Telling It Like It Is

In the wake of the election, those of us who opposed Donald Trump are being told to “get over it.” News organizations are doing puff pieces that “normalize” a decidedly abnormal President-elect. Uncharitable descriptions of Trump voters are met with the sort of admonitions that liberals typically (and appropriately) offer when unpleasant characteristics are ascribed to an entire group of people.

If we had just emerged from a hard-fought election contest between sane candidates with different policy prescriptions, those responses would be appropriate. If a significant number of Trump voters could somehow have remained unaware of his core message, you could argue that economic distress or partisan loyalty prompted their support (although research confirms that most Trump voters were not economically disadvantaged, and that educated Republicans deserted him in droves.)

But this election was decidedly not normal, and refusing to acknowledge its implications is dangerous.

I think Jamelle Bouie, Slate’s political correspondent, got it right, when he wrote that there is “no such thing as a good Trump voter.”

Donald Trump ran a campaign of racist demagoguery against Muslim Americans, Hispanic immigrants, and black protesters. He indulged the worst instincts of the American psyche and winked to the stream of white nationalists and anti-Semites who backed his bid for the White House. Millions of Americans voted for this campaign, thus elevating white nationalism and white reaction to the Oval Office.

When Trump voters are accused of responding to racist demagoguery, nice people clutch their pearls. Michael Lerner, for example, wrote in the New York Times that “Many Trump supporters very legitimately feel that it is they who have been facing an unfair reality.” Lerner attributed the vote to  “people’s inner pain and fear,” and blamed liberals for failing to sympathize with those emotions. He acknowledged the racism, sexism and xenophobia employed by Trump, but insisted that the vote didn’t reveal “an inherent malice in the majority of Americans.”

I beg to differ. As Bouie points out,

Millions of Americans are justifiably afraid of what they’ll face under a Trump administration. If any group demands our support and sympathy, it’s these people, not the Americans who backed Trump and his threat of state-sanctioned violence against Hispanic immigrants and Muslim Americans. All the solicitude, outrage, and moral telepathy being deployed in defense of Trump supporters—who voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes—is perverse, bordering on abhorrent.

It’s worth repeating what Trump said throughout the election. His campaign indulged in hateful rhetoric against Hispanics and condemned Muslim Americans with the collective guilt of anyone who would commit terror. It treated black America as a lawless dystopia and spoke of black Americans as dupes and fools. And to his supporters, Trump promised mass deportations, a ban on Muslim entry to the United States, and strict “law and order” as applied to those black communities.

A voter would have to have been blind and deaf not to hear and understand Trump’s central message.

A vote for Donald Trump represented one of two things, both reprehensible: either the voter was attracted to Trump because of the bigotry, or s/he didn’t find it sufficiently offensive or problematic to justify withholding support. There is no other category.

We have all heard the stories about the good Germans who refused to see that what was happening to their country after Hitler took power was not “politics as usual,” who refused to call out the virulent anti-Semitism, who didn’t want to “rock the boat.”

And then it was too late.



Botswana, Micronesia and Us

According to the Pew Research Center’s “Fact Tank,” no other democratic nation elects its President quite the way the U.S. does, and only a handful are even similar.

Besides the U.S, the only other democracies that indirectly elect a leader who combines the roles of head of state and head of government (as the U.S. president does) are Botswana, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, South Africa and Suriname. (The Swiss collective presidency also is elected indirectly, by that country’s parliament.)

At this writing, Hillary Clinton looks likely to win the popular vote by over two million; Donald Trump won the electoral votes of the so-called “swing states” by the thinnest of margins–  a collective hundred and seven thousand votes.

The dictionary definition of “democracy” is “rule by the majority.” Although it is certainly true that America’s system was not originally intended to operate by majority rule (it was instead conceived of as a representative democracy), and it (thankfully!) remains true that our Bill of Rights limits what government can do even with the support of popular majorities, we have changed our electoral system over the years, and we have done so in the name of increasing popular democracy.

In two of the last four national elections, the candidate clearly preferred by a majority of citizens has not become President.

We need to ask ourselves whether America truly wants to move in the direction of genuine democracy, or whether we want to continue a system that privileges the votes of more rural citizens over the votes of urban Americans– a system that decides who will win based  not upon the larger number of votes cast, but upon where a candidate’s voters happen to live.

I fully expect that the elevation of a mentally unstable and monumentally unfit man to the Presidency of the most powerful nation on earth will usher in an era of chaos and social upheaval. I have no idea what will emerge in the aftermath–assuming that there is an aftermath, and that a thin-skinned and vengeful ignoramus in possession of the nuclear codes doesn’t destroy the planet.

If and when we do emerge, we need to decide whether we are committed to democratic decision-making or not. If we are, we have a lot of housekeeping to do.

The Unraveling Begins….

Swastikas on churches. Threatening graffiti in minority neighborhoods. Racist posts on Facebook and Twitter. The Klan and the American Nazi Party celebrating Trump’s “win for the Whites.”

These are very scary times.

Ed Brayton notes that Raw Story is keeping a list of all of the bigoted, criminal and violent attacks on gays, blacks, Muslims, women, Latinos in others since Donald Trump was elected–and that the list is growing by leaps and bounds.

We need to be honest; Trump did not create the bigotry he exploited and encouraged. It was already there, often barely below the surface. It reacted with seething hostility to the election of an African-American President, and was exacerbated by recognition of same-sex marriage, by efforts to provide immigrants with a path to citizenship, and to other legal and cultural changes perceived–primarily by white men– as diminishing the privileged status of white Christian Americans.

NPR recently reported on the rise in hate crimes during 2015.

Hate crimes in 2015 were more than 6 percent more frequent than they were in 2014, with a two-thirds increase in religiously motivated attacks against Muslims.

The FBI’s Hate Crimes Statistics, 2015 report tallied more than 5,850 hate crime incidents in 2015.

Motivations for hate crime incidents, 2015: 56.9 percent were motivated by a race/ethnicity/ancestry bias. 21.4 percent were prompted by religious bias. 18.1 percent resulted from sexual-orientation bias. 2.0 percent were motivated by gender-identity bias. 1.3 percent were prompted by disability bias. 0.4 percent (23 incidents) were motivated by a gender bias.

Most of those — 56.9 percent — were racially motivated, with more than half of race-based attacks targeting African-Americans.

But religiously motivated attacks were a growing share of the tally. Incidents of religious hate crimes rose by nearly 23 percent compared to 2014.

Most hate crimes based on religion targeted Jewish people; anti-Semitic attacks were up more than 9 percent compared to 2014.

Since the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 60 percent of hate crimes are never reported to police, the actual incidence of bias crime is undoubtedly much higher than these statistics suggest.

I’m sure social scientists and mental health professionals have explanations for the loss of civility and increasing nastiness of our times. There’s the disorientation that accompanies rapid social change, the stresses caused by economic uncertainty, the unattractive but very human need to find someone or some group to blame when life isn’t going well. There’s tribalism,  fear of difference, and resentment at perceived loss of status.

I understand that we Americans are never going to come together around the campfire, metaphorically speaking, and sing kumbaya. But we are at risk of losing important norms of mutual respect and civic equality–norms that (while admittedly more honored in the breach than in reality) we have long held to be essential to our national identity.

I keep thinking about Rodney King’s plaintive question, “Can’t we all just get along?”

The answer–at least as provided by those who voted for Trump– seems to be “evidently not.”

The Looters Have Arrived

Wednesday, I posted about the “partnership” approach Trump proposes to take to infrastructure repair.

Paul Krugman had a recent description of that plan, which he concludes is not about public investment, but about ripping off taxpayers.

Trumpists are touting the idea of a big infrastructure build, and some Democrats are making conciliatory noises about working with the new regime on that front. But remember who you’re dealing with: if you invest anything with this guy, be it money or reputation, you are at great risk of being scammed.

So, what do we know about the Trump infrastructure plan, such as it is? Crucially, it’s not a plan to borrow $1 trillion and spend it on much-needed projects — which would be the straightforward, obvious thing to do. It is, instead, supposed to involve having private investors do the work both of raising money and building the projects — with the aid of a huge tax credit that gives them back 82 percent of the equity they put in. To compensate for the small sliver of additional equity and the interest on their borrowing, the private investors then have to somehow make profits on the assets they end up owning.

The description of this rip-off reminded me rather forcefully of the “looters” described by Ayn Rand in  Atlas Shrugged.

I have frequently been bemused by the actions of politicians and others who claim to have been influenced by Rand’s philosophy (and who all seem to see themselves as one of her protagonists. Remember those “I am John Galt” bumper stickers?) I particularly recall an Indiana agency head during the Daniels administration who made all his employees read the “two most important books”–Atlas Shrugged and–wait for it– the bible.

Rand, of course, was a very outspoken atheist who insisted that her philosophy was an explicit rejection–and antithesis– of Christianity.

Then we have Paul Ryan, another Rand fan, who is intent upon keeping Americans from becoming dependent on such “giveaways” as health care (and who was able to go to college after his father’s death thanks to Social Security).  I wonder if he will see the parallels between an infrastructure scheme that will enrich crony capitalists and Rand’s withering description of the morally indefensible “looters” who used government to enrich themselves at the expense of the truly productive  (Rand’s version of the “makers and takers” worldview).

Ayn Rand had an excuse for her extreme worldview; she was a product of  Soviet collectivism, and saw first-hand the danger that such a system posed to human diversity and individual excellence. What she failed to see was the equivalent danger posed by a society that defines success solely as the attainment of wealth, however acquired, and encourages contempt rather than compassion for the weak and powerless.

The latter society is the one that produced Donald Trump, who is already promising to be looter-in-chief.

Thanksgiving Day

Let’s all take the day off.

Thanksgiving is at our house today, and I intend to stop obsessing–at least for today– over the multiplying challenges Americans face in the wake of an incomprehensible election.

Instead, I will remind myself of all the things I have to be thankful for: a wonderful and supportive husband, children and step-children and children-in-law who make me proud (and who still inexplicably like to “hang out” with the old folks), four perfect grandchildren and one wonderful granddaughter-in-law (grandchildren, as my husband likes to say, are our reward for not killing our children) and an extended family of truly good people.

Neighbors and friends who are neighborly and friendly.

Former and current students who give me hope for the future, and who keep me challenged and young. (Well, young-ish) Colleagues who are collegial and intellectually stimulating.

Good health, a roof over my head and food on my table.

And last but certainly not least, the community of thoughtful and engaged “commenters”  at this blog, whose observations and conversations illuminate the issues we face and give me food for thought.

I hope all of you have a great Turkey Day, and an equal number of blessings to appreciate.

Tomorrow, of course, we need to go back to the barricades.