Category Archives: Racial Equality

Yes, It’s Disheartening. But It’s True.

We’re getting used to seeing headlines like this recent one in the Washington Post: “Hate in America is On the Rise.” According to the lede,

A NEW FBI report on hate crimes tells a sobering story. For the second year in a row, police departments across the country reported a rise in the number of crimes motivated by bias.

A statistical breakdown suggests that nearly 60  percent of these crimes were motivated by racial bias, with African Americans targeted in about half of those.  Over 20 percent were expressions of religious animosity; more than half of those attacks were aimed at Jews, with another quarter targeting Muslims. (There has been a sharp rise in crimes against Muslims and people of Arab descent.)

Sociologists and psychiatrists can offer informed analyses of the social conditions that cause people harboring bigoted attitudes to “act out.” But it isn’t much of a stretch to attribute a significant portion of this troubling spike in hate crimes to a President who traffics in racial and religious stereotypes.

In fact, Trump’s victory poses a chicken-and-egg conundrum: did rising tribalism and bigotry lead to his election? Or did he win by nurturing and exploiting that bigotry?

The answer, of course, is both.

In the Atlantic, Adam Serwer has provided a compelling analysis of the essential nature of Trump’s appeal. He began that analysis by revisiting David Duke’s gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana. Then, as now, the Chattering Classes attributed Duke’s appeal to economic “distress.” Then–as now–the data simply didn’t support that explanation.

Duke’s strong showing, however, wasn’t powered merely by poor or working-class whites—and the poorest demographic in the state, black voters, backed Johnston. Duke “clobbered Johnston in white working-class districts, ran even with him in predominantly white middle-class suburbs, and lost only because black Louisianans, representing one-quarter of the electorate, voted against him in overwhelming numbers,” The Washington Post reported in 1990. Duke picked up nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Faced with Duke’s popularity among whites of all income levels, the press framed his strong showing largely as the result of the economic suffering of the white working classes. Louisiana had “one of the least-educated electorates in the nation; and a large working class that has suffered through a long recession,” The Post stated.

Duke’s position as a leader of the KKK was explained away by Louisiana voters, who blamed the media for “making Duke seem racist.”

The economic explanation carried the day: Duke was a freak creature of the bayou who had managed to tap into the frustrations of a struggling sector of the Louisiana electorate with an abnormally high tolerance for racist messaging.

Right.

Fast forward to 2016, and the Trump campaign. As Serwer writes

During the final few weeks of the campaign, I asked dozens of Trump supporters about their candidate’s remarks regarding Muslims and people of color. I wanted to understand how these average Republicans—those who would never read the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer or go to a Klan rally at a Confederate statue—had nevertheless embraced someone who demonized religious and ethnic minorities. What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters’ most profound beliefs—combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked.

It was not just Trump’s supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation—outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety—to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump’s most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of. (emphasis mine)

Serwer notes the “specific dissonance” of Trumpism—people advocating for cruelly discriminatory policies while denying–undoubtedly even to themselves–that there is any racial animus involved. He concludes that without the racism of so substantial a number of white voters, Trump simply could not have won.

This  conclusion is supported by virtually all of the data that has emerged since the election.

Serwer also answers a question that has consumed people of good will, as they watch the escalating disaster that is the Trump Administration: when will his supporters realize how destructive his Presidency is? Why hasn’t his abandonment of virtually all of his campaign promises awakened them?

Answer: because the promises he’s kept are the ones that matter to them.

..his ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries; the unleashing of immigration-enforcement agencies against anyone in the country illegally regardless of whether he poses a danger; an attempt to cut legal immigration in half; and an abdication of the Justice Department’s constitutional responsibility to protect black Americans from corrupt or abusive police, discriminatory financial practices, and voter suppression. In his own stumbling manner, Trump has pursued the race-based agenda promoted during his campaign.

Serwer’s conclusion? So long as Trump promotes the social and political hegemony of white Christians, his supporters won’t abandon him.

There is much more in the article, and it is definitely worth reading in its entirety.

What’s Different?

As the Supreme Court prepares to take up one of the persistent “I won’t bake a cake for ‘those people'” cases, a friend asked me to explain the difference between a merchant who refused to do business with a Neo-Nazi group and one who refused to serve gays or Jews.

It’s an important distinction, but not an immediately intuitive one.

Civil rights laws were initially a response to businesses that refused to serve African-Americans–many of the proprietors claimed that their religious beliefs prohibited “mixing” the races (much as those refusing service to LGBTQ folks today base that refusal on religious teachings). Those civil rights measures–later expanded to protect other groups– were based upon an important principle that undergirds our legal system.

Our system is based upon the premise that your right to be treated like everyone else depends upon your behavior, not your identity.

As a result of that important distinction, I can post a sign saying “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” I cannot post a sign saying “No blacks, no Jews.” I can “discriminate” between customers behaving properly, and those who are disruptive, are unwilling to pay, or are otherwise exhibiting behaviors that I believe are harmful to my ability to ply my trade.

I cannot discriminate based upon my customers’ race, religion, or–in states that have inclusive civil rights law–sexual orientation or gender identity.

The confusion between a merchant’s unwillingness to have her business associated with the KKK, for example, and unwillingness to serve LGBTQ customers is reminiscent of arguments raised when Indiana was (unsuccessfully) trying to add “four words and a comma”(sexual orientation, gender identity) to Indiana’s civil rights law, which still does not include protections for gays or transgender individuals.

During those arguments, opponents of the added protections asserted that “forcing” a business to serve gay customers would be indistinguishable from forcing a baker to make a cake with a swastika or forcing Muslim or Kosher butchers to sell pork.

That comparison, however, is fatally flawed.

If I go into a menswear shop and ask for a dress, am I being discriminated against when I’m informed the store doesn’t sell women’s clothes? Of course not.

Civil rights protections don’t require the baker who doesn’t bake swastika cakes, or the butcher who never sells pork to add those items to their inventory. Civil rights laws do keep the baker from refusing to sell the cakes he does make to “certain people.”

The kosher butcher doesn’t have to carry pork, but he can’t refuse to sell his kosher chickens and beef to Muslim or Christian customers, again, so long as those customers can pay and are abiding by the generally applicable rules of the shop.

The distinction may not be immediately obvious, but it’s important. The essence of civil rights is the principle that you can be denied service for your chosen behaviors, not for your identity.

I hope that helps…

It’s Getting Harder To Ignore

In the wake of the events in Charlottesville– especially in the wake of the White House’s reluctance to name and blame those responsible and yesterday’s return to a defensive insistence on the equivalence of “both sides”– it has become much more difficult for Trump apologists to deny what has been obvious to many of us since well before the Presidential campaign: this needy, damaged ignoramus desperately needs to feel superior to others, and the “others” he feels most superior to are minorities.

His entire campaign was a none-too-veiled appeal to bigotry. His base is populated with “alt-right” figures–Klansmen and Nazis like David Duke who enthusiastically endorsed him and whom he refused to repudiate. As a recent column in the Guardian noted,

Duke, in Charlottesville on Saturday, told the USA Today Network: “We’re gonna fulfil the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s gonna take our country back.”

Neo-Nazis and the so-called “alt-right” have been a crucial part of the Trump base. Critics have noted the nods, the winks, even the Republican national convention speech, with its giant screens and logos that bordered on fascist parody.

Trump’s bigotry, and especially his racism, is neither new nor recently adopted for reasons of political expediency. This is a man who has been sued for refusing to rent apartments to blacks, who flogged “birtherism” in order to delegitimatize a black President, and who has filled his administration and the White House with unapologetic white supremacists.

Trump’s attorney general is Jeff Sessions, who has long been dogged by accusations of racism. His chief strategist is Steve Bannon, who once proudly said of Breitbart News: “We’re the platform for the alt-right.”

Trump’s deputy assistant is Sebastian Gorka, who has worn a medal awarded to the Hungarian group Vitezi Rend, linked by some to Nazi collaborators. Gorka said last week: “It’s this constant, ‘Oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacists. That’s the problem.’ No, it isn’t … go to Sinjar. Go to the Middle East, and tell me what the real problem is today. Go to Manchester.”

A president’s actions and words can only do so much, but they can create a climate in which certain groups, attitudes and mindsets flourish. Trump, 71, will not switch course now, for as Michelle Obama once observed: “Being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.”

Paul Krugman’s Monday column in the New York Times, titled “When the President is UnAmerican” is worth reading in its entirety; it is impossible to disagree with his conclusion.

These days we have a president who is really, truly, deeply un-American, someone who doesn’t share the values and ideals that made this country special.

In fact, he’s so deeply alienated from the American idea that he can’t even bring himself to fake it. We all know that Trump feels comfortable with white supremacists, but it’s amazing that he won’t even give them a light tap on the wrist. We all know that Putin is Trump’s kind of guy, but it’s remarkable that Trump won’t even pretend to be outraged at Putin’s meddling with our election….

Whatever role foreign influence may have played and may still be playing, however, we don’t need to wonder whether an anti-American cabal, hostile to everything we stand for, determined to undermine everything that truly makes this country great, has seized power in Washington. It has: it’s called the Trump administration.

I will repeat what I have said previously: when Trump’s poll numbers finally hit bottom and stop their slide (when the people who held their noses and voted for him because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary or desert the GOP have deserted him), the extent of American bigotry will be starkly obvious.

Trump’s loyalists are America’s White Nationalists, Nazis and racists. We’re about to see just how many of these despicable people there are.

Tell Me Again It Isn’t All About Race

The latest polling has Donald Trump at 33% approval. Most of the rest of us find it incomprehensible that anyone approves of this profoundly damaged and embarrassing man or his Keystone Kop administration. The folks that Molly Ivins used to call the “Chattering Classes” have filled column inches, airwaves and much of the Internet with efforts to explain his election and the continued loyalty of his rabid base.

The more I read, the more convinced I become that Trump owes that victory and that loyalty to what scholars delicately term “racial resentment.” There were certainly lifelong Republicans and Hillary haters who held their noses and voted for him; their defections account for the steady erosion of his support.  His remaining base, however, is composed of the people who understood that “Make America Great Again” was (none-too-subtle) code for “Make America White Again.”

As his poll results decline and his troubles mount, Trump needs to feed and energize that base. So his administration is ratcheting up his war on immigrants (especially brown and Muslim ones), throwing some red meat to anti-Semites, and promising to protect those poor, oppressed white people from “reverse” discrimination.

As Paul Waldman writes,

To many people reading this, the idea that white people are being discriminated against in higher education — or anywhere else — is absurd. The idea that discrimination against whites is such a significant problem that it demands Justice Department action is positively ludicrous. But we should understand that this is exactly the kind of thing many of Trump’s voters wanted him to deliver. And the administration will be only too pleased to hear the condemnations from the left over this initiative.

That’s not to say that the policy doesn’t have its origins in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s sincerely felt belief that white folks can’t catch a break in America. I’m sure it does. But it’s also part of a long and extraordinarily successful Republican project to convince white voters that minorities in general and African Americans in particular enjoy a panoply of free benefits from the government that make their lives comfortable and easy. It’s a lie, but it’s extraordinarily widespread.

Waldman reminds us that regular viewers of Fox News, readers of Breitbart, and fans of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk are constantly inundated with “evidence” supporting white racial grievance. It’s a central theme in the media that shapes conservative reality.

Hate groups and so-called “alt-right” organizations have grown dramatically since the Presidential campaign–a campaign that saw Trump endorsed by the KKK, David Duke and other panicky “race warriors” who had slithered from under their rocks to revile and demean an African-American President.

The Guardian recently reported on a gathering in Tennessee of one such group.

This weekend, American Renaissance held its annual conference at a venue in Montgomery Bell state park, an hour west of Nashville, Tennessee. Attendees and speakers clearly felt a growing confidence. They have seen appreciable growth in membership of established and emerging far-right groups. They have also seen the election as president of Donald Trump.

Speakers at the event addressed subjects including “Race realism and race denialism” and “Has the white man turned the corner?” One considered “The Trump report card – so far”….

Many were millennials. Though all attendees wore conference dress code – jacket and tie – more than a few younger men sported the “fashy haircut”, short back and sides with a severe parting, which has become a signature of the so-called alt-right.

Many such young men lined up for selfies with Richard Spencer, the president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute thinktank who has achieved fame since greeting the election result with a cry of “Hail Trump”.

This resurgence of open, unapologetic racism is profoundly depressing. Like most sentient Americans, I realized that these attitudes still existed, but I’ve been appalled by how widespread and overt their expression has become in the Age of Trump.

When Trump’s poll numbers finally bottom out, we’ll have a pretty good idea what percentage of our fellow citizens are willing to jettison American ideals in return for continued White Christian privilege.

Speaking of Two Americas…

As I noted yesterday, sociologists and historians tell us that economic insecurity and inequality provide fertile soil for racial and cultural resentments. Economic stresses don’t create those resentments, however.

Like everything else, economic conditions are experienced through a cultural lens–that is, how we interpret economic circumstances and react to them depends upon the value structures and worldviews of the people doing the interpreting. When an observer says “those people are voting against their own self-interest,” for example, that observer is applying her own definition of “self-interest”–a definition that may not be shared by the voter.

In other words, although economic conditions often trigger socially undesirable behaviors, efforts to draw a straight line between cause and effect can lead us astray.

Two recent Washington Post articles focus on some stark differences in values between urban and rural America. The first, titled “Rural Divide,” reports on a study of rural voters.

The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of nearly 1,700 Americans — including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns — finds deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are “very different.”

That divide is felt more extensively in rural America than in cities: About half of urban residents say their values differ from rural people, with about 20 percent of urbanites saying rural values are “very different.”

Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy, who deserves the most help in society and whether the federal government shows preferential treatment to certain types of people. President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans.

The rural/urban divide was dispositive in the 2016 election, given the way in which the Electoral College favors rural states.  Hillary Clinton won urban counties by 32 points, while rural and small-town voters backed Trump by 26 points. But the percentages of rural and urban voters who were economically distressed was the same.

Although rural voters expressed concern about jobs and economic growth, researchers determined that the “largest fissures” between Americans living in cities and those in less-dense areas were based in “discomfort about the country’s changing demographics.” Rural residents were far more likely than urban dwellers to believe that immigrants are a burden to taxpayers, and that African-Americans receive undeserved government benefits.

That sense of division is closely connected to the belief among rural Americans that Christian values are under siege. Nearly 6 in 10 people in rural areas say Christian values are under attack, compared with just over half of suburbanites and fewer than half of urbanites. When personal politics is taken into account, the divide among rural residents is even larger: 78 percent of rural Republicans say Christian values are under attack, while 45 percent of rural Democrats do.

Commenting on that survey and its conclusions, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin was blunt: She began by dismissing the widespread belief that rural inhabitants voted for Trump because he paid attention to their economic plight.

We’ve never really bought that explanation, in part because Trump voters on average were richer than Hillary Clinton voters. Now there is powerful evidence of a disagreeable truth: Trump’s base was far more motivated by cultural provincialism and xenophobia than by economic need…

Trump magnificently exploited the resentments of white Christians and their anxiety about cities, which he falsely portrayed as experiencing a crime wave…

As we reenter a national conversation about anger, polarization and rhetorical excess we should expect more diligent, reasoned behavior from both politicians and voters. It is a gross exaggeration to tell rural voters that Christianity is under assault because they cannot dominate societal rules (e.g., businesses cannot discriminate against LGBT customers, official organized school prayer violates the First Amendment). It’s flat-out false to say we are being swamped by illegal immigrants. This sort of propaganda lacks a grounding in reality and amps up the already dangerous political environment, which in turn paralyzes our democracy.

No kidding.