Tag Archives: election

They Don’t Even Bother To Dog-Whistle Anymore

The basic line of demarcation between pro-Trump and anti-Trump partisans is now too clear and too well-documented to misunderstand. As my youngest son has maintained since the election, there were two–and only two–categories of people who voted for Trump: those who  agreed with and felt validated by his too-obvious-to-ignore racism, and those for whom that racism was not disqualifying.

Pundits and political observers on the left were deeply uncomfortable with that reality. “Nice” people looked for other plausible reasons for those votes: economic distress, hatred of Hillary, partisan affiliation. But as research on the vote has emerged, even polite formulations (“racial anxiety”) and studies conducted by academics noted for their rigor and lack of political agendas have confirmed the degree to which racism predicted support for Trump.

If any dispassionate observer still doubts that conclusion, the behavior of the Trump administration, its supporters and its propaganda arms should dispel those doubts. The fixation on immigration (from the southern border, not the north) and the fact-free demonization of brown immigrants is a clue too obvious to ignore.

Brian Kilmead of Fox News–the administration’s propaganda arm–speaks for Trump’s supporters when he says 

And these are not — like it or not, these aren’t our kids. Show them compassion, but it’s not like he is doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas.

The “us versus them” formulation could hardly be clearer.

For those of us who tend to look at what they do, not what they say, the picture is even clearer.

A ProPublica analysis.. found that, under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the department has scuttled more than 1,200 civil rights investigations that were begun under the Obama administration and lasted at least six months. These cases, which investigated complaints of civil rights violations ranging from discriminatory discipline to sexual violence in school districts and colleges around the country, were closed without any findings of wrongdoing or corrective action, often due to insufficient evidence….

ProPublica also found that the Office for Civil Rights has become more lenient. Under Obama, 51 percent of cases that took more than 180 days culminated in findings of civil rights violations, or corrective changes. Under the Trump administration, that rate has dropped to 35 percent.

ProPublica noted that the Trump administration has largely shelved investigations of systemic violations, opting to look instead at individual complaints.

One long investigation terminated by the Trump administration took place in Bryan, Texas. As ProPublica previously reported, the Dallas bureau of the federal civil rights office spent more than four years investigating whether disciplinary practices in Bryan discriminated against students of color. Federal investigators found at least 10 incidents where black students received harsher punishment than their white peers for the same conduct.

Weeks before Trump’s inauguration, federal investigators and the district were on the cusp of a settlement that would have required more than a dozen reforms. But after DeVos took over, the case and the pending settlement were scuttled, with no findings of wrongdoing.

In late April, OCR also shelved the investigation into school discipline in DeSoto County, where 852 students — more than half of them black — received corporal punishment in 2015.

Shelia Riley, the chairperson of DeSoto’s school board, told ProPublica that OCR’s decision was appropriate. “I read the [parents’] claims and I just felt like we were fair in our disciplinary decisions,” she said.

Google “Trump Administration racism” and the search will return–among many, many other “hits”– sober analyses of the ways in which the administration’s racism is affecting foreign policy, the role of race in the administration’s shameful neglect of Puerto Rico, the racism of proposed “reforms” of welfare programs, and the way Trump “encourages a pro-white semiotics and a return to racisms past.”

The Civil War may have ended slavery, but America’s “original sin” has persisted. Honest observers can no longer ignore it; “nice, polite” people can no longer pretend that grandpa just has “policy differences” with dark people. Trump owes his election to the voters who couldn’t abide the presence of Barack Obama in the White House–and who rewarded the bigot who remains willing to “tell it like [they believe]it is” in the ugly world they inhabit.

We aren’t in Kansas any more, Toto–and we’ve gone way beyond dog-whistles.

Humans: Clever, But Not Wise….

The election of Donald Trump (aka “Agent Orange”) is only one of many, many signs that we humans aren’t as smart as we think we are.

Consider our ability to invent technologies we then prove unable to use wisely.

Actually, being destroyed or enslaved by the machines we’ve created is a favorite theme of science fiction. Robots who turn on their makers, unanticipated consequences of laboratory experiments, the dehumanizing substitution of human-machine interaction for human contact–all are familiar scenarios of “futuristic” fantasy.

Being overwhelmed by our own inventions, however, is neither “futuristic” nor “fantastic.” Anyone who doesn’t believe that human society is being inexorably changed by social media and the Internet hasn’t been paying attention.

The Guardian recently ran a chilling column about those changes, and about our tendency to see new threats and challenges in terms of the past, rather than as harbingers of our future.

Both sides of the political divide seem to be awakening to the possibility that letting the tech industry do whatever it wants hasn’t produced the best of all possible worlds. “I have found a flaw,” Alan Greenspan famously said in 2008 of his free-market worldview, as the global financial system imploded. A similar discovery may be dawning on our political class when it comes to its hands-off approach to Silicon Valley.

But the new taste for techno-skepticism is unlikely to lead to meaningful reform, for several reasons. One is money. The five biggest tech firms spend twice as much as Wall Street on lobbying Washington. It seems reasonable to assume that this insulates them from anything too painful in a political system as corrupt as ours.

The FCC’s decision to repeal Net Neutrality despite the fact that 83% of the public want to retain the policy would certainly seem to validate the author’s assertion that our government responds to money, not public opinion.

The columnist, Ben Tarnoff, is especially concerned that the focus on Russia’s efforts to weaponize the Internet and influence the election is diverting our attention from far more serious issues. It is unlikely that Russian game-playing had much of an effect on the Presidential election (racism aka White Nationalism clearly played a far greater role), and while Congress fixates on Russia, far more significant threats go unnoticed.

As Tarnoff sees it, the focus on Russia isn’t just misplaced because that country’s social media influence wasn’t really all that effective. It’s misplaced because the Russians used the Internet platforms in precisely the way they’re designed to be used.

As Zeynep Tufekci has pointed out, the business model of social media makes it a perfect tool for spreading propaganda. The majority of that propaganda isn’t coming from foreigners, however – it’s coming from homegrown, “legitimate” actors who pump vast sums of cash into shaping opinion on behalf of a candidate or cause.

Social media is a powerful weapon in the plutocratization of our politics. Never before has it been so easy for propagandists to purchase our attention with such precision. The core issue is an old one in American politics: money talks too much, to quote an Occupy slogan. And online, it talks even louder.

Unfortunately, the fixation on Russian “cyberwarfare” isn’t likely to bring us any closer to taking away money’s megaphone. Instead, it will probably be used as a pretext to make us less free in other ways – namely by justifying more authoritarian incursions by the state into the digital sphere….

The tragedy of 9/11 has long been weaponized to justify mass surveillance and state repression. The myth of the “cyber 9/11” will almost certainly be used for the same ends.

Tarnoff reminds readers that–as usual–America’s wounds are largely self-inflicted.  We could and should take note of Russia’s efforts to subvert our election without ignoring the “deep domestic roots” of that catastrophe. As he reminds us,

Russia didn’t singlehandedly produce the crisis of legitimacy that helped put a deranged reality television star into the White House. Nor did it create the most sophisticated machinery in human history for selling our attention to the highest bidder.

It’s odd to blame Russian trolls for the destruction of American democracy when American democracy has proven more than capable of destroying itself. And rarely is it more self-destructive than when it believes it is protecting itself from its enemies.

We Americans are really, really good at whiz-bang technology. Creating a society that is just, fair and free? Not so much.

Welcome to the Resistance

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak to a “Women’s Rally for Change,” along with the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood and the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. The purpose was to discuss how to resist the coming assault on women and minorities, and to answer the increasingly common–and increasingly urgent– question: what can I do? What specific actions can I take?

The Rally was promoted only by Facebook posts; organizers hoped a hundred women might attend. We were stunned when five hundred women crammed into a space meant for far fewer, and another four hundred had to be turned away. (Future events, in larger venues, will be posted to a Facebook page established in the wake of the event: Women4ChangeIndiana.)

Several people who could not attend have asked me for copies of my remarks, so I’m posting them here. (Regular readers of this blog will find much of what follows repetitive….sorry about that!)

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We are facing divisions in this country unlike anything we’ve seen since the 60s, or maybe the Civil War. If America is to emerge reasonably intact, we need to look honestly at what just happened.

The ugly truth is that most of his voters saw Trump’s bigotry, misogyny and authoritarianism as features, not bugs. They didn’t overlook his appalling behaviors—those were what attracted them. They applauded his repeated attacks on “political correctness” and routinely told reporters that what they liked about him was that he “tells it like it is.”

The attitudes most predictive of support for Trump were racial resentment and misogyny—not economic distress.

Clinton won the popular vote, but because the Electoral College gives greater weight to votes from rural areas, she lost the Presidency. This is the 2d time in 16 years that the person who won the most votes was not elected.

The next few years are going to be very painful. Americans will lose many of the protections we have come to expect from the federal courts, probably for the foreseeable future. Economic policies will hurt the poor, especially women and children, and exacerbate divisions between the rich and the rest of us. A Trump Administration will abandon efforts to address climate change, and will roll back most of Obamacare. There will be no immigration reform, and God only knows what our foreign policy will look like. Worst of all, Trump’s normalization of bigotry will play out in a variety of ways, none good.

Sandy asked us to focus our comments on issues affecting women—but when you think about it, all of these issues will disproportionately affect women and children. And by far the worst for women is something we can’t reverse through legislation at some future time—a return to cultural attitudes that objectify and demean us.

So – what can we do, sitting here in overwhelmingly Red Indiana?

As individuals, beginning right now, we can support organizations that work to protect women’s rights, civil and reproductive liberties and public education, among others. A friend of mine and her husband, who stand to benefit from Trump’s proposed tax cuts, have decided to donate every dollar they save by reason of those cuts to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. We might start a local “pledge my tax cut” campaign.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is focus on local efforts to ameliorate the effects of likely federal actions. Most of the innovation and action on climate change, for example, is happening in cities, and it is much easier to influence local policy than state or national legislation. Those of us worried about the environment can make sure our cities are at the forefront of urban environmental efforts. There are other policy areas where—depending upon relevant state law—cities can mitigate the effects of federal action or inaction. Since the election, for example, several cities have decided to become Sanctuary cities, protecting undocumented people.

We can and must work to create inclusive and supportive local civic cultures that work against misogyny, bigotry and intolerance. We are already seeing a substantial increase in racist, homophobic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents, and we need to create a civic environment that strongly discourages bigoted attitudes and behaviors. Cities have ready-made partners in those efforts, in arts organizations, civic and religious associations and the business community. I hereby volunteer to help mount a campaign focused on encouraging a welcoming, inclusive, respectful civic environment.

And if  the new Administration really does establish a Muslim registry, we all need to register as Muslims.

In the longer term, we have to reform America’s election system. The first order of business is to get rid of the Electoral College, which favors rural voters over urban ones and generally distorts the democratic process. The person who gets the most votes should win the election. We should work with groups like the League of Women Voters to get Indiana to sign on to the National Popular Vote Project, to oppose gerrymandering and to make voting easier, not harder.

We also have to defend our public schools and improve civic education. “We the People” or a similar curriculum should be required for High School graduation. Trump made all kinds of promises that he could not constitutionally carry out. Perhaps recognizing that wouldn’t have mattered to the kind of people willing to vote for him—but it might have.

Sandy asked each of us to identify issues of particular significance to women that we might win at the Statehouse. Given the composition of our legislature, we face an uphill battle, but here are some suggestions:

  • Work with local business and civil rights groups to expand Indiana’s civil rights law to include LGBTQ Hoosiers.
  • Work with Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and other organizations to prevent passage of added restrictions on abortion that more conservative courts would uphold. We’re already seeing that effort in Indiana.
  • Work with advocates for public education to scale back Indiana’s voucher program, the largest in the country, that benefits parochial schools at the expense of public ones.
  • Require effective civic education for graduation from H.S.

If there has ever been a time to be an activist, this is it.

 

How Did We Get Here and Where Do We Go Now?

This semester, I am teaching an elective course that I “invented” some years ago; it is called “Individual Rights and the Common Good,” and the readings and class discussions center on the proper role of the state, and the optimal balance between respect for individual autonomy and the needs/interests of the society.

Because it is an elective, the students who choose to enroll tend to be engaged, and the discussions have generally been thoughtful and substantive.

The class meets on Tuesday nights, and Tuesday–today– is election day. In consideration of that fact (and, admittedly, the probability that several of them would skip class in order to watch the returns), I decided to forego our usual class meeting in favor of an effort to connect the more abstract principles we have been discussing with the very immediate realities of America’s political environment.

Here is the assignment I gave them. What would your answers be?

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The 2016 election campaigns have been among the most contentious in our history, and have displayed wide—perhaps unbridgeable–disagreements among Americans not just about the comparative merits of individual candidates, but about the proper role of government and the nature of the common good.

Our next class is scheduled for election day. As these campaigns conclude, and in lieu of holding that class, I am asking you to consider the opposing views and attitudes that have been revealed during the course of these campaigns, and to write a 2-3 page essay addressing the following questions:

  • How would you characterize the Presidential candidates’ visions of the common good/national interest?
  • How would you describe their respective approaches to balancing protections of individual rights against the interests of the country as a whole?
  • In the wake of the election, how do you see Americans resolving our very different perspectives and deep disagreements? (In other words, given the incredibly acrimonious nature of the campaigns, do you see efforts at reconciliation or continued animosity, and in either case, with what result?)
  • In your opinion, what is driving Americans’ current partisan polarization and anger?

Here’s the Choice

Absent a “November surprise,” this will be my last post about the 2016 Presidential race.

A friend shared a litany that pretty well sums up Donald Trump’s bona fides:

Donald Trump is facing multiple charges of defrauding students at Trump University, one case with a Court date set for November 28, 2016.

Donald Trump is facing a December 16, 2016 Court date to answer for claims he raped a 13 year old girl.

Donald Trump is the subject of multi-state investigations, uncovering fraud and self-dealing related to his Trump Foundation.

Donald Trump has a history of thousands of lawsuits against him over his business practices, in which he bankrupted small businesses and cheated employees.

Donald Trump has a long and well-documented history of harassing and disrespecting women.

But by all means, let’s talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Despite the loose use of the word “scandal,” what Clinton continues to be criticized for was her use of a private server for non-classified official emails, a use inconsistent with State Department rules. Period. Not for leaking state secrets, not for dereliction of duty, not for any sort of malfeasance. (Ironically, James Comey is currently being criticized for precisely the same behavior–ignoring agency rules.) The reason Clinton’s server use was an issue was concern about the possibility of a security breach caused by either the use of that server to transmit classified material (which would have been illegal) or a successful hack; thanks to the FBI investigation, we now know no such breach occurred. (It is yet another irony that the State Department’s network has been hacked, and more than once.)

Let’s stipulate that–as Clinton herself has admitted– she shouldn’t have made that decision, and she shouldn’t have been defensive about it when it was discovered.

Hillary Clinton may be the most-investigated public servant ever, and despite having been the object of right-wing conspiracy theories for over thirty years, she has never been found to have violated any law. She has had a distinguished career as a lawyer, in the United States Senate and as Secretary of State and has been a tireless crusader for women and families.

To paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke, when she’s been wrong, she’s been wrong within normal parameters.

Voters in this election have a choice between a highly qualified woman who–being human–has made mistakes of judgment, and a thin-skinned narcissist with zero relevant experience or knowledge and a documented history of fraud, sexual assault, unscrupulous business practices and frightening volatility–a man with no discernible policy positions who has based his entire campaign on insults, ludicrous assertions of his own superiority, and not-so- thinly-veiled appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anti-Semitism.

There is no equivalence. This is not a “lesser of two evils” choice. One candidate is amply and demonstrably qualified; the other is simply unthinkable.

If Hillary Clinton had killed Vince Foster, she would still be the better choice.