Senator Ben Sasse's: THEM - a Book Review

 (Nebraska, Republican Senator) Ben Sasse’s : THEM: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal , is both interesting, and very frustrating.   His world and my world are very, very different.   He is well-read and ably quotes a lot of intelligent people in supporting his conclusions.   Seemingly, he is open to “the other side”, but I remain unconvinced.

 Simple Example:   Fox vs. CNN/MSNBC

 Sasse points out the total corruption of Sean Hannity of Fox.    Shocking others is the goal, not the truth.   Case closed.

 CNN and MSNBC do somewhat similar things – “Breaking News” that isn’t breaking and more than token instances of ridicule of opposing views and similar.

 There is Zero noting that corporate media and corporate power are a key problem of “THEM”.    CNN and MSNBC don’t represent me and millions of people who oppose Republicans and particularly Donald Trump.

 Lowering taxation rates is one of the two key Republican/ “conservative” priorities.  Republican pushed laws have virtually eliminated corporate taxation.   They significantly lowered the rates of the super-wealthy.    Also helped greatly were higher income Americans.   Those of lower income got token reductions.  

 Sasse doesn’t mention any of this.   History shows that Republicans push tax reductions and that these reductions increase government deficits substantially.     Democrats are ridiculed as “tax and spend”, however consistently they lower deficits, in contrast to Republicans.

 Government spending is derided as “big government”.     Both parties support increases and occasional token decreases in defense spending.    Entitlements and mutually agreed necessities take up most of the rest of government spending.    The typical “welfare mother” is in fact a woman in her 80’s or 90’s trying to survive with government assistance in a nursing or convalescent home.   The big user of Medicaid is the individual nearing death.

 Senator Sasse is on target in talking of how the upper-third earning Americans of the past 50 years have consistently done very well.   He accurately speaks of how difficult it is for the remaining two-thirds of Americans.    He talks very little as to how he supports helping the lower-two thirds.   He seems to imply that if we each are charitable, the problems will go away.

 Senator Sasse could learn a lot by reading Joseph Stiglitz’s excellent  People, Power and Profits .  Stiglitz, a believer in capitalism talks extensively about the significant continuing growth of monopoly capitalism in the U.S.   Giant corporations like Facebook and Amazon routinely buy out their competition.   They have little incentive to act efficiently.    Stiglitz indicates that our “growth” is often in reality the huge profits of these corporations as well as the earnings of the super-wealthy.

 Stiglitz speaks strongly in support of “normal” businesses who compete with others in their field.   These companies must work efficiently, else they will go out of business.  He speaks of the needs to support these businesses.   These are the small farmers of Nebraska, not the giant farm interests.    Stiglitz makes clear that the U.S. is losing its competitive edge because of our continued movement towards the mega-corporations and away from real competition.

 Sasse opposes Obamacare.  Over the last four years, his fellow Republicans could only agree upon trying to end Obamacare.   Repeatedly, “the better plan” was to be put forth shortly.  It never happened.  Sasse supports a competitive business solution, but what is it?

 I would think that with all of Senator Sasse’s abilities to research solutions to problems, he might look at the healthcare plans of the other first world countries.    They all have national plans.   He clearly prefers competitive capitalistic models, rather than the more socialist single payer alternative.

 It should be quite easy for Sasse, for example, to find how Switzerland handles healthcare.  The Swiss System requires that all residents choose one of several private health insurance programs.   There is no “national health plan” such as Canada or England have.   It is a good example of government limited capitalism.  

 I don’t favor the Swiss system.   I recognize however that honest conservatives can find models, that can work, if they don’t remain stuck in simple anti-government rhetoric, and attempts at problem solving

 Looking at the current political divide, we must, as Sasse attempts to do, look back at how the divide occurred.   I look back, for example, at 1964, when the first major Civil Rights Act was passed.   It was passed with the support of both Republicans and Democrats.   There then were liberal Republicans like: Senators Aiken, Chase and Javits.   The virulent opposition was the Southern Dixiecrats, all Democrats.   Other conservatives, including Barry Goldwater, voted against it.  Now 57 years later, things have changed substantially.   

 It is not that the Democrats have become a leftist, socialist leaning party.   Democrats vary from a few very liberal ones, to some who are quite conservative.   Senators Tester and Manchin are conservatives, representing the interests of Montana and West Virginia.    

 Republicans have changed significantly!   They are largely a coalition of very upper-middle class/wealthy people, together with Evangelical Christians, a dominant force in much of the country. 

 Opposing abortion rights is the bell weather issue for a huge percentage of Evangelical Christians, together with lesser numbers of conservative, Catholics and Protestants.   Strangely, the same people who support “small government” choose to come between women and their doctors, telling them what they can and can not do with their bodies.   For most of these people, “small government” is notably lacking in helping women get affordable childcare and healthcare, so they can work.   That is socialism, evidently!

 I can’t clearly see what Sasse believes related to the focus among Republicans upon opposing Roe vs. Wade.   He clearly recognizes the importance of the issue to Republican voters.

 Sasse compliments Martin Luther King, Jr., related to his Gandhian support non-violent Civil Rights efforts.    He is silent about how King strongly condemned US support of the Vietnam War.   He doesn’t talk of King’s work for economic justice, including how he was killed supporting the Black garbage workers of Memphis in 1968.  

 Senator Sasse talks of the importance of our active involvement in our: families, neighborhoods and the towns we live in.   He wrote repeatedly of wanting  us to go back to the worlds of Friday night football, that he experienced in Nebraska, as a child.   He talked significantly about living in Evanston, Illinois, doing volunteer work  in inner-city Chicago.

 Sasse talks of a world (of small town Nebraska), where people get along.   He describes a lack of class boundaries.   The bankers and lawyers comfortably eat in the local restaurants with the less well off people.   They go to church together, as well as attending the same local high school sporting events.

He says that it is important that we get away from our cell phones, and build ties others in our local communities.

 Senator Sasses  doesn’t address how we confront systemic racism.  He ignores the fact that government laws and enforcement of “tradition” required that neighborhoods and schools be segregated by race.   This segregation persists, most visible in how segregated our schools are today, in comparison with the end of the Civil Rights era.  I highly recommend Richard Rothstein’s:  The Color of Law for a clear discussion of issues related to this.

 Building community for inner city residents, while important, won’t help them get out of poverty, or move to safe neighborhoods, if they wish to move.   Building community also won’t help the small-town and rural poor of Appalachia, or Native Americans living among their peers escape poverty.  

 Sasse’s idealized “village” ignores how classism interferes in far beyond places like San Francisco that he discusses briefly.   He ignores how trans/gay/lesbian phobias in families and communities serious injures and kills many victims.   Sasse ignores the systemic nature of the isms. 

 My world is not a world of “liberals” (Democrats) vs. “conservatives” (Republicans).  It is also not a world of “progressives” vs. “libertarians” – with a middle ground.   While libertarianism seems to clearly favor the power of wealth and money against those without it, “progressivism” can be a lot of things, some good, some not-so-good.

 I have major problems with Ben Sasse’s conservatism.    I appreciate that he has spoken up against President Trump (some of the time) and opposes the Republicans who are trying to deny the 2021 presidency to Joe Biden.   He clearly recognizes how slavery and racism have hurt our country.

 Sasse’s strong belief in American Exceptionalism gets at the core of my problems with his views.   He ignores, minimizes or doesn’t see how class is extremely important today.   Similarly, racism was a big problem, but tinkering with things now, can solve our problems from his perspective.   The Sean Hannitys of this world (with their liberal counterparts) are problematic, but not dangerous people.   Sasse doesn’t talk at all about what to me are unalienable truths such as:   climate change is a critically important issue and the science is clear about it.    We can debate scientific issues, but should accept one side as “the truth”, when the consensus is completely on one side.

 I do not see how we are going to deal with the massive problems of housing segregation, education segregation, the disparities in wealth between white people and BIPOC, the wealth disparities of the upper one percent (as well as the upper three percent and five percent, and twenty-five percent), systemic sexism (rape, domestic violence, child abuse), trans/gay/lesbian phobia and similar – with his solutions relying substantially upon the generosity of the “haves” in privately helping the “have nots”.

 Black Lives Matter has become a very important focal point in recent months.   Police killings have been the primary  target of many on the “liberal side”.    The conservative response has oft times focused upon the destruction of property as well as some confrontations between protesters and the police.

 Black Lives Matter is much, much more than just the police killings, though they are very important.   A few days ago a Black female doctor protested her Covid-19 treatment, noting how racism caused a minimizing of her bodily complaints, prior to her death.

 Another example:

 Indeed, one study showed that after controlling for income; gestational age; and maternal age and health status, the odds of dying from pregnancy or delivery complications were almost three times higher for African American women than they were for non-Hispanic white women.21 Relatedly, another analysis, controlling for the same factors, showed that college-educated African American women were almost three times more likely to lose their infants than their similarly educated non-Hispanic white peers.22

(Source:  )

 Another example:  Racism is far more than Sasse seems to see.   His children aren’t likely to be followed, when shopping at a mall in Lincoln or Omaha, where they aren’t known.    When they are old enough to drive, they won’t need to know how they need to impress upon a police officer stopping them, that they are no threat to shoot the officer, being slow and totally deferential in their actions.    They will never get “the talk” that Black children, of necessity get, to try to cut down the likelihood of them getting killed when they are out.

 In Sasse’s world, sharing the positive, building locally, having friends, etc. – can conquer all.   That can work well for me as an upper-middle class white man.   It doesn’t work quite as well for my Black wife, and my trans Black child.   It can be much more challenging for many, who lack the privilege that my family members have.

 Ironically, for me, my Black Family are wonderfully supportive of each other!   Until Covid-19 interfered in 2020, 30-100 of them gathered the first weekend in August for 55 consecutive years.   My white family totally lacks the “community” that my Black family has.   We don’t “need” it!



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