Category Archives: Racial Equality

Telling It Like It Is

Today, unfathomable as it is, Donald Trump will become President of the United States. How could this happen?

Granted, Trump lost the popular vote overwhelmingly, but despite being manifestly unfit for the office, he mustered enough support from millions of Americans to win the Electoral College. The Chattering Classes have offered a number of explanations, almost all of them centering on Democratic failures: the “liberal elites” were unable to “connect” with middle America; Clinton paid too little attention to Michigan, or to the economic distress of rural voters; Democrats didn’t show enough respect for the values of small-town America. Etc.

Trump’s voters often said that what attracted them was that “he tells it like it is.” At risk of being very politically incorrect, let me tell you what I think they heard. Let me tell it like I think it is.

Post-election analyses showed that most Trump voters were not poor. As Myriam  Renaud recently reminded us, however, there’s a difference between “psychic” and fiscal poverty, and she shared a trenchant Eric Hoffer observation.

[Hoffer] found that the intensity of the discontent found among the new poor is not necessarily tied to economic hardship. Indeed, individuals born into misery do not usually revolt against the status quo—their lot is bearable because it is familiar and predictable. Discontent, the emotion Trump tapped into so adeptly, is more likely to afflict people who have experienced prosperity. When their comfortable life is diminished in some way, the result is intolerable. According to Hoffer, it is usually “those whose poverty is relatively recent, the ‘new poor,’ who throb with the ferment of frustration. The memory of better things is as fire in their veins.”

Economic uncertainty, not deprivation, and the loss of white male privilege explain a lot more than fiscal distress. Trump won because he gave people who were experiencing a perceived loss of status or privilege someone to blame for that loss.

It is impossible to argue that a vote for Trump was a vote for his “policy agenda.” He didn’t have one, unless, of course, you think that building a wall to keep Mexicans out, ejecting Muslims (or in the alternative, creating a registry), demeaning women, threatening (brown) immigrants, cozying up to the KKK and the neo-Nazis, and insisting that our first black President was illegitimate are “policies.”

In the wake of the election, Trump has backed off other campaign promises, but his overt racism and misogyny have continued. As an article in the American Prospect put it,

President-elect Donald Trump wasted no time in establishing a hideous double standard of racist privilege in the White House. His appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and his picks of Jeff Sessions for attorney general and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as national security adviser have been praised without qualification by Klansmen, neo-Nazis, the alt-right, and other white supremacist groups.

While “nice” liberals offer economic explanations of the election and counsel “kinder, gentler” attitudes toward Trump voters (who were predominantly, albeit certainly not exclusively, less-educated white rural males), scholars who have analyzed the data have reached different conclusions. There is an emerging consensus among those political scientists that although economic dissatisfaction was part of the story, racism and sexism were much more important.

As an article in the Washington Post explained,

Donald Trump repeatedly went where prior Republican presidential candidates were unwilling to go: making explicit appeals to racial resentment, religious intolerance, and white identity. ..racial attitudes were stronger predictors of whites’ preferences for Trump or Clinton than they were in hypothetical matchups between Clinton and Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio..

Other research confirms, as FiveThirtyEight reported, that prejudice was one of the “distinguishing attitudes” of Trump voters in the 2016 primaries.

The Economist tested Clinton’s “deplorables” percentage:

At first glance, Mrs Clinton’s 50% estimate looks impressively accurate: 58% of respondents who said they backed Mr Trump resided in the poll’s highest quartile for combined racial-resentment scores. And at a lower threshold of offensiveness—merely distasteful rather than outright deplorable, say—91% of Mr Trump’s voters scored above the national average.

What about the argument that Trump voters “overlooked” Trump’s narcissism, sexism and racism because they thought he would be more effective at job creation? Salon reported on the results of an American National Election (NES) study probing that possibility.

Eighty-four percent of whites who believe it is “extremely likely” that whites can’t find a job because employers are hiring people of color instead support Trump, compared with 23 percent of those who think it is “not at all” likely. Among white Democrats, 58 percent who believe people of color are taking jobs support Trump over Clinton, compared with less than 1 percent of those who believe it is not at all likely. Eighty-one percent of white women who think it is “extremely likely” people of color are taking jobs supported Trump, compared with 26 percent who don’t think that.

I have colleagues who privately admit that the evidence points to the importance of racial resentment and the appeal of White Nationalism in motivating Trump voters, but who shrink from making that claim publicly.

The problem is, if we refuse to face facts–if we refuse to acknowledge the deep wells of tribalism, racism and sexism that persist despite America’s constitutional and legal commitments to equality–we will never eradicate it. We will never have honest conversations about the fears and resentments to which people like Trump so skillfully appeaI. (That actually may be the only real skill Trump has.)

When Trump promised to “make America great again,” his voters heard “I’ll make America White again.”

I understand that it isn’t pretty. I understand that confronting it is uncomfortable. But ignoring the elephant in the room is no longer an option.

There are numerous “resistance” movements springing up in the wake of the election. They are all important, some critically so. But nothing is more important than resisting Trump’s efforts to take politics back to an “us versus them” power struggle, where “us” means white Protestant straight males and “them” is everyone else.

Welcome to the Resistance

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak to a “Women’s Rally for Change,” along with the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood and the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. The purpose was to discuss how to resist the coming assault on women and minorities, and to answer the increasingly common–and increasingly urgent– question: what can I do? What specific actions can I take?

The Rally was promoted only by Facebook posts; organizers hoped a hundred women might attend. We were stunned when five hundred women crammed into a space meant for far fewer, and another four hundred had to be turned away. (Future events, in larger venues, will be posted to a Facebook page established in the wake of the event: Women4ChangeIndiana.)

Several people who could not attend have asked me for copies of my remarks, so I’m posting them here. (Regular readers of this blog will find much of what follows repetitive….sorry about that!)

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We are facing divisions in this country unlike anything we’ve seen since the 60s, or maybe the Civil War. If America is to emerge reasonably intact, we need to look honestly at what just happened.

The ugly truth is that most of his voters saw Trump’s bigotry, misogyny and authoritarianism as features, not bugs. They didn’t overlook his appalling behaviors—those were what attracted them. They applauded his repeated attacks on “political correctness” and routinely told reporters that what they liked about him was that he “tells it like it is.”

The attitudes most predictive of support for Trump were racial resentment and misogyny—not economic distress.

Clinton won the popular vote, but because the Electoral College gives greater weight to votes from rural areas, she lost the Presidency. This is the 2d time in 16 years that the person who won the most votes was not elected.

The next few years are going to be very painful. Americans will lose many of the protections we have come to expect from the federal courts, probably for the foreseeable future. Economic policies will hurt the poor, especially women and children, and exacerbate divisions between the rich and the rest of us. A Trump Administration will abandon efforts to address climate change, and will roll back most of Obamacare. There will be no immigration reform, and God only knows what our foreign policy will look like. Worst of all, Trump’s normalization of bigotry will play out in a variety of ways, none good.

Sandy asked us to focus our comments on issues affecting women—but when you think about it, all of these issues will disproportionately affect women and children. And by far the worst for women is something we can’t reverse through legislation at some future time—a return to cultural attitudes that objectify and demean us.

So – what can we do, sitting here in overwhelmingly Red Indiana?

As individuals, beginning right now, we can support organizations that work to protect women’s rights, civil and reproductive liberties and public education, among others. A friend of mine and her husband, who stand to benefit from Trump’s proposed tax cuts, have decided to donate every dollar they save by reason of those cuts to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. We might start a local “pledge my tax cut” campaign.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is focus on local efforts to ameliorate the effects of likely federal actions. Most of the innovation and action on climate change, for example, is happening in cities, and it is much easier to influence local policy than state or national legislation. Those of us worried about the environment can make sure our cities are at the forefront of urban environmental efforts. There are other policy areas where—depending upon relevant state law—cities can mitigate the effects of federal action or inaction. Since the election, for example, several cities have decided to become Sanctuary cities, protecting undocumented people.

We can and must work to create inclusive and supportive local civic cultures that work against misogyny, bigotry and intolerance. We are already seeing a substantial increase in racist, homophobic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents, and we need to create a civic environment that strongly discourages bigoted attitudes and behaviors. Cities have ready-made partners in those efforts, in arts organizations, civic and religious associations and the business community. I hereby volunteer to help mount a campaign focused on encouraging a welcoming, inclusive, respectful civic environment.

And if  the new Administration really does establish a Muslim registry, we all need to register as Muslims.

In the longer term, we have to reform America’s election system. The first order of business is to get rid of the Electoral College, which favors rural voters over urban ones and generally distorts the democratic process. The person who gets the most votes should win the election. We should work with groups like the League of Women Voters to get Indiana to sign on to the National Popular Vote Project, to oppose gerrymandering and to make voting easier, not harder.

We also have to defend our public schools and improve civic education. “We the People” or a similar curriculum should be required for High School graduation. Trump made all kinds of promises that he could not constitutionally carry out. Perhaps recognizing that wouldn’t have mattered to the kind of people willing to vote for him—but it might have.

Sandy asked each of us to identify issues of particular significance to women that we might win at the Statehouse. Given the composition of our legislature, we face an uphill battle, but here are some suggestions:

  • Work with local business and civil rights groups to expand Indiana’s civil rights law to include LGBTQ Hoosiers.
  • Work with Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and other organizations to prevent passage of added restrictions on abortion that more conservative courts would uphold. We’re already seeing that effort in Indiana.
  • Work with advocates for public education to scale back Indiana’s voucher program, the largest in the country, that benefits parochial schools at the expense of public ones.
  • Require effective civic education for graduation from H.S.

If there has ever been a time to be an activist, this is it.

 

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?