A good while back I made a resolution not to blog about blogging more than once in a blue moon, and I’ve kept the resolution well enough that I literally can’t find my last post on the subject, after googling and scanning the site for about an hour. I do recall that this long-lost post explained why I don’t provide comment threads–which some folks consider essential for any legitimate progressive blog–mainly because I literally don’t have the time to read, much less manage, a significant number of comments. But at present, there’s quite a bit of buzz about comment threads in the blogosphere. Much of it is devoted to the recent incident over at The New Republic, which shut down a “culture blog” written by Lee Siegel after he got caught pseudonymously doing self-hagiographical posts in his own comment threads. And there’s continuing discussion (most recently by my colleague The Moose) about anti-semitic comments on progressive blog sites and whether their managers are sufficiently policing them. Siegel’s stunt struck me as reflecting more of a psychological disorder than some sort of massive violation of blogospheric ethics; you have to wonder how many other bloggers have succumbed to the temptation to stuff their own ballot box with self-praise. But it does raise obvious questions about the function of comment threads. Their ostensible purpose is to allow readers to “comment” on primary posts. But as anyone knows who slogs through comment threads, particularly at high-traffic sites, threads typically drift into collateral and then non-collateral topics. And there is clearly a hardy band of frequent commenters who drift from site to site; who know each other’s views; and who often conduct long-running debates that have little or nothing to do with the posts on which they are “commenting.” I have no inherent objection to this practice, but would observe that comment threads in many cases simply offer a way for non-bloggers to blog without the muss and fuss of running a site or creating diaries on the sites that offer them. The topic of objectionable content on comment threads is more important and troublesome. I agree with Kevin Drum that it’s fundamentally unfair to tar whole sites, much less whole categories of bloggers, with occasional disgusting views as expressed in comment threads. The Moose is making the somewhat different claim that blog proprietors aren’t doing enough to rid their sites of anti-semitic comments. I dunno about that. Most of the big progressive sites have an elaborate (and to me largely incomprehensible) machinery of policies and technological tools to police comments threads, and do regularly “ban” posters who violate the policies chronically. But they don’t, and probably can’t, instantly expunge comments that express objectionable prejudices, in part because it’s not always easy to draw the line between, say, objections to the U.S. alliance with Israel, and genuine anti-semitic utterances, even though they may often overlap.As it happens, I once (successfully) urged Josh Marshall to ban a guy from comments at TPMCafe who was constantly popping up (not just there, but all over the blogosphere) to claim that anyone he disagreed with on virtually any topic was, in fact, acting as an agent of AIPAC, a.k.a. “the Israel Lobby.” I contacted Josh after about the fifth time this jerk breezily announced that the DLC existed purely and simply as an AIPAC front. My objection was not exactly that he was expressing anti-semitic opinions, though he likely holds them; it was that his comments weren’t expressions of opinion at all, but completely unsupported statements of “fact” that were actually lies, and had to be either conscious lies or products of a deep delusion, since he had no idea what he was talking about. Seems to me this might not be a bad rule of thumb for the general treatment of possibly anti-semitic content on blog sites. After all, the diseased heart of all classic anti-semitism is the stubborn claim that Jews exercise shadowy and disproportionate influence by way of a conspiracy that has ensnared or corrupted the gentiles who ostensibly are in charge of governments and opinion-leading media. If, God forbid, I were in charge of a comment thread, I wouldn’t have a beef with people who wanted to argue that America’s alliance with Israel is not in our national interest. But there are dozens of reasons for the strong pro-Israeli tradition in U.S. foreign policy–reasons that range from coldly rational analysis to all sorts of ideological and cultural affinities. It would exist if there were no AIPAC, and no high-profile Jews writing about the Middle East. So I’d bounce anybody from a comment thread that resorted to the “Jewish cabal” kind of argument. It’s a short distance from there to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And quite frankly, that point of view has been aired more than enough over the centuries, with horrific consequences.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
June 2: Rise of Religious “Nones” a Mixed Blessing for Democrats
Since I’m always standing at the intersection of politics and religion, I’m always interested in fresh data on the subject, and wrote some up at New York:
One of the big predictions in American politics lately, of infinite comfort to embattled progressives, is that the increasing number of religiously non-affiliated Americans, particularly among younger generations, will spur a steady leftward drift. Perhaps that will mean, we are told, that Democrats will be able to build their elusive permanent majority on the grounds of abandoned houses of worship. Or perhaps, some hope, the religious roots of today’s Republican extremism will begin to wither away, allowing American conservatives to resemble their less intemperate distant cousins in other advanced democracies, ending the culture wars.
Both propositions may be true. But it’s a mistake to treat so-called nones as an undifferentiated secularist mass, as Eastern Illinois University political scientist Ryan Burge explains with some fresh data. He notes that “in 2022, 6% of folks were atheists, 6% were agnostics, and another 23% were nothing in particular.” This large bloc of “nothing in particular” voters may lean left, all other things being equal, but they tend to be as uninterested in politics as in religion, making them a less than ideal party constituency. He explains:
“To put this in context, in 2020 there were nearly as many nothing in particulars who said that they voted for Trump as there were atheists who said that they voted for Biden.
“While atheists are the most politically active group in the United States in terms of things like donating money and working for a campaign, the nothing in particulars are on another planet entirely.
“They were half as likely to donate money to a candidate compared to atheists. They were half as likely to put up a political sign. They were less than half as likely to contact a public official.
“This all points to the same conclusion: they don’t vote in high numbers. So, while there may be a whole bunch of nothing in particulars, that may not translate to electoral victories.”
As Burge mentioned, however, there is a “none” constituency that leans much more strongly left and is very engaged politically — indeed, significantly more engaged than the white evangelicals we’re always hearing about. That would be atheists. In a separate piece, he gets into the numbers:
“The group that is most likely to contact a public official? Atheists.
“The group that puts up political signs at the highest rates? Atheists.
“HALF of atheists report giving to a candidate or campaign in the 2020 presidential election cycle.
“The average atheist is about 65% more politically engaged than the average American.”
And as Thomas Edsall points out in a broader New York Times column on demographic voting patterns, atheists really are a solid Democratic constituency, supporting Biden over Trump in 2020 by an incredible 87 to 9 percent margin. It’s worth noting that the less adamant siblings of the emphatically godless, agnostics, also went for Biden by an 80 to 17 percent margin and are more engaged than “nothing in particulars” as well.
So should Democrats target and identify with atheists? It’s risky. Despite the trends, there are still three times as many white evangelicals as atheists in the voting population. And there are a lot more religious folk of different varieties, some of whom have robust Democratic voting minorities or even majorities who probably wouldn’t be too happy with their party showing disdain for religion entirely. There’s also a hunt-where-the-ducks-fly factor: If atheists and agnostics already participate in politics and lean strongly toward Democrats, how much attention do they really need? There’s a reason that politicians, whatever their actual religious beliefs or practices, overwhelmingly report some religious identity. Congress lost its one professed atheist when California representative Pete Stark lost a Democratic primary in 2012; the only professed agnostic in Congress is Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, whose political future isn’t looking great.
It’s a complicated picture. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat argues that American liberalism’s increasing identification with secularism is keeping a lot of conservative Christians from politically expressing their reservations about Donald Trump. And religious people beyond the ranks of conservative faith communities may feel cross-pressured if Democratic politicians begin to reflect the liberal intelligentsia’s general assumption that religion is little more than a reactionary habit rooted in superstition and doomed to eventual extinction.
Perhaps it makes more sense for Democratic atheists and agnostics to spend time educating and mobilizing the “nothing in particular” Americans who already outnumber white evangelicals and ought to be concerned about how they’ll be treated if a Christian-nationalist Gilead arises. Only then can “nones” become the salvation for the Democratic Party.