Category Archives: Random Blogging

Losing Privilege And Throwing A Tantrum

In 2016, following Trump’s win of the Electoral College vote, reasonable Americans  debated a foundational question: why? What would prompt a voter to cast a ballot for someone so obviously unfit for any office, let alone the Presidency? There were plenty of theories offered: hatred of Hillary, misogyny, a desire to blow up “the system,” Trump’s overt appeal to racism.

In the almost three years that have followed, the question changed. Now the mystery is his continued support by a significant majority of present-day Republicans. (I say present-day, because there have been sizable defections from the GOP in the wake of Trump’s election.) After three years of embarrassing behavior, constant obvious lies, and ample evidence of both ignorance and mental illness, how has he managed to retain the loyalty of his base?

A lot of us have guessed the (depressing) answer, but three years of academic research and simple observation have confirmed it. As a recent article initially published by Salon put it,

Trumpism is a form of backlash politics fueled by white rage at a perceived loss of privilege and power in a more diverse and cosmopolitan world. Trumpism is a temper tantrum along the global color line fueled by anxieties about power and social dominance.

That about sums it up.

It isn’t like the administration is trying to hide its bigotry. Aside from the horrendous treatment of brown people seeking asylum, there have been homophobic Executive orders about who can serve in the armed forces, anti-Semitic characterizations of Jews who disagree with Trump’s policies on Israel, attacks on Congresspersons of color, and a wide variety of other assaults aimed at those considered “other.”

Recently, reporters uncovered the fact that the Justice Department, among others, has been including white nationalist propaganda in official emails.

The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review last week included a blog post from an anti-immigrant hate site in its daily news briefing to immigration court employees—and it was no accident: BuzzFeed News reports it has done this several times over the past year. It hasn’t been just the DOJ, either. “In addition, similar newsletters sent to the Labor Department, ICE, HUD, and the Department of Homeland Security included links and content from hyperpartisan and conspiracy-oriented publishers.” Among the sites have been Western Journal and Epoch Times, two sites that have spread birther and QAnon nonsense.

But a good chunk of this egregious behavior has come from the Justice Department, which has distributed links from VDARE, a white supremacist site popular with anti-Semites and other shits, at least six times since last September. In the most recent incident last week, the Justice Department shared a VDARE post that attacked immigration judges by name and “with racial and ethnically tinged slurs,” said National Association of Immigration Judges Union President Ashley Tabaddor. “If I had sent this,” she commented, “I would be facing serious disciplinary action.”

As the Salon report noted,

In their 2016 article “Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism,” social scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris also locate Trumpism as part of a global right-wing movement that is channeling what they describe as “retro backlash.” This is a feeling “especially among the older generation, white men, and less educated sectors, who sense decline and actively reject the rising tide of progressive values, resent the displacement of familiar traditional norms, and provide a pool of supporters potentially vulnerable to populist appeals.”

In the absence of principled Republicans in the Senate, Trump has been able to populate government agencies and–what is more frightening–the federal bench with men (and a very few women) who share his hostility to disfavored minorities.

The Salon article cites research suggesting that Trump voters embrace chaos in the hopes that what emerges will allow them to regain what they feel they have lost.

Whatever the psychology, there is one overriding lesson for Democrats: they will not “peel off” many–if any–Republican voters. Those who still support Trump are a lost cause, and trying to appeal to them is a fool’s errand. What will defeat Trump and his cult is turnout. 

Most Americans, fortunately, strongly disapprove of Trump and his racism. Our job is to make sure they vote.

How Important Do You Think You Are?

Every once in a while, we all run into someone who has been successful at something, generated some positive PR, and let it go to his head. (I say “his” advisedly–although I’ve encountered a few women like this, it generally has been a dude.)

It’s a bad idea to believe your own media hype. It can foster a misplaced sense of entitlement.

It isn’t only individuals who fall into the trap of thinking that–since they have earned praise for doing X–they are entitled to do Y and Z (and sometimes A,B and C…) Organizations can be equally self-important.  My last column for the Indiana Business Journal considered an Indianapolis example: the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

For those of you who live elsewhere, I should explain that the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has long been one of our city’s points of pride. It’s the largest children’s museum in the country, and it has been a lure for tourists and a source of bragging rights for locals. But as my grandmother might have put it, over the years it has gotten “too big for its britches.”

The museum is located in a low-income neighborhood on the near north side of the city. These days, admission fees range from $12 to $35—far more than most of the low-income families and children in its neighborhood can manage, and there are few free days.

The museum’s structure fronts on Illinois Street, a one-way north thoroughfare, and backs onto Meridian Street, a parallel and immensely significant north-south corridor. A drive past the museum on Illinois takes you past its massive parking garage and a seemingly endless string of parking lots on real estate it has purchased and cleared over the years. (Among the structures demolished in the neighborhood was an architecturally notable—and affordable—apartment building.)

The bleak transformation of the neighborhood surrounding the ever-expanding museum is one thing; the museum’s total indifference to the significance of Meridian Street and the transit goals of the city is another.

Most recently, the museum built a “Sports Legends Experience” (an enormous children’s playground) fronting Meridian Street. What the garish “Experience” has to do with the mission of a museum is a legitimate question (and a number of people have asked it), but a far more pertinent one is why the museum thought this was an appropriate use of this particular real estate.

Meridian isn’t just the primary north-south street in Indianapolis; it has long been considered one of the most prestigious residential streets in the state. Even the decades of suburbanization didn’t dim its importance. As this is written, significant sums are being spent to upgrade the stately apartments directly across the street from the unfortunate playground; just a few doors down is an architectural gem, the Drake, which the museum has purchased and proposes to demolish and replace with–wait for it!– yet another parking lot.

On Meridian Street. Where the Red Line–Indianapolis’ first effort at a modern and efficient rapid-transit line– just opened, and where the city administration is prioritizing residential density to support it.

Why the museum acquired the Drake and an adjacent structure is unknown. It certainly doesn’t need more parking (and if it did, it could build another garage on one of the multiple lots it already owns). Museum officials say they issued an RFP, but no developers emerged who wanted to buy and restore the Drake; however, the last time I checked, the museum was stonewalling efforts by the city and Indiana Landmarks (our historic preservation organization) to see that RFP.

The City and local Community Development Corporations have offered to participate financially in rehabilitation of the Drake. Indiana Landmarks has identified potential bidders who could buy and restore the building. An architect friend of mine is working with a developer who has demonstrated capacity and a track record, and who wants to convert the Drake into a boutique hotel.

They have all been rebuffed.

Why the museum is so determined to demolish the historically-significant Drake—especially considering the professed absence of plans for long-range use of the real estate, and despite incompatible priorities of the city– is mystifying.

For many years, the Children’s Museum has been an important asset to Indianapolis. But over the years, that status has encouraged it to act with impunity—to dominate its neighborhood, demolish much of that neighborhood’s built environment, engage in various competitions with for-profit venues, and generally go about its business with little or no regard for the priorities and interests of the city and its residents.

Demolishing the Drake and further mutilating the Meridian streetscape should be a step too far.

The museum’s arrogance  is a textbook example of how an asset becomes a liability.

The Era Of Disinformation

I know I’ve shared this story before, but it seems more relevant than ever. After publication of my first book (What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing at the ACLU?), I was interviewed on a South Carolina radio call-in show. It turned out to be the Rush Limbaugh station, so listeners weren’t exactly sympathetic.

A caller challenged the ACLU’s opposition to the then-rampant efforts to post the Ten Commandments on government buildings. He informed me that James Madison had said “We are giving the Bill of Rights to people who follow the Ten Commandments.” When I responded that Madison scholars had debunked that “quotation” (a fabrication that had been circulating in rightwing echo chambers), and that, by the way, it was contrary to everything we knew Madison had said, he yelled “Well, I choose to believe it!” and hung up.

That caller’s misinformation–and his ability to indulge his confirmation bias–have been amplified enormously by the propaganda mills that litter the Internet. The New York Times recently ran articles about one such outlet, and the details are enough to chill your bones.

It may not be a household name, but few publications have had the reach, and potentially the influence, in American politics as The Western Journal.

Even the right-wing publication’s audience of more than 36 million people, eclipsing many of the nation’s largest news organizations, doesn’t know much about the company, or who’s behind it.

Thirty-six million readers–prresumably, a lot like the caller who chose to believe what he wanted to believe.

The “good news”–sort of–is that the Silicon Valley is making an effort to lessen its reach.

The site has struggled to maintain its audience through Facebook’s and Google’s algorithmic changes aimed at reducing disinformation — actions the site’s leaders see as evidence of political bias.

This is the question for our “Information Age”–what is the difference between an effort to protect fact-based information and political bias ? And who should have the power to decide? As repulsive as this particular site appears to be, the line between legitimate information and “curated reality” is hard to define.

Here’s the lede for the Times investigative report on the site:

Each day, in an office outside Phoenix, a team of young writers and editors curates reality.

In the America presented on their news and opinion website, WesternJournal.com, tradition-minded patriots face ceaseless assault by anti-Christian bigots, diseased migrants and race hustlers concocting hate crimes. Danger and outrages loom. A Mexican politician threatens the “takeover”of several American states. Police officers are kicked out of an Arizona Starbucks. Kamala Harris, the Democratic presidential candidate, proposesa “$100 billion handout” for black families.

The report notes that the publication doesn’t bother with reporters. Nevertheless, it shapes the political beliefs of those 36 million readers– and in the last three years, its Facebook posts earned three-quarters of a billion shares, likes and comments, “almost as many as the combined tally of 10 leading American news organizations that together employ thousands of reporters and editors.”

The Western Journal rose on the forces that have remade — and warped — American politics, as activists, publishers and politicians harnessed social media’s power and reach to serve fine-tuned ideological content to an ever-agitated audience. Founded by the veteran conservative provocateur Floyd G. Brown, who began his career with the race-baiting “Willie Horton” ad during the 1988 presidential campaign, and run by his younger son, Patrick, The Western Journal uses misleading headlines and sensationalized stories to attract partisans, then profit from their anger.

But Silicon Valley’s efforts to crack down on clickbait and disinformation have pummeled traffic to The Western Journal and other partisan news sites. Some leading far-right figures have been kicked off social media platforms entirely, after violating rules against hate speech and incitement. Republican politicians and activists have alleged that the tech companies are unfairly censoring the right, threatening conservatives’ ability to sway public opinion and win elections.

In the U.S., only government can “censor” in violation of the First Amendment. But tech platforms have vast power to determine what Americans see, whether the exercise of that power is legally considered censorship or not, and they will increasingly determine what Americans see and read.

Most of my students get their news from social media. To say that the outcome (not to mention the sincerity) of Silicon Valley’s efforts to clean up cyberspace will determine what kind of world we inhabit isn’t hyperbole.

 

Trump’s Base

There is a recurring conversation among reasonable people–a category that includes long-time Republicans who now feel disenfranchised, as well as Democrats and the diminishing   number of genuine Independents–that revolves around a single question: how can anyone continue to support Donald Trump? Who are the people in his (evidently fervent) base? And what in the world is wrong with them?

What prompts that question is a recognition that rejection of Trump isn’t political. It’s moral.

Most Americans who were raised to be polite to other people, who were taught to value modesty and integrity, who honored George Washington by insisting that he “never told a lie,” who were raised to pay their debts and own their mistakes, see Donald Trump as the polar opposite of these virtues. People who value knowledge and education see a man who is not only utterly devoid of intellect, but proud of it.

Above all, for those of us who were raised to believe that racism and associated bigotries are not only wrong, but unAmerican, Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of those bigotries reveals him to be an altogether repulsive figure.

I have significant political and policy disagreements with Republican friends who are “never Trumpers” (and with plenty of my Democratic friends as well). What we all have in common, however, is a belief that immorality and ignorance are flaws, not virtues, and dread about the immense harm this administration is doing every day.

That brings me to the question with which I introduced this meditation: who are the people who can look at Trump’s daily, egomaniacal, misspelled tweet-rants, his word-salad harangues, his documented whoppers and corruption, and the overwhelming evidence that he is seriously mentally ill–and still support him?

Thomas Edsell tried to answer that question in a recent New York Times column. He concluded that Trump’s coalition is dependent upon better-off white people who did not graduate from college.

On Feb. 24, 2016, after winning the Nevada caucuses, Donald Trump told supporters in Las Vegas, “I love the poorly educated.”

Technically, he should have said “I love poorly educated white people,” but his point was well taken.

We have been talking about this since Trump came down that escalator four years ago, but we haven’t quite reckoned with the depth of the changes in the electorate or the way they have reshaped both parties.

Edsell shares data showing that college-educated white voters have been leaving the Republican Party, with the biggest shift occurring between 2016 to 2018.

Political scientists at Duke and Ohio State make the argument that the transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy has produced “tectonic shifts” leading to an “education-income partisan realignment” — a profound realignment of voting patterns that has effectively turned the political allegiances of the white sector of the New Deal coalition that dominated the middle decades of the last century upside down.

Driven by what the authors call “first dimension” issues of economic redistribution, on the one hand, and by the newer “second dimension issues of citizenship, race and social governance,” the traditional alliances of New Deal era politics — low-income white voters without college degrees on the Democratic Party side, high-income white voters with degrees on the Republican side — have switched places. According to this analysis, these two constituencies are primarily motivated by “second dimension” issues, often configured around racial attitudes, which frequently correlate with level of education.

According to this analysis, it isn’t white working-class voters who form the base upon which Trump depends–it’s relatively well-off, low-education whites.

Edsell also notes the obvious: the support of Evangelical Christians:

The key bloc for both Trump and the Republican Party is made up of white Christian evangelicals. Eight out of ten of these voters cast ballots for Trump, and intensely religious voters make up 40 percent of the Republican electorate.

The column is lengthy, and the analysis is interesting–especially the discussion about the true values (as opposed to the professed values) of that Evangelical bloc–but it’s impossible to avoid the obvious conclusion: Trump’s base (which is today’s GOP) is composed of people who fear cultural displacement by those “others.” They are willing to overlook the ignorance, the nastiness, the corruption and dishonesty, and all the harm being done, because they share the bigotry.

For Trump’s base, hate isn’t a bug. It’s the feature that overwhelms all else.

I Think It’s Too Late For The White Nationalists….

I’ve been posting this week from Stockholm, Sweden, where I’ve been attending a fascinating conference on Social Citizenship, Migration and Conflict. The issues involved are important, and once I’ve absorbed the papers being presented, I’ll undoubtedly blog about  what I’m learning and what the research tells us, but this post is based on my own perceptions and very unscientific anecdotes.

First, a caveat: the last time I visited Stockholm was some 20 years ago, and it was a very “touristy” visit. This time, I’m out of the city center, in a neighborhood next to the University of Stockholm, which is hosting the conference, so much more likely to see “real life” Swedes going about their business.

The most immediate impression: the people I see on the streets, in the (incredibly clean, convenient and efficient) subway, and on campus are absolutely indistinguishable from crowds in any sizable American city. They include the (mostly young) people on scooters just like the ones we have in Indianapolis, and  the numerous people who are wearing jeans and/or headphones, or are fixated on their smartphones.

There are ATMs everywhere, terrible traffic, lots of advertising….

And there appears to be enormous diversity. Walking back to my hotel from the subway station I passed several Asians, a man I would call African-American at home (I guess he’s African-Swedish), two inter-racial couples, and several typically Nordic-looking folks speaking a variety of languages, including British and American English.

It was the same on the planes I flew getting here; passengers and crew alike represented a wide variety of nationalities. On KLM–Royal Dutch Airlines–the pilot introduced the flight attendants, who were male and female, black and white and (like Ms. Rodriguez) Latino.

The hysterical right-wingers mounting a last-ditch effort to defeat globalization and cosmopolitanism are too late. Middle-class folks, at least those from first-world countries, have become used to casually crossing borders, adopting each others’ cuisines and fashions, and working together on everything from construction projects to scholarly research. The two block stretch from my hotel to the subway station hosts a French cafe, a sushi restaurant, a gelato shop, and an establishment touting German beer.

There are still plenty of places on this planet that Americans would experience as  exotic, but increasingly–at least in the west–large cities and their polyglot populations look pretty much like the places we call home. In a way, that’s regrettable–on my taxi drive from the airport, we passed McDonalds, Starbucks, a Ford showroom and numerous other establishments that mirror those dotting the American landscape. Although we also passed buildings that are architecturally recognizable as Swedish, there are a lot more that look pretty much like the buildings back home. Admittedly, this sort of homogenization deprives us of encounters with formerly unique–or at least different– cultures, and that is a loss.

Offsetting that loss is the immense increase in interaction and the resulting recognition that we are all members of one human family.

The process of globalization and integration is inexorable. It is no longer in its infancy–it’s probably at least at the toddler stage. It clearly has a long way to go, but my sense is that it is just too far along to be reversed. Too many people have seen enough of the world to be inoculated against tribalism– the notion (fear?) that there is something alien and dangerous about humans from other places, who speak other languages, or have different skin colors.

Too many people recognize the truth: White Nationalism barely elected Donald Trump and narrowly authorized Brexit, but those “victories” were among the last gasps of a dying world order.

It won’t be missed.