Tag Archives: Obama

“The Black Guy Did It!”

Have you noticed that whenever there is a particularly sharp public outcry over something Donald Trump is doing–a level of pushback that exceeds the expressions of distaste, disagreement and/or horror that regularly greet his version of “policy”–he blames whatever it is on Obama?

The Washington Post gives four Pinocchios to the latest example of Trump’s “don’t blame me, it was the black guy who did it” evasion, his insistence that his inhumane and illegal family separation policy was really Obama’s. They quote him:

“President Obama had child separation. Take a look. The press knows it, you know it, we all know it. I didn’t have — I’m the one that stopped it. President Obama had child separation. … President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed it, okay?”

Trump keeps doubling down on that falsehood. Every time he is attacked about family separation, he repeats it. As the Post reports,

This is a Four Pinocchio claim, yet Trump keeps repeating it when he’s pressed on family separations.

Repetition can’t change reality. There is simply no comparison between Trump’s family separation policy and the border enforcement actions of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

In the article, the fact-checker reports that the Obama Administration had actually rejected such a proposal, and that neither the Obama Administration nor the Bush Administration had created or enforced a policy of family separation.

The zero-tolerance approach is worlds apart from the Obama- and Bush-era policy of separating children from adults at the border only in limited circumstances, such as when officials suspected human trafficking or another kind of danger to the child or when false claims of parentage were made.

The article concludes with quotes from Trump–responses to questions, tweets, etc.–documenting the number of times he repeated the lie that the policy was inherited from Obama, and the article links to the copious database of Trump lies that the newspaper maintains.

This particular falsehood illustrates the two utterly reliable aspects of the man who inexplicably occupies the Oval Office: his hatred of Barack Obama (how dare a black man be so obviously superior to him?) and people of color generally; and his inability to tell the truth. (I’m not sure he even recognizes the difference between objective facts and his preferred fantasies.)

The problem is, as Joseph Stiglitz has  recently reminded us,  America’s successes–both moral and economic–have rested on a process of experimentation, learning and adaptation that requires a commitment to ascertaining the truth.

Americans owe much of their economic success to a rich set of truth-telling, truth-discovering and truth-verifying institutions. Central among them are freedom of expression and media independence. Like all people, journalists are fallible; but, as part of a robust system of checks and balances on those in positions of power, they have traditionally provided an essential public good.

America’s “greatness” has depended upon–and varied with– the extent to which the nation has adhered to that truth-telling and has honored human rights and the rule of law. Greatness is not a product of bluster, or White Supremacy, or faux Christianity, or the worship of wealth and power and celebrity; it is a product of evidence-based allegiance to individual liberty and civic equality.

If we really want to make America great, we need to eject Trumpism, with its racism and “alternate facts,” not just from the White House, but from American culture.

An Excellent Rant

My youngest son introduced me to Gin and Tacos a year or so ago, and it has become one of my favorite blogs, mostly because the blogger lets fly with whatever has most recently pissed him off, and I can really, really relate. The blogger has a name, of course, Ed Bermila, and has helpfully included a description of himself, written in third person and sarcasm.

Ed is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Midwestern Liberal Arts University after receiving his Ph.D. in political science from Giant Midwestern Public University and teaching for three years at Giant Southern Public University. He teaches Intro to American Government, Public Opinion, Elections, and The Presidency to a select group of very lucky boys and girls each semester. His academic research studies the spatial and geographic context of political behavior – partisanship, turnout, and public opinion. He also performs stand-up comedy on the regular and plays/played drums in a band called Tremendous Fucking. Like every band on the planet, they have a MySpace. It is highly recommended that you buy their latest album off of iTunes in order to get into heaven. Sometimes he stands on a stage and tells jokes as well, inasmuch as scathing social criticism can be described as a joke.

There’s more, but you get the tone.

I particularly liked his post–rant?– from mid-December, titled “Who is ‘we’?”which he introduced as follows:

My least favorite genre of journalism is the retrospective “How did we miss this?” piece that comes after years of the profession sticking its head in the sand and refusing to see something inconvenient. The New York Times actually had the balls to print a headline like “The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism, and How We Missed It.”

Who missed it? That’s a serious question. Who makes up the demographic “Did not see a disturbing rise in explicitly racist and xenophobic politics” and where were these people during the eight years Obama was president? It seems unlikely that an even mildly observant person could have failed to notice that about 20% of the people in this country came psychologically unmoored over the idea of having a black president.

I think the answer to “who missed it?” is: people who were intentionally obtuse. I still recall a conversation with the husband of one of my many cousins, not long after Obama was elected. I said something about how dispiriting I’d found the emergence of racist rhetoric, especially on line, and he looked at me blankly and said “Really? I haven’t noticed anything like that.”

This guy is a high-priced lawyer, and there really was no way he could have avoided coverage of the phenomenon, even if he had somehow escaped the online onslaught. During our conversation, it became clear that he wanted to attribute the growing concerns about racism to “Democrats playing the race card.”

As Bermila notes, the self-identified “centrists”in the media are obsessed with what he calls “Decorum and playing nice.” People will chastise you if you point out that the king really does seem to be naked.

“It’s rude and unproductive to call people you disagree with politically racists or Nazis, tut-tut!” Yes, well, these people are really racist and some of them are taking that to the logical extreme of becoming actual Nazis. Like, with swastikas and stuff….

Add to that the seriously misplaced priorities of the establishment media, which values blaming nobody and everybody equally (Both sides are wrong!) over identifying problems and assigning responsibility even when it’s patently obvious. The only way to miss right-wing extremism’s rise is to operate your media outlet while more afraid of being chided by right-wingers than of totally missing a crucial story.

And for those “retrospective” stories, the ones where you can almost picture the reporter wringing his hands in dismay while asking how “we” missed this, Ed has an appropriate response:

“We” didn’t miss it. You did.

 

Adults And Children

We’re at the stage of the Mueller investigation when shoes are dropping pretty regularly. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with the plea agreements, the guilty pleas, the additional indictments–not to mention the speculation about where this is all leading that is on offer from this former prosecutor or that former Judge on a daily basis.

You would think his base would begin to catch on (and evidently a few of them are beginning to)…but my Facebook page still shows periodic comments from members of the cult that continues to defend him; most are of the “what about Hillary” and “Obama did stuff I didn’t like” variety. And of course, reminders that no public servant is perfect. That’s certainly true; there has never been a candidate or a President I agreed with 100% of the time.

What the Trump defenders are unwilling to admit is the magnitude of the difference.

“I disagree with the policy positions of the adult who holds this office” is dramatically different from deploring the (ungrammatical) tantrums of a wholly unfit-for-office (or polite society, for that matter) child. But then, as post-election research has pretty conclusively determined, most of the people who hated Obama really couldn’t identify a policy position if they fell over it; what they resented was having a black family in the White House. What they voted for was an undisciplined child willing to say out loud what adults had been socialized to suppress.

I’m surprised Trump hasn’t called someone a poopy-head; given his diction, vocabulary and emotional “maturity,” it would seem entirely in character.

Most sentient Americans have figured out that the people who applaud Trump because “He tells it like it is” are defining bigotry as forthrightness, and racism as honesty. And evidently, having a President express and validate those sentiments is more important to them than having even minimally competent government.

Trump’s jealousy of his predecessor is not only obvious, it explains what passes for his agenda. If Obama promoted it, Trump wants to destroy it. The merits or demerits of the Obama administration’s policies are totally irrelevant to the three-year-old brat who–inconceivable as it still seems to me– occupies the Oval Office.

Obama made mincemeat of Trump at a Correspondent’s dinner, and like the child he is, he thinks undoing Obama’s very real achievements will “show him.” The collateral damage to the country is beyond his childish capacity to understand, and because he is a child, he wouldn’t care if he did understand.

Speaking of Obama–he has been incredibly restrained as Trump has eviscerated important policies he put in place, but as the indictments and the guilty pleas have mounted, he recently took a swipe:

“Not only did I not get indicted, nobody in my administration got indicted,” the former president said at an event in Houston on Tuesday, “which by the way was the only administration in modern history that that can be said about. In fact, nobody came close to being indicted, partly because the people who joined us were there for the right reasons. We were there to serve.”

Adults serve. Children are incapable of understanding the concept of service. Children misbehave–and when they are disciplined, they whine and call other people names.

More shoes please, Mr. Mueller. And ASAP.

 

Identity Partisanship

A recent Vox “explainer” by Ezra Klein rebuts some post-2016-election punditry–while confirming emerging political science research on partisan identity.

Klein’s article began with an important point that is often overlooked: the term “identity politics” is too often used to diminish the importance or legitimacy of political demands made by historically marginalized groups. It is a handy way to dismiss demands by African-American voters for action on police brutality, for example.

Corporate CEOs asking for tax cuts or suburban voters demanding action on health care costs, well, that’s just normal politics.

This narrowed definition obscures the true might of identity politics. Virtually all politics is identity politics, and the most powerful political identities are the biggest political identities — Democrat and Republican, which are increasingly merging with our racial, geographic, religious, and cultural groups to create what the political scientist Lilliana Mason calls “mega-identities.”

These mega-identities influence the way we interact with reality. Who we are influences not just our policy preferences, but what we believe is true. The column quotes from a recent, important book titled “Identity Crisis.”

  • During Barack Obama’s presidency, polling showed Republicans making more than $100,000 a year were more dissatisfied with the state of the economy than Democrats making less than $20,000 a year. Economic anxiety was “in large part a partisan phenomenon.”
  • It was also a racial phenomenon. Prior to Obama, measures of racial resentment didn’t predict views on the economy. After Obama, they did. It’s worth stating that clearly: The more racially resentful you were, the worse you thought the economy was doing, even controlling for your party, circumstance, and so on. This flipped as soon as Donald Trump was elected: The more racial resentful you were, the more economically optimistic you became.
  • Among Republican primary voters, Trump did not do better with Republicans who worried that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” or that the system “unfairly favors powerful interests.” Nor did he routinely lead the field among Republicans who felt betrayed by their party. There’s little evidence, in other words, that Trump voters were registering outrage with the political system as a whole.
  • Trump destroyed the rest of the Republican field among primary voters who were angry about immigration. He did 40 points better among Republican voters with the most negative views of immigration than among those with the most positive views. Trump’s success, in other words, was that he ran an issue-based candidacy on an issue where he was closer to the Republican base than the other candidates were.
  • The same was true with attitudes toward Muslims: “Trump performed significantly better with Republican voters who rated Muslims relatively unfavorably in 2011 than he did with Republican voters who rated Muslims relatively favorably.” By contrast, views of Muslims did not affect support for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
  •  And so it went for race too. Republican voters who attributed racial inequality to a lack of effort among African Americans rather than past and present discrimination were 50 points likelier to support Trump. Similarly, Republicans who told pollsters they felt coldly toward African Americans in 2011 were 20 points likelier to support Trump than Republicans who said they felt warmly toward African Americans.

There was much more along the same lines. It adds to the steady accumulation of evidence that has emerged in the wake of the 2016 election, that Obama’s Presidency moved less-educated, more racially-resentful Americans to the GOP, and widened the attitudinal and cultural gap between the parties.

In Pew Research Center surveys from 2007, whites were just as likely to call themselves Democrats as Republicans (roughly 44%-44%). But whites quickly fled the Democratic Party during Obama’s presidency. By 2010, whites were 12 points more likely to be Republicans than Democrats (51%-39%). By 2016, that gap had widened to 15 points (54%-39%).

This, um, white flight was concentrated at the bottom of the education ladder. “Whites who did not attend college were evenly split between the two parties in Pew surveys conducted from 1992 to 2008,” write the authors. “But by 2015, white voters who had a high school degree or less were 24 percentage points more Republican than Democratic.”

The conclusions of the study were unambiguous, and debunked both the theory that economic anxiety drove Trump’s voters, and the theory that a weak economic recovery catalyzed the racial resentment that drove Trump’s voters.

The correct synthesis is the reverse: Racial resentment driven by Obama’s presidency catalyzed economic anxiety among Trump’s voters.

As other studies have documented, racial resentment has been stoked–“activated”– by growing White Christian realization that America’s demographics are changing. As Klein says,

 Politics is increasingly revolving around fights that activate the Democratic-diverse America identity and the Republican-white America identity.

We shouldn’t expect Trump to be the terminal point of this kind of political appeal, which means we need books like Identity Crisis that help us understand it.

Crazytown

It’s unlikely that Bob Woodward’s new book will move public opinion. The country is so polarized between people who are appalled by Donald Trump and dispirited by the unwillingness of the Congressional GOP to meaningfully confront him, on the one hand, and his white supremcist “base” on the other, that it is hard to see the added documentation doing much to change the political dynamic.

For me, the most difficult aspect of the last few years has been the need to accept an ugly reality: approximately 35% of my fellow Americans enthusiastically support a racist, and are willing to ignore every other distasteful and disgraceful thing about him, in return for his constant reassurance that– despite all the evidence to the contrary–their pigment makes them superior.

Woodward’s book won’t penetrate that. At best, assuming America survives this descent into tribal hatefulness, it will join the growing mountain of evidence available to future historians and psychiatrists.

As CNN describes the book,

Woodward’s 448-page book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” provides an unprecedented inside-the-room look through the eyes of the President’s inner circle. From the Oval Office to the Situation Room to the White House residence, Woodward uses confidential background interviews to illustrate how some of the President’s top advisers view him as a danger to national security and have sought to circumvent the commander in chief.

Many of the feuds and daily clashes have been well documented, but the picture painted by Trump’s confidants, senior staff and Cabinet officials reveal that many of them see an even more alarming situation — worse than previously known or understood.

Actually, those of us who have been glued to news sources since November of 2016 do understand how alarming this Presidency is, and how utterly pathetic a man-child Trump is. It really isn’t necessary to get confirmation from anonymous sources–every day, Trump tweets his lack of even the most superficial understanding of the government he heads or the Constitution and laws that constrain it.

Let’s be honest. Trump owes his (very slim) electoral success to Barack Obama. Trump’s votes came largely from the white people (mostly men, but plenty of women) who couldn’t abide the presence of a black family in the White House. For eight years, they seethed, exchanging racist emails and sharing racist posts, looking for anything they could criticize publicly, and inventing things when the pickings were slim.

When Trump proved willing to say publicly the things they’d been thinking and saying privately–when he was willing to re-label civility as “political correctness,” and to “tell it like (they believe) it is,” they were his. Woodward’s book won’t change that; it is doubtful that many of them will read it.

 

I know that many good people, good citizens, good Americans will cringe at what I’ve just written. It’s too close to name-calling, too uncivil, paints with too broad a brush. President Obama himself, in his recent speech, took the higher road.

We won’t win people over by calling them names or dismissing entire chunks of the country as racist or sexist or homophobic. When I say bring people together, I mean all of our people. This whole notion that has sprung up recently about Democrats needing to choose between trying to appeal to white working-class voters or voters of color and women and LGBT Americans, that’s nonsense. I don’t buy that. I got votes from every demographic. We won by reaching out to everybody and competing everywhere and by fighting for every vote.

I understand what he is saying, and I absolutely understand that candidates cannot be as accusatory as I have been. But as Zach Beauchamp wrote after sharing that paragraph  in a perceptive article for  Vox 

There’s a part of this that feels like it’s ignoring reality. Political science research on the 2016 election suggests that Trump won because a huge chunk of voters responded positively to his racism and sexism. Voters who scored high on tests of racial resentment were unusually likely to support Trump, as were voters who scored high on measures of hostile sexism. These voters did not tend to be particularly stressed economically; this wasn’t displaced economic resentment. Rather, they seem to genuinely share the current president’s values, agreeing that the way to “Make America Great Again” is to slow or even roll back social change.

My hopes are pinned on the midterm elections. I do believe that most Americans are better than the base for whom “Crazytown” is just fine so long as they see it vindicating their white privilege. This is one election where every blue vote will count–whether it elects someone or not–because it will be, and will be seen as, a vote against tribalism, racism, sexism and the pervasive corruption of Crazytown.