Category Archives: Racial Equality

White Man Malaise

Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution has surveyed the post-election analytic landscape, and considered the varying explanations for the outcome. He traces what he calls “the malaise of white middle America” in the trending data about mortality, life expectancy, suicide and opioid use, and suggests that it ought not be surprising that areas in which people are turning to oxycodone are also the ones that turned to Trump.

Bernie Sanders says that Trump’s “campaign rhetoric successfully tapped into a very real and justified anger.” To his mind, people are “tired of having chief executives make 300 times what they do, while 52 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent.” Well, maybe.

Meanwhile Jenny Beth Martin, president and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, says that Trump’s victory is a validation of their agenda: “Repeal…Obamacare, protect our borders, stop illegal immigration, restore fiscal sanity and get the government off our backs and out of our lives.” Well, maybe.

There is lots of work to be done to truly understand the complex picture that emerged on November 8. But it doesn’t look to me as if economics will take us very far in terms of understanding white pain, at least in any simple way. Scott Winship of the new think tank Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity delves into the numbers, and concludes that “there is little empirical support for the idea that ‘it was the economy, stupid’.” I agree. This was an identity vote more than an income vote. Many white men, especially those of modest education, feel as if they are being overtaken and left behind. “It’s relative status, stupid!”

Kathy Cramer is the author of a recent book, The Politics of Resentment, in which she relays her research and conclusions from her interviews with the white, working class men (and some women) who voted for Trump. She says they compare their lives to a bygone world in which men like them could easily get jobs paying a decent wage, were automatically considered the “head of the household,” and “always knew that they were superior to people with darker skin.” All of those basic assumptions about the way the world works have been challenged, to say the least.

And of course we’ve had a black President since 2008. As James Baldwin warned almost half a century ago, “the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity…The black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken out of their foundations.”

The unanswerable question is: what happens when these people realize that Trump cannot undo inexorable social change? That despite “telling it like it is”–i.e., giving voice and “respectability” to their resentments–he cannot put women back in the kitchen, gays back in the closet, or send African-Americans back to the back of the bus?

As Reeves concludes,

Loss of relative status is painful, no doubt. But it is the inescapable price of equality. Trump has no cure. Nobody does.

The Price of Justice

The fact that politicians seem to get away with incredibly slanderous and libelous comments has been a particular annoyance during this election campaign. Granted, it’s hard to match the invective of Donald Trump, but if we’re honest, we have to admit that he has simply normalized and amplified the growing nastiness of too much of American politics and culture.

Seen any Senate ads lately?

Of course, candidates know what they are getting into, and I suppose they can slug it out (although it does make you wonder how many nice, qualified people who would do a good job simply decline to get down and dirty), but other objects of vitriol and unsubstantiated accusations are rarely in a position to fight back.

Think about the women (I believe the number is currently 12) who summoned their courage and shared their “Trump experiences” following disclosure of the appalling “pussy tape.” They probably anticipated his rage and bluster and denial, but those reactions have been accompanied by threats of lawsuits. Trump is clearly someone who issues empty and even ludicrous threats (see: letter to the New York Times), but he has also been involved in literally thousands of actual lawsuits, and not always as a defendant. In fact, as Ed Brayton reports, 

The New York Times reports that the American Bar Association prepared a report calling Donald Trump a libel bully for his decades-long use of defamation suits to stifle criticism of him, but they chickened out on releasing it because — drumroll, please — he might sue them.

The New York Times can take care of itself, but if the threat of litigation can chill and intimidate the ABA, think of the effect on even the most blameless and resolute accuser. If you lack the financial wherewithal to mount an adequate defense to a lawsuit, no matter how unfounded, the person pursuing that lawsuit starts out with a grossly unfair advantage. Even a loss is a win, when the real goal is to inflict damage.

This problem goes well beyond the antics of the spoiled brat running for President, and it isn’t simply relevant to libel cases. Ask any lawyer who has defended  or sued on behalf of a “little guy” against a large corporation represented by a major law firm. For that matter, ask the twenty-year-old stuck in the Marion County Jail awaiting trial on a relatively minor charge, who doesn’t have money to post bail and is represented by an overworked public defender because he can’t afford private counsel.

In far too many situations–not all, but too many–justice is something only the affluent can hope for.

Americans talk a lot about the obvious problems with our justice system: (1) inexcusable delays in the federal courts because there aren’t enough judges (thanks to Mitch McConnell and the GOP lawmakers who simply refuse to fill judicial vacancies so long as Obama is nominating the candidates for those positions), (2) unarmed people getting killed because police departments’ training programs–especially in smaller communities– are spotty at best and nonexistent at worst, (3) hundreds of thousands of people–mostly black– suffering mass incarceration and lifelong stigma thanks to a Drug War that we now know had little to do with controlling drugs and lots to do with continuing Jim Crow practices (I urge everyone reading this to watch Netflix’ documentary, “13th.” It gives chapter and verse.)

There’s much more.

The good news is that there finally seems to be a bipartisan recognition of at least some of these problems and even some evidence of a willingness to address them.

Bottom line: your chances of achieving justice–whether that’s redress of a wrong done to you, or the fair and timely resolution of a charge against you–shouldn’t depend upon  who is in office or what’s in your wallet.

The American justice system needs to be fixed, sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

What Do We Do?

Early in my lawyering career, the partner I was assigned to said something I still remember: “There is only one legal question, and that’s ‘what do we do.'”

That is also the basic question at issue in all policy debates. We citizens can only hope that what policymakers will decide to do will be informed by fact, rather than by emotion, partisanship, disinformation from those with a stake in the outcome, or fixed ideologies that make reasoned decision-making impossible. In less hot-button matters,at least, that goal still seems achievable.

But what do we do when we are faced with distasteful realities about the electorate–realities that determine the behaviors of elected officials chosen by those voters? Dylan Matthews at Vox recently addressed one such unpleasant reality.

Noting the efforts of essayists and pundits to “take the concerns of Trump voters seriously,” he pointed out that, in fact, these would-be sympathetic observers are actually tiptoeing around the real concerns of Trump supporters, which are not rooted in economics:

There is absolutely no evidence that Trump’s supporters, either in the primary or the general election, are disproportionately poor or working class. Exit polling from the primaries found that Trump voters made about as much as Ted Cruz voters, and significantly more than supporters of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Trump voters, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver found, had a median household income of $72,000, a fair bit higher than the $62,000 median household income for non-Hispanic whites in America.

It is very hard to disagree with what Dylan pinpoints as the actual motivation of a troubling number of Trump supporters:

So what is driving Trump supporters? In the general election, the story is pretty simple: What’s driving support for Trump is that he is the Republican nominee, a little fewer than half of voters always vote for Republicans, and Trump is getting most of those voters.

In the primary, though, the story was, as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has explained at length, almost entirely about racial resentment. There’s a wide array of data to back this up.

UCLA’s Michael Tesler has found that support for Trump in the primaries strongly correlated with respondents’ racial resentment, as measured by survey data. Similarly, Republican voters with the lowest opinions of Muslims were the most likely to vote for Trump, and voters who strongly support mass deportation of undocumented immigrants were likelier to support him in the primaries too.

In April, when the Pew Research Center asked Republicans for their views on Trump, and their opinions on the US becoming majority nonwhite by 2050, they found that Republicans who thought a majority nonwhite population would be “bad for the country” had overwhelmingly favorable views of Trump. Those who thought it was a positive or neutral development were evenly split on Trump.

Matthews notes–with examples–why policies providing more substantial economic security (which he supports) are unlikely to ameliorate racial animus, and then he addresses the “what should we do?” question:

One thing this analysis decidedly does not imply is “Hey, Trump supporters are just racists, let’s give up on them.” Trump’s nomination is a threat to America that must be addressed and never allowed to happen again. Giving up is not an option. We have to figure out some way to respond….

Any solution has to begin with a correct diagnosis of the problem. If Trump’s supporters are not, in fact, motivated by economic marginalization, then even full Bernie Sanders–style social democracy is not going to prevent a Trump recurrence. Nor are GOP-style tax cuts, and liberal pundits aggressively signaling virtue to each other by writing ad nauseam about the need to empathize with the Trump Voter aren’t doing anyone any good.

What’s needed is an honest reckoning with what it means that a large segment of the US population, large enough to capture one of the two major political parties, is motivated primarily by white nationalism and an anxiety over the fast-changing demographics of the country. Maybe the GOP will find a way to control and contain this part of its base. Maybe the racist faction of the party will dissipate over time, especially as Obama’s presidency recedes into memory. Maybe it took Trump’s celebrity to mobilize them at all, and future attempts will fail.

But Donald Trump’s supporters’ concerns are heavily about race. Taking them seriously means, first and foremost, acknowledging that, and dealing with it honestly.

Agreed. But how?

 

States’ Rights and Wrongs

Indiana’s embarrassing Governor recently appealed a federal court ruling that he lacked authority to prevent resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. From all reports, the appeal’s oral argument did not go well for the state.

A major reason for Pence’s loss in the District Court–and his probable loss at the appellate level–is that immigration is a federal issue over which states lack authority.

The notion that federal law should govern areas of national concern seems to rankle Donald Trump’s chosen running mate, and his annoyance isn’t limited to matters of immigration. In comments defending North Carolina’s discriminatory bathroom law, Pence recently insisted that the states “and the people” should be able to decide who gets rights.

The reason the 14th Amendment applied the Bill of Rights to the states was to ensure that a majority of people in a state could not use their local government to deprive their fellow citizens of the fundamental rights all Americans should enjoy.

There are areas in which the debate over local versus federal control are legitimate, but In the context of civil rights and civil liberties, “state’s rights” was and is a dog whistle meaning: we should get to pick on disfavored people if we want to, and the federal government shouldn’t be able to interfere.”State’s rights” was the (flimsy) cover used by defenders of segregation and Jim Crow.

What if we were to take that states’ rights “logic” to its ultimate conclusion?

What if the federal government couldn’t make states treat women or African-Americans equally? If I’m a woman living in, say, New York, and New York does choose to protect me, do I take a risk driving through, say, Alabama or Indiana, states that don’t protect women’s equality? If I am an African-American supplier doing business with national companies, do I hire a lawyer to tell me which states I can enter to visit with my customers, confident that I can find a hotel room or a restaurant that will serve me?

Shouldn’t Americans expect their fundamental rights to be respected in all of the states of the union?

There are certainly areas of the law that are local in nature. It would be nonsense to have a national zoning law. Certain criminal statutes are better enforced at the state or local level.  There are others. But in a country where people move freely and frequently, where commerce and transportation and communication are national, the notion that states should be able to legislate different levels of basic citizen rights is not just impractical and unworkable, not just unfair and inequitable–it’s profoundly  stupid.

Of course, for people who want to normalize discriminatory behaviors–what Hillary Clinton quite accurately called deplorable behaviors–the notion that the Supremacy Clause and/or the Bill of Rights might legally prevent them from doing so evidently pisses them off.

Pence refused to call even David Duke “deplorable.” I for one am pretty happy that my right to equal treatment under the law isn’t his or the Indiana General Assembly’s to decide.

 

 

 

 

What This Campaign Has Unleashed…

Over the past few months, I have seen increasing numbers of news reports like this one about a man who stabbed an interracial couple after seeing them kiss in a bar.

“He tells them, ‘Yeah, I stabbed them. I’m a white supremacist,’” Lower said. “He begins talking about Donald Trump rallies and attacking people at the Black Lives Matter protest.”

And this one:

Wichita State University student body president Khondoker Usama, a 23-year-old Muslim student from Bangladesh, and a Hispanic friend stopped at a local Kwik Shop late on a Friday in March. In an interview with the Washington Post, Usama says he noticed a white motorcyclist verbally harassing a black man, “calling him a lazy ass, saying, ‘You guys don’t work.’ He was using racial slurs.”

He says when the man took note of Usama and his friend, he began shouting, “Hey, you brown trash, you better go home.” Usama’s friend insisted, “It’s my country. Who the hell are you to tell me, ‘Go home?’”

“He seemed to be looking for a fight,” Usama told the Post. “The man started punching my friend. My friend dodged the first punch. I got in the middle of them—I told my friend to get back in the car. [The man] pushed me and he hit me over.” He began “kicking [my friend] in the stomach, indiscriminately punching him.”

Usama called the cops and the motorcyclist took off, but not before endorsing Trump.

“He was chanting, ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’” Usama told the Post. “‘Make America great again! You guys are the losers! You guys, we’ll throw you over the wall!’”

And stories like this one.

Tracey Iglehart, a teacher at Rosa Parks elementary school in Berkeley, California, did not expect Donald Trump to show up on the playground.

This was, after all, a school named after a civil rights hero in a progressive California enclave, with a melting pot of white, African American, Latino and Muslim students.

That has not stopped some children from channeling and adopting the Republican presumptive nominee’s xenophobic rhetoric in playground spats and classroom exchanges.

“They said things like ‘you’ll get deported’, ‘you weren’t born here’ and ‘you were born in a Taco Bell’,” said Iglehart, 49. “They may not know exactly what it means, but they know it’s powerful language.”

As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote in the New York Times

This community of Forest Grove, near the farm where I grew up in western Oregon, has historically been a charming, friendly and welcoming community. But in the middle of a physics class at the high school one day this spring, a group of white students suddenly began jeering at their Latino classmates and chanting: “Build a wall! Build a wall!”

The same white students had earlier chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” Soon afterward, a student hung a homemade banner in the school reading, “Build a Wall,” prompting Latinos at area schools to stage a walkout.

Hillary Clinton recently accused Trump’s campaign of taking racism mainstream. Given the daily drumbeat of articles like those referenced above, Trump’s continued rhetoric, and his clear reluctance to distance himself from the white nationalists who enthusiastically support him, it’s hard to argue with that accusation.

Most political observers expect Trump to lose the election, and many expect the margin to be substantial. That’s well and good–but this is a genie that will be very hard to put back in the bottle.

I believe that most Americans–including most Republicans–reject the racism, misogyny  and xenophobia that have formed the basis of Trump’s campaign, but the sudden prominance of a politically significant white nationalist movement in the U.S. will challenge us for the foreseeable future.

Americans who have shuddered when considering Le Pen’s National Front in France and similar hard right movements elsewhere in Europe can no longer comfort ourselves with the fiction that we are less susceptible to that particular kind of ugliness.

For that disquieting epiphany, we have Trump to thank.