Monday, July 02, 2018

Purple Family Values

Remember "family values?"  They were the big talking point among Republicans in the 1990s, used to combat anything from abortion, same-sex marriage, women working outside the home, and sex education in schools. 

Family values were always a code, to be deciphered by the readers.  But the intended meaning of this code was that families should be under patriarchal leadership, that husbands should bring home the bacon and wives should cook it and that there should be many children (the number dependent on some divine power entering the husband's testicles, I guess), none of whom would ever go to daycare because their mothers would not work for money.

It was a clever code, of course, because who wouldn't value families, eh?  Those who heard or read the words "family values" instinctively inserted their own family values (love of parents, children, mutual support and care, say) into them.  And that made the code work.

Still, whatever the actual contents of the term, "family values" were meant as something normative:  the way someone thought things should be, not as something positive:  someone describing things the way that person thinks they are.

That long preamble is to explain why I found an opinion piece by Matthew Schmitz in the New York Times pretty weird.  Schmitz treats the term "family values" as a mix of positive and normative concepts.


He begins by mentioning a book which divides family values into blue and red ones (to match the US political divisions):

In their book “Red Families v. Blue Families,” Naomi Cahn and June Carbone popularized the idea of “blue” and “red” family models. Blue families prize equality and companionship between spouses while putting a low value on childbearing. Red families tend to be inegalitarian or complementarian, viewing the man as the primary breadwinner and the mother as the primary caregiver. Early marriage and multiple children are typical.
Red families tend toward conservatism, and blue tend toward progressivism, but the models share an upper-class stress on respectability and a strong taboo against out-of-wedlock birth.

Schmitz adds a third concept of "family values" into the discussion.  He calls them "purple" family values, and argues that Donald Trump is a great example of those:

A third model can be found among working-class whites, blacks and Hispanics — let’s call it purple. In these families, bonds between mothers and children are prized above those between couples. Unstable relationships are the norm, and fathers quickly end up out of the picture.
Are these purple family values or purple models of family normative or positive?  They look like a mix to me.  And this is where not making that clear distinction gets Schmitz into real trouble*:

Baffling as it may be to elites, Mr. Trump embodies a real if imperfect model of family values. People familiar with the purple family model tend to view his alienation from his children’s mother as normal and his closeness to his children as exceptional and admirable. I saw this among my acquaintances in Nebraska. Even those from red families were more likely than my acquaintances in New York to know someone who has had a child out of wedlock or is subject to a restraining order.

The bolds are mine.

Is being subject to a restraining order part of the normative "purple" family values?  I very much doubt that, given that restraining orders are usually given when violence is feared. 

But it's a clever trick to use, to imply that this is how many families now look like and to confuse that with something normative, because that trick allows Schmitz to see Trump as a good-enough parent.  Whether he has spent any time with his children or not, the fact that none of his three wives has had a restraining order put on him means that he can't be that bad a husband or father!**

I get Mr. Schmitz's intentions, of course I do.  They are very similar to the ones others have proposed to explain why many women who voted for Trump weren't that bothered by his pussy grabbing talk:  Those women argued that this is just how men are:***  Men have sexual affairs with pron stars when their wives are recovering from giving birth, men explain how they can grab pussy to other men to show their relative ranking in macho hierarchies.

But Schmitz doesn't prove his point that convincingly.

To see this, consider the white Evangelicals, a right-wing group which always votes for the Republicans, but which also preaches male supremacy at home and other values reflected in the red family norm.

This group went for Trump in 2016 in numbers greater than it went for Romney in 2012, despite Trump's custom of swapping his wives for newer models whenever the earlier ones looked outdated, despite his open boasting about his adulteries and general philandering and despite his often-expressed objectification of and contempt for women.

This is the very group which supports what the opinion piece calls red family values.  And it is still whole-heartedly for Trump.

Most articles discussing family values ignore the intimately linked question about women's rights, and though Schmitz does mention that the red family model is not an egalitarian one, he fails to ask how the fact that Trump ran against a woman might have affected the election results.

A rude-mouthed philanderer who goes through women like through toilet paper might look attractive for those voters who feared Hillary Clinton as the vampire queen from coldest hell, intent on putting all male testicles in a lock-box as Rush Limbaugh told his audience. And of course electing the first female president would have created a major genderquake to those various family values!  Better not go there.****


*  Actually, he is in real trouble from the very beginning, because his data is all anecdotal, based on people he knows and has talked to, and that does not wash when some of his arguments are positive and not normative.

**  I exaggerate a little there, but not much.

***  I don't believe that, as an aside, despite being a terrible man-eating feminazi, because I don't approve of facile generalizations based on no statistical data.

Also, I believe that those women wanted to vote for the conservative ham sandwich past its due date for tribal reasons, and they would have forgiven Trump almost anything.  As Trump himself noted in a joke he made.

****  Many issues affected the election results, from Comey's giant foot-in-the-mouth politicking, the Russian influence and, last but not least, real and valid concerns about the increasingly unequal wealth and income distribution in this country. 

But it's the Republicans who have both birthed and nurtured that inequality.  And as we can see now, Trump may have talked the talk of coal miners or steel workers (guys, by the way) in his pre- and post-election campaigns, but the results are not at all promising.  Still, it's true that the Democrats' economic policies have failed the working classes, and not just the white working class.

Still, the role of racist and sexist views in the 2016 election clearly benefited Trump.  They should not be ignored in opinion pieces of this kind.  Note that Schwartz assigns his "purple" family model to three voter groups, and only one of those had large majorities voting for Trump.