sábado, 20 de abril de 2019

For many rural residents in U.S., local news media mostly don’t cover the area where they live

Americans in urban communities are more likely to say local news media mostly cover the area where they live, while rural residents say that their local news media mostly cover another area, such as a nearby city, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Roughly six-in-ten self-described urban residents (62%) say their local news media mainly cover the area they live in, while a majority of those who describe themselves as rural residents (57%) say the opposite is true – their local news media mostly cover some other area, a concern raised by many journalism watchers following newsroom cutbacks and media consolidation. Self-described suburbanites are more evenly split, according to the survey conducted Oct. 15-Nov. 8, 2018, among nearly 35,000 U.S. adults.

Urban residents are also more likely than those in rural and suburban areas to feel that their local news media have a lot of influence on their communities: 44% of urban residents say so, compared with 30% of those in rural areas and 38% in suburban areas.

Despite feeling that the local news media are less connected to their communities, rural residents express the same level of desire as urban and suburban residents for getting news from journalists who are personally engaged in their communities. Roughly equal shares of urban, suburban and rural residents –44%, 41% and 42%, respectively – say it is very important for journalists to be personally engaged in the local community they serve (an additional 37% of urban, 41% of suburban and 40% of rural residents say it is somewhat important). When asked how important local journalists’ understanding of local history is, 52% of urban, 46% of suburban and 47% of rural residents say it is very important (with an additional 33% urban, 38% suburban and 40% rural residents saying it is somewhat important).

For this analysis, references to urban, suburban and rural communities are based on respondents’ answers to the following question: “How would you describe the community where you currently live?”

There are other areas in which residents of these three community types differ in their views of local news coverage.

Urban residents are more likely than suburban and rural residents to see certain local news topics as important for daily life. For example, roughly half of adults in urban areas (49%) say crime is an important topic to follow for daily life – higher than those who live in suburban or rural areas (43% each). Urban residents are also more likely to say news about jobs and unemployment is important to follow for daily life (21%) than those in suburban (13%) or rural (14%) areas. The same pattern of difference exists for government and politics and prices.

All in all, Americans living in urban areas see a greater number of local news topics as vital to their daily lives than do suburban or rural residents. Three-in-ten urban residents say at least five of the 11 local news topics asked about are important for daily life, compared with 21% of adults in suburban and 20% in rural areas.

Residents in the three types of communities also differ on how important they think the internet is for getting local news. Urban residents are more digitally focused in their local news habits, placing greater emphasis on the internet for local news. About four-in-ten urban residents (37%) say the internet is their most important source of local news, compared with 32% in suburban areas and 26% of those in rural areas. They are also more likely than rural residents to often get news from websites and apps (29% for urban vs. 23% for rural, along with 27% of suburban residents).

Previous research by the Center has shown that some differences in views of social and political issues can be attributed to differences in the partisan composition of urban, suburban and rural areas rather than in viewpoints rooted in a particular type of community. Still, when it comes to views of their local news media’s coverage of and influence on the community, news topics that are important to them, and their use of the internet to access local news, the significant gaps in attitudes between urban and rural residents persist even after taking into account party identification.

For example, among those living in urban areas, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are as likely as Democrats and Democratic leaners to say the local news media cover the area where they live (61% and 65%, respectively). By comparison, about five-in-ten Republicans and Democrats in suburban areas and four-in-ten in rural areas say so.

martes, 16 de abril de 2019

Gender gap widens in views of government’s role – and of Trump

Gender differences about the size and scope of government have been evident for more than a decade, but they have widened in recent years.

And while the gender gap in presidential job approval also is not new, it is wider for Donald Trump than for his predecessors.

In a new Pew Research Center survey, nearly six-in-ten women (58%) say they prefer a bigger government providing more services to a smaller government providing fewer services (36%). Among men, the balance of opinion is nearly the reverse: 59% of men prefer a smaller government (37% prefer bigger).

The gender differences on this measure are as wide as at any point in more than a decade. The change is largely attributable to an increase in the share of women expressing a preference for bigger government, while men’s attitudes on this question are little changed.

During most of Barack Obama’s presidency, women were roughly divided on this question: As recently as September 2016, 44% of women preferred a smaller government providing fewer services, while 48% preferred a bigger government providing more services. Today, the percentage of women who prefer bigger government has risen to 58%. In September 2016, just prior to the 2016 election, 56% of men said they would rather have a smaller government. Today, 59% say they would rather have a smaller government.

Trump’s job approval rating has been more deeply divided along partisan lines – and across generations – than for other recent presidents. This also is the case when it comes to gender: There are wider differences between men and women in views of Trump’s job performance than for any president dating to George H.W. Bush.

Currently, 47% of men say they approve of how Trump is handling his job as president, with an equal share saying they disapprove (47%). By contrast, 32% of women say they approve of how Trump is handling his job as president; 63% say they disapprove.

Looking more broadly, over his first two years in office, Trump’s average approval rating was much higher among men (44%) than among women (31%). This 13-percentage-point gender gap is wider than for any of his recent predecessors, dating back to George H.W. Bush.

Sharp Rise in the Share of Americans Saying Jews Face Discrimination

Discrimination seen as widespread against Muslims, other groups

The public sees widespread discrimination against several racial, ethnic and religious groups in the U.S. And while most of these views are little changed over the last several years, the share of Americans saying Jews face discrimination in the U.S. has increased substantially since late 2016.

Today, 64% of Americans say Jews face at least some discrimination – a 20-percentage-point increase from 2016; the share saying Jews face “a lot” of discrimination has nearly doubled, from 13% to 24%. Democrats remain more likely than Republicans to say there is discrimination against Jews, but the shift in these views is evident in both parties.

The survey by Pew Research Center, conducted March 20-25 among 1,503 adults, also finds majorities continue to say there is a lot or some discrimination against Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, and women. Muslims, in particular, are seen as facing more discrimination than other groups in society; 82% say Muslims face some discrimination, with 56% saying they encounter a lot of discrimination – highest among nine groups included in the survey.

While overall views about discrimination against most groups in U.S. society are little changed since 2016, already wide partisan divides in many of these views have grown wider. For example, in December 2016, 57% of Democrats and Democratic leaners, compared with 20% of Republicans and Republican leaners said that blacks faced a lot of discrimination – a 37-percentage-point gap. That has increased to 50 percentage points in the current survey: 69% of Democrats now say blacks face a lot of discrimination, compared with 19% of Republicans.

Majorities in both partisan groups say there is at least some discrimination against many groups, including Muslims, blacks, gays and lesbians, and Hispanics. But the share of Democrats who say each of these groups face discrimination is significantly higher than the share of Republicans who say the same. For instance, 92% of Democrats, compared with 69% of Republicans, say Muslims face at least some discrimination.

In contrast, Republicans are about twice as likely as Democrats to say that evangelical Christians (70% vs. 32%), whites (58% vs. 25%) and men (48% vs. 27%) are subject to at least some discrimination.
Growing partisan differences in views of discrimination

Partisan differences in views of how much discrimination several groups experience have widened in recent years.

Democrats have consistently been more likely than Republicans to say most groups face a lot of discrimination. Since 2016, however, the share of Democrats who say blacks face a lot of discrimination has increased, while Republicans’ views are little changed.

Since 2013, when a similarly-worded question asked about discrimination against African Americans, the change is even more striking. Six years ago, just 28% of Democrats said African Americans faced a lot of discrimination; today, more than twice as many Democrats say blacks face a lot of discrimination. (Over this period, an increasing share of Democrats also say that racial discrimination is the main reason some blacks cannot get ahead.)

Since 2016, there also have been sizable increases in the shares of Democrats who perceive a lot of discrimination against Hispanics (14 percentage points) and women (11 points).

Republicans’ views of discrimination are little changed in recent years, with a few exceptions. Somewhat fewer Republicans now see a lot of discrimination against gays and lesbians than did so six years ago (22% now, 30% then). As result, the partisan gap in these views has grown from 16 percentage points in 2013, when 46% of Democrats and 30% of Republicans perceived a lot of discrimination, to 35 points today (57% of Democrats, 22% of Republicans),

There also is a wider partisan divide in views of whether evangelical Christians face a lot of discrimination. Currently, just 8% of Democrats say this, little changed from December 2016. By comparison, 30% of Republicans hold this view, up from 21% in 2016.

The partisan gap in views about discrimination against whites is little changed from 2016; Republicans remain more likely than Democrats to say there is a lot of discrimination against whites (21% vs. 6%).

Among members of both parties, the shares saying there is a lot of discrimination against Jews has roughly doubled since 2016 – from 15% to 28% among Democrats and from 9% to 20% among Republicans.

Overall, whites are less likely than blacks to say that blacks face at least some discrimination (77% vs. 91%). Among whites, there is a wide partisan gap in views of discrimination against blacks (91% of white Democrats and Democratic leaners say there is at least some discrimination against blacks in our society, compared with 66% of white Republicans).

A similar pattern is seen for Hispanics. Whites overall are less likely to say that Hispanics face discrimination (73% of whites say this, compared with 86% of Hispanics). However, 90% of white Democrats say that Hispanics face at least some discrimination compared with 59% of white Republicans.

When asked about discrimination against whites, whites are more likely than blacks or Hispanics to say that there is at least some discrimination against whites in the U.S. (44% of whites say this compared to 29% of blacks and 33% of Hispanics). Yet while 60% of white Republicans say society discriminates against whites, only 24% of white Democrats share this view.

While majorities of both men and women say there is at least some discrimination against women, this view is more widely held among women (76%) than it is among men (62%). Both men and women are substantially less likely to see discrimination against men. Men are slightly more likely than women to say there is a lot or some discrimination against men (43% of men, 36% of women).

Within partisan groups there are no gender gaps in views about discrimination against men: About half of Republican men (51%) and a similar share of GOP women (44%) say that there is at least some discrimination against men. Both Democratic men (29%) and Democratic women (26%) are much less likely say this.

In views of discrimination against women, fairly comparable shares of Republican women (58%) and men (47%) say women face at least some discrimination. Democrats – both women (86%) and men (81%) – are far more likely than Republicans to see discrimination against women. However, a greater share of Democratic women (51%) than Democratic men (35%) say women face “a lot” of discrimination in our society.

martes, 9 de abril de 2019

What Coolidge can teach Trump about 2020: If the economy is good, just ignore the other stuff

President Calvin Coolidge poses between actor John Drew, left, and, singer Al Jolson at the White House in October 1924.

The Last Time a President Got a Pass on a Scandal-Plagued White House

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, a writer and the eldest child of President Theodore Roosevelt, had it right when she said, “[Warren] Harding was not a bad man. He was just a slob.” Whether he knew it or not, the 29th president’s administration had been a ticking time bomb since the moment he won the presidency. He kept bad company, a group of friends and hangers-on who ran amok and enriched themselves on the Harding name. Some of the highest-profile American scandals, including Teapot Dome, happened under his watch. Sometimes he knew, sometimes he didn’t; sometimes he was a participant and other times guilty only by association. Regardless, Harding died in office on August 2, 1923, and the fact that he was still extremely popular and not yet a man in disgrace gave the Republicans a lifeline.

Harding’s vice president and successor, Calvin Coolidge, seemed a nonentity. The Nation described him as a “midget statesman” and Alice Longworth popularized an observation from her doctor that Coolidge “look[ed] as if he had been weaned on a pickle.” Upon learning that Harding died, a number of senators responded with disbelief—Henry Cabot Lodge bellowed, “My God! That means Coolidge is president!” Peter Norbeck of South Dakota said Coolidge could “no more run this big machine at Washington than could a paralytic.” And Harold Ickes, the Chicago Republican who would later play a major role in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, disparagingly observed, “If this country has reached the state where Coolidge is the right sort of a person for president, then any office boy is qualified to be chief executive.”

But Coolidge, despite all of these expectations, sailed through his first one-year term to a smooth election in 1924. While he may have been saddled with his predecessor’s scandals, the public was more interested in enjoying the prosperity that he had also inherited. Distancing himself from the scandals and associating himself with that prosperity proved a winning strategy for Coolidge during both his campaign and his presidency. The Republican Party’s reputation did not appear to suffer from the scandals, either. In fact, it wasn’t until the stock market crash of 1929 that voters started to turn against the party.

The circumstances that allowed Coolidge’s political survival and the smooth sailing of the entire Republican Party are worth revisiting today as a different scandal-plagued president—albeit one who, unlike Coolidge, is reaping the whirlwind of his own scandals—looks to win a second term during relatively prosperous times.


It was only a matter of weeks into his term before Coolidge suspected that trouble was brewing. It took just three months from the time of Harding’s funeral for the scandals to break. The first to explode was the Veterans’ Bureau, which during Harding’s time had wielded an enormous amount of influence with a $500 million budget and 30,000 jobs to dish out. Its previous secretary, Charles Forbes, had been involved in a lucrative kickback scheme in which he pillaged his own department to spruce up his ranch. Terrified of the embarrassment this could mean for the administration, Harding quietly asked Forbes to resign and then asked him to leave for Europe, from where he resigned, so as not to attract attention. The plan was not entirely successful, however, as details began to trickle out, which resulted in a Senate investigation of Forbes on March 2, 1923. But like all things, the coverup is sometimes as bad as the crime, and Harding must have been deeply concerned that the Senate would learn he had pushed the scandal under the rug. The Senate spent six months gathering facts and finished just at the time Harding died. Three months later, Forbes returned from Europe to stand trial. He was convicted and sentenced to a $10,000 fine and two years in prison.

The Forbes scandal was a hiccup, but not an insurmountable challenge for Coolidge. Harding had done enough and justice had been served, so the president could tell a story of accountability and move on so long as it remained an isolated incident. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

The next shoe to drop was Teapot Dome, which until Watergate would be considered the greatest political scandal in U.S. history. The scandal centered around three oilfields that in 1909 had been legally allocated to the United States Navy—a safeguard against possible shortage of oil in time of emergency. They were Naval Reserve No.1, at Elk Hills, California; No. 2, at Buena Vista, California; and No. 3, at Teapot Dome, Wyoming.

Albert B. Fall, left, and oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny shake hands after they were acquitted of conspiracy to defraud the government by a Supreme Court jury in Washington on Dec. 16, 1926. Fall was later convicted for accepting bribes.

Harding’s interior secretary, Albert Fall, had his own plan and had persuaded Harding to transfer authority over the reserves to his department. Rather than receive competing bids for the leases of the reserves, he would sole-source the leases under a national security justification. He would then lease the three reserves to three separate friends with terms that were disproportionately favorable to the oil companies. The punch line of Fall’s scheme was that by making the oil companies richer, he would earn kickbacks in the form of no-interest loans, Liberty Bonds, livestock and cash that would make him a very rich man. Fall would then retire from government and use the money to build out his Three Rivers Ranch in New Mexico.

When the scandal emerged, Coolidge, who had heard whisperings while serving as vice president, quickly understood the implications of Teapot Dome but didn’t realize in the initial months of his presidency that the scandal went all the way up to his predecessor. He just knew he had some shady characters in the Cabinet and some housecleaning was in order. The former Interior secretary was damaged goods, and it was becoming increasingly clear that both the Navy secretary and the attorney general were equally complicit. He would deal with these individuals, but he needed to simultaneously ensure that any further investigation remained bipartisan so as not to taint him or the Republican Party going into the election.

The appointment of a bipartisan commission was a stroke of political genius. It implicated both Democrats and Republicans and achieved the more important goal of playing for time as the various trials dragged out long enough to avoid impact on the election. That June, the commission called for the prosecution of Fall and his cronies, but most convictions and subsequent sentencing occurred after the election. By that point, the public had largely lost interest and moved on. Albert Fall was less fortunate, as he earned the distinction of being the first Cabinet secretary in U.S. history to serve prison time.

The third major scandal to break—this time at the Department of Justice—had the most sweeping implications for Harding’s legacy and was potentially the most threatening to Coolidge’s election prospects. Attorney General Harry Daugherty was a shady, crooked individual who abused his office repeatedly and unabashedly for personal gain. He personally ran a bootlegging operation in which his henchmen accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from bootleggers in exchange for immunity, which was not always granted.

Daugherty also ran the Justice Department as a ruthless tyrant and drew the ire of many enemies. As attorney general, he obstructed justice, most notably during the Teapot Dome investigations. When, on February 20, 1924, Montana Senator Burton Wheeler introduced a resolution specifically calling for an investigation of the attorney general, Daugherty responded—or at least the FBI chief did on his behalf—by harassing him both publicly and privately. As Wheeler pursued the investigation, witnesses were physically intimidated, had their rooms ransacked and their documents stolen, all with the goal of preventing them from testifying. When that failed to halt Wheeler, Daugherty manufactured bribery charges against him in his home state of Montana.

Daugherty’s misdeeds eventually caught up with him and while he escaped prosecution—mainly because some of the key figures had mysteriously died or committed suicide—Coolidge had had enough. Harding may have been blinded by loyalty, but Coolidge knew exactly who Daugherty was and pushed him out on March 28, 1924.

By mid-1924, Coolidge was forced to confront the undeniable truth behind many of the accusations, particularly the suggestion that senior members of the Cabinet had been deeply involved. This was a dilemma for the new president, who in addition to having been at least nominally part of Harding’s Cabinet had retained his advisors. So much had unfolded in just his first few months as president and now, with the 1924 presidential election fast approaching, Coolidge knew he had to distance himself from his predecessor. Harding had been good to him, but the scandals occurred on his watch, and it was much easier for a dead man’s head to roll.

With Harding unable to defend himself and those responsible for the many scandals hardly eager to out themselves, Coolidge didn’t wait long to throw his dead predecessor under the bus. It was a good strategy. Not only did he get a free pass on the scandals, but the more the press and some politicians attempted to connect him and his administration to the past, the more unpopular such opponents became. Perhaps the greatest victim was John W. Davis, the 1924 Democratic presidential nominee, who foolishly misread the public and tried to connect Coolidge to the Harding scandals. He paid a heavy political price at a time when the electorate found this in poor taste.

Coolidge didn’t have to lift a finger to win the 1924 presidential election with the second-largest popular vote in Republican history. It was fortunate, too, as the unexpected death of his son left him too emotionally distraught to campaign. But as William Allen White observed: “In a fat and happy world, Coolidge is the man of the hour. Why tempt fate by opposing him.” His ascension to the presidency in 1923 fulfilled the country’s desire for a return to normalcy, making for an easy case to the American people that they should “Keep It Cool with Coolidge” and vote for a continuation of prosperity—even as scandal after scandal was continuing to land on the morning newspapers.


If the Coolidge presidency seemed uneventful, it’s because it was. He bickered a bit with Congress, but by and large he sat back and let the good times roll. The country, intoxicated with the perks of prosperity, mortgaged its future at every level as it marched blindly toward the greatest economic catastrophe in history.

Meanwhile, the late president lay six feet underground and was saddled with the growing reputational damage that came with each new revelation. When it came time to dedicate his memorial on July 4, 1927, President Coolidge was “too busy,” lest he risk any association with his radioactive predecessor. Nan Britton’s publication of The President’s Daughter dealt the dead president a devastating blow as she detailed their torrid affair in 440 pages of salacious anecdotes of sex and scandal. Successive biographies and autobiographies followed, each deepening the narrative of Harding’s failure. In many respects, Warren Harding became a lightning rod for the Republican Party. All that was bad was attributed to the late president, while all that was good and prosperous could be associated with Republican policies.

Harding was undoubtedly flawed and a failure of a president, but his death was exploited in the most Machiavellian terms by the very political opportunists he had elevated. Harding was corrupt, but so were many others in the Republican Party. His tragic death probably saved the party from implosion by giving it a fall guy. Had he survived, it all would have exploded just as he was gearing up for reelection, and unlike Coolidge he would have had no way to escape. There were simply too many scandals involving too many cronies and public servants, and had he not died it is unlikely he would have finished his term in office.

Not only did Coolidge not suffer the political consequences of his predecessor’s scandals, but the prosperous times similarly insulated the entire party against voters’ discontent—at least until the end of the decade.

It was tempting for Coolidge to consider a run in 1928, and at the time the country was so prosperous that he probably could have won. The 1920s was the Republican era, a period in which the prosperity was so great that it overshadowed the man in the White House. The party cared little if the president was Calvin Coolidge or Herbert Hoover, so long as he was Republican and the party could build on its political endowment. Little did they know that this political endowment was resting on a far shakier foundation than they realized. The approach was nearsighted, and as the writer Henry “H.L.” Mencken observed at the time, “[Coolidge’s] chief feat during five years and seven months in office was to sleep more than any other President—to sleep more and say less … While he yawned and stretched the United States went slam-bang down the hill—and he lived just long enough to see it fetch up with a horrible bump at the bottom.”

Harding, Coolidge and Hoover had all been architects of the policy that put American business first. Each bears responsibility for rebuffing demands to regulate the financial sector and for permitting rampant stock market speculation. Both the financial sector and the stock market were in dire need of regulation, and we know in hindsight that the trickle-down effect of booming economic times had created a bubble that was ready to burst. The success of the economy was in fact widening income inequality and further depressing the persisting agricultural crises. In truth, it all could have come crashing down during any one of the three presidents’ administrations. But by a stroke of bad luck and opting into a continuation of the same policies, Herbert Hoover was left holding the bag and to navigate the impossible.

Hoover’s election in 1928 was seen as a vote for prosperity, and by all accounts he had the right pedigree to continue the momentum. As a star member of both the Harding and Coolidge Cabinets, in which he served as Commerce secretary, Hoover distinguished himself as both a savvy and competent executive. With the country’s economy continuing to boom and a nasty anti-Catholic campaign targeted at the Democratic nominee, Al Smith, Hoover had an easy time winning in a massive landslide that even flipped some Democratic, Southern states.

The celebration was short-lived. Less than a year after taking office, calamity hit. As the market crashed in October 1929, so too did the Republican era of good and plenty.

sábado, 6 de abril de 2019

Joe Biden Created the Culture He Is a Target Of

Joe Biden appears at Syracuse University in 2015 during an "It's On Us" event to raise awareness of sexual assault on campuses.

As vice president, Biden sought to remake the rules of sexual culture on college campuses and beyond. He succeeded—and now is suffering for it.

Joe Biden is now living in the world of accusation he helped to create. It is one of peril for the accused, in which they are subjected to expansive definitions of sexual misconduct and little benefit of the doubt. Biden helped to bring it about as the leader of the Obama administration’s cornerstone effort to end sexual assault at colleges and universities, a worthy undertaking that quickly spiraled into overreach. The goal, as Biden often says, was to remake sexual culture on campuses and in society at large—a goal that’s reached remarkable fruition in the #MeToo era. Now, as he mulls whether to enter the presidential race, Biden is finding himself ensnared by some of the doctrines he has advocated over the past several years.

In the past few days, Biden’s not-yet candidacy has been rocked by accusations of unwanted touching. Last week, Lucy Flores, a former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Nevada, said that at a campaign rally in 2014, the then-vice president, standing behind her, placed his hands on her shoulders, sniffed her hair and gave the back of her head a “big slow kiss.” A few days later, Democratic former congressional aide Amy Lappos said that at a 2009 event, Biden put his hands on her face, pulled her to him and rubbed his nose with hers. This week, two more women have come forward—a student who said he touched her thigh and hugged her “just a little bit too long,” and a writer who said his hand strayed from her shoulder and moved down her back before her husband intervened.

These women’s accounts have been bolstered by the many circulating videos—under the label “Creepy Uncle Joe”—largely compiled from swearing-in ceremonies at which Biden presided as vice president, and where he welcomed incoming officials’ families. On view is the oddly ritualized way that Biden interacts with women and girls: the hair stroking and sniffing, persistent whispering, touching and insisting that young female family members stand near him.

Biden, whose spokesman did not respond to requests to comment for this article, has many defenders, including women who say they welcomed his touch. And while the accusers say they feel he violated their personal space, they generally agree that what he did was minor, and they do not call it sexual. Most everyone seems to agree that Biden’s actions fall into a gray zone. And yet these gestures are raising questions about his candidacy. The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg wrote recently that she doesn’t think Biden is a sexual harasser, but that the accusations and his response help to demonstrate that his “time is up.” There is an irony at work here: Biden helped to make possible a world in which long-ago and trivial accusations can upend one’s reputation and career.

When Biden became vice president, one of his early acts was the announcement in June 2009 of a new position under his aegis: White House adviser on violence against women. Addressing violence against women has been career-defining for Biden. As a senator, he oversaw the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, what he calls his “proudest legislative accomplishment.” He continued with the cause as vice president, with the Obama administration’s focus on what it said was an epidemic of sexual violence by male students against their female classmates on college campuses. Biden became the top advocate and White House point man for much of the administration’s policy on the issue.

The undertaking was laudable. There is no doubt that for too long, on too many campuses, too many women who had been sexually violated and had their claims diminished or dismissed. But from the beginning, the demands the administration made on schools, and the way schools carried them out, alarmed civil libertarians.

In April 2011, Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the release of a bombshell letter, with the bland greeting “Dear Colleague,” to the country’s 4,600 institutions of higher education. It laid out new directives for how campuses were to root out and punish sexual assault. It was the beginning of a concerted effort that radically remade how students could interact sexually, with severe penalties for those who violated increasingly expansive codes of conduct. The accused were to be judged under the lowest standards of evidence, the definitions of misconduct were widely broadened, third-party reports could trigger an investigation even if the alleged victim did not think there had been a violation, and more. Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education. Under Obama administration insistence, college offices tasked with administering Title IX became vast and powerful bureaucracies, and students were encouraged to report any perceived violation.

In a 2015 speech at Syracuse University about sexual harassment and assault, Biden made his oft-repeated assertion that, “We need a fundamental change in our culture. And the quickest place to change culture is to change it on the campuses of America.” In other words, campuses were laboratories where government officials could impose their vision of how males and females should interact.

Among the cultural shifts orchestrated by the Obama administration was the assertion that evaluation of campus claims of sexual harassment and assault rest on the subjective feelings of the accuser. That meant it was irrelevant whether the accused had an intention to abuse, harm or offend. This was codified in 2013, with the joint release by the departments of Education and Justice of what they called “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country to protect students from sexual harassment and assault.” An analysis by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties group, found that the administration had abandoned the principle that claims of harassment should be evaluated based on an “objective” or “reasonable person” standard.

The Obama administration’s efforts to expand the definitions of what constituted a possible sexual violation were thoroughgoing. In 2014, the White House issued a report called “Not Alone,” which provided schools with a model “climate survey” that gave this definition of punishable behavior: “Sexual violence refers to a range of behaviors that are unwanted by the recipient and include remarks about physical appearance; persistent sexual advances that are undesired by the recipient; unwanted touching; and unwanted oral, anal, or vaginal penetration or attempted penetration.” In other words, the Obama administration expanded the definition of sexual violence to include compliments, or the kind of touching—often unasked for, and sometimes unwelcome—that Biden has engaged in for years.

Because of all these edicts, accusations that emerged from consensual encounters, false reports or trivial contact have resulted in investigations and sometimes severe penalties for accused young men. (I wrote about some of these cases in a series in the Atlantic and in another article in Slate.) During Biden’s years as vice president and since, he has characterized most of the cases adjudicated by Title IX offices as criminal in nature. But that isn’t so. Instead, these disputes often arise out of sexual encounters that both parties agree began consensually—often lubricated by alcohol—and that turn on whether the accused explicitly got the continuous stream of consent required by the now widespread campus rule known as “affirmative consent.” Biden, a fervent advocate of affirmative consent, has not asked for permission from the people, often strangers, he touches. He has just assumed his touch is welcome.

Biden has also failed to acknowledge that male students punished under the system he helped to create have been increasingly fighting back. They have filed more than 400 civil suits, contending that they have been unfairly accused and deprived of their rights. These suits have been getting increasingly favorable—sometimes outraged—rulings from judges. In a recent City Journal article, historian KC Johnson points out that “Biden responded with fury to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ attempts to create fairer procedures for adjudicating campus sexual-assault claims.”

Biden continues to insist that male college students are crude brutes, ever ready to attack their female classmates. In an April 2017 interview in Teen Vogue, he said that when he explains consent to male students, they are astounded: “I’ve had young men on campuses say to me, ‘I’ve never thought of it that way. … As long as she wasn’t screaming and kicking me and yelling help, then it was probably OK.’ It’s not OK. It’s not OK unless she can affirmatively consent.” In that same interview, he explained what he believes consent entails. “We’re trying to let young men understand that without consent, meaning saying, ‘Yes, it is OK to touch me’ … then it is not consent,” he said. Biden also seems to have no recognition that campus encounters can be filled with ambiguity and mixed signals. In an April 2016 speech at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, he mocked the idea that sexual assault allegations might be “complicated,” and told the assembled students that they should “ostracize the abusers” and “make them the pariah on campus.”

In a statement in response to the Flores and Lappos accusations, Biden wrote, in part, that over many years, “I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once—never—did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.” But if Joe Biden were a college student, the very stroking, smelling and touching he now characterizes as “expressions of affection”—ambiguous as those actions might be—could easily result in his being investigated by the Title IX office, and subjected to education-disrupting punishment.

As a demonstration of the success of Biden’s efforts to engender a cultural shift, he is now being told—even by women of his own generation and his own party—that he doesn’t understand the new unwritten rules he helped to bring about. In response to the Flores accusation, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, praised Flores’ courage in telling of her encounter with Biden and said, “All of us, including the vice president, need to continue to work on changing our culture.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who apparently understands better than Biden the new terms of engagement, said in a Politico interview this week, “He has to understand, in the world that we’re in now, that people’s space is important to them, and what’s important is how they receive it and not necessarily how you intended it.”

He now says he’s gotten the message. In a video released Wednesday on Twitter, Biden explained that throughout his life he has touched people with gestures of support and solace—as many have similarly reached out to him. But he understands, he said, that “social norms have begun to change. They’ve shifted, and the boundaries in protecting personal space have been reset. And I get it.” He said he will always believe that governing, and life, are about connecting with people—but that he will adjust his own way of connecting in light of changing times.

Biden appears to have been blindsided by the reaction to his own behavior, but he has been making the case that it’s time to overhaul the assumptions on which our legal system is built. Just last week, at a ceremony for the Biden Courage Awards honoring student sexual assault activists, he said, “This is English jurisprudential culture, a white man’s culture. It’s got to change.” Anglo-American jurisprudence regarding women, Biden argued, is founded on the ancient concept of “rule of thumb.” As he explained it, in 14th-century England, a man was limited to beating his wife with a stick no bigger than the circumference of his thumb. But his assertion about the origins of that phrase is a canard. (It is thoroughly debunked in this video by American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers.)

Biden is a lawyer, and once was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, so he should know that Anglo-American jurisprudence has brought us hard-won principles such as the rule of law, due process and the presumption of innocence. Whether or not Biden makes another run for the presidency, it would be salutary if his recent, painful experience of accusation makes him consider that we should honor these principles. In a world of accusation, all are potentially vulnerable.

martes, 2 de abril de 2019

What campaign design reveals about the race to 2020

With the exception of Barack Obama, candidates have rarely invested in original design. A group that tracks the way politicians market themselves shows that is changing.

American politicians love soaring eagles. The same goes for eternal flames, fluttering flags, and spangles of stars. They also love a good speech bubble–especially if it looks kind of like an iMessage. They adore Futura.

Those are some of the findings of the Center for American Politics and Design, a fledgling group of designers interested in campaign marketing and design. The group collects thousands of logos, color schemes, and marketing campaigns, adding them to a growing archive of imagery that anyone can download and use as they see fit. Founder Susan Merriam plans to build tools for fledgling candidates that may not have a budget for design–and connect young candidates to designers who want to help.[Image: courtesy Center for American Politics and Design]Campaign design tends to serve as an engine for hot takes in the political media, driven as much by the 24-hour-a-day news cycle of network TV as the huge sums of money most politicians spend on marketing. Criticisms tend to fall along pretty predictable political lines; a candidate’s taste becomes a stand-in for their party alignment. (Surprise! When candidates don’t run on policies, they end up being judged on aesthetics.) A scroll through the CAPD archives. [Image: courtesy Center for American Politics and Design]

But it also offers a vantage on how American politics has evolved. Some of the CAPD’s new research, analyzing roughly 900 campaigns from 2018 and 2019, reveals both political parties’ search for identity and ideological direction. Look at the hundreds of campaigns run over the past year, and you’ll see candidates using design to market themselves as anti-establishment outsiders or friendly, normal, would-be neighbors. You’ll also see evidence of the influx of corporate money, as well as candidates signaling their traditionalist values or “likability,” a quality so often described as lacking in women candidates.

“At least at the presidential level, there’s a lot more focus on [design] in terms of differentiating yourself,” Merriam says, as opposed to the generic branding of the 1990s. “Maybe that’s a symbol of the polarization that we’re in as well.”In 2018, women candidates were four times as likely to emphasize their first names than male candidates. [Image: courtesy Center for American Politics and Design]

That doesn’t mean that every politician is investing in designers, necessarily. After Barack Obama’s successful and well-designed campaigns, many subsequent candidates have simply tried to copy Obama’s iconography, using the same fonts and cribbing other aspects of the former president’s campaigns. Even Mike Huckabee, a politician who once said that Obama’s “new domestic terrorism plan probably requires Americans to memorize Koran verses,” debuted an Obama-esque logo for his ill-fated 2016 campaign. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s successful campaign design has already become a touchstone like Obama’s did–and may end up being widely mimicked, too.

Other trends are harder to pin on one source: Merriam says that Bernie Sanders’s 2016 logo fueled an influx of campaigns focused around first names, which could also be related to many candidates wanting to seem similarly friendly or relatable. Gender also seems to be a factor here: In 2018, Democrat women were more than four times as likely to emphasize their first names than men.
[Image: courtesy Center for American Politics and Design]

Unsurprisingly, many Republican campaigns are trying to broadcast traditionalism: They’re three times as likely as Democrats to use red over any color, and Republican men are almost seven times more likely to emphasize their last names than Democratic women candidates–one notable exception being the failed campaign of Jeb! Bush (which might explain why so few of his peers have followed his lead).

The CAPD also analyzes design in terms of FEC candidate fundraising data, as well as by each district’s gross domestic product. In high-GDP areas, candidates tend to favor design that Merriam compares to tech company branding; in lower-GDP areas, politicians choose logos that are more akin to local businesses.

Either way, campaigns look more and more like businesses–hinting at the ever-narrowing difference between corporations and politics in American life.The lowest (left) and highest (right) fundraisers, according to FEC data. [Images: courtesy Center for American Politics and Design]The CAPD plans to continue publishing reports on the way politicians present themselves to the public–and do more research with campaign operatives about how they think about the design process. Eventually, Merriam hopes they’ll evolve into a resource for small candidates looking for help. She points to the importance of state legislature races, and envisions publishing a tool kit for campaign design that could help candidates who don’t have the backing of the Democratic or Republican party establishment–a “tool for everybody,” regardless of how much funding they have.[Image: courtesy Center for American Politics and Design]Merriam is watching the fledgling 2020 campaigns for president closely. She describes Kamala Harris’s campaign design as strong–last week the former California attorney general unveiled a logo based on Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 presidential campaign, connecting Harris to Chisholm’s history as the first black woman to run for president. As to the mint greens, pinks, and yellows of other 2020 hopefuls, including Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand? They’re another example of Democratic candidates hoping to present themselves as counter to conventional party wisdom.

“If you look at presidential logos from 20 years ago, they all look very similar; many of the candidates tended to be more middle-of-the-road,” she says. Even more centrist candidates are trying to present themselves as counter to party establishment. “I think there’s a lot of sentiment right now to sort of confront the status quo” both on the left and right, she adds. Hopefully that sentiment will go further than appearances.

'Friendly grandpa' or creepy uncle? Generations split over Biden behavior

2020 Elections

'I come from a different generation,' said one female septuagenarian donor, 'when people were really friendly and were not afraid to show it.'

Longtime Democratic donor Susie Tompkins Buell, 76, has met Joe Biden several times over the years and says he's a hand-holder and a hugger; physically, but innocently, affectionate.

“He’s just like a friendly grandpa, what can I say,” Buell said.

Lucy Flores, 39, a former Nevada assemblywoman and 2014 candidate for lieutenant governor, described her interaction with Biden — his kissing her on the head — as uncomfortable and unacceptable.

"He needs to have an awareness and — after all of those years where he was acting inappropriately — someone around him should have said to him, ‘Joe Biden, stop doing that,” Flores said.

Now that Biden’s past physical interactions are under the microscope, there are signs that the behavior is being viewed through vastly different lenses, in many cases based on generational differences: What’s creepy to one person is welcome, or at least not bothersome, to another. The discussion of inappropriate touching, however, comes just as Biden is preparing to announce whether he’ll enter the 2020 field against a historically diverse roster of Democrats. It’s the latest sign of a new playing field to which the 76-year-old Biden must adapt, even as factions within the party have expressed a hunger for fresh faces.

“I come from a different generation, people were really friendly and were not afraid to show it," Buell, who supports Kamala Harris in the Democratic primary, said. "He’s a hand-holder, he’s appreciative of people who’ve done good things. And if he appreciates you, he likes to show it. He’ll hold your hand, he’ll hug you. I hate to see that being chased off.”

Massachusetts Democratic Party vice chairwoman Deb Kozikowski described a deep disconnect between generations, to the point where she said she feels the need to have a broader discussion about today’s rules of conduct. In her view, some of the complaints today are of behavior she's long considered acceptable.

“All I know is if you can’t touch someone without their permission anymore, then put my picture on the wall at the post office,” Kozikowski, who is neutral in the Democratic primary, said. “How do we know how to behave with each other? Do we walk into a room and say ‘hey, are you a hugger? I’m a hugger.’ … I just need to understand what the parameters are and how do we deal with it.”

Nelini Stamp, a 31-year-old director of strategy and partnerships for the Working Families Party, said she was disappointed that those who reacted to Flores’ statement by saying they always felt comfortable around Biden didn’t get the “nuance” that younger progressives do.

“I do think that there is a generational divide. This is about the future of not just the Democratic Party but our community at large that wants to see a world in which we have no tolerance for inappropriate behavior and sexual assault,” Stamp said. “The point is that Lucy did feel uncomfortable. This is not about negating your experience [with Biden] but about elevating hers.”

The difference in perception presents a strategic challenge to Biden as he weighs a presidential bid and whether he can push back against a “creepy Joe” labeling along with a montage of photos of Biden plastered across social media. A conversation about how to characterize Biden’s past interactions with women raged across social media and cable news after Flores and a second woman from Connecticut said he touched them in a way that was unwanted and made them feel uncomfortable.

“Anyone who knows Biden knows that he is a very warm and tactile personality. There are a million examples of it,” says David Axelrod, longtime adviser to Barack Obama. “It’s not lasciviousness. It’s just his style. The problem he has is that these gestures, which he and most of the recipients viewed as benign, are now being judged in a different time and through a different lens.”

Biden’s camp has aggressively pushed back at suggestions that the former vice president had a deeper history of being too touchy with women, referencing a “cottage industry of lies” and specifically pointing to public rebuttals of online memes surrounding Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and the daughter of Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

“The Vice President has issued a statement affirming that in all the many years in public life that he has shaken a hand, given or received a hug, or laid his hand on a shoulder to express concern, support, or reassurance, he never intended to cause discomfort. He has said that he believes that women who have experience any such discomfort, regardless of intention, should speak and be heard, and that he will be among those who listen,” said Biden spokesman Bill Russo.

“But the important conversation about these issues are not advanced, nor are any criticisms of Vice President Biden validated, by the continued misrepresentation of the Carter and Coons moments, or a failure to be vigilant about a cottage industry of lies.”

Still, Alyssa Miller-Hurley, a Democratic operative from South Carolina, said the stories about Biden's interactions — and how they're being perceived by people of different generations — calls attention to his age. That's not necessarily a good thing for him, since Democrats generally want in a potential president a fresh face talking about the future.

“It just brings the two sides to what is inevitably going to be a clash between those who want something comfortable and something they know and something they’ve seen win, versus folks who want something new and [someone] that looks more like them and has had experiences that are closer to what their experiences in the White House,” she said. Miller-Hurley added, “People love him. I love him. But a lot of folks don’t want him to run for the same reasons they don’t want to vote for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They don’t want octogenarians representing them."

A conversation about how to characterize Joe Biden’s past interactions with women raged across social media and cable news on Monday.

lunes, 1 de abril de 2019

Chasten Buttigieg Is Winning the 2020 Spouse Primary

The first same-sex husband of a major-party presidential candidate is a historic figure, but he’s also a surprisingly traditional one.


Maybe the most noteworthy thing about Chasten Buttigieg’s sudden internet fame is that he has a public profile at all. At this stage in a presidential race, most candidates’ spouses are ornamental figures, taken gingerly out of the storage box for major announcements and gauzy videos, then stashed away until the call for the “60 Minutes” sit-down.

By contrast, the husband of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a constant presence, at least on Twitter, where he posts a steady stream of commentary in fluent millennialese. Follow his account — as, at this writing, more than 108,000 people do — and you’ll learn that he is a father of dogs, a Harry Potter fan, a theater geek, an enamored husband with a knack for choosing the right GIF. You’ll also see why, in some circles, he has taken on the status of folk hero. “Pete Buttigieg’s husband Chasten is the Twitter celebrity we deserve,” read a recent headline in Mashable.

Few would have expected that the early stars of the 2020 race would be the gay millennial mayor of a mid-size Midwestern city and his 29-year-old husband. Through his very presence, Chasten Buttigieg is breaking ground. But at the same time, what’s most unexpected about Chasten is how conventional he is. At a time when campaigns are treading cautiously, and spouses are navigating a new set of gender minefields, Buttigieg seems relaxed, unscripted, free to be himself. And that freedom has turned this historic figure, the first same-sex husband of a major-party presidential candidate, into something surprising: the most traditional political spouse in the field.

Being married to a presidential candidate is the most thankless role in politics. It’s a choice that’s generally foisted upon you, a directive to be second fiddle, an expectation that you’ll conform to centuries-old gender stereotypes. The first lady, to this day, is tasked with choosing china patterns, points out Kelly Dittmar, a political science professor at Rutgers University.

For years, there has been acute interest in political spouses who deviate from gender norms. When Elizabeth Warren pointedly noted, in a 2015 Facebook post, that she had proposed to her husband, Bruce Mann, Vanity Fair picked it up. This season, the candidates and their spouses seem especially attuned to presentation. Amy Klobuchar's husband, John Bessler, carried his wife’s binder to the lectern at her campaign rollout event, then quickly slipped away. At Bernie Sanders’ official campaign launch, his wife, Jane, nearly apologized for their relationship: “I feel honored to be his wife, and I know that might not be politically correct to identify myself a ‘wife.’”

Historically, a candidate’s wife—she was always a wife—was expected to do something gender-bound: reflect her husband’s masculinity, underscore that he could handle the work of a masculine job. Hillary Clinton’s 1992 cookie-baking saga—she spoke dismissively of baking cookies, angered American housewives, and was forced to pay penance by presenting a chocolate chip cookie recipe—was proof of how rigid the rules were. For decades, they haven’t changed.

This year, though, feels different. In the cycle after Hillary’s own presidential nomination, in a year filled with multiple women candidates, expectations for a spouse have become more fraught. For a wife, there’s now so much pressure to avoid the traditional role that a slip into gender stereotypes can look like a betrayal. See the uproar over Beto O’Rourke’s campaign announcement video, in which his wife, Amy, stares admiringly at him for three long minutes, mute for the entire time.

For the husband of a female candidate, meanwhile, the urge not to overshadow a spouse leads to greater invisibility. At today’s campaign events, male spouses seem directed to stand behind their wives, not beside them, notes Don Haider-Markel, a political science professor at the University of Kansas whose recent research focuses on LGBTQ politicians.

Heterosexual candidates and their spouses face a host of social expectations. One mark of responsible adulthood is getting married and having kids, so voters might raise questions about a straight candidate who doesn’t fit the norm — say, child-free Rep. Tulsi Gabbard or unmarried Sen. Cory Booker. But for a young gay couple, there are fewer assumptions to meet, Haider-Markel says, which means a guy like Chasten Buttigieg is “not bound by any particular rules about how to behave.”

That leaves him ample room to be himself — and to indulge his innate talent for social media. His Twitter feed is AOC-savvy without the combative edge; light on policy and partisanship, heavy on the personal. He chronicles his life at home while his husband is out on the road. (“Peter: Crushing townhalls in SC,” reads one recent tweet. “Chasten: staring out the window waiting for UberEats.”) He understands, implicitly, what pushes readers’ buttons: pop culture references and dog pics (he runs a separate Twitter feed for the couple’s two rescue dogs). He sparked a frenzy when he announced that he and his husband are both Hufflepuffs. (Of course, they are.) And he artfully pokes fun at his husband’s outsized accomplishments, as he did in a tweet about their first date that managed to both celebrate and mock Mayor Pete’s implausible résumé.

Tweets like these fill a traditional function of a candidate’s spouse: to humanize a candidate who, by the very nature of the process, has to present himself as self-aggrandized and larger than life.

And in a nation that’s still coming to terms with the swiftness of social change and the rapid adoption of same-sex marriage, that humanizing has a broader purpose. Though Chasten’s tweets are largely free of gender politics, they’re also unapologetically affectionate, projecting unswerving support and full-on adoration. In January, when Pete Buttigieg announced his exploratory committee, Chasten tweeted: “I am so proud of my husband … Let’s go show the world why I fell in love with you.” It wouldn’t be surprising if he posted his favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe tomorrow.

The Buttigiegs are practically newlyweds: After meeting on the dating app Hinge, the couple got married in South Bend last June. (Adorable tales of their courtship have been well-chronicled.) Perhaps as a result, Chasten’s feed reflects the kind of fresh, easygoing affection that some candidates work hard to re-create: It’s still hard to unsee that awkward Al-and-Tipper Gore kiss at the 2000 Democratic convention. (Though, had Sen. Sherrod Brown decide to run for president, he and his wife, Connie Schultz, might have given the Buttigiegs a run for their money.)

Voters are moved by compelling life stories and narratives about overcoming; that’s why so many wealthy candidates dig deep into their ancestry to find a blue-collar worker or a coal miner. For gay candidates, a sense of hardship is baked into the contours of life. Both Pete and Chasten have talked publicly about the difficulties of coming out to family and community. “Actually being out and representing themselves as such,” Haider-Markel says, “gives an authenticity that many candidates often struggle to provide.”

Campaigns spend ample amounts of money on image consultants; they hire staffs to develop multifaceted social media strategies and strategize endlessly about publicity stunts. At this early point in the 2020 race, Chasten seems to be lapping other campaigns on all of those fronts, while lounging in slippers in his living room. It all feels a little unfair — like bringing Mozart in to join the high school orchestra.

And his appeal has spread beyond the political arena — he’s been featured in a gushing mini-profile in Marie Claire and lionized in the Twitter feeds of humor columnists. His popularity stems partly from the relief of reading a politically related feed that doesn’t feel like politics, and partly from the mildly subversive glee of imagining that feed someday transferred to official White House accounts. And partly, it’s the function of the narrative itself, which reads like the happy ending of a rom-com. “I love this future first family so much. I am all in,” one Twitter fan recently wrote.

That’s the ultimate purpose of the presidential spouse: to sell the entire package, letting us imagine the family in the White House as a symbol of success, a national ideal. As a potential first husband, Chasten would be historic but also a comforting throwback, someone who took his husband’s last name and unwaveringly supports his ambitions without wondering how they have affected his own. In politics, it’s not hard to find tales of awkward relationships, distant spouses, sidelined destinies, marital betrayal. Everybody really wants a love story. Maybe one that leaves us all a little chastened.

What Beto’s Weird Teenage Poetry Tells Us About His Politics

Before he ran for president, a young Beto O’Rourke dabbled in criticism, fiction and more. And he wasn’t half bad.

Politics are ablaze today with both savage indignation and misty sentimentality. With “the future of the republic” and “justice itself” on the line in every Twitter battle, it seems unlikely that anyone would propose that a dose of irony could help lighten the mood. But … a dose of irony could lighten the mood.

Great news for us apathetic types born around Woodstock and Watergate: No need to dig up Thomas Pynchon or an Alanis Morissette CD. Look no further than Beto O’Rourke’s recently revealed teen involvement in the Cult of the Dead Cow, America’s original cell of computer hacktivists. The rad cDc, founded in 1984 in a slaughterhouse in Lubbock, Texas, was an ironic project par excellence—by turns infantile, enraged and bleeding-heart.

O’Rourke’s membership, which was exposed by Reuters and gamely confirmed by the candidate himself, surely reflects his libertarian-skater proclivities, which he flaunts to this day. But, while O’Rourke did use the Cult’s resources to cop some free long distance, it turns out at the cDc he was less pirate than poet. As the group’s old posts reveal, he mostly saw the cDc’s online board as a zine, where, under the pen name Psychedelic Warlord, he could pop off on alternative music or write indie experiments. O’Rourke doesn’t have a campaign memoir yet, but the presidential candidate now better known for winding Medium posts also has some online juvenilia that’s worth a look.

What do Beto’s musings reveal about him as a politician? “Self-invention” was a watchword of the 1980s and ’90s, with all it implied about the fictions of identity, and Beto was no stranger to persona-shuffling—then as now. In his adolescent oeuvre, he tried his hand as a critic, punk and journalist. As time went on, he experimented as a musician, outlaw, idealist, family man, skater, fundraiser, politician and, maybe, leader of the free world.

But is Beto the writer any good? Sure, he was in high school, and his stuff is mostly record reviews and snark. But never mind the bollocks. O’Rourke genuinely understands genre and tone; he’s economical and makes good words work hard; he’s playful and takes chances; he can deftly conjure odd worlds, especially interior ones; he’s recessive—or maybe afraid to commit—as a narrator; he steers clear of the projection and judgment that muck up the work of many young essayists.

Reader, he had me at the opening paren. Yes, O’Rourke used ASCII, a retro affectation that brings the top-shelf nostalgia in O’Rourke’s poem “The Song of the Cow,” which features this mini-moo-sterpiece:

[ x x ]
\ /
(` ')

That use of clashing symbols for nostrils, suggesting that one is more flared that the other! And, of course, the x-ed out eyes that conjure the slaughterhouse! O’Rourke’s teen stylings suggest the hand of a bona fide artist. Or at least a little nerd fleetingly willing to rethink Texas iconography. Then, off he goes into a pastoral poem that tackles the topic of butts or bollocks. “Wax my ass,” reads the verse, which turns liturgical in rhythm. “Scrub my balls. / The Cow has risen. / Provide Milk.” Cow has died. Cow is risen. As we approach Easter, we might consider the paschal cow to be O’Rourke’s radical critique of the paschal lamb. Cow will come again. Alleluia. Devastating commentary on the resurrection.

While it has fewer balls, another stanza caught my attention for its evocations of Nathanael West’s 1931 The Dream Life of Balso Snell, in which the hero searches for meaning strolling around inside the entrails of a Trojan Horse. O’Rourke writes:

Oh, Milky wonder, sing for us once more,
Live your life, everlusting joy.
Thrust your hooves up my analytic passage,
Enjoy my fruits

Thrust your hooves up my analytic passage—come on, that’s not bad. It works well as an ultranerdy answer to Bruce Springsteen’s manly, earnest innuendo from the then-loathed 1970s: “Strap your hands ’cross my engines.” “Everlusting” is a nice neologism in a countryside poem that doesn’t shy from evoking eternity and bestiality at once. It’s hard to remember how important irony—not just snideness and polyester coveralls, but what Richard Rorty called “liberal irony”—was to Gen-X slackers. O’Rourke was never going to let himself be seen lolling around like a farm boy writing hymns to country life and milkmaids. But, like all young poets from William Wordsworth to Bob Dylan, he also wanted to try his hand at a traditional lyric. Irony, and the elastic space of the brand-new internet, let O’Rourke come to romance at a punk angle.

Then there’s a more vicious short story by O’Rourke as Psychedelic Warlord, “Visions from the Last Crusade.” O’Rourke’s metal title fails, but the story begins, elegantly, in the “catacombs” of the narrator’s head, wherein a hallucination unfolds. In short order, the narrator realizes: “My one and only goal in life became the termination of everything that was free and loving.” Hoo boy. This is where things become a little bit manifesto-like, but what the hell. O’Rourke’s narrator goes on a killing spree, and—OK, yeah—he starts mowing down children. He keeps this up, lays to waste 38 people, evades the police—and is pleased with himself.

“Visions from the Last Crusade” is more reverie than story. It comes across as an Edgar Allen Poe tribute, with maybe an Anthony Burgess tribute rising. As a dramatic monologue, it also borrows some logic that recalls—don’t @ me—the seductive and fiendish voices in Robert Browning. O’Rourke’s killer-narrator’s delusions are not banal: When he spots his first soon-to-be victims looking carefree, he decides, “this happiness and sense of freedom were much too overwhelming for them.” Their happiness, he goes on, “was mine by right. I had earned it in my dreams.” Maybe not a campaign slogan—“your happiness is mine by right”?—but not bad, if you like online satirical murder fantasies of 1988.

What other genres did O’Rourke test out at the cDc? In 1990, he contributed to the collective a recounting of a gruesome dentist appointment that’s surprisingly dull in spite of plenty of gums and gore. (He must have liked this conceit, though, as he reprised it in January, filming his dental hygienist, Diana, as she spoke about her experiences at the U.S.-Mexico border—and cleaned O’Rourke’s teeth.) A 1989 piece called “Ultra-Trendies” is endearing for its very ’90s calibration of who is authentically punk and who isn’t; those who know all the lines in Sid and Nancy—and listen to nothing but the Sex Pistols—are, says Beto, phonies. (I sense our hero protests too much here—he’s off to Columbia in a year.) In another cDc piece, a Q&A from 1988, O’Rourke and his pal Arlo Klahr, with whom O’Rourke would start a punk band called Foss, interrogate a self-described Nazi and KKK member. Mostly, they just let him ramble, denying the Holocaust, praising the leadership of Hitler and defending neo-Nazis as loving Christians. O’Rourke and Klahr are nonconfrontational in the extreme. At the bottom of the page, they give an El Paso address for anyone who wants to mail away for the tape of the interview. A Google search suggests that the house at that address once belonged to Pat Francis O’Rourke, Beto’s father.

A Feature on Money,” from 1987, is my favorite O’Rourke from the Cult of the Dead Cow years. Yes, another negligible title. Still, the piece, a short essay, is much more sincere than the others. O’Rourke, for all he gives goth an occasional go, is just not a very dark person. And while his essay is supposed to be “radical”—arguing for a world without money—it’s really just a comfort. Turns out Beto, like anyone but a demented oligarch or the American president, is skeptical of the claim that greed is a virtue. He proposes, with all the ingenuousness of a teenager, that we “slowly take the United States off the world market, and then slowly phase out our own money markets.”

O’Rourke now insists he’s a “capitalist,” but his cDc writing suggests he can still throw down with the best of the Occupy-trained lefty foes of Wall Street. And in his essay, the sweet, slow process of obliterating the American economy has some damn good effects: “This would slowly bring the upper and middle classes of people in America together.” Who doesn’t want to all be together, without the stress of … money? I’m in.

At the bottom of “A Feature on Money,” I found the Cult’s usual libertarian contempt for copyright (“All rights worth shit—and duefully [sic] so”), but also a number to call. The idealistic Beto—the man who by force of sheer charisma can rally Americans to donate millions of dollars in 24 hours—really did want to start a movement back then! “Remember, we are the next generation, and will soon rule the world,” he wrote. I dialed up the 915 number. I figured if O’Rourke the aged hacktivist still knows how to monkey with telephony, maybe he routed that old number to his campaign headquarters. No dice. It was a law firm in El Paso, Texas. I was too not-punk to prank them. But then I reverse-searched the number online and found that, at least at some point, it belonged to none other than Pat Francis O’Rourke.

Early Beto hits the spot if you’re feeling nostalgic for the days of debates among punks or the interface of early web boards, but if you want to find one real radical cell in O’Rourke, you’re out of luck. It seems O’Rourke—minor indie showoff turned normcore candidate for president—once thought his fellow Americans might consider money the root of all evil. And he hoped we could actively converse about it, if we just called his dad.

Inside the Race to Build the Burger of the Future

President Trump says Democrats and environmental whackos are waging a war on beef. But corporations, not politicians or activists, are leading the post-meat revolution.


Politicians often rally their supporters with partisan red meat, but these days Republicans are using actual red meat. They’re accusing Democrats of a plot to ban beef, trying to rebrand the Green New Deal for climate action as a nanny-state assault on the American diet. At Thursday’s rally in Michigan, President Donald Trump portrayed a green dystopia with “no more cows.” In a recent Washington speech, former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka warned conservatives that leftists are coming for their hamburgers: “This is what Stalin dreamt about, but never achieved!” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) actually ate a burger during a press conference on Capitol Hill, an activity he claimed would be illegal under a Green New Deal.

In reality, nobody’s banning beef. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the driving force behind the Green New Deal, really did suggest that “maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” and her office did release (and then retract) a fact sheet implying a desire to “get rid of farting cows.” A lot of environmental activists really do target red meat, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) , a vegan who hopes to replace Trump, really did recently observe that “this planet simply can’t sustain billions of people consuming industrially produced animal agriculture.” But the actual Green New Deal resolution calls only for dramatic reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture. It says nothing about seizing steaks, and no Democrats are pushing to confiscate cows regardless of their tailpipe emissions.

This Washington stir over the burger police is classic political theater, the latest tribal skirmish in America’s partisan culture wars. But livestock really do have a serious impact on the climate—and the extreme rhetoric about cow farts and rounding up ranchers is obscuring a consequential debate over the future of animal agriculture in general and beef in particular. Red meat has a greater impact on the climate than any other food; if the world’s cattle formed their own nation, it would have the third-highest emissions on Earth, behind only China and the United States. So at a time when concerns are already growing about meat’s effects on human health and the treatment of animals on factory farms, the U.S. meat industry is taking the global warming debate seriously. It’s talking up its own climate progress, while trying to ensure that any Green New Deal-style government efforts to cut agricultural emissions use financial carrots rather than regulatory sticks or even meat taxes.

Meat is as central to American culture as cars or sports; the average American eats three burgers a week, and even more chicken than beef. But this is a delicate time for the industry. The influential EAT-Lancet Commission study recently warned that Western diets include far too much meat, and more than half of Americans say they’re trying to cut back. New York City’s schools just adopted Meatless Mondays, while fast-growing companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are selling plant-based burgers and other products that taste, look and even feel remarkably similar to conventional meat; starting Monday, Burger King is going to start selling beef-free Impossible Whoppers. The meat lobby is also increasingly nervous about “fake meat,” its term of art for cell-based meat startups that are not even selling to the public yet, but are already producing meat in laboratories that’s molecularly identical to the stuff in supermarkets without raising or killing animals.

Meat producers don’t want their products to be viewed like fossil fuels—useful but dirty. And beef producers don’t want to follow the path of coal, which is hemorrhaging market share because it’s the dirtiest fossil fuel. Colin Woodall, head of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, says his industry can help save the planet as well as help feed the planet.

“We know the spotlight is on us right now,” Woodall says. “The way we see it, the Green New Deal has given us a great opportunity to tell our story.”

So far, any serious political discussion over the future of meat has been drowned out by the cow-farting furor, as Republicans like Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, and even Trump critic Meghan McCain have mocked vegan fascists who would, in the words of Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, force Americans to “say goodbye to dairy, to beef, to family farms, to ranches.” It’s a wildly exaggerated attack—and nobody actually believes we should eat burgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner—but it packs a punch in a meat-loving country. Data for Progress co-founder Sean McElwee, whose liberal group has helped shape the Green New Deal, says he’d love to rein in the immense economic and cultural power of America’s “meatriarchy.” But his polling has found there’s literally nothing less popular than banning meat.

“It’s up there with giving VA benefits to ISIS,” McElwee says. “That’s the tension the left has to struggle with; Democrats eat meat, too. But even minor improvements could create massive gains for public health and the environment.”

The U.S. produces about 50 billion pounds of meat a year, and globally, pastures occupy about one-fourth of the ice-free land on Earth. So changes in how meat is produced and consumed really could have outsized impacts. In fact, some changes are happening. And some of the industry’s advocates and critics agree that the best way to spread them just might be…a Green New Deal.


The world loves meat, but that love puts pressure on the world. The United Nations has estimated that livestock are responsible for 14.5 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions that are trapping heat in the atmosphere. Project Drawdown, a group of scientists pursuing climate solutions, puts the figure at 18 to 20 percent, and some studies have suggested even that’s way too low. In any case, meat is a significant contributor to the climate crisis, and as millions of families in India and China join the meat-eating middle class, its contributions could soar. A recent World Resources Institute report titled “Creating a Sustainable Food Future” found that demand for animal-based foods is on track to rise more than two thirds by 2050; it also warned that the resulting expansion of agricultural production could produce enough emissions to exceed the Paris climate agreement’s targets for catastrophic warming even if the world completely stops using fossil fuels.

“We just can’t feed an expanding world population on meat, not if we keep growing it the way we’re growing it,” says Jessica Almy, policy director for the Good Food Institute, which promotes plant-based and cell-based meat alternatives.

Beef production is the worst climate offender in the agricultural sector. That WRI report on food sustainability calculated that beef creates about seven times as many greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein as chicken or pork, and 20 times as many as peas or lentils. One reason is that grass-eating ruminants like cows release huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide. They do this primarily by burping, not farting, despite National Review’s cover cartoon of Ocasio-Cortez surrounded by the rear ends of cows, but methane helps warm the earth no matter which end it comes from.

Still, some agricultural experts believe cattle methane has been overstated as a climate disaster. Marty Matlock, an ecological engineering professor who runs the University of Arkansas Resiliency Center, says the methane produced by U.S. cows is not much greater than the methane produced by the wild buffalo that once roamed the U.S. plains. He says that unlike carbon from fossil fuels, which gets released into the atmosphere after lying underground for millions of years, methane from ruminants is part of a natural cycle that expands only when herds expand. And in the U.S., herds are shrinking. America now produces the same amount of beef it did in 1970 with one-third fewer cattle, and 81 percent more milk than it did in 1945 with two-thirds fewer dairy cows.

“Methane from livestock isn’t what’s new. Burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation is what’s new,” Matlock says. “Climate change is an existential threat to human well-being, but let’s keep the focus where it belongs.”

The more significant problem with meat production is that it uses enormous amounts of land, both for grazing and growing grain for cattle feed. Pastures and farms that are used to fatten cattle often replace forests, wetlands and grasslands that store enormous amounts of carbon. Even America’s relatively efficient beef production takes up more than 40 percent of U.S. agricultural land to produce just 3 percent of U.S. calories. The World Resources Institute report warned that unless consumers eat less meat and producers get more efficient, by 2050 the world will have to deforest a land mass nearly twice the size of India (and releasing much of its sequestered carbon) to satisfy the additional demand.

“Growing red meat just takes up too much land to generate too few calories and too little protein,” says Tim Searchinger, the lead author of the report.

Again, though, the U.S. meat industry does more with less than its less efficient foreign counterparts. It produces 18 percent of the world’s beef with only 8 percent of the world’s cattle, thanks to cutting-edge genetics, advanced veterinary care, and data-driven industrial processes optimized to fatten cattle quickly and cost-effectively. Kevin Kester, a fifth-generation rancher in Parkfield, California, says it takes him six weeks less than it took his grandfather to raise a half-ton steer, and he expects his grandchildren to achieve similar productivity gains. Kester also reduces his emissions by running his wells on solar power, and by using drones to check his water lines for leaks rather than driving his truck around his 22,000-acre ranch.

President Donald Trump speaks behind a table covered with fast food as he welcomes the North Dakota State Bison football team to the White House on March 4, 2019.

Overall, U.S. animal agriculture only produces about 4 percent of direct U.S. emissions, much less than its competition abroad. That’s partly because the U.S. emits so much carbon from gasoline and fossil-fueled electricity, but it’s partly a triumph of efficiency; the average dairy cow in California produces four times as much milk as a cow in Mexico and 23 times as much as a cow in India. Kester argues that if Green New Deal advocates succeed in reducing U.S. cattle production, it will just move to countries that require more land to produce less meat, endangering carbon sinks like the Amazon and dramatically expanding global emissions.

“There’s so much ignorance about what we do,” Kester says. “Most Americans used to have a farmer or rancher in the family, but now hardly anyone knows where their steak comes from. And we’re way behind the curve on educating the public.”

The industry’s climate message is that it can be part of the solution—not only by increasing yields through more intensive production, but by storing more carbon in its pastures and cutting emissions from its operations. For example, one of Project Drawdown’s top 10 proposals for fixing the climate was “silvopasture,” planting more carbon-storing trees on grazing lands. Bill Gates recently touted the potential of “regenerative agriculture,” which uses cover crops and no-till farming to keep more carbon in the soil, to grow animal feed with fewer emissions. And some ranchers use climate-friendly “rotational grazing” to mimic the patterns of migratory buffalo herds; cattle are clustered in one area to devour the grass and fertilize the soil with their manure, then moved to another area so the grass can regrow. General Mills is encouraging its suppliers to embrace these practices; Jerry Lynch, the company’s chief sustainability officer, says one Georgia rancher who provides beef for its EPIC Meat Snacks is sequestering so much carbon his overall emissions are approaching zero.

“We’ve got to be concerned about the challenges the planet is facing,” Lynch says. “We’ve been in business for 150 years, and we hope to be for 150 more.”

Conglomerates like Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and General Mills have been setting emissions reduction targets for their suppliers, which will ratchet up pressure on farmers and ranchers to green their operations. But at a time when they’re already getting squeezed by a handful of giant agribusinesses that process their animals, as well as the economic fallout from President Donald Trump’s trade wars, they’re hoping for government incentives to reduce their emissions. Frank Mitloehner, a professor of animal agriculture at the University of California-Davis, believes farmers and ranchers deserve to be paid for their ecological services—and recently said so to an Ocasio-Cortez staffer. For example, California is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to help them manage their manure in cleaner ways, which makes more sense to Mitloehner than demonizing them for the messes they make while putting food on people’s tables. Many of them are conservative Republicans who deny climate science, but they’re also pragmatic businesspeople—Mitloehner says they could store tremendous amounts of carbon on their lands if the price and the politics were right.

“Politically, farmers tend toward the Trump camp, and when they hear all this finger-pointing about farting cows, they just shut down,” Mitloehner says. “It troubles me, because I know how urgent this climate discussion is.”

Last year’s farm bill did include some modest new conservation incentives for ranchers who pursue more climate-friendly grazing practices. But they haven’t been widely adopted yet, and the impressive yield improvements that have bolstered the U.S. meat industry’s sustainability arguments seem to be tapering off.

One reason it’s become increasingly difficult to do more with less is climate change. Kester, the California rancher, has seen his yields reduced by droughts in eight of the last 10 years, and a nasty weed called Medusahead rye has invaded his parched pastures, reducing their carrying capacity by about 20 percent.
If meat producers can set aside their skepticism about the Green New Deal, and Green New Deal supporters can set aside their skepticism about meat, there’s potential for a compromise that would provide more lucrative opportunities for meat producers to go green. Jacy Reece is the research director at an anti-meat thinktank called the Sentience Institute, and the author of a new book called The End of Animal Farming, but he says that for now he’s excited about reforms that could make animal farming more sustainable. “If we’ve only got 12 years to act to avoid a global catastrophe, we’ve got to get started now,” he says. “The industry won’t look like I might want it to look, but it can be a lot more sustainable.”


Eating animals actually helped humans become human. Meat added so much nutrition to the diets of our pre-human ancestors that they no longer had to spend all their time foraging; they started to develop larger brains and smaller stomachs. “It transformed our species in a positive way, physiologically and socially,” says Matlock, the University of Arkansas professor who argues against excessive focus on cattle methane. Matlock is one of the American meat industry’s favorite scientists, because his studies have documented its improvements in sustainability. In our conversation, he emphasized that meat has helped feed humanity for 2.5 million years, helping to free billions of people from “the tyranny of hunger.”

Yet Matlock also told me: Americans eat too much meat. “No doubt about it,” he said. For the sake of their health and the sake of the planet, he said, meat-eaters and particularly beef-eaters in rich countries shouldn’t just eat more sustainable meat; they should eat less meat. “Meat should become more expensive,” he said. “We shouldn’t ration it and turn it into the next cocaine, but we do need options.”

Impossible Foods is now selling plant-based options at more than 5,000 restaurants around the U.S.; its new partnership with Burger King will only start with 59 outlets in the St. Louis area, but it could catapult the company into the mainstream. The Impossible message to the public, conveyed in this new video of expletive-filled double-takes from actual diners informed that the Whoppers they just ate were made of plants, is that you can help save the planet and prevent the use and abuse of animals without sacrificing the joy of meat.

Beyond Meat’s strategy relies more on the meat aisle of supermarkets like Whole Foods and Kroger’s; it’s now in 38,000 locations in 20 countries, touting itself as “a better way to feed the planet.” A University of Michigan study found that the company’s burgers—made with peas, potato starch, beets and other vegetarian ingredients that mimic the chewiness, juiciness and tastiness of ground beef—produce 90 percent fewer greenhouse gases per pound than conventional meat. CEO Ethan Brown says that if the average American replaced one animal-based burger with a Beyond Burger every week, the emissions impact would be equivalent to taking 12 million cars off the road.

Brown is a vegan, and he believes our big brains that developed with the help of meat are now telling us there must be a way to enjoy meat without increasing our risk of heart disease, treating sentient animals like disposable raw materials, and imperiling the planet. “There’s a perfect storm around meat right now,” he says. But Brown says he’s not trying to break up humanity’s 2.5 million-year-old relationship with meat. He’s trying to replicate the architecture of meat—mostly amino acids, lipids and water—with plants rather than animals that eat plants, reducing the health risks and ethical dilemmas as well as the climate impacts. He’s marketing to meat eaters, not meat haters, and has found that the vast majority of consumers buying his products put animal-based foods in their shopping carts as well. His investors include the poultry giant Tyson Foods, and he hired the original architect of the dairy industry’s “Got Milk?” campaign to craft his “Go Beyond” pitch.

Beyond Meat has tripled its sales three years in a row, and has now sold more than 50 million burgers. McDonald’s has sold more than 300 billion burgers. But Brown believes the meat industry is ripe for disruption, just as the dairy industry has been losing market share to almond milk and other plant-based alternatives. “We’ve only been at this for 10 years. The human race has been eating meat throughout time,” Brown says. “It’s still sacrilege to say we can do it without animals; it’s fighting words. But we don’t always have to do things the same way.”

The most daunting long-term threat to the industrial meat system may be “clean meat” grown from stem cells in a sterile lab, avoiding the climate impacts, moral quandaries, and real-world inefficiencies of raising animals for slaughter. The startup Memphis Meats can convert cells biopsied from a cow into a finished meatball in just a few weeks, feeding them solutions of amino acids, sugars and other nutrients the cow would have needed to grow. It doesn’t have to waste resources growing hooves, teeth or other inedible animal parts. It doesn’t have to worry about cattle getting sick or slaughterhouses getting contaminated. And it doesn’t require giant expanses of land that could otherwise grow more calories or store more carbon. The company hopes to have products virtually identical to conventional meat in stores by 2021, although its T-bones won’t have bones; in the future, customized meat could even be healthier than the real thing, with more Omega-3s or less saturated fat.

“The world is going to need to produce a lot more food with a lot less land and a lot less waste,” says Eric Schulze, the vice president of product and regulation for Memphis Meats, which has attracted investment from Cargill as well as Tyson. “We’re not trying to supplant an existing industry overnight. But if we do our job correctly, there will be a gigantic sustainability benefit.”

The conventional meat lobby is happy to talk about ways its products can be more sustainable, but it is quite vigorously opposed to the idea of people eating less of its products. And it does see phrases like “plant-based meat” and “clean meat” as fighting words. It helped pressure Missouri to pass a law prohibiting the labeling of any product as meat unless it’s “derived from harvested production livestock or poultry,” and 21 other states are now considering similar labeling restrictions on meat and dairy substitutes. The agriculture lobby is a powerful political force, and ranchers, like community bankers or auto dealers, tend to have outsized influence because they’re relevant in just about every part of the country; 31 states have more than a million head of cattle. But with climate activists pushing for new rules to clean up meat production and public health activists pushing to revise dietary recommendations to reduce meat intake, the industry is playing a lot more defense.

“It used to be just activist groups saying you need to eat less meat to save the planet. We’re alarmed that it’s creeping into the mainstream,” says Hannah Thompson-Weeman, a vice president with the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

Republicans would love the Green New Deal debate to be a referendum on meat, pitting red-blooded carnivores against organic-kale hippies. President Trump, an avid consumer of fast-food burgers and overcooked steak, is already vowing to run for reelection against the Green New Deal and its alleged plan to “permanently eliminate” cattle. And Democrats do seem defensive about the issue, because meat is more popular than any politician; despite all the health warnings and PETA protests, it’s still often true that beef, as the slogan goes, is what’s for dinner. Jane Kleeb, the Nebraska Democratic Party chair, recently tweeted that the left’s growing obsession with meat’s climate impacts helps illustrate why Democrats keep losing the rural vote: “Can we focus our attention on fossil fuels rather than farmers and ranchers?”

Trump’s Democratic challengers have not proposed to ban meat or tax meat or try to dissuade Americans from eating meat, but Senators Booker and Elizabeth Warren have denounced the cartel-like consolidation of the meat-processing giants. That may be a populist play for the rural vote in the Iowa caucus, although Booker is a longtime meat-industry critic and Warren has pushed for tougher antitrust enforcement throughout the economy. But whatever the motives, McElwee of Data for Progress thinks attacking the corporate structure of the “meatriarchy” is a much better long-term strategy for liberals who hope to limit meat consumption than attacking the individual choices of meat eaters.

“It sucks that humans don’t care about cows, but people think they’re being personally attacked if you criticize meat,” he says. “You gotta criticize the system.”

Ultimately, McElwee would love to launch “a mass propaganda campaign on a scale that’s never been done before” to persuade people to eat less meat. But it’s not happening now, and it’s not the kind of message he would advise any Democrat in a swing district to embrace. Meat is too potent a symbol in the culture wars, the political equivalent of an assault weapon that 95 percent of the population happens to enjoy, and Republicans would love to campaign as the defenders of the right to grill. There’s not going to be a Green New Deal or any ambitious climate action as long as Trump is president, anyway.

But the status quo with meat is not sustainable in a climate-constrained world, even if meat advocates don’t often admit it and Green New Deal advocates don’t often admit they want to change it. There’s an obvious path to compromise; one former agribusiness CEO told me he often reminds farmers and ranchers who resent being pestered by the sustainability police that they are vastly outnumbered, and that if they don’t figure out ways to do better their critics will end up dictating ways for them to do better. Some industry leaders are coming around to the view that their best hope of averting burdensome regulations and taxes on meat in the future would be to ramp up their sustainability now. And the Green New Deal, which is still just a vague set of green policy ambitions, could be an opportunity for Washington to help finance the ramp-up as the details get hashed out. Whatever else you can say about farmers and ranchers, they own a lot of land that can store a lot of carbon. “There’s such an enormous opportunity to reduce emissions in meat production, if you didn’t hear all this counterproductive talk about how everything about it is terrible,” says Mitloehner, the Cal-Davis agricultural scientist. “Let’s not alienate the people we need the most on our quest for a climate solution.”