Tag Archives: bigotry

Behavior Is Fair Game–Identity Isn’t

The horrific attacks on Mosque worshippers in New Zealand are more evidence–as if we needed more–of the global eruption of tribalism and bigotry.

That bigotry has been encouraged, and defended, by Donald Trump and his supporters, who traffic in stereotypes and like to shrug off criticisms of slurs based on race, religion and sexual orientation as “political correctness.” They deliberately ignore the very consequential difference between legitimate criticisms of behavior and illegitimate accusations based upon identity that fuel intergroup enmity.

It’s a crucial distinction, and one with which even well-meaning Americans struggle, as we’ve recently seen in the debate triggered by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

I hadn’t posted about the explosive reactions to Congresswoman Omar’s comments, for a couple of reasons: first, there have been plenty of columns, blog posts and Facebook rants without my adding my two cents; and second, because I know very little about the Congresswoman and thus lack a context within which to evaluate whether her use of a couple of old anti-Semitic tropes was inadvertent or purposeful.

That said, I tend to give her the benefit of the doubt. I have a sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t have been subject to such blowback had she not been Muslim. (It took years of overt hate speech before Steve King’s vitriol bothered his fellow Republicans. Islamophobia isn’t any prettier than anti-Semitism.)

Inadvertent or not, the reaction to her remarks makes it important to emphasize that criticism of Israel is not in and of itself anti-Semitic.  Plenty of American Jews are highly critical of Israeli policies and Netanyahu. I am one of them. Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo, is another.

As Marshall recently noted,

the Israeli right and its supporters in the US (who are overwhelmingly evangelical Christians) have reaped the whirlwind by making the Netanyahu government’s meddling in US politics so frequent and expected. It is not only wrong on the merits. It is insanely shortsighted for Israel. It also endangers American Jews.

As he concluded,

There is nothing wrong with criticizing Israel. I agree with many of the main criticisms. There’s nothing about criticizing Israel that is anti-Semitic, though the two things can overlap. And the history of anti-Semitism being what it is, it behooves critics to stay their criticism in ways that doesn’t easily play into anti-Semitic stereotypes. But the Israeli right and its American allies have made all of this more difficult for American Jews, who are overwhelmingly identified with the party the current Israeli government considers itself opposed to.

When critics suggest that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, when they are conspicuously silent when far less democratic countries in the region like Saudi Arabia oppress women or kill journalists, or when they signal that their animus toward Israel extends to American Jews–yes, that’s anti-Semitic, and they should be called out on it.

For that matter, no one should be surprised that people who have a five-thousand-year history of hatred and discrimination would be a bit… sensitive… when old tropes play. But criticism of Israeli actions and/or policies is fair game, and it shouldn’t be deflected by unfair charges of anti-Semitism.

On the other hand, sweeping characterizations of Jews–or Muslims, or African-Americans or any other group–is bigotry. Condoning it–let alone tacitly encouraging it, as Trump clearly does– leads to tragedies like the massacre in New Zealand.

 

 

 

Grateful For Our Nation Of Immigrants

NBC, among other news outlets, recently ran an article showcasing Jin Park, a Harvard student who recently won a Rhodes Scholarship. Jin is a DACA recipient; he was brought to the US when he was seven years old.

“I’m thankful and I think it’s a testament to if you give immigrants in America an opportunity, if you allow us to live fully in our truth and see us totally in our personhood, this is the kind of thing that can happen,” he said.

Park is currently completing his bachelor of arts at Harvard in molecular and cellular biology,according to a biography provided by the Rhodes Trust. Park plans on pursuing master’s degrees in migration studies and global health science and epidemiology at Oxford, according to the biography.

Whatever one’s feelings about undocumented adult immigrants, Jin and other DACA recipients were brought here as children. They didn’t have the capacity to make a decision to enter the country illegally, and they shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ actions.

DACA aside, there are many reasons America should be welcoming immigrants, not trying to wall them out.

I’ve previously posted about the incredible contributions to the American economy made by immigrants–both documented and not– and their children.

More than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Collectively, companies founded by immigrants and their children employ more than 10 million people worldwide; and the revenue they generate is greater than the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S., China and Japan.

I was reminded of those contributions when I opened last week’s issue of the Indianapolis Business Journal. The IBJ has a yearly feature called “Forty Under Forty,” in which the publication showcases up and coming “movers and shakers”–young people who have made a demonstrable impact in Indianapolis’ business, nonprofit and public organizations and civic life. Over the years, the diversity of those included has steadily grown–there are more black and brown faces and many more women than was the case some ten or more years ago.

There are also a lot more immigrants or children of immigrants. I didn’t count, but I’d estimate that the descriptions accompanying the photos identified nearly a quarter of this year’s honorees as either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. These young men and women are already making substantial contributions to our city and state–contributions from which all of us benefit.

Sentient Americans understand that Trump’s fevered and stubborn insistence on building a wall is both stupid (most undocumented people have flown in and overstayed a visa) and racist (he doesn’t want a wall between us and Canada, and he issued an invitation to Norwegians). That isn’t to say the wall wouldn’t have an effect, but that effect would be symbolic: it would send a message to brown people that they are not welcome here, and it would reaffirm the real basis of Trump’s appeal in the eyes of his supporters: his promise to make America White again.

As I looked through the accomplishments of this year’s list of 40 Under 40, all I could think of was the incredible amount of talent, entrepreneurship and work ethic that Indiana and America stand to lose if Trump and his supporters prevail.

I for one am immensely grateful I don’t live in a nation populated with versions of Don Jr. and Eric.

 

And The Evidence Accumulates…

“Hate is a normal part of life. Get over it.”

Offensive as that sentiment about the “normalcy” of hate is, it’s probably correct. I prefer a different version of “getting over it,” however; the challenge of our time–made critical by Trump and Trumpism–is indeed “getting over it.” As in, refusing to normalize or condone it.

The quotation itself came about halfway through a recent Washington Post article documenting the rise of racist and anti-Semitic messages in the wake of Trump’s election.

Racist and anti-Semitic content has surged on shadowy social media platforms — spiking around President Trump’s Inauguration Day and the “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville — spreading hate speech and extremist views to mainstream audiences, according to an analysis published this week.

The findings, from a newly formed group of scientists named the Network Contagion Research Institute who studied hundreds of millions of social media messages, bolster a growing body of evidence about how extremist speech online can be fueled by real-world events.

It’s actually pretty predictable that messages from “real world” events would be discussed and amplified on social media. What is far more disturbing is the iterative relationship between social media and the “real world,” revealed by the article. The cycle begins with a real-world event–in this case, Trump’s election–that triggers a burst of online response–in this case, a celebration of bigotry. That online response begins in the dark corners of the Internet, but thanks to its connection to the “real world,” it doesn’t stay there.  It infects more mainstream outlets.

One of the studies referenced in the article identified two such fringe forums, and found that

[a]lthough small relative to leading social media platforms, exerted an outsize influence on overall conversation online by transmitting hateful content to such mainstream sites as Reddit and Twitter, the researchers said. Typically this content came in the form of readily shareable “memes” that cloaked hateful ideas in crass or humorous words and imagery. (Facebook, the largest social media platform, with more than 2 billion users, is harder to study because of the closed nature of its platform and was not included in the research.)

“There may be 100 racists in your town, but in the past they would have to find each other in the real world. Now they just go online,” said one of the researchers, Jeremy Blackburn, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “These things move these radicals, these outliers in society, closer, and it gives them bigger voices as well.”

Niche hate movements that were once relegated to what the article calls the “dark corners of the Web” are increasingly influencing the mainstream.

The QAnon conspiracy theory began circulating on the same platforms last fall before exploding into public view in August, after months of refining its central allegations, purportedly from a top-secret government agent, that President Trump is secretly battling a shadowy cabal of sex rings, death squads and deep-state elites.

Trump is central to the most recent explosion of online racism and anti-Semitism. Surges in the number and intensity of “alt-right’ messaging occurred immediately after his inauguration and again after his “fine people on both sides” comments after Charlottesville. The alt-right celebrated–and continues to hail– the legitimacy they believe his election and rhetoric have conferred upon the white Christian supremicist worldview.

The article compares the spread of these tribal and racist sentiments to a virus for which there is not, as yet, an antidote.

The findings, researchers wrote, suggested a “worrying trend of real-world action mirroring online rhetoric” — and a possible feedback loop of online and offline hate.

That feedback loop requires both online and real-world support. We may not be able to do much about the rancid corners of the web, but we can vote to replace Trumpworld’s spineless enablers in the House and Senate.

Think of your midterm vote as an antibiotic.

The White Nationalist Party

America has been transfixed by Donald Trump’s very public betrayal of his oath of office–an oath which requires him to protect and defend our country. But that is hardly his only  betrayal of important American values.

As Dana Milbank reminds us, he has made bigotry politically correct again.

In a recent column, Milbank looked at the crop of Republican candidates who  surfaced after Trump’s election.

Behold, a new breed of Republican for the Trump era.

Seth Grossman won the Republican primary last month for a competitive House seat in New Jersey, running on the message “Support Trump/Make America Great Again.” The National Republican Congressional Committee endorsed him.

Then, a video surfaced, courtesy of American Bridge, a Democratic PAC, of Grossman saying “the whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap.” Grossman then proclaimed diversity “evil.” CNN uncovered previous instances of Grossman calling Kwanzaa a “phony holiday” created by “black racists,” labeling Islam a cancer and saying faithful Muslims cannot be good Americans.

There was much more, and the GOP finally withdrew its endorsement. But Grossman is hardly an aberration.

Many such characters have crawled out from under rocks and onto Republican ballots in 2018: A candidate with ties to white nationalists is the GOP Senate nominee in Virginia (and has President Trump’s endorsement); an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier is the Republican candidate in a California House race; a prominent neo-Nazi won the GOP nomination in an Illinois House race; and overt racists are in Republican primaries across the country.

Milbank points to what has become increasingly obvious: As nice people flee the GOP, Trump’s Republican party now needs the support of people like this.

Some of these candidates go well beyond the bounds of anything Trump has said or done, but many have been inspired or emboldened by him. Corey A. Stewart, the Republican Senate nominee in Virginia, said he was “Trump before Trump.”

The party won’t back Stewart, but Republican lawmakers are tiptoeing. Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R-Va.), declining to disavow Stewart, noted to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper that people won’t see him as racist because “my son is named after a black guy.”

If there were only a few of these racists and anti-Semites, you might shrug it off. After all, both parties have had crazy or hateful people run for office (we’ve had some doozies here). They’ve usually been weeded out in party primaries, and they’ve rarely earned official support or endorsement.

In today’s GOP, however, they seem to be everywhere.

Russell Walker, Republican nominee for a North Carolina state House seat, is a white supremacist whose personal website is “littered with the n-word” and states that Jews are “satanic,” Vox reports.

Running in the Republican primary for Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s congressional seat in Wisconsin is Paul Nehlen, who calls himself “pro-white” and was booted from Twitter for racism.

Neo-NaziPatrick Little ran as a Republican in the California Senate primary, blaming his loss on fraud by “Jewish supremacists,” according to the website Right Wing Watch.

In North Carolina, nominee Mark Harris, in the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program for top recruits, has suggested that women who pursue careers and independence do not “live out and fulfill God’s design.”

Another Young Guns candidate, Wendy Rogersof Arizona (where Joe Arpaio is fighting for the Republican Senate nomination), has said the Democratic position on abortion is “very much like the Holocaust” and the Cambodian genocide.

As Milbank notes–with examples– these candidates have plenty of role models in the administration and in Congress.  Plus, of course, the role-model-in-chief.

Thanks to Trump, today’s GOP is rapidly becoming America’s White Supremicist Party.

Quick, Dirty and Accurate

Every so often, I read something that expresses an opinion I hold so succinctly and clearly that I get a bit jealous of the wordsmith. (That tends to be my reaction to pretty much anything Leonard Pitts writes, and especially this one).

That was also my reaction to a recent post by Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Brayton was addressing the recurring question of why Trump supporters don’t care about his constant–incessant–lies. He began by referencing two classic analyses by Richard Hofstadter, the book  Anti-Intellectualism in American Life and Hofstadter’s much-quoted essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politicsboth of which are well worth reading if you haven’t already done so. Hofstadter wrote in the 1960s, and Brayton’s point was the cyclical nature of American history.

It seems that about every 40-50 years we go through this bout of pseudo-populist, anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant and racist fervor. You can go back to the Know Nothings of the mid-1800s, to the rebirth of the KKK in the early 1900s, to the McCarthy era and the birth of the John Birch Society in the 60s (which was just starting when Hofstadter did his analysis). What we’re seeing with Trump is the latest rebirth of those movements. He’s tapped into a rich vein of ignorance, paranoia and bigotry that is never far below the surface in America.

When I am particularly worried about our prospects for emerging from the current cesspool of corruption and bigotry, I remind myself of these episodes from America’s past. After all, we survived those; surely when the fever breaks, we can repair the damage being done every day by the looters and racists who now control our government.

Can’t we?

Brayton makes another point I’ve frequently made: these eruptions occur in times of economic and cultural stress.

When people feel insecure economically or socially — as in white Christians feeling threatened by becoming a smaller percentage of the population, coupled with vast income inequality and the massive recession of 2008 and 2009 — they tend to retreat into this very simpleminded tribalism. They want to build Fortress America and shut everyone else out. They retreat to racial tribes and lob bombs — sometimes literally — at other tribes. Their fear and insecurity make them easy targets for demagogues like Trump to whip them up into a fervor by telling them that it’s all the fault of (insert scapegoat here — blacks, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, gay people, “elites” or “globalists”). Fear is a powerful motivator and is easily exploitable by those seeking authoritarian power.

And once people are fully in the grip of tribalism, the truth simply doesn’t matter to them anymore.

Brayton points to Trump’s repeated–and largely fact-free– attacks on immigrants as an example. Those immigrants (unless, of course, they are pale and come from Norway) are dangerous threats, they are “other.”

Leonard Pitts, in the linked column, brilliantly summed up how we fell into this particular abyss.

There is no mystery here. Trump is president because Obama was, and because there were many people for whom that fact was apocalyptic. It’s no coincidence David Duke loves this man, white people chant his name to taunt black ones and hate crimes spiked during the campaign.

After all, what’s a lie or two–or 3,000–when your white Christian heterosexual tribe is in danger of losing its hegemony?