Category Archives: Racial Equality

2020–A Vote On America’s Original Sin

I want to elaborate on yesterday’s post.

It has been fascinating–and infinitely depressing–to follow the reactions to Trump’s racist rants on Facebook and in the Twitter-verse. I’ve been particularly struck by comments defending him and insisting that his attacks “weren’t racist”–that he was just “expressing his opinion,” perhaps inartfully.

Right.

And Bill Barr’s refusal to indict the officer who choked Eric Garner to death–despite DOJ lawyers’ contrary’ recommendation– wasn’t another not-so-subtle message to Trump’s white supremicist base.  Kellyann Conway’s response to a Jewish reporter’s question with a demand to know his “ethnicity,” was just an innocent question. And the troglodytes at Trump’s North Carolina rally chanting “send her back” were just patriotic Americans.

Nothing to see here.

We all know better. Those MAGA caps might just as well say what they have always implied: Make America White Again.

Yesterday, I characterized the upcoming election as a contest for the soul of America. Let me enlarge on that assertion: 2020 will force America to confront the country’s “original sin”–the persistent racism that once allowed some people to own others, that reacted to emancipation with segregation and Jim Crow, and that has responded to every movement toward civic equality by  doubling down on racist rhetoric and discriminatory behavior.

With the ascension of Donald Trump, the GOP has stopped denying its “southern strategy,”  abandoned its dog whistles, and publicly embraced white nationalism.

Denying Trump’s racism requires deliberately ignoring his long and consistent history of racist behavior, a history that David Leonhardt laid out in a recent New York Times newsletter.

His real estate company tried to avoid renting apartments to African-American tenants. He described “laziness” as “a trait in blacks.” He called for five black and Latino teenagers to be executed — and then insisted on their guilt even after DNA evidence proved their innocence.

He rose to prominence in the Republican Party by questioning the citizenship of the first black president. He launched his presidential campaign by saying Mexican immigrants were “rapists.” His political organization created a television advertisement that Fox News pulled for being too racist.

He frequently criticizes prominent African-Americans for being unpatriotic, ungrateful, disrespectful or unintelligent. He mocks Native Americans and uses anti-Semitic stereotypes. He retweets white nationalists. He said that a violent white supremacist march included some “very fine people.” He regularly appoints people with a history of racist comments.

And over the weekend, he told four nonwhite members of Congress — all citizens, of course, and three of them born in the United States — to “go back” to where they came from.

President Trump doesn’t just make racist comments. He is a racist. He’s proven it again and again, over virtually his entire time as a public figure. His bigotry is a core part of his worldview, and it’s been central to his political rise.

Paul Krugman didn’t mince words either.

In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political operative, explained to an interviewer how his party had learned to exploit racial antagonism using dog whistles. “You start out in 1954 by saying ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’” But by the late 1960s, “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.”

Well, the dog whistle days are over. Republicans are pretty much back to saying “Nigger, nigger, nigger.”

What voters need to understand in the run-up to 2020 is that it isn’t just Trump.

Krugman points to the silence of prominent Republicans in the wake of Trump’s most recent racist outburst, to the administration’s dishonest conflation of immigration and crime, and to a proclamation just signed by the Republican governor of Tennessee honoring Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, a war criminal who massacred African-American prisoners and helped found the Ku Klux Klan. I’ll add the increasing coziness of the GOP with the alt-right, Neo-Nazis, and fellow-travelers like David Duke.

I’ll also reiterate–and update– my son’s analysis, which I shared yesterday.

A vote for Donald Trump or any Republican  in 2020 means one of only two things: The voter is a racist, or the voter doesn’t consider the GOP’s thoroughgoing embrace of racism/white nationalism disqualifying.

In 2020, no other issue matters.

If we resoundingly defeat the cancer that is Trump and Republican white nationalism in 2020, we can return to our  heated debates about public policy, left versus right, and the proper interpretation of various constitutional rights. If we don’t, none of those things will matter.

In 2020, we will find out whether a majority of Americans are ready to confront –and reject–America’s original sin.

It’s All About White Panic

It’s indisputable: Trumpism is primarily about race.

Political science research in the wake of the 2016 election confirms that the characteristic most predictive of support for Donald Trump was “racial anxiety.”

A recent article in Vox even explains Trump’s damaging trade policies by reference to race.

“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength,” Trump declared in his inaugural address.

But was his appeal to voters on trade, especially in the Upper Midwest, separate from his more baldly inflammatory arguments on immigration and refugees? Or was it all wrapped up into one overall message that appealed not so much to people’s economic circumstances but instead to their anxiety over their place in the American and global power structure?

In recent research, Peterson Institute scholar Marcus Noland found the backlash to free trade and the turn towards protectionism associated with the views, largely held by white people, about America’s perceived decline in global position and the status of whites within America.

The negative reaction to the rising tide of globalization “is particularly intense among some communities, low-education whites and older whites,” that “diversity in and of itself seems to be provoking and intensifying these reactions,” he told Vox….

“Considerable evidence indicates that attitudes toward international trade and domestic minorities are not separable … the Trump campaign’s articulation of protectionist positions and the use of racially charged, anti-immigrant, and Islamophobic political language amounted to a self-reinforcing package.”

I’ve previously cited to Charles Blow’s article making the same point in the New York Times.

Everything that has happened during recent years is all about one thing: fear by white people that they will inevitably lose their numerical advantage in this country; and with that loss comes an alteration of American culture and shifting of American power away from white dominance and white control.

Even the uptick in efforts to ban abortions have been linked to white panic–  an effort to ensure that white women will produce more white babies. (60% of the 1.6 million abortions annually in the United States are for white women.)

This isn’t just a leftist perspective. An essay from last year in Reason Magazine-a libertarian publication–analyzed anti-immigrant rhetoric and came to the same conclusion. The article began with quotes from longtime racist Pat Buchanan:

Over at his blog, Buchanan asserted, “The existential question, however, thus remains: How does the West, America included, stop the flood tide of migrants before it alters forever the political and demographic character of our nations and our civilization?”

Sadly, this is not the first time in our history when bigots have urgently prophesied that America would soon be destroyed by a rising tide of allegedly unassimilable immigrants. We are now in the midst of the third such anti-immigration panic.

The article noted that sentiments very similar to Buchanan’s were expressed in 1850s by the anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party, and that the threat of

tides of national-character-altering immigration as a political bogeyman has a long and undistinguished history in America. Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, foreign-born immigrants comprised just over 13 percentof our nation’s population—about what it is today.

The animus against immigrants, of course, is directed at our Southern border–no one seems concerned that those pasty Canadians might cross from the north.

One of the most authoritative books on the subject of white panic was last year’s The End of White Christian America, by Robert Jones. From the synopsis:

Drawing on findings from one of the largest troves of survey data on contemporary politics and religion, Robert Jones shows how today’s most heated controversies – the strident rise of a white “politics of nostalgia” following the election of the nation’s first black president; the apocalyptic tone of arguments over same-sex marriage and religious liberty; and stark disagreements between white and black Americans over the fairness of the justice system – can be fully understood only in the context of the anxieties that white Christians feel as the racial, religious, and cultural landscape has changed around them.

Today, although they still retain considerable power in the South and within the Republican Party, white Christians lack their former political and social clout. Looking ahead, Jones forecasts the ways that white Christians might adjust to their new reality – and the consequences for the country if they don’t.

White panic gave us Trump.

We can only hope that people of good will recognize the extent to which Trumpism is a politics of hate, and reject it soundly in 2020.

White Panic

Charles Blow is one of the columnists for the New York Times whose essays I almost always find thoughtful and perceptive. In this one, especially, he hits the proverbial nail on the head.

Every so often it’s important to step back from the freak show of the moment so that you can see the whole circle. That has never been more important than at this moment and under this administration.

Everything that has happened during recent years is all about one thing: fear by white people that they will inevitably lose their numerical advantage in this country; and with that loss comes an alteration of American culture and shifting of American power away from white dominance and white control. White people don’t want to become one of many minority groups in America and have others — possibly from Asia, Latin America, Africa or the Middle East — holding the reins of power, and dictating inclusion and equity.

Once you see White Panic as the root of Trumpism, so many other things become clear: the imperviousness of Trump supporters to evidence of the harm he’s doing, the hypocrisy of “Christian” support for a man who has admitted to violating the values they purport to hold, the utter lack of concern for the humanitarian tragedy at the border…

Blow identifies the thread that connects so many of the issues that we’ve been confronting:

This is manifested in every issue you can imagine: the Confederate monuments fight, opposition to Black Lives Matter, intransigence on gun control, voter suppression laws, the Muslim ban, the hard line on asylum seekers coming across the southern border, calls to abolish the visa lottery, the defaming of majority black countries, efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the addition of a census question that could cause an undercount of Hispanics, the stacking of the courts with far-right judges (the vast majority of whom are white men). You name it, each issue is laced the white panic about displacement.

I have previously posted about the Cato report documenting the percentage of terrorist attacks attributable to White Nationalists; Blow references similar testimony by  the assistant director of the FBI’s counter-terrorism division. Of the 850 domestic terrorism investigations currently underway, he testified that 40 percent involve perpetrators with racist ideologies.  A significant majority are self-identified White Nationalists or White Supremacists.

Just as Trump saw fine people among the Nazis in Charlottesville, he is unable to see — or more precisely, to admit and address — white nationalism and white supremacy because he is at this moment these causes’ greatest champion.

The loyal MAGA-hat wearers may tell themselves that they differ from the violent fringe, that they aren’t like the David Dukes and other “out” Neo-Nazis, but their motives aren’t all that dissimilar.

The violent white nationalists are simply the leading edge, the violent vanguard, of the teeming masses of “soft” white nationalists and white supremacists, those who use stigmas and statutes as their weapons, those who have convinced themselves that their motivations have nothing to do with American racism and everything to do with American culture.

Blow connects some important dots. As he notes, in this “iteration of America,” securing white power and delaying displacement is to be achieved “through a fundamental restructuring of the laws around which babies get born, which addictions get treated, which bodies are allowed to immigrate or seek asylum and whose voice and votes get counted.”

Did you wonder why White Supremacists cheered the news about Alabama’s draconian anti-abortion law?

As the racist Iowa congressman, Steve King, tweetedin March of 2017, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The proposed census changes have a similar goal: If you’re losing in the game of numbers, change the way you count.

As NPR reported on Tuesday:

“Challenges threatening the upcoming 2020 census could put more than four million people at risk of being undercounted in next year’s national head count, according to new projections by the Urban Institute. The nonpartisan think tank found that the danger of an inaccurate census could hit some of the country’s most difficult to count populations the hardest. Based on the institute’s analysis, the 2020 census could lead to the worst undercount of black and Latino and Latina people in the U.S. since 1990.”

Don’t just grouse over each individual fruit of the poison tree, also focus on the root.

Right now, America is facing a moral challenge every bit as profound as the country’s earlier conflict over slavery.

Will we live up to our professed values, or–like the “Christians” who have discarded their theology in order to protect their privilege–will we elevate loyalty to our tribes over adherence to our ostensible principles?

Voting Their Interests

A recent post described a confrontation between the author of a book on American “whiteness” and a group of Neo-Nazis who attended his book signing in order to let him know that “Christian” white guys intend to remain in charge of America.

Jonathan Metzl, the author whose book signing was crashed had a column in the Washington Post referencing the intrusion; in it, he insisted that America needs to have a genuine discussion about whiteness.

It’s time to talk about what it means to be white in the United States.

That’s what I was trying to do Saturday afternoon at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Northwest Washington when I was interruptedby a group of white nationalists. Ironically, the protesters’ chant — “This land is our land” — served only to reinforce my point.

For too long, many white Americans have avoided this conversation, and we’ve done so for a reason: We don’t have to see the color white. Race scholarsoften arguethat white privilege broadly means not needing to reflect on whiteness. White is the default setting, the assumed norm. A white American does not have to think about being white when walking down the street — while people marked as not-white are often noticedand surveilled. White people have the superpower of invisibility.

Metzl noted that the rhetoric employed by Trump focuses on a white identity characterized  by shared resentments. In researching his book, Metzl spent eight years studying how what he calls the “politics of racial resentment” have harmed working-class white communities.

I traveled across southern and midwestern states to track the everyday effects of anti-government, anti-immigrant politics and policies. Time and again, I found that the material realities of working-class white lives are made worse not by immigrants and citizens of color — but by GOP policies that promise greatness but deliver despair.

Metzl isn’t the only researcher who has come to this conclusion–far from it. And when an article or book documents the harms done to the white working class by the policies of the GOP, when researchers and pundits point out that Trump’s base will be those most negatively affected by his sabotage of the ACA, or the idiocy of his tariffs, etc. etc.–the conversation will veer to a predictable lament and question: why are these people voting against their own interests?

Metzl’s book–and his experience at the bookstore–should provide the answer. These people aren’t voting against their interests. They’re voting against what reasonable people believe their interests should be. They should base their votes on policies affecting their incomes, their access to healthcare, the education of their children… policies that have a direct effect on the quality of their lives.

But that isn’t how the people in Trump’s base define their interests.

The “heartland” folks that Metzl interviewed define their interest as maintaining the fiction of white superiority. Their overriding interest is in preventing erosion of their privilege. They believe passionately in what Metzl calls “zero sum” formulations of race relations — in a world where there’s only a finite amount of power, and a finite supply of resources, and where having to share either means there will be less for them.

Fortunately, not all white working class people define their interests in this way. It’s doubtful that even a majority are “zero sum” voters, although far too many are.

As Metzl writes,

During my research, I saw countless examples of white Americans in the reddest of red counties who were proud of their conservative values but also understood their moral obligation to immigrants and citizens of color. In other words, they were willing to see their privilege and to begin the work of dismantling it.

The others–the voters whose entire self-image is invested in the importance of their white skin–are a big problem. But the problem isn’t that they aren’t “voting their interests.”

The problem is, they are.

 

 

Chilling Confirmation

It sometimes seems redundant to pick on Fox News. Its function as a propaganda arm of the GOP–as the Tass of the Trump Administration–is widely recognized among Americans who aren’t part of its brainwashed audience.

The problem is, Fox is more than “merely” a partisan propaganda site. Shrugging off its bias as comparable to the liberal perspective of, say, MSNBC ignores its role in normalizing bigotry and white nationalism,  a role that makes it a far more serious and dangerous influence on American life and values than other partisan media.

A recent report in the Guardian highlighted that under-appreciated aspect of the harm done by the network. 

Eboni Williams, who co-hosted the show Fox News Specialists, says Roger Ailes founded network on fear of ‘devaluation of whiteness’

A former Fox Newshost said the network was founded for the sole purpose of “demonizing ‘the other’”.

Eboni Williams tore into her former network in an appearance on Thursday on The Breakfast Club, a nationally syndicated radio show out of New York.

“Fox has a reputation for being bigoted and racist – all for a very good reason,” she said.

Williams said the key to understanding Fox’s approach was to understand its founder, Roger Ailes, who laid out his strategy clearly in his book.

“This man very plainly, in plain sight, says that he is forming a network to speak to one thing and one thing only: the demonizing of the other,” Williams said.

Eboni is an attorney-turned-commenter who is quoted in the article as saying she had taken the job at Fox despite strong disagreement with what she saw as its conservative political agenda, because she believed she would be able to offer the network’s viewers a different perspective.

“I went there because I felt I was going to be a savior of sorts and talk to the people in the middle that still watch that network, because whether we like it or not, Fox is number one for a reason,” she said.

When she criticized Trump’s response to the Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, however, she got death threats. Clearly, she wasn’t getting through to the network’s audience.

” When I said it plain like I said it on that docket that day about Trump, the audience could no longer hear me. Thus I’m no longer being able to be any kind of effective. Thus it’s time for me to move on.”

Lest we attribute Williams’ reaction to the fact that she is black–someone who might be more “sensitive” to racial attitudes– an even more recent story, this time from the Daily Beast, should disabuse us of that excuse.

A Fox News reporter on Thursday called out two of his colleagues for sounding “like a White Supremacist chat room” when they attempted to defend President Trump’s infamous “both sides” comment about white supremacists in Charlottesville, according to internal emails reviewed by The Daily Beast.

The email discussion was triggered by Joe Biden’s announcement that he was entering the Presidential race; in that announcement, he alluded to Trump’s Charlottesville remarks. A Fox reporter named McKelway responded by sending an email to dozens of the network’s employees, saying he was “fact-checking” Biden, and  claiming that the marchers were simply protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue.

It wasn’t his first attempt at disinformation.

Prior to the 2016 election, McKelway defended the alt-right on Fox News, claiming it was simply “using the same tactics that the left has used for generations now.” He further asserted that the alt-right is “much more than” an anti-Semitic, white-nationalist movement, citing Milo Yiannopoulos for his efforts in combating “the left’s obsession with… safe spaces.”

And a year before that, McKelway compared the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s statehouse to the Soviet practice of airbrushing purged dissidents out of official photographs.

I no longer wonder why certain people choose to get their “news” from Fox.

They are the network’s target audience: people who fear “devaluation of whiteness”– less politely but more accurately identified as racists.