Category Archives: Racial Equality

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?

 

Thanks For The Clarity

I found it incomprehensible that people could vote for Donald Trump in 2016.

However, although subsequent research found a very high correlation between “racial anxiety” (i.e., bigotry) and a vote for Trump, I did recognize that not every Trump voter was a racist; lifelong Republicans voted their party, people who hated Hillary Clinton held their noses and pulled the Trump lever, and there were some voters who wanted to “shake things up” and assumed that, if elected, Trump would “pivot” into something vaguely resembling a President.

Two years later, we owe him a debt of gratitude for clarifying who he is, and making it impossible to miss what is at stake in Tuesday’s election.

As the midterm election has neared, Trump has ramped up his White Nationalist street “cred.” No American who is remotely honest–or sentient, for that matter–can miss the message: a vote for any Republican is a vote for Donald Trump’s relentless war on blacks, Jews, gays, Muslims and any and all brown people who may be among those “huddled masses yearning to breath free.”

Trump’s racism has always been obvious, from his early refusal to rent apartments to blacks, to his vendetta against the (innocent) boys accused of raping a Central Park jogger, to his shameful birtherism and his insistence that “many fine people” are self-proclaimed Nazis. He has made unremitting attacks on Muslims. In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, a number of news outlets have published lists of his anti-Semitic remarks and tweets.

In the last month, his horrific, untrue characterizations of the desperate people in the caravan fleeing Honduras, his despicable “Willie Horton” ad, and his ignorant attacks on the 14th Amendment’s grant of birthright citizenship have all been transparent efforts to remind American bigots that he is on their side, and to mobilize them to vote Republican.

A couple of days ago, the New York Daily News reported on a speech by former KKK member Derek Black. 

“The government itself is carrying through a lot of the beliefs (white nationalist groups) have and a lot of the goals — things like limiting immigration, and as of today, the goal of ending birthright citizenship. That has been a goal of white nationalists for decades, like explicit: this is what they want to do,” Black told The News.

“They have a person in the White House that is advocating the exact white nationalist goal that is one of the cornerstones of their belief system,” he added.

Black said he has firsthand knowledge of leaders within the white nationalist movement who are convinced the country’s commander-in-chief is going to fulfill all their wishes.

“They’re very open within their groups that it is better if they do not advocate this openly,” he said, “because it might actually hurt some of the efforts in the federal government itself.”

Black said Trump — who last week proudly identified as a “nationalist” at a rally for Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — is bolstering the confidence of white supremacist groups whether he realizes it or not.

He realizes it. And so do those who agree with him.

It’s no longer possible for Trump supporters to claim they don’t see his bigotry, or to pretend that their votes for what the GOP has become are based on anything other than their rejection of civic equality for people whose skin is a different color, or people who love or worship differently.

On Tuesday, we will find out just how many of our fellow Americans endorse Trump’s enthusiastic public attacks on everything America stands for.

“But I’m Not Racist!”

Many of you probably saw the news reports–or the video–of the man on a Ryanair flight who engaged in a rant during which he called a black woman seated next to him an “ugly black bastard.”

You may have missed reports of his subsequent apology, which included his assertion that he “is not a racist.”

A man who subjected a fellow passenger on a Ryanair flight to a racist tirade has apologised publicly for the first time a week after the incident, claiming that he is not a racist and lost his temper “a bit”.

Then there was the fine fellow who tried to enter a black church in Kentucky, was unable to gain access, and settled for shooting two African-Americans he’d never met who were shopping in a nearby Kroger store. 

A white man with a history of violence fatally shot two African American customers at a grocery store in Kentucky and was swiftly arrested as he tried to flee, police said Thursday. They said it was too soon to say what prompted Wednesday’s shooting, responding to an earlier account from a witness that when confronted with another white man during the incident, the suspect said: “Whites don’t shoot whites.”

It’s always comforting to attribute these senseless, horrific acts to “disturbed” individuals, and obviously, these are people with significant mental/emotional problems. But if we ignore the impetus for these acts, we risk even more civil disorder and tragedy. In the wake of the recent rash of pipe-bomb deliveries to people that Trump has identified as “enemies,”and the horrific shooting attack on Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, we need to heed the recent warning by a columnist for the Guardian:

Political violence in the United States has tended to come in two forms. The first consists of simply unhinged acts, like John Hinckley Jr shooting Ronald Reagan in the hope of impressing the actress Jodie Foster, or Timothy McVeigh hoping to bring down the government with a bomb. The second is more systematic and sinister: the violence used to keep down groups who threaten the social and political order. This is the violence of strike breakers and the KKK. It is the violence that killed Emmett Till, an African-American teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after allegedly wolf-whistling at a white woman.

A key feature of the second type of violence is that it has often been perpetrated by private individuals while serving the interests of public authorities. This is why the authorities encourage it. Till’s killers walked free because Mississippi’s court system would not convict them, understanding that their act reinforced white supremacy at a time when it was under threat from desegregation. This was violence of the people, by the people, for the government.

As the writer noted, America currently has a president who “frequently and vividly” talks to enthusiastic supporters about the desirability of a violent response to those who oppose him.

As Paul Krugman recently reminded us, this use of invective and demonization didn’t start with Trump. It’s a strategy the right has been using for decades. By promoting culture war issues, and religious and (especially) racial antagonisms, they’ve been able to distract working-class voters from policies that hurt them. Trump is simply the blunt instrument of a strategy that has been cynically pursued for many years.

That doesn’t make him any less dangerous, however. Nor does it excuse the shameful efforts currently being made to excuse his proud embrace of Nationalism–to pretend that the omission of the word “White” somehow modified the clear meaning of that embrace.

Former GOP strategist Steve Schmidt cut through the lame efforts to soften and dismiss Trump’s message: 

While discussing the racial politics of the Florida gubernatorial election, ex-Republican strategist Steve Schmidt argued Thursday that the whole party has been dragged down into a dangerous association with racists because of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies.

Schmidt asserted during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Deadline: White House” that Trump’s recent declaration of himself as a “nationalist” was a direct message to some of the most pernicious parts of the far right.

“When Donald Trump declares himself a ‘nationalist,’ the nationalists understand exactly what he means,” said Schmidt. “By the way, let’s stop calling them ‘white nationalists’ and call them by their names, which are ‘neo-Nazis’ and ‘Klansmen.'”

Whatever the motives of people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, I agree with my youngest son that there are two, and only two, categories of people who continue to support him: those in full agreement with his overt and virulent racism, misogyny and anti-Semitism, and those for whom his bigotry–and his incitement of violence against the targets of that bigotry –doesn’t matter.

Those in the second category may deny being racist. Those denials are about as persuasive as the protestations of the bigot who demeaned his seat mate on Ryanair.

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.