Tag Archives: Charles Blow

This Is Our Challenge

Charles Blow is one of the very few columnists who almost always cuts to the very heart of an issue.  His clarity was particularly pronounced in his January 11th column, “The Lowest White Man.”

He began with a description of Donald Trump that mirrored what most sentient Americans already know:

I guess Donald Trump was eager to counter the impression in Michael Wolff’s book that he is irascible, mentally small and possibly insane. On Tuesday, he allowed a bipartisan session in the White House about immigration to be televised for nearly an hour.

Surely, he thought that he would be able to demonstrate to the world his lucidity and acumen, his grasp of the issues and his relish for rapprochement with his political adversaries.

But instead what came through was the image of a man who had absolutely no idea what he was talking about; a man who says things that are 180 degrees from the things he has said before; a man who has no clear line of reasoning; a man who is clearly out of his depth and willing to do and say anything to please the people in front of him.

Blow acknowleged Trump’s antipathy  to people who are not white, but refused to attribute his intransigence about the wall to anything as coherent as bigotry, reminding readers that the original idea of building a wall and making Mexico pay for it was just a cheap campaign stunt. (Trump doesn’t have actual policy positions; that would require reading more than the chyron running on the screen beneath Fox and Friends.)

The column then asks and answers the real question, the one I’ve heard a million times–from family, from friends, from colleagues: why can’t his base see what we all see? How can anyone still support this pathetic buffoon?

That is because Trump is man-as-message, man-as-messiah. Trump support isn’t philosophical but theological.

Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.

It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson saidin the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

Trump’s supporters are saying to us, screaming to us, that although he may be the “lowest white man,” he is still better than Barack Obama, the “best colored man.”

There is, of course, a copious history that prompted Johnson’s observation. Poor whites in the post Civil War South were kept compliant by reassurances that–no matter how wretched they were–they were better than those black people, and entitled to their superior status.

There are too many white guys, north and south, who still cling to the comforting belief that their skin color and male genitals make them better than those “others”–women, Jews, gays, immigrants, and even (as we have recently seen) Native Americans. But consistently and especially, black people.

They found Obama’s Presidency intolerable, and they are Trump’s committed base.

No matter how much of an embarrassment and a failure Trump proves to be, his exploits must be judged a success. He must be deemed a correction to Barack Obama and a superior choice to Hillary Clinton. White supremacy demands it. Patriarchy demands it. Trump’s supporters demand it.

That belief, ultimately, is what the resistance is about. That is the worldview that absolutely must be left in the dustbin of history.

Telling It Like It Is

Charles Blow has used two of his recent columns in the New York Times to address racism; more specifically, the racism exhibited by Donald Trump and his base.

Although there has been a great deal of ink (or, more properly, pixels) devoted to analysis of the most recent eruption by our Vesuvius in Chief, Blow’s observations are so incisive, so devoid of the unnecessary niceties (typically employed by writers trying desperately to be fair to people undeserving of their solicitude), that they deserve wide distribution.

In the first column–written before the “shithole” eruption–Blow makes an important point about racism and the people who will continue to support Trump no matter how often he betrays his promises to them:

Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.

It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

The entire column is well worth reading–and pondering. Among other things, it explains Trump’s pathological fixation on erasing anything and everything that Obama did.

Trump supporters love to describe his most vile pronouncements as evidence that he “tells it like it is.” But it is Blow who actually tells it like it is, in the wake of Trump’s “shithole” episode.

He begins with a definition:

Racism is simply the belief that race is an inherent and determining factor in a person’s or a people’s character and capabilities, rendering some inferior and others superior. These beliefs are racial prejudices.

Blow then points out–as many others have- that Trump fits that definition, that he’s a racist,  a white supremacist, a bigot. (In the same issue of the Times, David Leonhardt provides an exhaustive list of Trump’s blatantly racist statements.) But– as Blow also says– pointing that fact out is the easy part. The need to make his tenure as short as possible is equally obvious.

Most importantly, this November, voters must

rid the House and the Senate of as many of Trump’s defenders, apologists and accomplices as possible. Should the time come where impeachment is inevitable, there must be enough votes in the House and Senate to ensure it.

I am going to bold these next paragraphs, because his point is really important–and because it is insufficiently appreciated:

And finally, we have to stop giving a pass to the people — whether elected official or average voter — who support and defend his racism. If you defend racism you are part of the racism. It doesn’t matter how much you say that you’re an egalitarian, how much you say that you are race blind, how much you say that you are only interested in people’s policies and not their racist polemics.

As the brilliant James Baldwin once put it: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” When I see that in poll after poll a portion of Trump’s base continues to support his behavior, including on race, I can only conclude that there is no real daylight between Trump and his base. They are part of his racism.

When I see the extraordinary hypocrisy of elected officials who either remain silent in the wake of Trump’s continued racist outbursts or who obliquely condemn him, only to in short order return to defending and praising him and supporting his agenda, I see that there is no real daylight between Trump and them either. They too are part of his racism.

When you see it this way, you understand the enormity and the profundity of what we are facing. There were enough Americans who were willing to accept Trump’s racism to elect him. There are enough people in Washington willing to accept Trump’s racism to defend him. Not only is Trump racist, the entire architecture of his support is suffused with that racism. Racism is a fundamental component of the Trump presidency.

A commenter to this blog recently protested when I wrote that racism had motivated the majority of Trump voters. I based that statement on research that has emerged since the election, but my youngest son points out that we really don’t need academic researchers to tell us what we all know. Trump’s campaign was unambiguously racist, therefore, those who voted for him fell into one of the only two possible categories: either they responded positively to his racism, or his racism didn’t bother them enough to make them vote for someone else.

As Blow says, there were enough Americans willing to accept Trump’s racism to elect him.

As my son says, you are what you are willing to accept.

Just telling it like it is.

 

 

Telling It Like It Is

One of the more puzzling aspects of this bizarre election has been the insistence of Trump supporters that he “tells it like it is.” Here is a candidate who  lies constantly about matters large and small, and is just as constantly publicly unmasked as a liar. (Think, for example, about his easily checked recent assertion that the NFL sent him a letter about the Presidential debate schedule. The NFL immediately denied doing so.)

Not only are his lies frequent and obvious, he routinely contradicts himself. So what accounts for the refrain that he “tells it like it is”?

I think New York Times columnist Charles Blow implied the answer to that question in a recent op-ed. The entire essay is well worth reading, but here are a few of his observations:

[Trump] appeals to something deeper, something baser: Fear. His whole campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is in fact an inverted admission of loss — lost primacy, lost privilege, lost prestige.

And who feels that they have lost the most? White men.

As the New York Times’ Upshot pointed out in July, “According to our estimates, Mrs. Clinton is doing better among basically every group of voters except for white men without a degree.”

It is overwhelmingly these men who see Trump as a “truth teller”–not because he is making accurate statements of fact, but because he is speaking directly to their sense of displacement and loss. As Blow says,

These are the voters keeping Trump’s candidacy alive.

He appeals to a regressive, patriarchal American whiteness in which white men prospered, in part because racial and ethnic minorities, to say nothing of women as a whole, were undervalued and underpaid, if not excluded altogether….

Trump’s wall is not practical, but it is metaphor. Trump’s Muslim ban is not feasible, but it is metaphor. Trump’s huge deportation plan isn’t workable, but it is metaphor.

There is a portion of the population that feels threatened by unrelenting change — immigration, globalization, terrorism, multiculturalism — and those people want someone to, metaphorically at least, build a wall around their cultural heritage, which they conflate in equal measure with American heritage.

In their minds, whether explicitly or implicitly, America is white, Christian, straight and male-dominated. If you support Trump, you are on some level supporting his bigotry and racism. You don’t get to have a puppy and not pick up the poop.

What Trump supporters hear–what they believe constitutes “telling it like it is”–is that they have been unfairly deprived of the privileged status that straight white men once enjoyed by virtue of being straight white men, whatever their other accomplishments or lack thereof. They hear Trump saying that “those people”–Muslims, Jews, immigrants, blacks– have taken over the country they used to dominate, and  that he will put “those people” (along with those uppity women) back in their former places.

I keep thinking about a snarky Facebook comment someone posted following the conventions, to the effect that “no intelligent person could possibly vote for Trump–so it will be a close election.”

I don’t think Trump voters are stupid; I do think most of them are bigots. (Granted, there’s a good deal of overlap.)

On election day, we will see how many Americans agree with what Trump is really saying–how many of our fellow countrymen are responding to his not-very-veiled message of white nationalism–and that will tell us how far we have to go to make e pluribus unum a reality.

Myths We Live By

Recently, New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote a compelling reflection on achievement as an act of defiance. Life, he tells us, is like a hill, and when you are born at the bottom of that hill, you have a choice between climbing or staying at the bottom.

But this was no “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” harangue.

The article began with a forthright acknowledgment of the outsized role played by luck and favor in our society–with Blow’s recognition that what separates the comfortable from the needy is rarely as simple as hard work and diligence. As he prefaces his discussion:

I don’t buy into the mythology that most poor people are willfully and contentedly poor, happy to live with the help of handouts from a benevolent big government that is equally happy to keep them dependent.

These are all arguments based on shame, meant to distance traditional power structures from emerging ones, to allow for draconian policy arguments from supposedly caring people. These arguments require faith in personal failure as justification for calling our fellow citizens feckless or doctrinally disfavored.

Those who espouse such arguments must root for failures so that they’re proved right. They need their worst convictions to be affirmed: that other people’s woes are due solely to their bad choices and bad behaviors; that there are no systematic suppressors at play; that the way to success is wide open to all those who would only choose it.

Blow endorses effort and hard work for their own sake, with eyes wide open to the hard facts of life–that is, that although effort and hard work cannot guarantee reward, not working hard will pretty much guarantee failure. He accepts life on its own terms (as Jimmy Carter once said, fundamentally unfair) without using those terms as an excuse for giving up.

We are obligated to play the hand we’re dealt, even when the deck is stacked against us. And the deck is stacked against a lot of people.

I don’t think I am the only person who is incredibly tired of those self-satisfied folks who–having been born on or near the top of the hill–not only brag about their prowess as climbers, but sneer at the “losers” stuck below. (My grandmother used to describe them as “born on 3d base and think they’ve hit a triple.”)

I’m tired of the self-proclaimed, “self-made” businessman (almost always a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant heterosexual male) who is incapable of recognizing his dependence on the social infrastructure that privileged him over more marginalized folks, and unwilling or unable to experience gratitude for his good fortune.

I’m especially tired of the self-congratulatory “smart businessman” who takes advantage of tax loopholes (excuse me, “incentives”) to drive his effective tax rate below that of his secretary, but who nevertheless considers himself morally superior to the “takers” who don’t make enough money to owe federal income taxes.

I’m tired of self-deception and double standards and people who prefer not to see the hill that Charles Blow so eloquently describes. 

And I’m really, really tired of the ideologues with vested interests who are spreading the mythology.