Category Archives: Racial Equality

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.

“The Black Guy Did It!”

Have you noticed that whenever there is a particularly sharp public outcry over something Donald Trump is doing–a level of pushback that exceeds the expressions of distaste, disagreement and/or horror that regularly greet his version of “policy”–he blames whatever it is on Obama?

The Washington Post gives four Pinocchios to the latest example of Trump’s “don’t blame me, it was the black guy who did it” evasion, his insistence that his inhumane and illegal family separation policy was really Obama’s. They quote him:

“President Obama had child separation. Take a look. The press knows it, you know it, we all know it. I didn’t have — I’m the one that stopped it. President Obama had child separation. … President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed it, okay?”

Trump keeps doubling down on that falsehood. Every time he is attacked about family separation, he repeats it. As the Post reports,

This is a Four Pinocchio claim, yet Trump keeps repeating it when he’s pressed on family separations.

Repetition can’t change reality. There is simply no comparison between Trump’s family separation policy and the border enforcement actions of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

In the article, the fact-checker reports that the Obama Administration had actually rejected such a proposal, and that neither the Obama Administration nor the Bush Administration had created or enforced a policy of family separation.

The zero-tolerance approach is worlds apart from the Obama- and Bush-era policy of separating children from adults at the border only in limited circumstances, such as when officials suspected human trafficking or another kind of danger to the child or when false claims of parentage were made.

The article concludes with quotes from Trump–responses to questions, tweets, etc.–documenting the number of times he repeated the lie that the policy was inherited from Obama, and the article links to the copious database of Trump lies that the newspaper maintains.

This particular falsehood illustrates the two utterly reliable aspects of the man who inexplicably occupies the Oval Office: his hatred of Barack Obama (how dare a black man be so obviously superior to him?) and people of color generally; and his inability to tell the truth. (I’m not sure he even recognizes the difference between objective facts and his preferred fantasies.)

The problem is, as Joseph Stiglitz has  recently reminded us,  America’s successes–both moral and economic–have rested on a process of experimentation, learning and adaptation that requires a commitment to ascertaining the truth.

Americans owe much of their economic success to a rich set of truth-telling, truth-discovering and truth-verifying institutions. Central among them are freedom of expression and media independence. Like all people, journalists are fallible; but, as part of a robust system of checks and balances on those in positions of power, they have traditionally provided an essential public good.

America’s “greatness” has depended upon–and varied with– the extent to which the nation has adhered to that truth-telling and has honored human rights and the rule of law. Greatness is not a product of bluster, or White Supremacy, or faux Christianity, or the worship of wealth and power and celebrity; it is a product of evidence-based allegiance to individual liberty and civic equality.

If we really want to make America great, we need to eject Trumpism, with its racism and “alternate facts,” not just from the White House, but from American culture.

Demagoguery

The Washington Spectator arrives via my snail-mail (many thanks to Gerald Stinson!), so I can’t link to the article, but the most recent version contained a fascinating essay by one Patricia Roberts-Miller, who is a Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin.

She begins by acknowledging a recurring question posed by most sane Americans: why in the world hasn’t Trump’s obvious incompetence, constant lying and childish language and behavior undercut his standing with his base?

One answer to that question–an answer that research continues to confirm–is that the base shares his racism/White nationalism, and for his base, that animus outweighs everything else. But Roberts-Miller provides a different–albeit not inconsistent–analysis, involving the language of demagoguery.

She cites to a rhetoric scholar who analyzed Hitler’s use of language and characterized it as a “relentless repetition” of the “bastardization of religious thought.” The “religious ways of thinking” that lent themselves to bastardization included identification of a common enemy, allied with scapegoating and projection.

Demagoguery, she points out, “displaces policy argumentation with praise of “us” and condemnation of “them.”

Roberts-Miller also says we should not be surprised by Evangelical Christian support for Trump, since conservative Christian Germans overwhelmingly supported Hitler and conservative Christian Americans previously supported slavery, segregation and lynching.

Although she takes care to say that Trump isn’t Hitler, she admits the parallels are troubling. Hitler railed against a socialist Parliament, internationalism (what we would call globalism), the presence of aliens, rampant immigration, liberalism and the liberal media (which he claimed was “stabbing him in the back”).

And of course, he promised to “make Germany great again.”

Roberts-Miller says that Trump’s use of demagogic rhetoric is less important than the fact that his “rise to power was fueled by a demagoguery that reflected the racist, xenophobic, misogynist and authoritarian values” of today’s iteration of the GOP. As she notes, Trump didn’t bother with dog whistles; he just came right out and said shocking things–“and the GOP media machine didn’t condemn him for it. They justified it, promoted it, and repeated it.”

So here’s where we are in today’s America. In a country and an era where the structures of democracy no longer work, we are governed–thanks to vote suppression, gerrymandering, and the current operation of the Electoral College–by a minority of our fellow citizens who subscribe to a set of pernicious beliefs and act out of a set of visceral resentments that are inimical both to America’s founding values and to human rights. Rather than finding Trump’s inarticulate use of language bizarre and repulsive, his language actually speaks to them. It reinforces their sense of grievance and their belief in their own victimization.

We’re getting a master class in demagoguery.

The Anger Games

Wonder why we keep seeing reports like this one from Talking Points Memo?

Bennett Bressman has “more compassion for small dogs than illegals” and claims his “whole political ideology revolves around harming journalists.” He uses the n-word freely and cracks jokes about the Holocaust.

Bressman also happens to have served as statewide field director for Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ successful 2018 reelection campaign.

A shocking trove of leaked private messages Bressman sent over Discord, a gaming platform popular with white nationalists, were surfaced Sunday by Anti-Fascist Action Nebraska. Under the handle “bress222,” Bressman made over 3,000 comments on the page for white nationalist YouTuber Nicholas Fuentes’ show America First. The chats were made public by Unicorn Riot, a volunteer nonprofit media outlet devoted to exposing the internal communications of white nationalists.

The Nebraska GOP declared itself “horrified” by the disclosures, and if this were a “one-off,” I’d be inclined to give the party a pass. But it comes on the heels of too many similar revelations and the constant stream of “dog whistles” and worse from Trump and numerous other Republican candidates and officeholders.

A recent sociological study confirms what many of us have suspected: these sentiments are widely shared in the GOP.  Far from “horrifying” good people who inexplicably voted for Trump, these attitudes are actually the reason they cast those not-so-inexplicable-after-all ballots.

New research by University of Kansas sociologists David Smith and Eric Hanley demonstrates how a socially combustible mix of racism and sexism, in combination with anger and bullying, put the United States on a path to authoritarianism.

 Writing in “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?”, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Critical Sociology, Smith and Hanley summarize their new research:

We find that Trump’s supporters voted for him mainly because they share his prejudices, not because they’re financially stressed. It’s true, as exit polls showed, that voters without four-year college degrees were likelier than average to support Trump. But millions of these voters — who are often stereotyped as “the white working class” — opposed Trump because they oppose his prejudices. These prejudices, meanwhile, have a definite structure, which we argue should be called authoritarian: negatively, they target minorities and women; and positively, they favor domineering and intolerant leaders who are uninhibited about their biases.

Furthermore, the authors report, what unified Trump’s voters was not “economic anxiety” but prejudice and intolerance. What they define as authoritarian views were “strongly associated with support for Donald Trump.” Political polarization, although it definitely exists, is not strictly a “class phenomenon,” in their view. Trump voters came “from many strata and milieus” and “the effects of class are mediated … through biases and other attitudes.”

Smith and Hanley’s research identified eight attitudes that reinforced each other and predicted support for Trump: self- identifying as conservative; a desire for a “domineering” leader; Christian fundamentalism, animus against immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims and women; and “pessimism about the economy.”

The research concluded what many of us suspected: people didn’t vote for Trump “despite” his obvious prejudices; they voted for him because they shared those prejudices. It was the basis upon which they identified with him.

Assuming the accuracy of this research (and I do), the rest of us will have to come to terms with two very unpalatable facts: (1)some 35% of our country’s citizens are racist, and (2) they are not going to desert Trump. They aren’t going to recoil as his administration and cabinet wreak havoc on the economy, the environment, and the social fabric. So long as he hates the same people they hate, they will continue to support him.

For that (disconcertingly large) minority of the population, he really could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue without losing their allegiance. And that is terrifying.