What new polling data tells us about the state of America’s soul, and what to do about it | Friday Morning Coffee

February 5, 2021 7:13 am

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Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

When a traitorous band of anti-government white nationalists and pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol just a month ago in a rampage that shook American democracy to its foundations and left five people dead, they were doing more than just trying to illegally upend the results of the November 2020 elections.

They were trying to turn back history.

It was no accident, after all, that protesters came bearing the symbols of the Confederacy, a racist and treasonous regime whose sole reason for existing was to keep millions of Black slaves in bondage.

Though he might try to deny it at the Senate impeachment trial that gets underway next week, former President Donald Trump nursed and nurtured that sense of grievance and a mountain of false claims through his four years in the White House.

On Jan. 6., Trump set a torch to the rage he’d been kindling throughout his presidency, loosing the mob that marched on the Capitol.

New data from the Pew Research Center backs up that corrosive sense of grievance, even as it points the way toward a badly needed recalibration in our politics and national dialogue.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga. (Getty Images/The Georgia Recorder)

According to the poll, nearly two-thirds of American adults say they expect Black people to gain influence in a Biden administration that’s been deliberately structured to look like a changing nation.

Equally large shares of respondents say they expect women (63 percent) and LGBTQ Americans (60 percent) to gain influence over the next four years. Only one in 10 respondents say they expect these demographics to lose influence, according to Pew.

Respondents also said they expected young people (54 percent), Hispanics (53 percent), the poor (50 percent) and unions (48 percent) to gain increased clout in the new White House.

“The voices have always been there, but they have learned better ways to join, be heard, and be more effective. It’s meant that they can no longer be ignored as easily,” said the Rev. Sandra Strauss, of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches. “Add to that the growing recognition that the growing wealth gap could not be sustained — even by many who benefited — helped as well.”

But if you’re a racist Proud Boy, a witless QAnon dupe, or a Trump supporter who found your insecurities and biases amplified and reaffirmed by the previous regime, then you’re probably looking at this data, and thinking your worst fears have been realized, and that your murderous march on the Capitol was justified.

As a refresher, you’re wrong on both counts. Dead wrong.

But if you’re a Black American who took to the streets last summer to protest police violence and to seek redress for 400 years of institutionalized racism, then you may be exhaling some small sigh of relief that your voice is being heard as loudly, and with as much long overdue urgency, as white America.

“Elected officials ask for our votes each November and make promises that our concerns will be addressed through policy,” said Kadida Kenner, a Black woman who heads the advocacy group Why Courts Matter. “Yet each January and February following the general election, when the freshman legislators take their seats, and cabinet positions are appointed and confirmed, our communities typically find ourselves on the outside of important positions and appointments.

“With the BIPOC community and specifically Black voters ensuring Biden’s win, as indicated by the Pew Research survey, 65 percent of us are expecting to see ourselves not only represented but gaining influence in this new administration,” Kenner continued. “We are coming to collect our proverbial check to ensure our interests are met.”

And if you’re an LGBTQ American, who is now enjoying your right to get married like any of your neighbors, you’re probably thinking much the same, even though you and others, who are waiting for the moral arc of the universe to bend toward justice, know that the nation still has miles to go on such fundamental issues as access to the voting booth, wage equity, and equal protection under the law.

Gayborhood meeting spots like U Bar have only recently begun to open back up (Philly Gay News Photo)

In Pennsylvania, for instance, it’s still entirely legal for someone to be fired, denied housing or public accommodation, on the basis of their sexual or gender identity.

Just last month, the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives defeated an effort to embed those protections in state law.

“I think people are hungry for a society and a government that reflects the fullness of the American experience,” said state Rep. Malcolm KenyattaD-Philadelphia, who is Black and gay. “People also understand that our commonwealth is better when it is fairer, and [when] those blocking progress have less … [access to] reinforcements. Ask a random person, and they would assume that a lot what we need to do on equality and police reform are already the law. People are ready, but unfortunately a majority of our politicians are not

The new Pew data, as The Washington Post notes, is practically a photo negative when it’s put alongside similar Pew data from four years ago, when equal shares of Americans said they expected the wealthy (64 percent), white (51 percent), men (51 percent), and conservative Christians (52 percent) to wield more clout in the Trump White House.

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The new Pew data holds a stinging rebuke to evangelical Christians, who enjoyed extraordinary access and influence to the former administration, and who “fused” as the New York Times reports, with the Capitol rioters, many of whom have described themselves as engaged in a holy war.

Half of all respondents to the new Pew poll said they expected evangelicals to lose influence in the Biden White House.

There’s no small irony that the poor, the very people that Christians were specifically charged by Jesus to care for and uplift, will gain a louder voice than evangelicals whose focus was more often on the culture war and earthly power.

Yet, rather than turn into this inevitable wave of change, Republicans in Pennsylvania and on Capitol Hill have sought to stop it by moving to restrict access to the vote, and by sheltering colleagues, such as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who’s not only a public mouthpiece for the appalling QAnon conspiracy theory, but who also believes the tragic school shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Newtown, Conn., were false flag incidents.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 14: Members of the National Guard prepare to distribute weapons outside the U.S. Capitol on January 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Security has been increased throughout Washington following the breach of the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, and leading up to the Presidential Inauguration. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

There’s no doubt that the country changed in profound ways during Trump’s chaotic and calamitous four years in office. Some of that damage also has been catalogued by Pew’s researchers.

The most immediately noticeable change was the deepening of our already pronounced partisan divides. Trump finished his final weeks in office with a dismal 29 percent approval rating, with a majority of the public saying he bore at least some responsibility for the Capitol violence. As ever, there were pronounced political divides within that data.

But the political also is so often personal, and that became the case with Trump as well.

In a 2019 poll, at least three-quarters of Republicans told Pew that Trump’s words “often made them feel hopeful, entertained and proud,” Pew concluded. Ever larger shares of Democrats said those same words made them feel “concerned, exhausted, angry, insulted, and confused.”

Biden has spent most of his first two weeks, through executive order and legislation, trying to undo the damage of Trumpism. Getting Americans to believe that they’re all rowing in the same direction may be the most towering of those challenges.

He also can’t do it alone.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Bringing you today’s coverage from our staff is extra special this Friday morning, because today is our second birthday as a newsroom. It was on this day in 2019, that we launched this amazing adventure. We didn’t know what to expect, or how we’d be received. But your friendship, readership, and support (moral and financial) over these last two years has been just amazing, and we’re so grateful. For all of us: Me, Associate Editor Cassie MillerStaff Reporters Stephen Caruso and Elizabeth Hardison, as well as our correspondents, opinion contributors and Estrella-Capital translator Bella Altman, thank you so much. Here’s to the next two years, and beyond. — John L. Micek, Editor.

Pennsylvania legislators have reached a bipartisan agreement to use an emergency power to salvage a constitutional amendment that will allow childhood sex abuse victims to sue perpetrators in old cases, a maneuver that would potentially allow voters to ratify the measure in May, Stephen Caruso and Elizabeth Hardison report.

What is the plan?’ A state Senate panel aired frustrations with Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout. Elizabeth Hardison has the story.

Eight of Pennsylvania’s nine U.S. House members voted against stripping U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., of her committee assignments on Thursday night. U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, was one of only 11 Republicans who voted with Democrats concerned about Green’s embrace of conspiracy theories. Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson, with an assist from your humble newsletter author, has the story.

In an effort to boost Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow the commonwealth’s National Guard to distribute vaccines, Cassie Miller reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Poet Amanda Gorman commanded the attention of the nation on Inauguration Day. Three experts explain why teaching poetry to our kids makes them better students — and people — in so many ways. And opinion regular Fletcher McClellan reminds us that unity means different things to different people, doubly so in a fractured Washington D.C.

En la Estrella-Capital: El Alcalde Bill Peduto de Pittsburgh propondrá a Juneteenth como feriado oficial de la ciudadlos parquesde Pa. ven crecimiento durante la pandemia.

The student debt crisis has hit Black borrowers the hardest, the Inquirer reports, as it speaks to Philadelphia debtors who say the Biden administration’s plan doesn’t go far enough.
U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, presumably with a straight face, says former President Donald Trump deserves ‘at least one Nobel Peace Prize,’ the Post-Gazette reports.
Pennsylvania’s top public health official says the state is promising ‘more accountability’ from vaccine providers, PennLive reports.
Catholic dioceses raked in taxpayer cash for small businesses during the pandemic – Allentown’s diocese, parishes and schools received at least $11 million, the Associated Press reports (via the Morning Call).
The Citizens-Voice talks to Luzerne County lawmakers about the state’s COVID-19 vaccine roll out.
The York Daily Record profiles one family’s very personal effort to protect the Susquehanna River.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Philly’s showdown over a return to the classroom will be solved by a mediator, WHYY-FM reports.
Long-term care homes are demanding more vaccines from the state, WITF-FM reports.
Northwestern Pennsylvania’s 814 area code is getting a new overlay, 582, GoErie reports.
Washington County Commissioners are set to approve $6.6 million in ‘local share projects’ from gaming revenue, the Observer-Reporter reports. 
Republicans in state legislatures are responding to the Black Lives Matter movement with anti-protest bills, reports.
Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent has been named the executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Congressional ProgramPoliticsPA reports.
The Biden administration’s COVID-19 relief bill is rocketing through Congress, with approval in the House coming as soon as today, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The state Revenue Department holds a 1 p.m. virtual briefing on Gov. Tom Wolf’s tax plan.

Heavy Rotation.
We went down a Roxy Music rabbit hole on Thursday. Today, we’re bringing you with us. From 1980’s ‘Flesh and Blood,’ Here’s the majestic ‘Over You.’

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Despite a valiant effort, Carolina dropped a 6-4 decision to the Blackhawks on Thursday night, snapping a five-game winning streak. Today’s a new day.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.