Tag Archives: racism

Can We Spell Double Standard?

Over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton muses about the stark differences between Donald Trump’s response to accusations of wrongdoing against those he likes–rich or powerful white male cronies–and his attitude toward minorities who have actually been vindicated by the evidence.

As Brayton points out, when Trump finally commented about Rob Porter, a close aide who was forced to resign after reports that he had violently assaulted both of his ex-wives became public, his focus was all on the “rough time” Porter was going through–not a single reference to the women who had been beaten.

Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well.

It’s a, obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it. And, certainly, he’s also very sad.

Now he also — as you probably know, he says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent. So you’ll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well.

“He says he’s innocent.” Of course, the ex-wives have released photographs of the bruises and black eyes, there are contemporaneous reports by people in whom the women confided at the time…but, just as Roy Moore deserved the benefit of the doubt, according to Trump, we should reserve judgment.

Same with Putin. He says Russia didn’t interfere with our election….and Trump tells us we should believe him. (“He was sincere.”)

Now let’s contrast that with how he treats young black men accused of crimes who were proven innocent because of DNA evidence. This involves the Central Park Five, young black and Latino boys accused of raping a jogger in Central Park. Trump had taken out a full page ad demanding the death penalty for them. But DNA evidence proved that they didn’t do it and a serial rapist who was already in prison for another rape admitted to the crime. Their convictions were overturned. And Trump’s response? “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.”

So for those keeping score at home: If you’re a powerful white guy and Trump is on your side, nothing you are accused of is ever true, no matter how much evidence there is for it. But if you’re a powerless person with dark skin, you’re guilty of whatever he decides you’re guilty of even if the irrefutable scientific evidence says you’re not. Very convenient, don’t you think?

Equal parts cronyism, racism and misogyny…and 100% despicable.

Telling It Like It Is

Charles Blow has used two of his recent columns in the New York Times to address racism; more specifically, the racism exhibited by Donald Trump and his base.

Although there has been a great deal of ink (or, more properly, pixels) devoted to analysis of the most recent eruption by our Vesuvius in Chief, Blow’s observations are so incisive, so devoid of the unnecessary niceties (typically employed by writers trying desperately to be fair to people undeserving of their solicitude), that they deserve wide distribution.

In the first column–written before the “shithole” eruption–Blow makes an important point about racism and the people who will continue to support Trump no matter how often he betrays his promises to them:

Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.

It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

The entire column is well worth reading–and pondering. Among other things, it explains Trump’s pathological fixation on erasing anything and everything that Obama did.

Trump supporters love to describe his most vile pronouncements as evidence that he “tells it like it is.” But it is Blow who actually tells it like it is, in the wake of Trump’s “shithole” episode.

He begins with a definition:

Racism is simply the belief that race is an inherent and determining factor in a person’s or a people’s character and capabilities, rendering some inferior and others superior. These beliefs are racial prejudices.

Blow then points out–as many others have- that Trump fits that definition, that he’s a racist,  a white supremacist, a bigot. (In the same issue of the Times, David Leonhardt provides an exhaustive list of Trump’s blatantly racist statements.) But– as Blow also says– pointing that fact out is the easy part. The need to make his tenure as short as possible is equally obvious.

Most importantly, this November, voters must

rid the House and the Senate of as many of Trump’s defenders, apologists and accomplices as possible. Should the time come where impeachment is inevitable, there must be enough votes in the House and Senate to ensure it.

I am going to bold these next paragraphs, because his point is really important–and because it is insufficiently appreciated:

And finally, we have to stop giving a pass to the people — whether elected official or average voter — who support and defend his racism. If you defend racism you are part of the racism. It doesn’t matter how much you say that you’re an egalitarian, how much you say that you are race blind, how much you say that you are only interested in people’s policies and not their racist polemics.

As the brilliant James Baldwin once put it: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” When I see that in poll after poll a portion of Trump’s base continues to support his behavior, including on race, I can only conclude that there is no real daylight between Trump and his base. They are part of his racism.

When I see the extraordinary hypocrisy of elected officials who either remain silent in the wake of Trump’s continued racist outbursts or who obliquely condemn him, only to in short order return to defending and praising him and supporting his agenda, I see that there is no real daylight between Trump and them either. They too are part of his racism.

When you see it this way, you understand the enormity and the profundity of what we are facing. There were enough Americans who were willing to accept Trump’s racism to elect him. There are enough people in Washington willing to accept Trump’s racism to defend him. Not only is Trump racist, the entire architecture of his support is suffused with that racism. Racism is a fundamental component of the Trump presidency.

A commenter to this blog recently protested when I wrote that racism had motivated the majority of Trump voters. I based that statement on research that has emerged since the election, but my youngest son points out that we really don’t need academic researchers to tell us what we all know. Trump’s campaign was unambiguously racist, therefore, those who voted for him fell into one of the only two possible categories: either they responded positively to his racism, or his racism didn’t bother them enough to make them vote for someone else.

As Blow says, there were enough Americans willing to accept Trump’s racism to elect him.

As my son says, you are what you are willing to accept.

Just telling it like it is.

 

 

Us Versus Them: Shithole Edition

When reports of Donald Trump’s “shithole countries” remark hit the media, various  outlets  reported “gasps of disbelief” by Congressional Republicans.

Give me a break. Anyone who is genuinely surprised to discover that Trump is a racist is too stupid to tie his own shoes.

David Leonhardt ticked off  the evidence in his column yesterday for the New York Times:

• Trump’s real-estate company was sued twice by the federal government in the 1970s for discouraging the renting of apartments to African-Americans and preferring white tenants, such as “Jews and executives.”

• In 1989, Trump took out ads in New York newspapers urging the death penalty for five black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a white woman in Central Park; he continued to argue that they were guilty as late as October 2016, more than 10 years after DNA evidence had exonerated them.

• He spent years claiming that the nation’s first black president was born not in the United States but in Africa, an outright lie that Trump still has not acknowledged as such.

• He began his 2016 presidential campaign by disparaging Mexican immigrants as criminals and “rapists.”

• He has retweeted white nationalists without apology.

• He frequently criticizes prominent African-Americans for being unpatriotic, ungrateful and disrespectful.

• He called some of those who marched alongside white supremacists in Charlottesville last August “very fine people.”

• He is quick to highlight crimes committed by dark-skinned people, sometimes exaggerating or lying about it (such as a claim about growing crime from “radical Islamic terror” in Britain). He is very slow to decry hate crimes committed against dark-skinned people (such as the murder of an Indian man in Kansas last year).

Although pundits have previously noted Trump’s racist, barely-veiled “dog whistles” to white nationalists, they have been far more reluctant to say out loud what political scientists (and most sentient beings) have concluded from data about the 2016 electorate: a solid majority of Trump voters were motivated by racial animus.  Racism “trumped” (excuse the pun) recognition of Trump’s ignorance, grandiosity and utter unfitness for office; for those voters, identity politics–aka white nationalism with a side of misogyny– won the day.

Which brings me to the unpleasant but unavoidable subject of “us versus them.”

Scholars who study the history of human interaction tell us that tribalism is hard-wired into the human psyche. There are evolutionary reasons for that, and the consequences aren’t all negative by any means. Our attachments to our families, our “clans” and our countries can promote solidarity, sacrifice and reciprocity.

The problem is the way far too many Americans define “us.”

I know I get tiresome with my constant harping on the need for improved civic literacy and constitutional knowledge, but the reason I believe it is so important that Americans understand our history and philosophy and constituent documents is because allegiance to America’s foundational values is what makes people Americans. It is what creates an overarching “us” out of an assortment of diverse and otherwise unconnected “thems.”

Republicans used to understand that. It was Ronald Reagan who said

You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won’t become a German or a Turk.’ But anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.

Donald Trump explicitly appeals to people who don’t understand that, people who have a very narrow definition of “us”– people who define their own identities by the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or religion. They are incapable of seeing people who don’t look just like the image they see in their imaginary mirrors as members of their tribe, as part of “us.”

Fear and ignorance keep them from understanding who “we” really are.

The good news is that we don’t have to fight our hard-wired impulse to see the world in terms of “us” and “them.” We just have to work toward a better, more accurate, more capacious definition of “us” — a definition that includes all Americans, no matter what color, religion, sexuality, gender or other “tribe.”

One we get that right, we can work on defining “us” as humanity….

Yes, It’s Disheartening. But It’s True.

We’re getting used to seeing headlines like this recent one in the Washington Post: “Hate in America is On the Rise.” According to the lede,

A NEW FBI report on hate crimes tells a sobering story. For the second year in a row, police departments across the country reported a rise in the number of crimes motivated by bias.

A statistical breakdown suggests that nearly 60  percent of these crimes were motivated by racial bias, with African Americans targeted in about half of those.  Over 20 percent were expressions of religious animosity; more than half of those attacks were aimed at Jews, with another quarter targeting Muslims. (There has been a sharp rise in crimes against Muslims and people of Arab descent.)

Sociologists and psychiatrists can offer informed analyses of the social conditions that cause people harboring bigoted attitudes to “act out.” But it isn’t much of a stretch to attribute a significant portion of this troubling spike in hate crimes to a President who traffics in racial and religious stereotypes.

In fact, Trump’s victory poses a chicken-and-egg conundrum: did rising tribalism and bigotry lead to his election? Or did he win by nurturing and exploiting that bigotry?

The answer, of course, is both.

In the Atlantic, Adam Serwer has provided a compelling analysis of the essential nature of Trump’s appeal. He began that analysis by revisiting David Duke’s gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana. Then, as now, the Chattering Classes attributed Duke’s appeal to economic “distress.” Then–as now–the data simply didn’t support that explanation.

Duke’s strong showing, however, wasn’t powered merely by poor or working-class whites—and the poorest demographic in the state, black voters, backed Johnston. Duke “clobbered Johnston in white working-class districts, ran even with him in predominantly white middle-class suburbs, and lost only because black Louisianans, representing one-quarter of the electorate, voted against him in overwhelming numbers,” The Washington Post reported in 1990. Duke picked up nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Faced with Duke’s popularity among whites of all income levels, the press framed his strong showing largely as the result of the economic suffering of the white working classes. Louisiana had “one of the least-educated electorates in the nation; and a large working class that has suffered through a long recession,” The Post stated.

Duke’s position as a leader of the KKK was explained away by Louisiana voters, who blamed the media for “making Duke seem racist.”

The economic explanation carried the day: Duke was a freak creature of the bayou who had managed to tap into the frustrations of a struggling sector of the Louisiana electorate with an abnormally high tolerance for racist messaging.

Right.

Fast forward to 2016, and the Trump campaign. As Serwer writes

During the final few weeks of the campaign, I asked dozens of Trump supporters about their candidate’s remarks regarding Muslims and people of color. I wanted to understand how these average Republicans—those who would never read the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer or go to a Klan rally at a Confederate statue—had nevertheless embraced someone who demonized religious and ethnic minorities. What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters’ most profound beliefs—combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked.

It was not just Trump’s supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation—outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety—to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump’s most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of. (emphasis mine)

Serwer notes the “specific dissonance” of Trumpism—people advocating for cruelly discriminatory policies while denying–undoubtedly even to themselves–that there is any racial animus involved. He concludes that without the racism of so substantial a number of white voters, Trump simply could not have won.

This  conclusion is supported by virtually all of the data that has emerged since the election.

Serwer also answers a question that has consumed people of good will, as they watch the escalating disaster that is the Trump Administration: when will his supporters realize how destructive his Presidency is? Why hasn’t his abandonment of virtually all of his campaign promises awakened them?

Answer: because the promises he’s kept are the ones that matter to them.

..his ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries; the unleashing of immigration-enforcement agencies against anyone in the country illegally regardless of whether he poses a danger; an attempt to cut legal immigration in half; and an abdication of the Justice Department’s constitutional responsibility to protect black Americans from corrupt or abusive police, discriminatory financial practices, and voter suppression. In his own stumbling manner, Trump has pursued the race-based agenda promoted during his campaign.

Serwer’s conclusion? So long as Trump promotes the social and political hegemony of white Christians, his supporters won’t abandon him.

There is much more in the article, and it is definitely worth reading in its entirety.

What Do We Do?

Yesterday morning, I spoke to the Danville Unitarians. Later in the afternoon, Mike Pence ostentatiously walked out of the Colts game when players “took a knee” to protest racism and inequality. In light of his despicable posturing,  my morning remarks seem particularly relevant, so I’m sharing them.

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When I was a very new lawyer, an older lawyer in the firm where I worked said something I’ve never forgotten: There’s only one legal question, and that question is “what do we do?”

That axiom also describes our social and political world. “What should we do?” in the face of mounting evidence that the racism and anti-Semitism we thought had diminished had merely gone underground?

What should we do about a President whose rhetoric and policies are calculated to feed the bigotries and resentments of those who elected him and further divide an already polarized country?

What do we do in the face of mounting evidence—and not just from Charlottesville–that the outcome of the last election has encouraged and empowered the worst elements of the American Alt-Right—the Klan, the Nazis, the White Supremacists and others who had spent the preceding eight years seething over the fact that America had a black President?

In the immediate aftermath of last November’s unexpected election result, pundits and social scientists told us that most Trump voters were “economically distressed,” that they were members of the American Heartland who felt ignored and disparaged by the so-called “coastal elites.” As data emerged and was analyzed, however, it turned out that the average Trump voter was better off, economically, than the average Clinton voter. And although the data showed that rural voters were considerably more likely to support Trump than urban residents, that data also unambiguously showed that it was the voters who displayed what we academic types call “racial resentment” who were most likely to support Trump.

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago does continual polling on a wide variety of questions in its General Social Survey. Their data shows that American society as a whole still buys into racist stereotypes, but that Republicans are statistically far more likely to hold racist views.

Let me be clear: that doesn’t mean that all Republicans are racists. It doesn’t even mean that all Trump voters were racists—although a significant percentage of them evidently were.

The General Social Survey is one of the oldest and largest recurring surveys of American behaviors and attitudes. It collects far more data than most researchers can afford to do, and as a result, it is able to “drill down” further than most similar efforts. The 2016 results reflected a number of very troubling fractures in American society. As one columnist summarized those results,

“The partisan gaps among whites were as wide or wider than we’ve seen since the survey first started asking most of these questions in the 1990s. It’s not that white Republicans’ views of African Americans have dimmed so much as that they haven’t kept pace with those of white Democrats. But in some cases, the GOP has moved in the other direction.

The biggest yawning gap between Democrats and Republicans is on the issue of motivation and will power. The General Social Survey asks whether African Americans are worse off economically “because most just don’t have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?”

A majority — 55 percent — of white Republicans agreed with that statement, compared to 26 percent of white Democrats…

The survey also asked people to rate the races on how hard-working or lazy they are, which allows us to compare whether people rate some races higher than others.

In this case, 42 percent of white Republicans rated African Americans as being lazier than whites, versus 24 percent of white Democrats.”

In light of this data, are we really supposed to believe that all those voters who said they liked Trump because he “tells it like it is” and “isn’t ‘politically correct’” were reacting to his position on trade?

Racism and stereotyping may be more pronounced among Republicans, but as the General Social Survey results showed, Democrats are hardly immune. Refusing to admit how persistent and consequential racism is, refusing to recognize how many of our political and social attitudes are rooted in disdain for those who don’t look like us, those we label “Other,” distorts our public discourse and perpetuates bias and misunderstanding.

If we are going to solve these problems, if we are going to come out of this very precarious time still looking like the America most of us grew up believing in, we simply cannot afford the polarization and tribalism that has re-emerged with such force. It isn’t just race. It isn’t just anti-Semitism. It’s anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim, anti-“elitist,” anti-science, anti-intellectual…It’s Anti-Other. It’s “us” versus whomever we classify as “them.”

If we are to productively attack these issues, we need to enlarge our public understanding of who we are talking about when we talk about “us.” We need to enlarge our definition of who “we” are.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

America is a country that was founded on Enlightenment principles, and foremost among those principles was a respect for personal autonomy—the right of every individual to self-determination, our right to “do our own thing.” The heart of our legal system was the libertarian principle: your right to live as you like and do what you want, until and unless you harm the person or property of someone else, and so long as you respect the equal right of others to do their own thing. Partly as a result of that founding philosophy—which was very different from the European countries our settlers came from—America is known for its emphasis on individualism. We take personal responsibility, we stand on our own two feet, we’re “can-do” entrepreneurs—and that’s all good. But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Community is equally important.

When people are categorized as “other,” when they are not really members of our community, not one of “us,” it becomes easy–and acceptable–to generalize about them and to demonize them. It wasn’t so long ago that we heard that the Irish are all drunks, Catholics all do the Pope’s bidding, Jews are shifty businesspeople…We still hear that blacks are lazy and women are overly emotional. Membership definitely has its privileges, and the most significant of those is acceptance into the polity and the right to be judged on our own merits, as individuals, and not as members of this or that “tribe.”

Of course, membership also implies exclusion of those who don’t belong. Too much exclusivity leaves us without a membership sufficient for national cohesion and purpose. Society becomes atomized, a collection of self-serving tribes and individuals. It’s also true that excessive emphasis on nationalistic “we’s” can lead to fascism or authoritarianism. The trick is to find the proper balance–enough community to give us a sense of belonging and to generate mutual support, enough individualism to facilitate the exploration of our human distinctiveness. The Greeks called it “The Golden Mean.”

As we’ve seen, President Trump sneers at “political correctness.” This plays well with the so-called “alt-right” that is the heart of his base—the white supremacists, anti-Semites and the like who dismiss civility and mutual respect as political correctness, and who defend their nastiness and overt bigotry as “free speech”[–or in Mike Pence’s case, “religious liberty.”]  The Mayor of Charlottesville had a letter in the New York Times not long after the events in that city that not only rebutted that characterization, but also answered the question I began with; the question “what do we do?” He provided a list of things that people of good will can and must do to fight back against those who want to divide this country into we and they, us and “other.”

Mayor Signer noted that events like those in Charlottesville are always accompanied by calls for restricting the right to protest, and he warned against going down that path. But if retreating from our constitutional liberties is not the proper response, what is? Signer didn’t simply recite platitudes; he spelled out who should do what: companies must use their economic clout to press for tolerance and diversity, “whether that means pressuring states on transgender bathroom laws or refusing to sell services to groups that advocate hate.” Colleges and universities must “recommit to instilling the values of deliberation and civility in their students.” News organizations must not only convey correct facts, but “present contextual and fact-checking resources.”

Individually, we must all make a broad social commitment to organizations telling the stories of embattled minorities, whether Muslim Americans or African-Americans or LGBT youth, so they are humanized to the rest of the country. Law firms should dedicate pro bono hours to stand up for the rights of the harassed and the oppressed. Mentors and teachers must teach young folks that that they don’t always have to fight to get what they want, that carrots often work better than sticks. Politicians should agree to sit down together and negotiate to do the people’s business, rather than posture for and pander to their bases. As the mayor concluded,

“And it means government finally telling the truth about race in American history. It means strong new programs to build bridges between isolated communities. And yes, it means political parties and organizations actively reaching out to the economically dispossessed, who feel left behind by today’s cultural and economic changes.”

To which I would add: each of us needs to become a civic activist. We need to relentlessly pressure our elected officials; we need to march and protest when those actions are appropriate. We need to join so-called “Resistance” groups, and support organizations like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Lambda Legal, among many others. We need to reach out to neighbors who don’t look like us, and initiate respectful conversations.

And we desperately need to return an in-depth, rigorous Civics education to our public school classrooms. What makes us Americans—what entitles us to membership—is allegiance to a particular approach to self-government. When we don’t know what that approach is, when we are unfamiliar with its history and philosophy and evolution, we increase polarization and lose what it is that makes us a genuinely American community.

I read the Charlottesville Mayor’s letter as a call to active and informed citizenship, and at this perilous moment in American national life, a properly mobilized and informed citizenry is probably the only thing that can save us.

Thank you.