Category Archives: Racial Equality

A Privatized Border Wall?

Both Politico and Common Dreams have reported on efforts by Trump’s most “MAGA” cronies to build his “big, beautiful wall” privately. (And no, I’m not joking.) From Politico, we read

It could have been an outtake from a hard-right reboot of “Ocean’s 11” for the Trump era: a gathering of some of President Donald Trump’s most notorious and outspoken supporters, who descended last week on the southern border town of McAllen, Texas.

In what amounted to a kind of #MAGA field trip, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, baseball legend Curt Schilling, and former Sheriff David Clarke convened to plan construction of a wall along the southern border. Blackwater founder Erik Prince phoned in from South Africa.

With Congress refusing to pony up the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded for the project, his allies are now plotting to kick off construction with private money and private land.

The motley crew insists that they are serious.They shared plans to tout their project at a town hall in Tucson, Arizona and at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). They’ve formed a nonprofit group called “We Build the Wall,” an outgrowth of an earlier crowdfunding campaign mounted by a Trump supporter.

As Politico noted, this smacks of political theater rather than a serious effort, but in a way, I’d like to see them try. Not only would they have to raise enormous amounts of money–several billion– for a project that polling tells us is unpopular everywhere, but especially on the border, but they would have to acquire the land from property owners without the ability to threaten eminent domain. They would also have to battle the EPA (which will presumably be reconstituted by a new President after 2020) over the wall’s damage to the ecosystem; Trump’s plan has already raised cries of outrage from environmentalists.

The men (and they are all men) involved in this fantasy are all well-known–or perhaps “notorious” is the more accurate description. (Politico’s recitation of their “colorful credentials” is kinder than they deserve.)

While Bannon’s involvement had been secret, Prince, Kobach, Clarke, Tancredo and Schilling all serve on the nonprofit’s board. Each of them brings colorful credentials to the mix: Prince, the brother of Trump’s Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has performed extensive private security work in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere. Clarke, a former sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis., known for wearing cowboy hats, has a reputation for espousing extreme law-and-order views on the conservative media and conference circuit. Tancredo made his name as a five-term congressman with constant calls for tighter border security. And Schilling has pivoted from a storied major league pitching career to a failed video game startup to hosting a podcast for Breitbart News.

These are precisely the sort of people who populate the White Supremacy movement– outliers and losers with a desperate need to prove that they are better than those brown people they want to exclude from “their” country.

To use a term favored by “their” President, “sad.”

 

Race And American Inequality

This is Black History Month, but rather than a post on black history, I think it may be useful to share some depressing information about the current status of African-Americans vis a vis the White Americans who have occupied a privileged social position in this country even after most of the legal disabilities targeting people of color were repealed.

The Institute for Policy Studies recently issued a report on the wealth gap between whites, Latinos and blacks in the United States.The report looked at trends in household wealth among Black, Latino and White households over the past three decades.

Since the early 1980s, median wealth among Black and Latino families has been stuck at less than ten thousand dollars, while the median wealth of White households, adjusted for inflation, grew from $105,300 to $140,500. The median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family.

The wealth gap has gotten wider as wealth in America has become extremely concentrated.The median American family of any color has seen its wealth drop 3 percent between 1983 and 2016–a period of time in which the richest 0.1 percent have seen their wealth jump 133 percent. The three wealthiest families–the Waltons, the Kochs and the Mars–have seen their wealth increase by nearly 6,000 percent.

Wealth held by members of the Forbes 400 equals that of all Blacks plus a quarter of Latinos.

The  report takes issue with analyses that treat the racial wealth divide and the growth of economic inequality as two separate issues; instead, it finds that they are mutually reinforcing outcomes of larger economic issues–issues that result from public policies that have favored–and continue to favor–both White Americans and the very wealthy.

Just one example: As this is being written, Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP are proposing to eliminate what they like to call the “death tax,” and the rest of us call the estate tax.

The estate tax raises $20 billion dollars a year, which is a lot of money, but a pretty insignificant part of the federal budget. It applies only to estates worth more than $5.5 million dollars, and people with lots of money can pretty easily structure their wills to avoid it.

As the Atlantic points out, however, there’s more than money involved in this debate.

The tax code is more than a ledger. It is a national statement of values. And so this little law inspires a great commotion during each tax debate. To its opponents, it is the ultimate (literally) punishment on success and an affront to the family legacy that each striving individual hopes to leave. To its supporters, it is a necessary bulwark against inherited plutocracy, which offends the national virtue of merit over privilege.

The article goes through the arguments advanced in favor of repeal and in favor of retention of the estate tax, and is worth reading for a quick review of the debate. But the argument for retention most relevant to policy’s role in worsening inequality is that, in a period defined by the rising gap between rich and poor, we need to recognize the enormous role played by inheritance.

According to analysis byMatt Bruenig, a writer and the founder of the advocacy group People’s Policy Project, four out of 10 members of the wealthiest 1 percent inherited some money, with an average inheritance in the millions of dollars….

In the last half century, the average wealth of the bottom half has gone from about nothing to about $1,000 in debt. Meanwhile, the returns at the top have accelerated. In the 1960s, families in the top 1 percent were six times wealthier than families in the middle, according to the Urban Institute. By 2016, the 1 percent was 12 times wealthier than the typical family. As wealth inequality has soared, the estate tax has been diminished, with the number of estate tax returns declining by 76 percent between 2006 and 2015. There is little doubt that 21st-century tax policy has assisted the concentration of wealth.

When ostensibly color-blind tax policy benefits “haves,” that policy inevitably benefits Whites.

And let’s face facts: money is power.

The Persistence of Structural Racism

These days, American racism seems pretty easy to spot. Trump has legitimized White Nationalism, the ubiquity of cell-phone cameras has allowed witnesses to document horrific (and sometimes fatal) episodes of bigotry, and the media is filled with stories of anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant vandalism and violence.

The good news–and there really is some–is that these despicable attitudes are held by relatively few of our fellow-citizens. They’ve just felt safe lately crawling out from under their rocks.

The bad news is that minorities– especially African-Americans–are still disadvantaged by longstanding cultural and structural barriers that are much harder to see. Those disadvantages are hard to eradicate because, unlike police shootings and/or racist behaviors at the corner Starbucks, they tend to be invisible.

The Brookings Institution recently addressed one of those “invisible” barriers: the devaluation of black-owned assets.

Homeownership lies at the heart of the American Dream, representing success, opportunity, and wealth. However, for many of its citizens, America deferred that dream. For much of the 20th century, the devaluing of black lives led to segregation and racist federal housing policy through redlining that shut out chances for black people to purchase homes and build wealth, making it more difficult to start and invest in businesses and afford college tuition. Still, homeownership remains a beacon of hope for all people to gain access to the middle class. Though homeownership rates vary considerably between whites and people of color, it’s typically the largest asset among all people who hold it.

If we can detect how much racism depletes wealth from black homeowners, we can begin to address bigotry principally by giving black homeowners and policymakers a target price for redress. Laws have changed, but the value of assets—buildings, schools, leadership, and land itself—are inextricably linked to the perceptions of black people. And those negative perceptions persist.

The Brookings report focused on the question of how much value black homeowners and majority-black communities are losing in the housing market as a result of racial bias. The research concluded that owner-occupied homes in predominantly black neighborhoods are undervalued by an average of $48,000 per home; that brings the cumulative loss to a staggering $156 billion.

Some of the research findings:

  • in the average U.S. metropolitan area, homes in neighborhoods where the share of the population is 50 percent black are valued at roughly half the price as homes in neighborhoods with no black residents.
  • differences in home and neighborhood quality don’t explain the devaluation of homes in black neighborhoods.
  • Metropolitan areas with greater devaluation of black neighborhoods are more segregated and produce less upward mobility for the black children who grow up in those communities. This analysis finds a positive and statistically significant correlation between the devaluation of homes in black neighborhoods and upward mobility of black children in metropolitan areas with majority black neighborhoods.

The link will take you to the full report, including an interactive feature that allows readers to examine the indicators in various neighborhoods and states.

What is truly insidious about the widespread assignment of lower values to homes in majority-black neighborhoods is that it is essentially invisible. Unlike white hoods, brown shirts and burning crosses, most of us simply don’t see the assumptions that operate to diminish the fiscal benefits  of homeownership for black families. Those of us who are horrified by videos of overtly racist incidents are largely unaware of the ways that deeply embedded attitudes inform a variety of systems, including real estate markets. Those attitudes continue to disadvantage people–white and black–who live and own property in majority black neighborhoods.

I’m willing to believe that the devaluation of homes in majority black neighborhoods isn’t usually deliberate, that it reflects attitudes about valuation formed in more segregated and racially-polarized times. But that’s not an excuse for continued failure to address the problem.

Many white people who would never shout a racist epithet, or cast a vote for a White Nationalist, nevertheless pooh-pooh the continued existence of structural racism, because they erroneously think it requires active racist intent. It doesn’t.

It just requires indifference.

 

Identity Partisanship

A recent Vox “explainer” by Ezra Klein rebuts some post-2016-election punditry–while confirming emerging political science research on partisan identity.

Klein’s article began with an important point that is often overlooked: the term “identity politics” is too often used to diminish the importance or legitimacy of political demands made by historically marginalized groups. It is a handy way to dismiss demands by African-American voters for action on police brutality, for example.

Corporate CEOs asking for tax cuts or suburban voters demanding action on health care costs, well, that’s just normal politics.

This narrowed definition obscures the true might of identity politics. Virtually all politics is identity politics, and the most powerful political identities are the biggest political identities — Democrat and Republican, which are increasingly merging with our racial, geographic, religious, and cultural groups to create what the political scientist Lilliana Mason calls “mega-identities.”

These mega-identities influence the way we interact with reality. Who we are influences not just our policy preferences, but what we believe is true. The column quotes from a recent, important book titled “Identity Crisis.”

  • During Barack Obama’s presidency, polling showed Republicans making more than $100,000 a year were more dissatisfied with the state of the economy than Democrats making less than $20,000 a year. Economic anxiety was “in large part a partisan phenomenon.”
  • It was also a racial phenomenon. Prior to Obama, measures of racial resentment didn’t predict views on the economy. After Obama, they did. It’s worth stating that clearly: The more racially resentful you were, the worse you thought the economy was doing, even controlling for your party, circumstance, and so on. This flipped as soon as Donald Trump was elected: The more racial resentful you were, the more economically optimistic you became.
  • Among Republican primary voters, Trump did not do better with Republicans who worried that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” or that the system “unfairly favors powerful interests.” Nor did he routinely lead the field among Republicans who felt betrayed by their party. There’s little evidence, in other words, that Trump voters were registering outrage with the political system as a whole.
  • Trump destroyed the rest of the Republican field among primary voters who were angry about immigration. He did 40 points better among Republican voters with the most negative views of immigration than among those with the most positive views. Trump’s success, in other words, was that he ran an issue-based candidacy on an issue where he was closer to the Republican base than the other candidates were.
  • The same was true with attitudes toward Muslims: “Trump performed significantly better with Republican voters who rated Muslims relatively unfavorably in 2011 than he did with Republican voters who rated Muslims relatively favorably.” By contrast, views of Muslims did not affect support for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
  •  And so it went for race too. Republican voters who attributed racial inequality to a lack of effort among African Americans rather than past and present discrimination were 50 points likelier to support Trump. Similarly, Republicans who told pollsters they felt coldly toward African Americans in 2011 were 20 points likelier to support Trump than Republicans who said they felt warmly toward African Americans.

There was much more along the same lines. It adds to the steady accumulation of evidence that has emerged in the wake of the 2016 election, that Obama’s Presidency moved less-educated, more racially-resentful Americans to the GOP, and widened the attitudinal and cultural gap between the parties.

In Pew Research Center surveys from 2007, whites were just as likely to call themselves Democrats as Republicans (roughly 44%-44%). But whites quickly fled the Democratic Party during Obama’s presidency. By 2010, whites were 12 points more likely to be Republicans than Democrats (51%-39%). By 2016, that gap had widened to 15 points (54%-39%).

This, um, white flight was concentrated at the bottom of the education ladder. “Whites who did not attend college were evenly split between the two parties in Pew surveys conducted from 1992 to 2008,” write the authors. “But by 2015, white voters who had a high school degree or less were 24 percentage points more Republican than Democratic.”

The conclusions of the study were unambiguous, and debunked both the theory that economic anxiety drove Trump’s voters, and the theory that a weak economic recovery catalyzed the racial resentment that drove Trump’s voters.

The correct synthesis is the reverse: Racial resentment driven by Obama’s presidency catalyzed economic anxiety among Trump’s voters.

As other studies have documented, racial resentment has been stoked–“activated”– by growing White Christian realization that America’s demographics are changing. As Klein says,

 Politics is increasingly revolving around fights that activate the Democratic-diverse America identity and the Republican-white America identity.

We shouldn’t expect Trump to be the terminal point of this kind of political appeal, which means we need books like Identity Crisis that help us understand it.

A Capacious Bigotry

Warning: this is a continuation of yesterday’s rant.

Pipe bombs were sent to those Trump has labeled his “enemies” and “enemies of the people.” Jews were slaughtered while at prayer. Brown Immigrants and Muslims have constantly been demonized. LGBTQ citizens have been unremittingly targeted. Women are routinely diminished. And racism is constantly, consistently endorsed and promoted.

Welcome to Trumpworld.

Yes, I know it isn’t only here. White Nationalism threatens to consume the globe. But this is my country– the first nation not to condition citizenship on the “right” identity, the first not to limit it to members of the “right” tribes. Mine is the country with civic equality as a mantra and an ideal–even as we often fall very short of that ideal.

Dana Milbank reminded us of George Washington’s famous quote:

George Washington, in his 1790 letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., told Jews they would be safe in the new nation.

“The government of the United States . . . gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” he wrote. “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Milbank followed up with a list of Trump’s anti-semitic remarks, from the “very fine people” among the Nazis marching in Charlottesville, to his retweets of rightwing Jew haters, to his refusal to condemn supporters who threatened anti-Semitic violence against a Jewish journalist (and Melania Trump saying the writer “provoked” the threats), and numerous others.

The ADL reports a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. That isn’t a coincidence.

If lists are your thing, Buzzfeed has a list of the Trump Administration’s numerous homophobic actions: rolling back policies that protected transgender folks from discrimination in the workplace,  arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t protect gay workers from discrimination, filing a brief with the Supreme Court on the side of merchants who don’t want to serve gay customers, trying to kick transgender soldiers out of the military–among many other examples.

An effort to list Trump’s assaults on immigrants or Muslims or African Americans or women would be too long to include in a blog post.

Ironically, there is a germ of truth in his attacks on the media: Fox News, Infowars, Sinclair and other various purveyors of rightwing propaganda all have blood on their metaphorical hands. For years, they have fed the festering hate of “the Other” and the narrative of white Christian victimization that Trump has encouraged and normalized.

Amanda Marcotte addressed that tribal resentment and fear in an article for Salon:

Last year, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) put out a new report on religion in America that measured a truly remarkable shift: For the first time, almost certainly in the country’s history, people who identify as white Christians are a minority of Americans. Four out of every five Americans were self-described white Christians in 1976, but now that group only constitutes 43 percent of the U.S. population.

Much of what we are seeing is the reaction to that reality by the fundamentalist Evangelicals who are supporting Trump.

The white evangelical support for Trump, coupled with the continued denunciation of LGBT people, makes it clear this is not and never was about morality, sexual or otherwise. Instead, “morality” is a fig leaf for the true agenda of the Christian right, which is asserting a strict social hierarchy based on gender.

The same-sex marriage question is a stand-in issue, Jones argued, for “a whole worldview” that is “a kind of patriarchal view of the family, with the father head of the household and the mother staying home.”

Trump may be an unrepentant sinner, but he is a supporter of this patriarchal worldview, where straight men are in charge, women are quiet and submissive and people who fall outside these old-school heterosexual norms are marginalized. Voting for him was an obvious attempt by white evangelicals to impose this worldview on others, including (and perhaps especially) their own children, who are starting to ask hard questions about a moral order based on hierarchy and rigid gender roles instead of one built on empathy and kindness.

Marcotte and Jones are focused on that patriarchal worldview, but social scientists have documented a number of other reactions to the threatened loss of white Christian male hegemony: intense resentment of the Others who have had the nerve to contend in the public and political arenas. The election of Barack Obama–a black man–was experienced by many of these “good Christians” as an existential assault. Jews have long been a target–The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was one of the first “viral” conspiracy theories.

Muslims, immigrants–anyone who isn’t a member of their shrinking tribe–is a threat to their dominance and their worldview. They have a capacious capacity for resentment–and a capacious tolerance for bigotry.

Tuesday, they’ll vote. The question is: will the rest of us?