"Achieving Biden's Goals Demands Transformation of American Way of Life," a New York Times news section headline declares. If you liked the American Way of Life pretty much pre-Biden, this might seem threatening or ominous, though if you viewed the American way of life as in need of transformation, you might find it encouraging. Another possibility is that it's inaccurate, a headline-writer's effort to hype incremental changes into something worthy of grabbing a reader's attention.
Meanwhile, same day, same newspaper, a few pages later, comes a David Brooks column, headlined, "The G.O.P. Is Getting Even Worse/Trumpians are having a venomous panic attack." Brooks writes,
When asked in late January if politics is more about "enacting good public policy" or "ensuring the survival of the country as we know it," 51 percent of Trump Republicans said survival; only 19 percent said policy....This level of catastrophism, nearly despair, has fed into an amped-up warrior mentality.
It seems inconsistent for the Times on one page to claim that "Achieving Biden's Goals Demands Transformation of American Way of Life" and on the second page to claim that Republicans concerned about "the survival of the country as we know it" are "having a venomous panic attack." Maybe the Republicans are panicked because they believe the New York Times news headlines?
What the Brooks column doesn't say is that the same poll he cites found 38 percent of Democrats thought politics was about the survival of the country as we know it. That's only modestly different than the 46 percent level among Republicans (not the cherry-picked "Trump Republican" segment.) And the Democrat "survival" finding was higher than the 31 percent level among independents. It's a 1,000-voter sample so the margin of sampling error for the subgroups of Democrats and Republicans is large enough that the 38 percent to 46 percent difference is barely even statistically significant. One of our major newspapers, the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, adopted for the Trump era the slogan "Democracy Dies in Darkness," as if Democracy itself were threatened. Democratic politicians and the Times consistently warn that climate change threatens the survival not only of the country but of humanity; a Times Science section full-page graphic published this week warned of a scenario it called "The Bad Future": "As glaciers and ice sheets continue to melt, rising seas will flood many coastal communities, displacing hundreds of millions of people worldwide by the end of the century."
The political parties, like the press, have a commercial inventive to overstate the stakes of politics as survival rather than public policy, because it makes people more likely to donate money or volunteer to work on a campaign.
Lower down in the Brooks column, he writes, "Republicans and conservatives who believe in the liberal project need to organize and draw a bright line between themselves and the illiberals on their own side." That made me chuckle. I get that he means classical liberalism in the European or political philosophy sense but maybe some significant share of conservatives are conservatives precisely because they don't "believe in the liberal project"? If one were trying to sell bumper-stickers or t-shirts, the potential market for those with the slogan "conservatives who believe in the liberal project" would be...well, let's just say that it is a niche product. Not that it's not a potentially influential niche, or that it should be abandoned, but many people will read it, with some reason, as internally contradictory, the equivalent of "Red Sox fans who believe in the Yankees project."