We are all authoritarians now. Well, maybe not quite all of us, but far more of us now than ever before. Or at least it seems so. Left and Right, liberal and conservative, we as a people seem to have made a deal with the Devil: intrusive government is acceptable as long as our 'side' is doing the intruding.
The Great Divide of our time, politically speaking, has actually become just a series of squabbles over who will be running our lives. As far as the two main political parties are concerned, the idea that men should be, and by right ought to be, left to their own devices to the greatest extent possible is in depressingly short supply. An understanding of, and more importantly an attempted explanation of, what it means to be free has been supplanted by mere Constitutional carcass picking at the national level, save for a few brave souls like Justin Amash and Ben Sasse. Obviously there are other small "c" conservative and libertarian voices arguing for truly extricating the government from private life and private commerce, but their message is diffuse and they are not in the ranks of elected officials. Not really.
Why should this be the case? Why, in a country founded on the idea that at the very least the national government in Washington should be small and distant do the ideas of true individual liberty maintain such a precarious footing in the national psyche? Why do so many, regardless of party affiliation and professed political views, fall prey to the Siren song of ever larger, ever more intrusive government?
First of all, it's easier. That Siren is one honey-voiced vixen, and her tunes are difficult to keep out of your head now that you have to deal with six different government agencies to get the right wax for your ears. It's not very feasible for an ordinary individual citizen to have much influence over national politics, but ultimately our state and local governments are just as intrusive and theoretically easier to influence. The Right calls for "local control" of education, but local control doesn't do much good when the locals in control have all been on the school board for a decade incrementally allowing all that stuff we call for local control in the hopes of preventing. Changing things, even at the county or state level, takes effort. We're all busy people, so the prospect of just voting for the guy with an 'R' after his name and assuming he thinks just like you do is very enticing.
Liberty also entails a bit more risk than relying on the government. There will always be and always has been a certain amount of danger involved in freedom. The left, for their part, is perfectly happy to solve that problem by restricting access to dangerous things, i.e. guns. This doesn't actually solve anything, of course, and the Right rightly howls indignantly about the Second Amendment, even though many on the Right often take a stance best summed up as "ok, we'll go along with these restrictions if you pinky swear this is the last set of restrictions.” But the Right can be just as authoritarian in the name of "public safety.” The War on Drugs is no less authoritarian than the one on guns. Both issues are ultimately just about a choice: a choice made by the voters of what it is they're comfortable with the government banning or restricting. You won't find many elected Republicans who take the position that heroin should be legal, just like you won't find many Democrats who will say they think you should be allowed to own fully automatic weapons.
Some of the retreat into government solutions by the Right is surely reactionary. North Carolina got along just fine for a not insignificant period of time without a law about the bathrooms in private businesses. But not all of it on the Right, and very little to none of it on the Left, is reaction to specific pressures. Take the platforms of the Presidential candidates. They're mainly laundry lists of what the candidate's administration will do for you, the voter. Even Ted Cruz, the Constitutionalist, really only hits the high notes; the IRS, the EPA, etc. That's because, for the most part, really trying to cut the size and scope of Washington isn't all that popular. Even the politicians who say the states should decide don't often follow that up with "and the g-- damn state governments are too big, too."
Our problem may be that too many Americans have come to define "freedom" as when the government happens to side with them on a specific issue, instead of recognizing that being free means that your neighbors are, as well. So we vote for the politicians who ensure us that they'll fight for our liberties at the expense of theirs, because we aren't offered politicians who recognize that the impulse to tell other people how to live is never very far from the surface in any of us. Our system was designed to limit that impulse to a great extent, at least where the Federal government was concerned. But the impulse is just as strong in the state legislature, and on the city council. What is required is a crop of people willing to enter public life, at all levels, whose first instinct is always to ask "why the hell are we even talking about this?"
I hate being a Republican. I’ve never liked it, but reluctantly accepted it as an avenue for my political views to be expressed. Being a Republican means always being on the defense, and if you are a Republican, this requires no detailed explanation. Likely you’ve spent a good amount of time deflecting accusations of “isms” and “phobias.” You’ve lost a friend or two, strained relationships, had more than a few debates that accelerated quickly. We can deal with those things, because we know these accusations are emotional reactions from the left meant to disarm us. We believe enough in the principles of conservatism that it is worth the effort, and the losses, along the way. In the same vein, we believe enough in conservatism that we might be willing to join a party, perhaps against our own inclinations to be individuals.
But I hate being a Republican. I hate the Grand Old Party, but here I am, part of it, and I’ve never been more embarrassed. We sure had some good things going for us, didn’t we? Think back to just before the primaries: those were the days. Unbeatable. Seventeen candidates? Why not. They all bring conversation to the table. Election after election, the elephants ask conservatives to give up something and vote for their candidate, but this time maybe they wouldn’t have to. There were enough solid choices in the lineup. The past seven years validated every conservative concern about government — this was our time.
But not for long. No, we traded all that in. We traded it in for a candidate who instead of promoting our principles made a mockery of them. We’d rather a man who refused to denounce the KKK on national television. The GOP nominee may be a man who mocked a disabled reporter and POW’s. A man whose followers attempt to win votes not by persuasion of policy but by intimidation and threat. The GOP nominee may very well be a man whose response to a female reporter’s question about his misogynist past was that she must be menstruating. The GOP nominee may be a man who talked about size of his penis during a debate. Our guy could be the one with seven different opinions on abortion, and thinks Planned Parenthood does great things. That’s our guy.
The Obama years gave Republicans a chance to be the adult in the room. I thought the party was ready to grow up. I was wrong. Instead we are delivering to the national stage, for our representation, a stereotype of everything Democrats say we are. And here comes Reince, in typical fashion, asking that we make the phone calls, send out the mailers, tell our friends and family, and knock on doors proclaiming the gospel of Trump as the new voice of the Republican Party. Here comes the GOP, saying, come on, we need this win. The GOP has never understood that conservatives never wanted to be part of their party anyway. The fight is better without them.
Rebecca wrote yesterday (Where the Boys Are) about the large swings in the aggregate gender of American university students. For several decades now, women have been attending college at higher (and faster increasing) rates than men, leading to a current “national student body” that is approaching 60% female.
I had a hunch that a deeper dive into the demographics would show some interesting trends, and I was (sort of) right. First, Rebecca’s concluding assertion, that “young men are disappearing in droves from campuses across the nation,” is somewhat misleading. Young men aren’t disappearing from college campuses as much as they are being crowded out by the growing numbers of women. Men are, in fact, attending college in higher rates than ever before.
Per the National Center for Education Statistics, attendance by men aged 18-24 at institutions of higher learning is near its all-time highs [for simplicity’s sake, all of the data from here on out comes from that same age set]. After falling during the 1970s, attendance was in the mid 20%’s around 1980 and rose to a record 39.1% in 2011 before falling slightly in 2012 (the most recently available data). Those increases, however, are dwarfed by the staggering gains made by women over the same period. In 1980, about 25% of women attended some college, a rate that had already grown substantially since the late 1960s. By 1990, that attendance rate had risen to 32%, a gain that largely tracked male progress over the same time period. Over the next decade, however, women gained much faster than men, reaching 38.4% by 2000 and peaking at 44.9% in 2011.
I also had a second theory: that the changes were impacting different racial groups unevenly. Namely, I had a suspicion that the massive increases in women’s college attendance were fueled disproportionately by black and Hispanic students while white and Asian students largely maintained their balances.
Turns out, that is pretty much the opposite of true. Black and Hispanic men, while still attending college in rates that did not increase as fast as their female counterparts, made gains at rates that were closer to the women (the data doesn’t break out Asian attendees by sex). It’s the white men who really lagged.
The increase in white women’s attendance rates represented about 24% of their population. For black women, that increase was about 23%, and Hispanic women saw a move of nearly 30% of their numbers into college. In the same period, the increase in attendance of men represents nearly 13% of black men, and nearly 20% of Hispanics, but only 6% of whites. In the last 20 years, the portion of white men attending college has barely budged, while rates of black and Hispanic men attending college have risen substantially. The story, therefore, is kind of the opposite of most economic stories: white men are the big losers (although, it should be noted, they still attend college at higher rates than either black or Hispanic men).
All of this leads to a pretty obvious set of questions, most of which start with “Why.” My suspicion is that overall male/female ratios are due in part to better employment prospects for non-college men than women, mostly in fields that still rely heavily on physical labor. Anecdotally, there are not a lot of women on the thousand or so (it seems) reality TV shows that highlight commercial fishing, crabbing, gold mining and logging. The biggest US economic success story of the last decade, the explosion of onshore oil and gas production, stands as evidence that there are still fields that offer superior prospects to an 18-year-old boy than to an 18-year-old girl. I also think that some of it is a cultural result of the things that teenage boys and girls are taught to value. It is still, in at least a significant portion of places, socially more acceptable for girls to prioritize academic achievement than it is for boys to do the same.
The racial and ethnic differences may be somewhat harder to crack. On the one hand, the bigger increases among black and Hispanic students might simply be due to catching up to whites after starting at a much lower baseline. It could be that there is just a maximum efficient level of college attendance, and white males have reached it, while males of other races are just now approaching it. There is, however, at least one piece of data that says the differences are more deeply cultural than that: Asian-Americans attend college at a rate almost 50% higher than that of other Americans.
That is, frankly, a staggering data point, and one that is worthy of a much deeper dive than I am prepared to do here.
I’ll leave that to another Misfit. ;-)
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.