming numbers at the ballot box.

  6. Lies, deceit, extortion, and a culture of moral turpitude permeate the Republican Party. The fish is rotting from the head first and the stench from their wake of cultural transgressions makes one gag.  What they think is fair is foul.  You would think at some point even they would notice the horrid smell. 


  7. What I find amazing is what happens when their “experiments” to prove that policies steeped in conservative ideology hold the solutions to the problems – the marriage thing, tax cuts, gutting the ACA and cutting social programs, for example, fail and cause even more devastation for the base.  First, the extent that some of these con artists seem to drink their own Kool Aid and are genuinely surprised they failed.  Secondly, all they have to do is bring up “Obama” or “Hillary” to blind them to the fact that their superior conservative policies do not work.

    When are these people going to wake up and say, you know, I’ve been living in a red state all these run by morally superior conservative Christian leaders applying superior conservative policies and values, so why am I STILL so dirt poor, with no opportunities, can’t see a doctor or get my teeth fixed, and no longer have the food stamps I once relied on to at least eat?

  8. If you have to enter a marriage with a prenup and end it with an NDA, chances are you never had a marriage to begin with.

    Donny & Melania, forever (in Trump time)..XOXOXOkiss

    I mean, if your first dance as the first couple is, My Way, maybe that should offer a clue as to the depth and commitment of the relationship.

  9. There is the anecdote about the preacher who promised that if a devote prayed hard enough, water would run uphill. One parishioner put the claim to the test and after a week of prayerful effort, she told the preacher he was wrong. The preacher didn't miss a beat, telling the churchgoer she just wasn't praying hard enough.

    Substitute whatever the party leaders want for prayer and you have the same dynamic.

    "Cut taxes and the prosperity will flow to the worker."

    "We cut taxes and my pay didn't increase."

    "We haven't cut taxes enough."

    "Poor immigrants are why your pay isn't going up. We're going to build a wall and lock them up." 

    We've locked up tens of thousands and separated the children from parents as a reprisal. My pay hasn't gone up."

    "We need to build more walls and prisons. (which will enrich the donor class who owns the prison companies and construction companies)

    On and on. Health Care, education, agriculture, climate change… The rubes suck it up.


  10. Krugman did a piece on life expectancy in red vs. blue states in his NYT column today.  It included this apt quote on Republican values:

    One thing that’s clear, however, is that the facts are utterly inconsistent with the conservative diagnosis of what ails America.

    Conservative figures like William Barr, the attorney general, look at rising mortality in America and attribute it to the collapse of traditional values — a collapse they attribute, in turn, to the evil machinations of “militant secularists.” The secularist assault on traditional values, Barr claims, lies behind “soaring suicide rates,” rising violence and “a deadly drug epidemic.”

    When the facts don't fit they preach the theory anyway.  When the facts do fit they want to aquit. 

  11. Well, I'm going on 45 years of marriage, and I'm both uneducated and in poverty, so that would shoot Barr's theory all to hell. One thing I can be sure of though is that to have any semblance of a real and decent marriage you have to have trust in one another and selflessness.

     That's two qualities that Trump definitely doesn't have in his. When you're hitting on or shagging every female who crosses your path it's not conducive to a healthy marriage.

    En mi pobreza esta mi riqueza.

  12. Traditional moral values equals white male supremacy. 


    You went where I was thinking: are the white male working class  guys getting divorced because they are frustrated abusive husbands?  I'd like to see the data. 

    I thought it funny that Barr and Pompeo came out touting "Christian " values right before the impeachment started and they quit talking publicly.

  13. Pingback: The Death Gap | The Mahablog

Comments are closed.