Category Archives: Racial Equality

Suburban Republican Religion

A recent article in the Washington Post reported that, in the wake of Trump’s increasingly blatant racism, a number of Republicans who have long enabled him are now afraid of losing power and “forever associating their party with his racial animus.”

A bit late, aren’t they?

If Republicans serving in the House or Senate had pushed back on Trump’s bigotry–not to mention his constant corruption and his equally horrible Cabinet nominees–they might not now be fretting over his embrace of white supremacy and his defense of its symbols. (Not that most of them are fretting over the racism itself–just over the likelihood of an electoral rejection of it.)

White House insiders say that Trump has ignored the public criticism and reproofs from Republican operatives, and “remains convinced that following his own instincts on race and channeling the grievances of his core base of white voters” will carry him to victory. 

I don’t believe his base is large enough to hand him that victory, but one of the most depressing aspects of the past 4 years has been the incontrovertible evidence that the racists that comprise his base represent a much larger number of Americans than I would ever have imagined. Until this administration gave them permission to crawl out from under their rocks, I would have pegged the “deplorable” portion of the electorate at around 10%, not the 30% or so it evidently is.

A recent dust-up in Carmel, Indiana,  a prosperous suburb of Indianapolis just rubbed my face in it. 

The conflict began with a message written by a Catholic priest in his church bulletin, addressing the Black Lives Matter movement. Here’s a selection:

The only lives that matter are their own and the only power they seek is their own,” Rothrock wrote of Black Lives Matter organizers. “They are wolves in wolves clothing, masked thieves and bandits, seeking only to devour the life of the poor and profit from the fear of others. They are maggots and parasites at best, feeding off the isolation of addiction and broken families, and offering to replace any current frustration and anxiety with more misery and greater resentment.

The message was (understandably) met with outrage and (apparently in response to the blowback) the priest was suspended. I assumed that would be the end of it–or perhaps that anti-racists in Carmel might use the incident as a teaching tool. But it appears that lots of Trump people live in historically (and reliably) Republican Carmel.

Both inside and outside St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church on Sunday, the statement “Black lives matter” was said with conviction and met with opposition.

Outside, it was written on signs and chanted through megaphones by members of the community protesting remarks made late last month by the Rev. Theodore Rothrock calling Black Lives Matter organizers “maggots and parasites.”  

Those “Black lives matter!” chants were met with chants of “Go Father Ted!” from counterprotesters who oppose the suspension handed down to Rothrock and argue that he was speaking the truth.

The article quoted several of the people who had turned out to support Rothrock.  Mark J. Powell, who identified himself as a Lutheran pastor, chanted in support of Rothrock and verbally sparred with protesters.

The group Black Lives Matter is a Marxist front organization,” he said. “This is a call, as well as what Father Ted was saying, for people to wake up to what Black Lives Matter the organization is doing. They’re using race to destabilize and to divide this country over race during the time of a presidential election.”

Another group, organized by Jill Metz, gathered and prayed in support of Rothrock. Metz was quoted as saying

We feel that Father Ted spoke out in truth, and we’re to peaceably pray in support of all lives,” she said. “This should not be about Black lives. All lives matter. All lives.

I really have trouble getting my head around the fact that there are prosperous, privileged white suburbanites willing to join a public demonstration of support for a man who called Black activists “maggots and parasites”–not because they were counseling forgiveness for a racist message, but because they agreed with it.

In November, I guess we’ll see just how many of them there are, and whether those sudden Republican qualms are well-founded.

 

Did Trump Hand Us A Mirror?

Mirrors can be vicious–and educational.

I know I’m not the only one who finds it easy to indulge in forbidden food and drink, and to ignore the consequences–until I take a good look at myself in the mirror and decide it’s past time to begin that long-postponed diet and exercise regimen.

In a recent column for The Washington Post, Dana Milbank suggested a political analogy to that common phenomenon.

Four years ago, Christopher Parker, an African American political scientist at the University of Washington, made the provocative argument that Donald Trump’s candidacy could “do more to advance racial understanding than the election of Barack Obama.”

“Trump’s clear bigotry,” Parker wrote in the American Prospect, a liberal journal, “makes it impossible for whites to deny the existence of racism in America. . . . His success clashes with many white Americans’ vision of the United States as a fair and just place.”

Milbank lists several examples of Trump’s increasingly brazen embrace of racism; interestingly, the column appeared before the most recent example: his incendiary speech at Mount Rushmore, in which he barely stopped short of donning a white sheet.

It’s not just Trump. it is getting more and more difficult to ignore the evidence that the GOP has become the party of white supremacy. As Milbank reports,

Trump has accelerated a decades-old trend toward parties redefining themselves by race and racial attitudes. Racial resentment is now the single most important factor driving Republicans and Republican-leaning movers, according to extensive research, most recently by Nicholas Valentino and Kirill Zhirkov at the University of Michigan — more than religion, culture, class or ideology. An ongoing study by University of North Carolina researchers finds that racial resentment even drives hostility toward mask-wearing and social distancing. Conversely, racial liberalism now drives Democrats of all colors more than any other factor.

Milbank reviewed the changing responses of Americans to a question that has been used by several pollsters over a number of years to determine racial animus: the question asks people to agree or disagree with the statement “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.

In 2012, 56 percent of white Republicans agreed with that statement, according to the American National Election Studies. The number grew in 2016 with Trump’s rise, to 59 percent. Last month, an astonishing 71 percent of white Republicans agreed, according to a YouGov poll written by Parker and conducted by GQR (where my wife is a partner).

The opposite movement among white Democrats is even more striking. In 2012, 38 percent agreed that African Americans didn’t try hard enough. In 2016, that dropped to 27 percent. And now? Just 13 percent.

What these statistics don’t reflect is the rapidly diminishing number of Americans who identify as Republican, and the growing numbers of Democrats, Independents and “Never Trump” Republicans who find the party’s racism abhorrent.  Milbank quotes other political scientists whose research confirms the extent of that revulsion; white women, especially, are offended by the GOP’s appeals to racism.

Vincent Hutchings is a political scientist at the University of Michigan who specializes in public opinion research. He has found that racist appeals disproportionately alienate white, college-educated women, and has opined that such appeals exacerbate the gender gap even more than negative references to gender.

I’ve previously noted that the voluminous visual evidence of bigotry, captured and disseminated by our  ubiquitous cellphone cameras, has made it very difficult for comfortable white folks to believe that America is the idealized, equal-opportunity country described in dusty government textbooks. Every day, Donald Trump adds to that growing, uncomfortable body of evidence by loudly and publicly reconfirming his own ignorance and racism.

The iPhone pictures and videos, amplified by the constant tweets and utterances of a repulsive President, are providing Americans an extended look in the full-length mirror, and most of us don’t like what we see.

We need to remind ourselves that we have the power to change it.

 

 

When We Can’t Look Away

I’ve been harping on the role of pictures in generating social change–how the flood of visual testimony of racism, culminating in the video of George Floyd’s murder, has forced recognition of a reality too many Americans hadn’t previously understood–or wanted to acknowledge.

But a couple of recent columns–one by Michelle Goldberg and one by Russ Douthat–have expanded on that observation. Both writers suggest that seeing Donald Trump and experiencing the travesty that has been his administration have also been “pictures.”

Goldberg notes “two big examples” of how Trump’s presidency has triggered progress.

The sudden, rapid embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement by white people is a function of the undeniable brutality of George Floyd’s videotaped killing. But public opinion has also moved left on racial issues in reaction to an unpopular president who behaves like a cross between Bull Connor and Andrew Dice Clay.

And the thrilling 6-3 decision the Supreme Court just issued upholding L.G.B.T. equality wouldn’t be as devastating to the religious right if it had happened under a President Clinton.

Goldberg suggests that the Supreme Court’s LGBTQ decision dealt a real blow to the “but the Supreme Court!” argument made by conservative supporters of Trump. (And this was before the Court slapped him down on DACA.)

We’ve all encountered those people: yes, they’ll admit, Trump is an offensive ignoramus, someone we’d never socialize with or hire, but we need to support him in order to put conservative judges on the courts. (The argument used to be accompanied by “and look at your 401K!”–but that justification disappeared with Trump’s criminally incompetent “management” of the pandemic.)

The phrase “But Gorsuch” is shorthand for how conservatives justify all the moral compromises they’ve made in supporting Trump; controlling the Supreme Court makes it all worth it. So there’s a special sweetness in Gorsuch spearheading the most important L.G.B.T. rights decision since the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Goldberg quotes one conservative for the sentiment that, if Trump’s appointees can’t  deliver Supreme Court victories to social conservatives, “there’s no point.” If that reaction means that social conservatives will be less enthusiastic about heading to the polls in November, it makes the Court’s decision even more satisfying.

On the Sunday before announcement of the Court’s decision (which, I am happy to report, was accompanied by others that cheered me: refusal to hear a challenge to California’s refusal to co-operate with ICE, refusal to hear challenges to state gun control laws, and one protecting the Clean Water Act) Russ Douthat, one of the conservative columnists at the Times, attributed the increasingly leftward shift of public opinion to Trump’s Presidency, suggesting that “so long as he remains in office, Trump will be an accelerant of the right’s erasure, an agent of its marginalization and defeat, no matter how many of his appointees occupy the federal bench.”

In situations of crisis or grave difficulty, Trump displays three qualities, three spirits, that all redound against the movement that he leads. His spirit of authoritarianism creates a sense of perpetual crisis among his opponents, uniting left-wingers and liberals despite their differences. His spirit of chaos, the sense that nothing is planned or under control, turns moderates and normies against him. And finally his spirit of incompetence means that conservatives get far less out of his administration than they would from a genuine imperial president, a man of iron rather than of pasteboard.

Douthat concludes that Trump has been little short of a disaster for conservatives.

What we are seeing right now in America, an accelerated leftward shift, probably won’t continue at this pace through 2024. But it’s likely to continue in some form so long as Trump is conservatism, and conservatism is Trump — and four more years of trying to use him as a defensive salient is not a strategy of survival, but defeat.

For principled conservatives–in contrast to the more numerous racists and homophobes who’ve adopted the label–the Trump Presidency has been that very bad car wreck at the side of the road–the one every passing car slows down to gape at. 

It’s a horrifying picture, and they can’t look away. None of us can–and the compelling pileups keep coming.

Friday’s effort to fire the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York–this administration’s “Saturday night massacre”– looks to usher in an even more dramatic and compelling collision, as Barr frantically tries to keep the lid on pending disclosures and indictments…

Popcorn, anyone?

As a friend recently posted to Facebook, this isn’t government–it’s the Days of Our Lives. 

 

 

Remember The Kerner Report?

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson constituted the Kerner Commission, and asked its members to identify and analyze the social forces and dysfunctions that had triggered a national epidemic of inner-city riots in the 1960s.

Their findings weren’t what Johnson had anticipated or wanted.

Unhappy with the findings and the flaws they revealed in his “Great Society” agenda, Johnson ultimately distanced himself from the Kerner Report, even refusing to sign thank you cards to the commissioners.

The most famous paragraph, of course, was the one that warned “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

The report was an indictment of white America:

What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.

As an article from the Smithsonian recently put it, the Commission’s inquiry identified those “white institutions”: bad policing practices, a flawed justice system, unscrupulous consumer credit practices, poor or inadequate housing, high unemployment, voter suppression, and other “culturally embedded forms of racial discrimination” that had converged and triggered violent upheavals, primarily in African-American neighborhoods of American cities.

And as black unrest arose, inadequately trained police officers and National Guard troops entered affected neighborhoods, often worsening the violence.

Rereading the report, it is stunning to realize how much hasn’t changed, especially the escalation of violence caused by policing practices. 

Far too many of the “institutions” the Kerner Report identified still persist, half a century later. Thanks to cell phone cameras, America has almost daily evidence of bad policing. A robust academic criminal justice literature documents the flaws in our justice system. Redlining and other discriminatory banking practices continue, although somewhat abated. Housing issues persist. And vote suppression has become more sophisticated and–if anything–more widespread.

That said, there are some striking and hopeful differences in the eruptions we are currently experiencing. For one thing, the crowds on the streets are multi-cultural and largely peaceful. For another, polling reflects widespread public support for Black Lives Matter and for measures to (finally) address the issues first identified by the Kerner Commission.

Also hopeful (yes, I know–hope “springs eternal”) is growing recognition of the structural nature of racism. The Kerner Report was prescient in its use of the term “institutions.”

Racism isn’t just Neo-Nazi rioters chanting “they shall not replace us,”  or the KKK burning a cross, or the refusal of a business to hire or serve “those people.” It isn’t confined to overt bad behaviors or bigoted personal attitudes. 

Racism is implicated in our acceptance of mass incarceration, our failure to notice, let alone protest, social stereotypes, the widespread trust in– and easy acceptance of– official versions of police interactions that turned violent or deadly. It’s reflected in acceptance of the way we  finance public education–methods that ensure that affluent areas will have well-resourced schools while schools in poorer areas will struggle. It’s the reason for the persistent animus and political pushback against efforts to strengthen the social safety net–the reason Americans sneer at poor people, especially poor people of color, who accept “welfare,” while applauding the real recipients of welfare– the “captains of industry” who lobby for and profit from obscenely large subsidies.

In a particularly pertinent observation, the Kerner Report deplored the practice of arming police officers with more deadly weapons. Instead, it recommended “a policy which combines ghetto enrichment with programs designed to encourage integration of substantial numbers of Negroes into the society outside the ghetto.” 

It wasn’t just President Johnson who rejected the findings. Overall white response to the Kerner Report was hostile. According to the Smithsonian article,

White response to the Kerner Commission helped to lay the foundation for the law-and-order campaign that elected Richard Nixon to the presidency later that year. Instead of considering the full weight of white prejudice, Americans endorsed rhetoric that called for arming police officers like soldiers and cracking down on crime in inner cities.

Fifty years later, white America cannot afford to make the same mistake.

 

 

What’s The Same, What’s Different

If you had asked me in, say, 2003–as we were waging war in Iraq–whether I would ever look back on the Presidency of George W. Bush with anything less than disgust, I’d have suggested a mental health checkup. If someone had argued that, in retrospect, Richard Nixon had his good points, I’d have gagged.

But here we are.

George W. wasn’t–as the saying goes–the brightest bulb, and at times his religiosity tended to overcome his fidelity to the Constitution–but he listened to the people around him (granted, several were unfortunate choices) not his “gut,” and his faith was evidently sincere. His official performance left a lot to be desired, but when he left the Oval Office, the country was still standing. (Talk about a low bar–but still…) And he’s been a pretty decent former President.

Nixon was actually smart. True, he was paranoid and racist, but he was really good on environmental policy and worked (unsuccessfully) to improve the social safety net. As Paul Krugman recently wrote

Donald Trump isn’t Richard Nixon — he’s much, much worse. And America 2020 isn’t America 1970: We’re a better nation in many ways, but our democracy is far more fragile thanks to the utter corruption of the Republican Party.

The Trump-Nixon comparisons are obvious. Like Nixon, Trump has exploited white backlash for political gain. Like Nixon, Trump evidently believes that laws apply only to the little people.

Nixon, however, doesn’t seem to have been a coward. Amid mass demonstrations, he didn’t cower in the MAGAbunker, venturing out only after his minions had gassed peaceful protesters and driven them out of Lafayette Park. Instead, he went out to talk to protesters at the Lincoln Memorial. His behavior was a bit weird, but it wasn’t craven.

 And while his political strategy was cynical and ruthless, Nixon was a smart, hard-working man who took the job of being president seriously.

His policy legacy was surprisingly positive — in particular, he did more than any other president, before or since, to protect the environment. Before Watergate took him down he was working on a plan to expand health insurance coverage that in many ways anticipated Obamacare.

As Krugman–and many others–have pointed out, the most relevant difference between “then” (the 60s) and now is the profound change in the Republican Party and the spinelessness and lack of integrity of the people the GOP has elected. Yes, Trump is a much worse human being than even Richard Nixon; but the real problem lies with his enablers.

Trump’s unfitness for office, his obvious mental illness and intellectual deficits, his authoritarian instincts and racial and religious bigotries have all been on display since he first rode down that ridiculous escalator. But aside from a small band of “Never Trumpers,” today’s Republican Party has been perfectly happy to abandon its purported devotion to the Constitution and the rule of law–not to mention free trade– in return for the power to enrich its donors and appoint judges who will ensure the continued dominance of white Christian males.

The good news is that the GOP is a significantly smaller party than it was in Nixon’s day.  According to Pew,

In Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2017, 37% of registered voters identified as independents, 33% as Democrats and 26% as Republicans. When the partisan leanings of independents are taken into account, 50% either identify as Democrats or lean Democratic; 42% identify as Republicans or lean Republican.

The 8-percentage-point Democratic advantage in leaned partisan identification is wider than at any point since 2009, and a statistically significant shift since 2016, when Democrats had a 4-point edge (48% to 44%).

As utterly depressing as it is to see 42% of our fellow Americans still claiming allegiance to a political party that has shown itself to be unmoored from its principles and origins–and for that matter, antagonistic to fundamental American values–the fact remains that more people reject the party of white supremacy than embrace it.

Republicans who supported Nixon in the 60s rarely defend him these days. It will be interesting to see how today’s 42% remember their loyalties fifty years from now.

Assuming, of course, that we still have a country (and a planet) when the devastation wrought by this administration clears….