Category Archives: Racial Equality

When Someone Tells You Who They Are, Believe Them

In the wake of the horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton (ahem–not Toledo), President Trump robotically read the sort of statement Presidents are supposed to issue in such situations.

When questioned, Trump denied that his rhetoric had anything to do with the increase white nationalist violence, despite the fact that his language was echoed in the “manifesto” posted by the El Paso killer. According to media reports, Trump’s reelection campaign has run 2,199 Facebook ads referring to immigration along the US-Mexico border as an “invasion,” the same word used in the manifesto.

The massacres have re-ignited efforts to pass sensible gun regulations, regulations that are critically needed. They have also highlighted the connection between gun violence and the white supremacy this administration encourages.

The Guardian recently reviewed a book describing that link.

Why does the United States refuse to pass new gun control laws? It’s the question that people around the world keep asking.

According to Dr Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist and sociologist at Vanderbilt University, white supremacy is the key to understanding America’s gun debate. In his new book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, Metzl argues that the intensity and polarization of the US gun debate makes much more sense when understood in the context of whiteness and white privilege.

According to Metzl, white Americans are attempting to defend their status in the racial hierarchy by opposing gun control, healthcare expansion or public school funding. Of course, to sane people, that makes no sense; those are positions that end up injuring white guys as much or more than they hurt people of color.

The majority of America’s gun death victims are white men, and most of them die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. In all, gun suicide claims the lives of 25,000 Americans each year.

In an interview, Metzl explained the link.

So many aspects of American gun culture are really entwined with whiteness and white privilege.

Carrying a gun in public has been coded as a white privilege. Advertisers have literally used words like “restoring your manly privilege” as a way of selling assault weapons to white men. In colonial America, landowners could carry guns, and they bestowed that right on to poor whites in order to quell uprisings from “Negroes” and Indians. John Brown’s raid was about weapons. Scholars have written about how the Ku Klux Klan was aimed at disarming African Americans. When African Americans started to carry guns in public – think about Malcolm X during the civil rights era – all of a sudden, the second amendment didn’t apply in many white Americans’ minds. When Huey Newton and the Black Panthers tried to arm themselves, everyone suddenly said, “We need gun control.”

When states like Missouri changed their laws to allow open carry of firearms, there were parades of white Americans who would carry big long guns through congested areas of downtown St Louis, who would go into places like Walmart and burrito restaurants carrying their guns, and they were coded as patriots. At the same time, there were all the stories about African American gun owners who would go to Walmart and get tackled and shot.

Who gets to carry a gun in public? Who is coded as a patriot? Who is coded as a threat, or a terrorist or a gangster? What it means to carry a gun or own a gun or buy a gun – those questions are not neutral. We have 200 years of history, or more, defining that in very racial terms.

Metzl noted that the period after a mass shooting is often very telling; if a white man was the shooter, the narrative focuses on the “disordered” individual. When the shooter is black or brown, the disorder is cultural and the narrative is about terrorism or gangs.

Or invasions and “caravans.”

Trump and his voters have told us who they are in no uncertain terms. The 2020 election will tell us how numerous those voters are–and how many of the rest of us are sufficiently concerned to vote.

REALLY Telling It Like It Is

In the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, I’ve seen a number of heartfelt and pointed columns, posts and speeches. I’ve also seen responses by “the usual suspects,” insisting that the problem isn’t the obscene number and easy availability of guns–no, it’s mental health, or immigration (!), or (stupidest of all)  video games.

The “gun nuts”–a term I reserve for people who abandon any and all sanity in defense of unlimited gun ownership–have posted angry responses to Facebook messages advocating gun control measures.

My recent favorite was the idiot who claimed that guns aren’t the problem–evil people are the problem, and laws won’t stop people from being evil. I really do know better than to respond to such people, but I couldn’t help myself: I pointed out that, by his “logic,” America must have more evil people than all those countries where mass shootings don’t take place.

But in one sense, he has a point about “evil people.”

The shooting in El Paso was just the latest in a series of white nationalist terrorist attacks, encouraged by a despicable, racist President (who, among other things, has run 2,200 FB ads since last May using the word “invasion” to describe immigration). Trump’s bigotry is enabled by Republicans who are either equally racist or moral cowards unwilling to speak up.

I should note that there are exceptions. Two recent, powerful indictments of the white nationalist in the Oval Office are from two prominent conservatives who were (and perhaps still are) Republicans.

Conservative Jennifer Rubin has written that there is no excuse for supporting this President. She points to Trump’s vicious attacks on immigrants, his channeling of “replacement” conspiracy theories, his dehumanization of immigrants and his demonization of the media–and notes how often his words have been quoted by perpetrators of horrific racist acts.

 Michael Gerson’s column in the Washington Post is a must-read.

Gerson begins by saying he’d intended to ignore Trump’s latest outrages; he planned instead to write about “the self-destructive squabbling” of Democratic presidential candidates.

But I made the mistake of pulling James Cone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” off my shelf — a book designed to shatter convenient complacency. Cone recounts the case of a white mob in Valdosta, Ga., in 1918 that lynched an innocent man named Haynes Turner. Turner’s enraged wife, Mary, promised justice for the killers. The sheriff responded by arresting her and then turning her over to the mob, which included women and children. According to one source, Mary was “stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.”

God help us. It is hard to write the words. This evil — the evil of white supremacy, resulting in dehumanization, inhumanity and murder — is the worst stain, the greatest crime, of U.S. history. It is the thing that nearly broke the nation. It is the thing that proved generations of Christians to be vicious hypocrites. It is the thing that turned normal people into moral monsters, capable of burning a grieving widow to death and killing her child.

Trump supporters characterize his racist tweets and white-nationalist-encouraging rallies as “telling it like it is.” But it is Gerson who tells it like it really is.

Racism is the fire that left our country horribly disfigured. It is the beast we try to keep locked in the basement. When the president of the United States plays with that fire or takes that beast out for a walk, it is not just another political event, not just a normal day in campaign 2020. It is a cause for shame. It is the violation of martyrs’ graves. It is obscene graffiti on the Lincoln Memorial.

It is impossible for people of good will to deny the truth of his essay, or his closing words.

Trump’s continued offenses mean that a large portion of his political base is energized by racist tropes and the language of white grievance. And it means — whatever their intent — that those who play down, or excuse, or try to walk past these offenses are enablers.

Some political choices are not just stupid or crude. They represent the return of our country’s cruelest, most dangerous passion. Such racism indicts Trump. Treating racism as a typical or minor matter indicts us.

Click through and read the entire column. Then do whatever it takes to help get out the vote in 2020.

 

 

Doubling Down On Racism

Lest you dismiss Donald Trump’s racist history as unfortunate but irrelevant to the need to highlight the damage his policies are doing to the environment, to education, to working people, etc.–allow me to highlight the most recent evidence that he intends to make 2020 a referendum on white nationalism.

As the Washington Post reported,

President Trump ranted Saturday morning on Twitter about an African American lawmaker by disparaging the Baltimore district that Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.) represents as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

As chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings has initiated most of the investigations into the Trump administration’s operations and policies, including recently the reports of inhumane treatment at migrant detention centers.

Trump apparently got his “information” about Cummings’ district from Fox and Friends (too bad he doesn’t pay attention to briefings from administration officials who presumably know what they are talking about, but as has been widely reported, he prefers to rely on Faux News and his “stable genius” gut.)

Trump’s attack on Cummings is reminiscent of his recent racist attacks on four minority congresswomen who he said should “go back” to the “crime infested” places they were originally from and fix them before trying to improve America. All four women are U.S. citizens, and only one was born abroad.

Trump’s language was, as usual, inflammatory, ignorant and inaccurate. (Also as usual, ungrammatical.)

 . . As proven last week during a congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded. Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.

Why is so much money sent to the Elijah Cummings district when it is considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States. No human being would want to live there. Where is all this money going? How much is stolen? Investigate this corrupt mess immediately!”

Trump is incapable of participating in an evidence-based discussion or policy debate. His “go to” response is always ad hominem–an attack on the person with whom he disagrees. That said, as Americans turn their attention to the 2020 election, he has ramped up his attacks on people of color.

What about his contention that “no human” would want to live in Cummings’ district?

Baltimore is the third most dangerous city in the country behind Detroit and St. Louis, according to the FBI’s 2017 crime report. But Maryland’s 7th district, which Cummings has represented since 1996, includes about half of Baltimore city and has a median household income of around $60,000 and a higher percentage of college graduates than the country as a whole.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. Young released a statement defending both Cummings and his city, calling the president a “disappointment to the people of Baltimore, our country and to the world.”

“It’s completely unacceptable for the political leader of our country to denigrate a vibrant American City like Baltimore, and to viciously attack U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a patriot and a hero,” he said. “Mr. Trump’s rhetoric is hurtful and dangerous to the people he’s sworn to represent.”

Trump’s language in the tweet was instructive: CNN’s Victor Blackwell pointed out that Trump has often used the word “infested” to refer to places where black and brown people live. (It was also a word Hitler routinely used about Jews.)

Perhaps the best response to this profoundly unPresidential exhibit was an editorial in the Baltimore Sun. It’s uniformly great, but my favorite paragraph is the last one:

Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are “good people” among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.

Or as Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who served in the House alongside Cummings for many years, put it:

“Elijah Cummings grew up facing racist bullies like Trump and learned to confront them with qualities unknown to Trump: courage and integrity,” Van Hollen wrote. “The great people of Baltimore have something Trump craves but will never have as he degrades the Office of the President: dignity.”

We’re going to hear more from the racist incompetent as November of 2020 approaches, and–like these recent examples–it won’t be the usual GOP dog whistles. Trump wants 2020 to be a referendum on white nationalism because he thinks most Americans are racists who agree with him that a “great” America is a White America.

Pick your torch, and prove him wrong.

America: Pick A Torch

It’s impossible to read a newspaper without encountering a solemn “analysis” of what the Democrats absolutely must do in order to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.

Meanwhile, it becomes clearer every day that–stripped to its essence– the 2020 election will be about one overarching issue: what kind of country do we want to be?

A widely shared visual summed it up nicely with two photographs, side by side. One was a picture of Neo-Nazis with their tiki torches in Charlottesville; the second was a photo of the Statue of Liberty, focused on her torch. The caption asked “which torch will you choose?”

I rarely visit Twitter, but a friend directed me to a thread directly relevant to that question. 

The author was Tim Wise, a political consultant who was involved in two Louisiana campaigns against David Duke. Wise dismissed the handwringing, trolling and well-meaning advice being heaped on the Democrats.

If the Dems blow this election it will not be because they were “too far left on policy” or because they “weren’t left enough.” It will have little to do with policy at all. They are making a mistake caused by traditional consultant theory that does not apply here…

And by listening to influential pundits in liberal media who also don’t get the unique nature of Trumpism, relative to normal political movements & campaigns…this election is NOT going to be won by talking about all your “great plans” for health care, jobs, education, etc..

 And the reasons are several…Let me begin by saying that I have experience confronting the kind of phenomenon we see in Trumpism, and far more than most. Any of us who were involved in the fight against David Duke in LA in 90/91 know what this is and how it must be fought…

Wise then relayed his experience with campaigns against Duke. Political consultants warned against highlighting Duke’s racism; they said such a focus would play into Duke’s hands, and allow him to set the agenda.

Sound familiar?

In the Senate contest, the campaign followed mainstream advice not to “make a big deal” out of Duke’s racist appeals. To the extent they went negative, they talked about Duke paying his taxes late and avoiding service in Vietnam. They won, but very narrowly.

Wise regrets that approach because it normalized Duke. Attacking his bill paying habits or inadequate policy proposals “treated him like a normal candidate. But he was/is a NAZI…”

And none of his voters were voting 4 him bc of jobs, or tax policy or support for term limits, etc. And none were going to turn on him over late tax payments, Vietnam, etc. Indeed throwing that stuff out there & downplaying the elephant in the room (racism) seemed desperate..

It allowed people to say “well if he’s really this racist, white supremacist, why are they talking about all this other stuff?” It actually undermined our ability to paint him as the extremist he was/is. And as a result, the threat he posed was not clear enough to voters…

 And this didn’t just allow him to get votes he might not have gotten otherwise; it also depressed turnout among people who almost certainly disliked him but didn’t think he could win or would be all that big a deal if he did. In fact I recall convos with “liberals”…

Who said they weren’t going 2 vote bc after all Duke’s Dem opponent was just a shill for the oil and gas industry, and that was just as bad, blah blah fucking blah…because some lefties can’t tell the difference between corporatist assholes and actual literal Nazis…

 But we bore some responsibility for that because we got suckered into playing this conventional game and “not playing into his narrative.” Anyway, black and white liberal turnout is lower than it should have been and Duke gets 44% of vote…

In the Governor’s race we dispensed w/all that bullshit. We talked about Duke’s ongoing Nazism and the moral/practical evil of his racist appeals. We discussed how that moral evil would have real world consequences (driving tourists and business away, rightly so, from LA)..

Because it was wrong, and it was not who we wanted to be, and it was not who we were. We were better than that and needed to show the rest of the country that…

Now, did this flip any of Duke’s 1990 voters? Nah, not really. Indeed he got 65k MORE votes in the Governor’s race than the Senate race. But it was never about flipping them. We knew that would be almost impossible…

To flip Duke voters would require that they accept the fact that they had previously voted for a monster, and people are loath to do that. Our goal was not to flip them, but to DRIVE UP TURNOUT among the good folks, many of whom stayed home in 90…

And that is what happened. The concerted effort of the anti-Duke forces (not just us), challenging Duke’s “politics of prejudice,” and making the election about what kind of state we wanted to be, drove turnout through the roof…

When it was over, Duke had gotten 65k more votes than in 90, but his white share went to 55 (from 60) and overall to 39 (from 44) because the anti-Duke turnout swamped him…So what does this have to do with 2020 and Trump? Do I really need to explain it?…

First, trying to flip Trump voters is a waste of time. Any of them who regret their vote don’t need to be pandered to. They’ll do the right thing. Don’t focus on them. That said, very few will regret their vote. They cannot accept they voted for a monster or got suckered…

Duke retained 94% of the folks he got the first time out (and got new people too), as Trump likely will. So forget these people–or at least don’t wast time tailoring messages to them. And policy plans for affordable college don’t mean shit to them, nor health care…

Their support for Trump was never about policy. It was about the bigotry, the fact that he hates who they hate…

Wise is right. Much as we might wish it were otherwise, in 2020, America will choose a torch. Pray it’s the right one.

 

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.