Category Archives: Racial Equality

Black And White

If you were to do one of those “man on the street” polls,  asking “what are the qualities that make some people superior,” it’s likely you’d get a response listing behaviors that our culture considers admirable: kindness, generosity, honesty, civility. Some people might identify intelligence, excellence in a chosen field, or possession of a particular talent.

I really doubt that anyone would say that white skin makes people superior. Yet that is clearly the belief motivating the various alt-right eruptions we are experiencing–and even more clearly, the belief that animates Donald Trump and triggers his seething resentment of accomplished African-Americans.

A self-image so dependent upon something as irrelevant and accidental as skin color signals a monumental lack of self-awareness–and invites some very unflattering comparisons.

Take Trump’s childish tweet demeaning LeBron James.

James athletic prowess is well-known, and it has made him wealthy, but it is his generosity and concern for children in his home town of Akron that has generated widespread recognition and respect. Trump’s petty put-down came as James was being applauded for establishing and funding a school for disadvantaged children.

As SB Nation notes, the school is different from other local public schools in that it will have a longer school year, and have a “focus on accelerated learning to bring kids up to speed who otherwise might be lagging.” There are activities for students to prevent too much down time which might cause them to get in trouble outside of school. And there are services to help students deal with stress related to their home situations. But here’s what’s also really amazing about the school—it also has services for parents, including job placement assistance and a food bank.

This is not the first time that James has invested in the kids of Akron. Three years ago, his LeBron James Family Foundation announced that they were investing in an initiative to pay for the college tuition for 1,000 local kids. He has also funded a program that has provided school supplies, computers and bikes to keep kids motivated to do their homework and get good grades. Apparently, bikes were an important part of James’s childhood that allowed him to thrive in spite of the dangers in his community. Thus, he’s also giving each I Promise student a bike at the start of the school year.

The contrast with Trump–whose own family foundation is being sued amid charges of self-dealing– could hardly be greater.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, culminated a nearly two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s charity, which became a subject of scrutiny during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. While such foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, the petition asserts that Mr. Trump’s was often improperly used to settle legal claims against his various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs.

The foundation was also used to curry political favor, the lawsuit asserts. During the 2016 race, the foundation became a virtual arm of Mr. Trump’s campaign, email traffic showed, with his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, directing its expenditures, even though such foundations are explicitly prohibited from political activities.

During the campaign, reporters found that the Trump Foundation had made few actual charitable donations–and those it did make tended to serve other purposes (raising Trump’s public profile or ingratiating him with someone whose help or approval he needed.)

I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t play one on TV, but research literature suggests that racism and misogyny often accompany deep feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. Trump’s obsession with obliterating Obama’s legacy, his cheap shots at women (especially black women), his mean-spirited attempts to diminish people who are far more accomplished than he is, his constant bragging and repeated reminders that he won the election are pathetic efforts to reassure himself that he’s really superior.

He really, really isn’t. And most Americans have noticed.

The White Nationalist Party

America has been transfixed by Donald Trump’s very public betrayal of his oath of office–an oath which requires him to protect and defend our country. But that is hardly his only  betrayal of important American values.

As Dana Milbank reminds us, he has made bigotry politically correct again.

In a recent column, Milbank looked at the crop of Republican candidates who  surfaced after Trump’s election.

Behold, a new breed of Republican for the Trump era.

Seth Grossman won the Republican primary last month for a competitive House seat in New Jersey, running on the message “Support Trump/Make America Great Again.” The National Republican Congressional Committee endorsed him.

Then, a video surfaced, courtesy of American Bridge, a Democratic PAC, of Grossman saying “the whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap.” Grossman then proclaimed diversity “evil.” CNN uncovered previous instances of Grossman calling Kwanzaa a “phony holiday” created by “black racists,” labeling Islam a cancer and saying faithful Muslims cannot be good Americans.

There was much more, and the GOP finally withdrew its endorsement. But Grossman is hardly an aberration.

Many such characters have crawled out from under rocks and onto Republican ballots in 2018: A candidate with ties to white nationalists is the GOP Senate nominee in Virginia (and has President Trump’s endorsement); an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier is the Republican candidate in a California House race; a prominent neo-Nazi won the GOP nomination in an Illinois House race; and overt racists are in Republican primaries across the country.

Milbank points to what has become increasingly obvious: As nice people flee the GOP, Trump’s Republican party now needs the support of people like this.

Some of these candidates go well beyond the bounds of anything Trump has said or done, but many have been inspired or emboldened by him. Corey A. Stewart, the Republican Senate nominee in Virginia, said he was “Trump before Trump.”

The party won’t back Stewart, but Republican lawmakers are tiptoeing. Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R-Va.), declining to disavow Stewart, noted to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper that people won’t see him as racist because “my son is named after a black guy.”

If there were only a few of these racists and anti-Semites, you might shrug it off. After all, both parties have had crazy or hateful people run for office (we’ve had some doozies here). They’ve usually been weeded out in party primaries, and they’ve rarely earned official support or endorsement.

In today’s GOP, however, they seem to be everywhere.

Russell Walker, Republican nominee for a North Carolina state House seat, is a white supremacist whose personal website is “littered with the n-word” and states that Jews are “satanic,” Vox reports.

Running in the Republican primary for Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s congressional seat in Wisconsin is Paul Nehlen, who calls himself “pro-white” and was booted from Twitter for racism.

Neo-NaziPatrick Little ran as a Republican in the California Senate primary, blaming his loss on fraud by “Jewish supremacists,” according to the website Right Wing Watch.

In North Carolina, nominee Mark Harris, in the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program for top recruits, has suggested that women who pursue careers and independence do not “live out and fulfill God’s design.”

Another Young Guns candidate, Wendy Rogersof Arizona (where Joe Arpaio is fighting for the Republican Senate nomination), has said the Democratic position on abortion is “very much like the Holocaust” and the Cambodian genocide.

As Milbank notes–with examples– these candidates have plenty of role models in the administration and in Congress.  Plus, of course, the role-model-in-chief.

Thanks to Trump, today’s GOP is rapidly becoming America’s White Supremicist Party.

Telling It Like It REALLY Is

Paul Krugman, who never shies away from telling it like it really is, has summed up the “conservatism” of today’s GOP in the first paragraphs of a recent column:

News item #1: The Trump administration is taking thousands of children away from their parents, and putting them in cages.

News item #2: House Republicans have released a budget plan that would follow up last year’s big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy with huge funding cuts for Medicare and Medicaid.

If you think these items are unrelated, you’ve missed the whole story of modern American politics. Conservatism – the actually existing conservative movement, as opposed to the philosophical stance whose constituency is maybe five pundits on major op-ed pages — is all about a coalition between racists and plutocrats. It’s about people who want to do (2) empowering people who want to do (1), and vice versa.

For a long time–especially when I was still a Republican–I was sure that the two wings of the GOP were headed for a split. The genuine fiscal conservatives I knew–people who defined fiscal conservatism as economic prudence and “pay as you go,” not as favoring the wealthy at the expense of the poor–were as appalled as I was by the hypocritical piety of the self-identified “Christian” wing, which even then was willing to turn a blind eye to very unChristian behavior so long as it cemented their privileged status and their right to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

I utterly failed to realize what Krugman points out: once you separate genuine fiscal conservatives from apologists for the greedy, and once you rip off the false facade of “policy differences” from the racists, the two wings actually complement each other.  Genuine fiscal conservatives departed the GOP some time ago; Trumpism has removed the facade from racism.

Until Trump, the ugliness of this deal was cloaked in euphemisms. As Lee Atwater famously put it,

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.

But the reality was always there. The conservative economic agenda has never been popular, and it is objectively against the interests of working class voters, whatever their race. In fact, whites without a college degree are the biggest beneficiaries of the social safety net. Nonetheless, these voters supported the GOP because it spoke to their racial animosity.

For a while, what Krugman calls “this bait-and-switch” worked; racism was used to motivate the base, but once elections were over, it was mostly shoved back in the closet. As he notes, however, that tactic was ultimately unsustainable. “Sooner or later the people who voted for white dominance at their own economic expense were going to find a champion who would deliver on their side of the bargain.”

Now, many in the plutocrat wing of the GOP seem to be genuinely dismayed by where this is going. They aren’t themselves racists, or at least they aren’t crude racists. But so far they’ve been unwilling to go beyond hand-wringing. Remember, just two Republican senators could stop all of this by saying that they’ll refuse to support Trump judicial appointments and legislation until the cruelty stops; they could bring all the evil to a dead halt by threatening to caucus with Democrats. But not one has stepped forward – because taking such a step would endanger conservative economic policies, and those are evidently more important than human rights.

When members of the “plutocratic wing” decry child separation at the nation’s border, when they join the rest of us by protesting that “this isn’t who we are,” it’s hard to argue with Krugman’s response:

It is who you are: you made a deal with the devil, empowering racism and cruelty so you could get deregulation and tax cuts. Now the devil is having his due, and you must share the blame.

I was wrong to see the two wings of the Republican Party as incompatible. They’re locked into their very own Faustian bargain, and unless and until American voters demand payment, they will both continue getting the benefit of that bargain.

Paving The Road To Trump

Politicians, pundits, political scientists and your crazy uncle all have their explanations for the election of Donald Trump, and most of those explanations have at least a germ of truth–or at least, plausibility.

Misogyny certainly played a role. Racism was a huge and undeniable factor. Hillary was a weak/divisive candidate. Bernie supporters voted for third-party candidates. The Electoral College overweighs rural votes. Russian disinformation was effective. Millions of Americans didn’t vote. Etc.

Whatever the merits of these analyses, it’s hard to argue with the observations in Alan Abramowitz’ new book, The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump.” Abramowitz argues that Trump is the product of an ongoing multigenerational process that has reshaped American politics.

In his view, Trump is a striking result of that process. Like most other political scientists who concentrate on political party politics, Abramowitz sees the GOP as a conservative party in the sense meant by William F. Buckley: It is “standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!'”

In a review of the book by Paul Rosenberg in Salon, Rosenberg says

Abramowitz writes that “while Trump won the election by exploiting the deep divisions in American society, he did not create those divisions,” and they won’t go away regardless of what becomes of his presidency. He provides an abundance of compelling, detailed evidence, most of which has been lying around in plain sight — in the American National Election Survey (ANES), the results of presidential and congressional elections, etc. But as with the story about Columbus and the egg, you can stare at something for a very long time before someone else shows you the obvious.

Most fundamentally, Abramowitz argues that the New Deal coalition “based on three major pillars: the white South, the heavily unionized northern white working class, and northern white ethnics” was eroded by post-World War II changes that have transformed American society. Those resenting the changes have become increasingly Republican, those welcoming them, increasingly Democratic.

Abramowitz asserts that racial polarization and the rise of negative partisanship were not only crucial to Trump’s election, but also explain his conduct in the White House “which can be described as governing by dividing.” The thesis of the book is that today’s strongly partisan electorate is deeply divided along racial, ideological, and cultural lines.

Rosenberg asked Abramowitz to identify the three most important–and misunderstood– realities of American politics today. His response:

That because of the rise of negative partisanship, we are in a new age of party loyalty and straight-ticket voting — despite the negative feelings of many voters toward the parties and the popularity of the “independent label.” That the divisions within the electorate are primarily racial and cultural rather than economic. That tinkering with electoral rules will not have much impact on partisan polarization because its sources are deep divisions within the society.

I find this analysis persuasive. And I realize that it is important to understand where we are and how we have gotten here. But the road to 2016 has now been pretty thoroughly plowed, and the more important questions are: where do we go from here? and how do we get there?

As a lawyer I once worked with like to say, there’s really only one legal question, and that’s “what do we do?” That axiom is equally applicable to politics and governance.

I’m waiting for the book that tells us how to resist and overcome the racism, misogyny and inequalities that drive our divisions–the book that tells us what we must do to build a better, kinder, fairer society.

The book that tells us how to calm the fears that make our fellow-citizens hate.

 

 

They Don’t Even Bother To Dog-Whistle Anymore

The basic line of demarcation between pro-Trump and anti-Trump partisans is now too clear and too well-documented to misunderstand. As my youngest son has maintained since the election, there were two–and only two–categories of people who voted for Trump: those who  agreed with and felt validated by his too-obvious-to-ignore racism, and those for whom that racism was not disqualifying.

Pundits and political observers on the left were deeply uncomfortable with that reality. “Nice” people looked for other plausible reasons for those votes: economic distress, hatred of Hillary, partisan affiliation. But as research on the vote has emerged, even polite formulations (“racial anxiety”) and studies conducted by academics noted for their rigor and lack of political agendas have confirmed the degree to which racism predicted support for Trump.

If any dispassionate observer still doubts that conclusion, the behavior of the Trump administration, its supporters and its propaganda arms should dispel those doubts. The fixation on immigration (from the southern border, not the north) and the fact-free demonization of brown immigrants is a clue too obvious to ignore.

Brian Kilmead of Fox News–the administration’s propaganda arm–speaks for Trump’s supporters when he says 

And these are not — like it or not, these aren’t our kids. Show them compassion, but it’s not like he is doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas.

The “us versus them” formulation could hardly be clearer.

For those of us who tend to look at what they do, not what they say, the picture is even clearer.

A ProPublica analysis.. found that, under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the department has scuttled more than 1,200 civil rights investigations that were begun under the Obama administration and lasted at least six months. These cases, which investigated complaints of civil rights violations ranging from discriminatory discipline to sexual violence in school districts and colleges around the country, were closed without any findings of wrongdoing or corrective action, often due to insufficient evidence….

ProPublica also found that the Office for Civil Rights has become more lenient. Under Obama, 51 percent of cases that took more than 180 days culminated in findings of civil rights violations, or corrective changes. Under the Trump administration, that rate has dropped to 35 percent.

ProPublica noted that the Trump administration has largely shelved investigations of systemic violations, opting to look instead at individual complaints.

One long investigation terminated by the Trump administration took place in Bryan, Texas. As ProPublica previously reported, the Dallas bureau of the federal civil rights office spent more than four years investigating whether disciplinary practices in Bryan discriminated against students of color. Federal investigators found at least 10 incidents where black students received harsher punishment than their white peers for the same conduct.

Weeks before Trump’s inauguration, federal investigators and the district were on the cusp of a settlement that would have required more than a dozen reforms. But after DeVos took over, the case and the pending settlement were scuttled, with no findings of wrongdoing.

In late April, OCR also shelved the investigation into school discipline in DeSoto County, where 852 students — more than half of them black — received corporal punishment in 2015.

Shelia Riley, the chairperson of DeSoto’s school board, told ProPublica that OCR’s decision was appropriate. “I read the [parents’] claims and I just felt like we were fair in our disciplinary decisions,” she said.

Google “Trump Administration racism” and the search will return–among many, many other “hits”– sober analyses of the ways in which the administration’s racism is affecting foreign policy, the role of race in the administration’s shameful neglect of Puerto Rico, the racism of proposed “reforms” of welfare programs, and the way Trump “encourages a pro-white semiotics and a return to racisms past.”

The Civil War may have ended slavery, but America’s “original sin” has persisted. Honest observers can no longer ignore it; “nice, polite” people can no longer pretend that grandpa just has “policy differences” with dark people. Trump owes his election to the voters who couldn’t abide the presence of Barack Obama in the White House–and who rewarded the bigot who remains willing to “tell it like [they believe]it is” in the ugly world they inhabit.

We aren’t in Kansas any more, Toto–and we’ve gone way beyond dog-whistles.