Tag Archives: racism

The White Grievance Party

The chaos of the Trump Administration–not to mention the willingness of Trump’s GOP to abandon “dog whistles” in favor of straight-up bigotry–has led a few of the remaining old style Republicans to admit what they’d previously been loathe to see: Trump is the inevitable consequence of the path the party has pursued for the past fifty years.

New York Times contributor Thomas Edsell recently reviewed a book written by Stuart Stevens.  Stevens is a Republican media consultant with what Edsell tells us is “an exceptionally high win-loss record,” who served as a lead strategist for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004; in the book’s mea culpa, he admits that a more accurate name for the GOP might be  the “white grievance party.”

Stevens didn’t just work for Bush. The list of his clients is a list of Republican eminences: Mitt Romney, Roger Wicker, Roy Blunt, Chuck Grassley, Rob Portman, Thad Cochran, Dick Lugar, Jon Kyl, Mel Martinez and Dan Coats — along with a handful of current and former governors.

Nonetheless, Stevens’s forthcoming book, “It Was All A Lie,” makes the case that President Trump is the natural outcome of a long chain of events going back to the 1964 election when Barry Goldwater ran for president as an opponent of the Civil Right Act passed earlier that year.

“As much as I’d love to go to bed at night reassuring myself that Donald Trump was some freak product of the system — a ‘black swan,’” Stevens writes, “I can’t do it”:

I can’t keep lying to myself to ward off the depressing reality that I had been lying to myself for decades. There is nothing strange or unexpected about Donald Trump. He is the logical conclusion of what the Republican Party became over the last fifty or so years, a natural product of the seeds of race, self-deception, and anger that became the essence of the Republican Party. Trump isn’t an aberration of the Republican Party; he is the Republican Party in a purified form.

“I have no one to blame but myself,” he declares on the first page. “What I missed was one simple reality: it was all a lie.”

The Republican Party promoted itself as defender of a core set of values: the importance of character and personal responsibility, opposition to Russia, fiscal responsibility and control of the national debt, recognition that immigration made America great, and the fiction that the GOP was a “big-tent party.”

The truth was that none of these principles mattered, then or now. The  Republican Party is “just a white grievance party.”

Stevens asserts that a race-based strategy was the foundation of many of the Republican Party’s biggest victories, from Nixon to Trump.

With Trump, the Party has grown comfortable as a white grievance party. Is that racist? Yes, I think it is. Are 63 million plus people who supported Trump racist? No, absolutely not. But to support Trump is to make peace with white grievance and hate.

As the remainder of Edsell’s column demonstrates, definitions of racism vary widely. Some people equate it with genuine hatred, others with unthinking acceptance of social attitudes that attribute certain traits to specific groups. Still others would apply the word to social structures that continue to disadvantage historically marginalized groups.

Whatever your definition, it doesn’t take a genius (very stable or otherwise) to see that racial resentment is pretty much the only genuine “value” embraced by today’s GOP. Stevens says not all Republicans are racists, and I’m sure that’s true. But everyone who casts a vote for a Republican candidate is telling the world that she (or more often, he) doesn’t consider racism to be a disqualification for public office.Is that really so distant?

As one of the scholars quoted in the column put it,

We have focused attention on bigots and white nationalists and not held ordinary citizens accountable for beliefs that achieve the same ends.

And so here we are……

It Explains So Much…

Americans argue endlessly about the reasons for our inadequate social safety net–it’s the influence of the plutocrats, the demise of unions, globalization, capitalism, the two-party system, etc. And certainly, all of those things are contributors to our peculiarly American refusal to  expand government safety-net programs. But an opinion piece that ran in last Sunday’s New York Times identified the real “elephant in the room.”

The reason we don’t have such programs is racism.( It’s the same reason we have Trump.)

The author, one Eduardo Porter, sums up a good deal of social science research when he asserts that the reason Americans have repeatedly rejected expansions of the social safety net is because that expansion inevitably collides “with one of the most powerful forces shaping the American experience: uncompromising racism.”

Why does the United States suffer the highest poverty rate among wealthy nations? Why does it have the highest teen pregnancy rate? Why are so many Americans addled by opioids? We blame globalization and technology. But these forces affect everybody — the French and the Canadians and the Japanese as much as us.

The United States alone has crumpled because it showed no interest in building the safeguards erected in other advanced countries to protect those on the wrong side of these changes. Why? Because we couldn’t be moved to build a safety net that cut across our divisions of ethnicity and race.

Porter revisits the New Deal and later efforts by President Johnson to expand social programs, and reminds us that–along with the positive results we remember, like Social Security and Medicare–there were “compromises” that effectively prevented African-Americans from sharing the benefits of those programs.

In order to win support of Southern Democrats, Roosevelt ensured that major parts of the New Deal excluded nonwhites. The Federal Housing Administration, to take one New Deal creation, is celebrated for expanding homeownership, but it also refused to back loans in predominantly black neighborhoods, or for black people period.

New Deal labor codes allowed businesses to offer whites a first crack at jobs and authorized lower pay scales for blacks. In their first incarnation, Social Security and the Fair Labor Standards Act excluded domestic and farm jobs, which employed two out of three black workers.

That Nixon was a racist and an anti-Semite isn’t news. Notes taken by H.R. Haldeman (who certainly looked like the prototypical Nazi) recorded Nixon saying “You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” That was in 1969.

Reagan excoriated undeserving black “welfare queens.” Bill Clinton, who had promised to expand health care, instead ended “welfare as we know it.” He replaced AFDC with TANF, and funded TANF with block grants that allowed states to play games with the money and, as Porter notes, ” withhold aid as they saw fit.”

Other rich countries have continued to expand and improve health care, education and child care —Porter says that such services today amount to about 10 percentage points more of their G.D.P. than they did in the 1960s. Meanwhile, in the United States, that proportion has barely budged. What did grow was incarceration.

And thanks to Michelle Alexander, we know that mass incarceration disproportionately targeted African-Americans–it was the “New Jim Crow.”

Porter is not optimistic about our capacity for change.

While minorities might eventually reshape American politics into something more inclusive, until that happens politics will be determined by the efforts of freaked-out whites to resist this change. Republicans’ efforts to ensure a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for a generation, like state-level efforts to suppress the vote of people of color and gerrymander districts to dilute their electoral clout, are a clear expression of white fear.

Whether Mr. Sanders or Mr. Biden wins the nomination, the Democrats will spend the rest of the primary promoting an expansive vision for America’s safety net. As they do, they also need to admit that they are envisioning an America that has never existed.

Ask yourself why the United States, alone among the world’s richest nations, still doesn’t provide its citizens comprehensive, universal health care. Ponder why Obamacare is being so relentlessly whittled down by Republican governors, the courts and the Trump administration. Racial animosity is at the root of all this — and until America finally grapples with it, even the grandest plans will amount to nothing.

The Coronavirus pandemic may make it impossible to ignore the consequences of our “original sin.”

The reason I keep harping on voting “blue no matter who” is because over the past forty or so years, the two-party system has basically sorted into a racist and an anti-racist party.  There are undoubtedly still racist Democrats, and people of good will likely remain within the GOP– but given the Grand Old Party’s current base, good will is impotent.

Until we defeat America’s pervasive racism, it’s not just Medicare for all we won’t get–it’s an adequate social safety net.

 

It Wasn’t “The Establishment”

In the wake of Joe Biden’s victories on Super Tuesday, there has been a concerted effort by Sanders’ most rabid supporters (undoubtedly abetted by some Russian ‘bots’) to accuse a nefarious (and conveniently un-defined) “Establishment” of dirty tricks.

The folks crying foul look a lot like the Trump supporters who dismiss any and all facts that contradict their fervently-held beliefs as “fake news.”

The data says otherwise.

An analysis of actual data by Thomas Edsell in the New York Times is instructive. Here’s his lede:

Four years ago, in Grant County, Oklahoma, Bernie Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton, 57.1 percent to 31.9 percent.

This year, Sanders didn’t just lose Grant County — 87.5 percent white, 76.9 percent without college degrees — to Joe Biden, his percentage of the vote fell by 41 points, to 16.1 percent.

Grant County reflects what has become a nationwide pattern in the Democratic primaries, including those held Tuesday night: Sanders’s support among white working class voters has begun to evaporate.

What happened?

Edsell mines the data. It shows that large numbers of voters in 2016 were extremely hostile to Clinton; they voted for Sanders because they detested her–not because they were part of Bernie’s “revolution.” Once she captured the nomination, a surprising number voted for Trump.

Edsell suggests that the aversion of these (mostly) male voters to Hillary was also a factor in Elizabeth Warren’s inability to do better in the primary. He cites a recent study,

“Understanding White Polarization in the 2016 Vote for President: The Sobering Role of Racism and Sexism,” by Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts, and Matthew MacWilliams and Tatishe Nteta, political scientists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was published in 2018 in the Political Science Quarterly.

Trump, according to the authors, deliberately put racism and sexism at the center of the campaign in order to make these issues salient and advantageous to his candidacy:

Trump’s rhetoric went far beyond targeting racial and ethnic groups; he also invoked language that was explicitly hostile toward women. These remarks were often focused directly at opponents, such as Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton, or news reporters, such as Megyn Kelly.

Edsell goes into some detail about the study, and it’s worth clicking through and reading, but his larger point was that considerable research demonstrates that a very significant percentage of non‐college‐educated whites hold sexist views.  So we shouldn’t be surprised by post-primary analyses that show non-college educated whites –many of whom voted for Sanders in 2016–breaking for Biden in significant numbers now that Sanders no longer faces Hillary.

Overall Sanders is running well below his 2016 vote share everywhere. A lot of people underestimated just how much of his support in 2016 was an anti-Clinton vote, and now that he’s not running against Clinton, those voters aren’t backing him anymore.

Other interesting data points: between 10 and 12 percent of Sanders’s 2016 primary voters voted for Trump in the general election, with an additional 12 percent either voting for a third-party candidate or not voting at all. And many weren’t Democrats; interviews with Sanders-Trump voters over the years suggest that only 35 percent of them had voted for Obama in either 2008 or 2012.

What separated Sanders-Trump voters from Sanders-Clinton voters was simple racism.

When asked how they felt about whites and blacks on a 0-100 scale, Sanders-Trump voters rated blacks 9 points less favorably than Sanders-Clinton voters. But Sanders-Trump voters rated whites 8 points more favorably.

Nate Silver has also crunched the numbers, pointing out that in 2016, Sanders won 43 percent of the primary vote against Clinton; however, if “24 percent of that 43 percent were #NeverHillary voters, that means Sanders’s real base was more like 33 percent of the overall Democratic electorate.”

If Edsell and the scholars he quotes are right about the extent and effect of latent sexism (and not-so-latent racism), it explains why Sanders’ support diminished this time around–although it doesn’t explain the significant reduction in turnout by young voters, especially in a year when Democratic primary turnout overall has skyrocketed. (One tongue-in-cheek explanation: Young people tweet. Old people vote.)

One thing, however, is clear. No matter how distasteful the evidence is to Bernie’s most passionate supporters, neither the pathetically inept DNC nor some shadowy “establishment” are responsible for his likely failure to win the nomination.

It may seem inconceivable to them that a majority of Democratic voters prefer Biden. But the data says they do.

 

Bigotry And The Campus

My university–albeit not my campus–recently made the Washington Post, among other national publications, thanks to a longtime business-school professor’s racist, sexist and homophobic posts to social media.

According to colleagues on the Bloomington campus, Eric Rasmusen has voiced these opinions–which he characterizes as “conservative” and “Christian”–for several years.   What apparently triggered the current attention to them was his recent retweet of an article suggesting that women are destroying academia. The ensuing publicity has led to a lively argument over the University’s response, which has been to condemn his opinions in the strongest possible terms while respecting his First Amendment right to express them on his own site.

The current kerfuffle illustrates–among other things– the dishonesty of most conservative criticisms of higher education, especially the charge that conservative faculty members aren’t treated fairly.

More telling, however, is Professor Rasmusen’s clumsy effort to distance himself from the clear implications of his own social media history.

Rasmusen, who has taught at the school since 1992, told the Indiana Daily Student on Wednesday that he only shared a quote he “thought was interesting and worth keeping note of.” He told the student publication that the backlash was surprising, adding, “It seems strange to me because I didn’t say anything myself — I just quoted something.”

In a Thursday interview with Kelly Reinke, Rasmusen said he should be able to quote from an article without agreeing with it in its entirety; he deflected questions that asked him point-blank whether he agreed with the piece.

Since then, Rasmusen has continued to update a personal page “for links concerning the 2019 kerfuffle in which the Woke crowd discovered my Twitter tweets, retweets, and suchlike and got very excited, and my Dean and Provost immediately overreacted.”

If the Professor’s history of racist, sexist and homophobic posts reflects his considered philosophy, why does he seem so reluctant to own that philosophy? (I’ve noticed that a number of individuals who spout truly offensive racist rhetoric nevertheless object to being labeled racist. But that’s an observation for another day…)

The university’s response, in my view, was exactly right. It’s an approach that respects both the First Amendment and the right of students to have their classroom performance fairly and equally evaluated.

Indiana University Provost Lauren Robel did not mince words in a statement to the Kelley School community Wednesday, asserting that Rasmusen had used his social media accounts to push bigoted views for several years. Robel said Rasmusen had previously used slurs to describe women, who he has said do not belong in the workplace and academia. He has similar feelings about gay men, Robel said, because “he believes they are promiscuous and unable to avoid abusing students.”

Robel also said Rasmusen thinks black students are unqualified for attendance at elite institutions and are academically inferior to their white counterparts….

“Ordinarily, I would not dignify these bigoted statements with repetition, but we need to confront what we are actually dealing with in Professor Rasmusen’s posts,” Robel wrote. “His expressed views are stunningly ignorant, more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st.”

She indicated that school officials have been flooded with demands for Rasmusen to be fired in recent days, a request she said the university could not — and would not — adhere to because “the First Amendment of the United States Constitution forbids us to do so.” But, she said, Rasmusen would be in violation of the law and school policy if he acted upon his discriminatory views while grading or making tenure decisions. The school would investigate and address those allegations if they were raised, she added.

The university will ensure that students worried about being treated fairly in Rasmusin’s classes–an understandable concern, given the persistence with which he has voiced his views over the years– have alternative courses available to them, and administrators are requiring him to use a double-blind system for grading so he won’t know whose papers he is evaluating.

Are faculty members who espouse Rasmusin’s particular brand of conservatism rare on elite American campuses? Of course. His views are blatantly inconsistent with academic competence. They are inconsistent as well with the legitimate conservatism that does have a place in academic discourse.

Defending bigotry by calling it “conservatism” is an insult to genuine conservatives. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that going around…

 

Peter Wehner Explains The Inexplicable

Like most Americans today, I occupy a bubble. My friends, family, colleagues and neighbors all tend to see political reality largely the way I see it.

So I was taken aback–floored, really–by a conversation I had during a weekend visit to New Buffalo, Michigan. Our daughter and son-in-law had treated us to the visit and a tour of the 1932 World Fair’s “Homes of the Future” sponsored by Indiana Landmarks. We were staying in a lovely Bed and Breakfast, and while I was getting coffee, I chatted with a guest who turned out to be from Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis.

What began as a cordial exchange devolved when he mentioned that he “loved” President Trump. (I’m sorry to report that I didn’t bite my tongue; I suggested he’d been drinking the Kool-Aid, and he stomped off.)

This encounter bothered me immensely. Here was a person who was obviously comfortable financially, who didn’t look like someone who ignored the news, or was mentally incapacitated. Why would he “love” this pathetic excuse for a human?

My husband’s theory was that Trump justifies the guy’s probable racism, but the exchange was still rankling when I read Peter Wehner’s column in Monday’s New York Times, titled “What’s the Matter with Republicans?”

One might hope that some of the party’s elected officials would forcefully condemn the president on the grounds that there is now demonstrable evidence that he had crossed an ethical line and abused his power in ways even beyond what he had done previously, which was problematic enough.

But things are very different today than they were in the summer of ’74. Mr. Trump was on to something when he famously said, during the 2016 campaign, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, O.K.? It’s, like, incredible.” What most people took to be hyperbole turned out to be closer to reality.

Wehner–who was formerly a staunch  Republican–then asked the same question I had asked: why? What would account for continued fealty to someone who is not only a demonstrably unfit President, but a truly repulsive human being with what Wehner accurately describes as “a mobster’s mentality”?

Why, then, are so many Republicans yet again circling the Trump wagon rather than taking this opportunity to denounce what the president did and declare some independence from him by doing so? Why has Mr. Trump, an ethical wreck of a man both before and after he reached the White House, earned such fealty from Republicans?

Wehner says it isn’t policy, and I agree.

Understanding the close compact between Mr. Trump and the Republican Party starts with acknowledging the false hope many establishment Republicans placed in the shady real estate mogul as he rose to power. They misdiagnosed the individual they were dealing with, assuming that Mr. Trump would “grow in office” and that they, the “adults in the room,” would be able to control and contain him. At the outset of this unholy alliance, they were convinced they would change Mr. Trump more than Mr. Trump would change them. But the transformation turned out to be in them, not him.

Wehner acknowledges that politicians’ self-interest is threatened by the loyalty of the GOP base to Trump. But what accounts for the devotion of that base–of people like the man I had encountered?

As a conservative-leaning clinical psychologist I know explained to me, when new experiences don’t fit into an existing schema — Mr. Trump becoming the leader of the party that insisted on the necessity of good character in the Oval Office when Bill Clinton was president, for example — cognitive accommodation occurs.

When the accommodation involves compromising one’s sense of integrity, the tensions are reduced when others join in the effort. This creates a powerful sense of cohesion, harmony and group think. The greater the compromise, the more fierce the justification for it — and the greater the need to denounce those who call them out for their compromise. “In response,” this person said to me, “an ‘us versus them’ mentality emerges, sometimes quite viciously.”

“What used to be a sense of belonging,” I was told, “devolves into primitive tribalism, absolute adherence to the leader over adherence to a code of ethics.”…

As the psychologist I spoke to put it to me, many Republicans “are nearly unrecognizable versions of themselves pre-Trump. At this stage it’s less about defending Trump; they are defending their own defense of Trump.”

“At this point,” this person went on, “condemnation of Trump is condemnation of themselves. They’ve let too much go by to try and assert moral high ground now. Calling out another is one thing; calling out yourself is quite another.”

And then there’s that shared racism….