Us Versus Them: Shithole Edition

When reports of Donald Trump’s “shithole countries” remark hit the media, various  outlets  reported “gasps of disbelief” by Congressional Republicans.

Give me a break. Anyone who is genuinely surprised to discover that Trump is a racist is too stupid to tie his own shoes.

David Leonhardt ticked off  the evidence in his column yesterday for the New York Times:

• Trump’s real-estate company was sued twice by the federal government in the 1970s for discouraging the renting of apartments to African-Americans and preferring white tenants, such as “Jews and executives.”

• In 1989, Trump took out ads in New York newspapers urging the death penalty for five black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a white woman in Central Park; he continued to argue that they were guilty as late as October 2016, more than 10 years after DNA evidence had exonerated them.

• He spent years claiming that the nation’s first black president was born not in the United States but in Africa, an outright lie that Trump still has not acknowledged as such.

• He began his 2016 presidential campaign by disparaging Mexican immigrants as criminals and “rapists.”

• He has retweeted white nationalists without apology.

• He frequently criticizes prominent African-Americans for being unpatriotic, ungrateful and disrespectful.

• He called some of those who marched alongside white supremacists in Charlottesville last August “very fine people.”

• He is quick to highlight crimes committed by dark-skinned people, sometimes exaggerating or lying about it (such as a claim about growing crime from “radical Islamic terror” in Britain). He is very slow to decry hate crimes committed against dark-skinned people (such as the murder of an Indian man in Kansas last year).

Although pundits have previously noted Trump’s racist, barely-veiled “dog whistles” to white nationalists, they have been far more reluctant to say out loud what political scientists (and most sentient beings) have concluded from data about the 2016 electorate: a solid majority of Trump voters were motivated by racial animus.  Racism “trumped” (excuse the pun) recognition of Trump’s ignorance, grandiosity and utter unfitness for office; for those voters, identity politics–aka white nationalism with a side of misogyny– won the day.

Which brings me to the unpleasant but unavoidable subject of “us versus them.”

Scholars who study the history of human interaction tell us that tribalism is hard-wired into the human psyche. There are evolutionary reasons for that, and the consequences aren’t all negative by any means. Our attachments to our families, our “clans” and our countries can promote solidarity, sacrifice and reciprocity.

The problem is the way far too many Americans define “us.”

I know I get tiresome with my constant harping on the need for improved civic literacy and constitutional knowledge, but the reason I believe it is so important that Americans understand our history and philosophy and constituent documents is because allegiance to America’s foundational values is what makes people Americans. It is what creates an overarching “us” out of an assortment of diverse and otherwise unconnected “thems.”

Republicans used to understand that. It was Ronald Reagan who said

You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won’t become a German or a Turk.’ But anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.

Donald Trump explicitly appeals to people who don’t understand that, people who have a very narrow definition of “us”– people who define their own identities by the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or religion. They are incapable of seeing people who don’t look just like the image they see in their imaginary mirrors as members of their tribe, as part of “us.”

Fear and ignorance keep them from understanding who “we” really are.

The good news is that we don’t have to fight our hard-wired impulse to see the world in terms of “us” and “them.” We just have to work toward a better, more accurate, more capacious definition of “us” — a definition that includes all Americans, no matter what color, religion, sexuality, gender or other “tribe.”

One we get that right, we can work on defining “us” as humanity….

31 thoughts on “Us Versus Them: Shithole Edition

  1. Dear Ms. Kennedy
    I thought you should see this – I found it last eve. Remember ‘Pussy Riot’? They are back – and this one is a message I wish everyone could see! (The words the images – especially the segments of his telling his ‘followers’ to beat and hit and kill people opposed to him! THIS is donald j. trump and this is the truth!
    “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-bKFo30o2o”

  2. On days like this I thank goodness for Friedrich Nietzsche:

    “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.”

    “If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

    “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

  3. Those of us who have been paying attention – since before the 2016 election – are well aware of that immediately formed, white Republican committee committed to destroying any and everything newly elected President Obama attempted to accomplish. Their rate of success led us to Trump. Those of us who also realized the importance of watching, listening to and reading information about Trump’s presidential campaign as well as Hillary Clinton’s; have seen, heard and read the racism and bigotry for ourselves. I, for one, always notice the “token” at his left shoulder during every major announcement or public rant. His “shithole countries” comment came as no surprise to me. The fact that Tom Cotton was quick to deny it happened was also not a surprise; he authored the letter, signed by 6 or 7 other elected official,s to the leader of Iran, warning him that President Obama would never stand by his promises in the Nuclear Pact they had agreed to.

    Yes, we can escape the “hard-wired racism” we are born into by being aware of our surroundings, thinking for ourselves and learning a different way of thinking. I have always been the “black sheep” of my family, never quite fit in, always asking questions but for years outwardly “following the rules”. When I began speaking my mind and acting on my beliefs, “…a definition that includes all Americans, no matter what color, religion, sexuality, gender or other “tribe.”; some family and friends dropped by the wayside. They are among the Trump supporters today, laughing at his antics and believing he is standing up for “them” against “us”.

    Personally; as our national situation deteriorates due to Trump’s “antics”, I am glad I am 80 years old and won’t be around for the final outcome of his election, his administration and the support of racism and bigotry by our current Congress. It is going to take years to undo what he has destroyed in less than one year; I fear his support of neo-Nazis, White Nationalists and the KKK, bringing racists and bigots out from under their rocks and from behind the woodwork and increasing their numbers will take longer than I have left in this life.

  4. Not directly to your point but I’ve been somewhat amused at MSNBC’s (and perhaps others) ambivalence concerning putting up and saying “shithole” as opposed to the “s**thole” alternative. I assume George Carlin’s “7 Forbidden Words” are still forbidden broadcast media by FCC rules sustained by the Supreme Court at one time, but I haven’t really checked the major broadcast networks.

    In any event, I have some friends who try to equate Trump’s term with Clinton’s “Deporables”. do they have a point?

  5. Today’s piece on Trump’s habitual racism is marred by the repetition of the argument that a “solid majority of Trump voters” were motivated by “racial animus”. I have not seen studies which document such a majority, which would imply that at least 25% of all voters were so motivated. This unsupported allegation is belied by numerous studies documenting the switch of vast numbers of white voters who went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 (and presumably were not color blind at the time) to Trump in 2016. Ignoring what troubles those folks will not help in freeing us from the scourge of Trumpism.

  6. “Fear and ignorance” have been implanted, cultivated and their fruits now harvested by far right conservatives and the Republican Party. Will any of us survive this winter of our souls with such poisonous garbage to feed upon?

  7. Alan,

    “Today’s piece on Trump’s habitual racism is marred by the repetition of the argument that a “solid majority of Trump voters” were motivated by “racial animus”. I have not seen studies which document such a majority, which would imply that at least 25% of all voters were so motivated.”

    I have.

  8. Don; THANK YOU, I believe posting “s**thole” is misquoting the president and is a lie…it is the same as his “alternative facts”.

    Alan; I live in the middle of a neighborhood forested by “Trump” yard signs of those “solid majority of Trump voters”, “were motivated by “racial animus”. To my knowledge no poll has been taken here but…these people complain about the number of Blacks and Hispanics living here. As I have pointed out; they need to look closely at the few trashy properties, filled with zoning violations and notice that they are ALL where the white folks live. When I was mugged and robbed at 11:00 in the morning on my own driveway, I was asked by some, “was he Black”…no, he was a pudgy 47 year old white drug addict. Their comments and questions were nothing but racially motivated…no poll is needed, look around at your neighbors.

  9. Theresa,

    “Fear and ignorance” have been implanted, cultivated and their fruits now harvested by far right conservatives and the Republican Party. Will any of us survive this winter of our souls with such poisonous garbage to feed upon?”

    Truer words were never more spoken.

  10. Have an enjoyable weekend everyone!

    I still stick to my original assessment that Donald Trump will eventually turn out to be our Santa Claus. TRUTH has been a much-needed gift that only a combination of Trump/Pence/Bannon could deliver.

  11. Trump continues to be the best thing that ever happened to progressivism. His #FakeNews battles are shaking up the media while censorship is going into full swing via Twitter, Facebook, and Google.

    Of course, Trump is a racist and so is much of America. Hello, Indiana backed Trump. Check your county to see which ones supported Trump. He just happens to be on display every single day.

    However, so is Bill & Hillary Clinton. They’ve used black people for votes and rewarded them with the private prison industry. Slavery redux. #TheNewJimCrow

    The Democratic Party itself is a racist organization. They offer freebies for votes but don’t offer broader programs to help Americans. That’s as progressive as they get.

    Three more years of Trump should be the death knell for both political parties, our lame media, and our fraudulent government who claim to represent the people but serve the donor class.

    The truth-seeking free press via alternative media is being censored so the Oligarchy and their government servants can push even more unfiltered propaganda on the masses.

    Fascism or socialism are the two choices once capitalism runs its course. We’ve been seeing exactly what Fascism looks like. My only question is will this generation rise up or will it be the next?

  12. I notice now that editorially controlled journalism, the mainstream press is no longer treating Trump as anything but what he is. He is a monster harming our country from international standing to domestic leadership. Increasingly reporting ties his toxicity to the GOP’s craven attachment to any means to power. They are un-American unable to understand the real power of graceful strength. Like the stingy school boys they yearn to be a bully. Bullies wilt when the heat is really on and I hope we do not face that sort of reckoning. Let November of 2018 set a new course for this country. God knows good citizens will not sleep through another poll day.

  13. Where would our country be if we didn’t have fox? Maybe the bigots and racists wouldn’t have their own network spewing their nonsense 24/7.

  14. LIKE AN ANIMAL AND NOTHING BETTER
    On a farm, it is the limitations of THE BEAST THAT IS ALL ANIMAL AND NOTHING ELSE that makes the sow eat the piglet that is born crippled or colored differently than the rest of her offspring; it is the limitations of THE BEAST THAT IS ALL ANIMAL AND NOTHING ELSE that makes the cow deny milk to the calf that is different from the calf she expected; it is the limitations of THE BEAST THAT IS ALL ANIMAL AND NOTHING ELSE that makes the chickens devour one peck at a time any fellow chicken that acquires a spot on its feathers; it is the limitations of THE BEAST THAT IS ALL ANIMAL AND NOTHING ELSE that makes those same chickens so cowardly that a mere shadow causes the flock to cower in hysterical piles so deep that many fellow chickens at the bottom of the pyramid are smothered to death; and it is the limitations of THE BEAST THAT IS ALL ANIMAL AND NOTHING ELSE that makes a human behave like an animal and nothing better.

  15. Sheila, you are so right about “the need for improved civic literacy and constitutional knowledge,” and need to keep harping on it until we see some change. You are not alone. This from Diane Ravitch:
    “What is the purpose of public schools? From the beginning of their history—until recently–their purpose was to develop good citizens, to nurture good character, to prepare young men and women to sustain our democratic experiment into the future. Young adults who could read and inform themselves about issues, who could vote wisely for their leaders, who could lead independent lives, who could contribute to their communities, and who were able to serve on juries. These are the duties of citizens. This was the original purpose of public schools: citizenship.”

  16. Larry; very interesting concept. If, in the human race as it is with sea horses, the male carries the fertilized eggs and gives birth, Pence would be providing free birth control and abortions for all men who sought them…and the majority of men would seek them.

  17. “…allegiance to America’s foundational values is what makes people Americans. It is what creates an overarching “us” out of an assortment of diverse and otherwise unconnected “thems.”

    Something like “e pluribus unum” perhaps?

  18. Ms. Kennedy quotes Reagan as saying (and agrees):

    You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won’t become a German or a Turk.’ But anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.

    This is part of the myth of American exceptionalism. It is a way of saying only we can overcome the problem of the “other”.

  19. To Trump’s long list of attributes such as bullying, lying, racism etc., we can now add adultery and whore-mongering. His is an ill and hopeless case to make America anything again and we should now give our attention to the silent Republicans who are allowing this menace to our democracy to continue for their own selfish political reasons. Trump is unwelcome in the UK for fear of massive demonstrations and has cancelled his planned trip there for that reason, not the one he gave. Indeed he is unwelcome in all of Europe and I would think that the organizers of the world’s upcoming superrich meeting in Davos to which Trump has invited himself consider him and his sideshow narcissism persona non grata but, like our Republicans, too cowed and yellow to say so. When are Republicans and the superrich going to understand that the “Good Germans” lost when they did not stand up to authoritarianism of a wannabe dictator who succeeded in his quest for all power?

  20. Interesting comments from everyone. Of course, Trump is an outrage. He has been an outrage for decades. No more needs to be said about Trump. The contributors here have been saying everything that needs to be said about this monster, and he is a monster.

    We who care about our country and choose to believe we are patriots need to get working on fixes that make our democracy work as it’s supposed to, beginning with school curricula across the country. Right-wing ideologues have been infiltrating school boards everywhere to insidiously change those curricula to favor their views. The Lewis Powell “manifesto” directed the oligarchs to do just that.

    Meanwhile, we all must work to get viable, incorruptible candidates elected at EVERY level, including school boards. Get involved with registration drives. Join voter transport pools and get those who can’t, by themselves, get to the polls on election day do so. Volunteer your support to those candidates worthy of your time and vote. Politics is local. Become a local advocate of democracy.

    When people turn out to vote, we win, and the bigots, racists and fools lose.

  21. John Neal,

    The thing about myths and the idealism they pass on generation after generation is that deep down we know we cannot achieve the idealism, but we are urged to keep trying. And only by trying do we elevate ourselves above the animals. It is the journey, not the destination.

  22. Theresa,

    Thank you for your kind remarks, but we do a great injustice when we say we can do things Japan, France, Germany, and Turkey can’t or won’t.

    And how is our journey going with Native Americans, African Americans and Trump?

    My point is simple. Our ethnocentric view of ourselves as “exceptional” is a big contributor the problem we are trying to solve.

  23. William good point about : Why have the Democrats given Trump the power to spy on Americans without any meaningful checks or safeguards?

    It would be confusing except for the fact both Establishment Corporate Parties unite on preserving our security state and maybe expanding it into the Police State. Logically, you would think the Democrats would be opposed to giving the Trumpet and Sessions more power.

    Joining the pro-surveillance coalition led by Trump, Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes, Schiff, and Swalwell was the House’s liberal icon and senior Democrat, Nancy Pelosi. The San Francisco Democrat also stood on the House floor and offered a vigorous defense of the Trump-endorsed bill that would extend to Trump’s FBI the power to spy on Americans without warrants, in the process denouncing the minimal warrant safeguards favored by many in her own party. Pelosi’s speech earned praise from GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan: “I want to thank [Pelosi] for coming up and speaking against the Amash amendment, and in favor of the underlying bipartisan [bill].”

    As the American Civil Liberties Union put it bluntly about the bill supported by Pelosi and Schiff: “The House just passed a bill to give the Trump administration greater authority to spy on Americans, immigrants, journalists, dissidents, and everyone else.”
    https://theintercept.com/2018/01/12/the-same-democrats-who-denounce-trump-as-a-lawless-treasonous-authoritarian-just-voted-to-give-him-vast-warrantless-spying-powers/
    ==========================

    The Trumpet has just provided his Trumpeteers with one more ethnic slur. Trump, went into his windup, and threw out another curve ball, the McMega-Media their pundits and the Democrats can swing and miss on with hours and hours of TV time on CNN and MSNBC.

    Mean while the Republicans will sit back and enjoy Trump slowly but surely deconstructing financial, civil liberties, safe guards or environmental rules and regulations.

  24. There are various theories of how many years parents get to mold their children (only by example IMO) but most agree it’s relatively few. After that they are who they are.

    That’s what we have to work with here, people who are who they are and many are ignorant deplorable shitholes including many of the elected and appointed in DC.

    I typically agree with Sheila about the value of civic and scientific literacy and their contributions to a liberal democracy but let’s face it the people who are short chose to be and willful ignorance prevents them from being anything but what they are.

    Let’s not be naive here. We are in a crisis situation and nuance doesn’t solve crises, direct, clear, simple action does.

    In 2018, and 2020 vote all Ds. Smother the fire first then think about the work of rebuilding. That’s the complex part, figuring out how we got overrun by deplorables and what can be done to first stop doing what we’re doing wrong and second start doing what needs to be done.

    First fight the fire.

  25. Monotonous Languor,thanks for reading the link.

    For those choosing to ignore the Democratic members enabling of the erosion of rights (thereby surrendering more of our rights to the Trumpster) is analogous to members of the right willfully ignoring the reality of science. The truth hurts.

  26. I teach Nonviolence Studies and am sure folks think I harp on us v them a lot, too. But ! Growing beyond dualistic thinking (us v them, good v evil, even up v down) is step one to better problem solving and healthy interactions at all levels. Look at The Tao of Nonviolence for a beginner’s take how systems/holistic thinking can help create “… an overarching “us” out of an assortment of diverse and otherwise unconnected “thems.”

  27. Firemen know that entering a burning building is not the time to look for the cause. First you put the fire out. There is nothing Republican any more worth saving from the fire.

    Put them out ASAP then we can start thinking about recovery.

    What I agree with is that we’ve gotten so far astray from our liberal democratic roots that recovery will be a long hard complex slog. The only thing worse is not recovering.

    Doctors know that a dead patient can’t be saved no matter their miracle technology.

  28. Yes, the current President is definitely racist. I also believe he is a pathological liar who believes his own lies. I think one of his strategies is to play the game “Let’s Play Uproar” and then when we are all distracted by his hateful remarks, we fail to see the policies enacted and the judges he is appointing. We certainly cannot ignore the remarks of his unbridled tongue. I wonder what would happen if the press just said “There he goes again distracting us with ugly remarks.” And then went on to looking at what he’s actually doing/not doing because that’s where the rubber hits the road. The words of the US president are powerful and reverberate across the globe but what he is doing or not doing is/will be even more damaging. I am one who prays for those who oppress me I keep turning him over to my Higher Power and resisting in my own small, individual way. Love and peace to all of you. May you be safe and warm in the midst of this cold winter.

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