Tag Archives: racism

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….

 

At Least We Aren’t Alone…

In the United States, we apparently are divided into two completely different species: the know-nothing cult that is today’s GOP, and the people who live and worry in what has been called “the reality-based community.”

As depressing as it is dealing with the alternate reality inhabited by Trump and his defenders, we need to recognize that we aren’t the only once-dominant nation busily crapping in our own mess kit. (Sorry, but that seemed the most apt description.)

Britain has Brexit. And Boris Johnson. (Although I’ll note that the UK also has 21 Conservative lawmakers who were willing to put the interests of their country above their party. Thus far, that’s 21 more than we have.)

A couple of weeks ago, the Guardian reported on the likely consequences of a “hard Brexit”–the path they are being taken down by Boris Johnson.

No-deal Brexit has never loomed larger than in the current moment. Boris Johnson has said that Britain will leave the European Union on 31 October. His entire political strategy is based on the credibility of his threat to follow through, regardless of whether he has come to an agreement with the remaining 27 members. As a result, the need to understand what no deal may mean in practice has become increasingly urgent.

At the UK in a Changing Europe, we have tried to address this: our report on it is out on Wednesday. We don’t have any inside information. We’re not privy to material that others do not have. But we do have a team of scholars who have spent their careers studying the relationship between the UK and the EU, and so are well placed to consider the potential implications if the UK were to leave in this manner.

What does that increasingly likely no-deal Brexit look like?

No deal means a cliff edge; the full panoply of checks and tariffs will be imposed on our exports to the EU, and cross-border trade in services will face new restrictions.

So trade with the EU will become more difficult and more costly, with those costs being potentially catastrophic for smaller companies that do not have the margins to absorb them.

After noting the probable disruption to trade and freedom of movement, the article highlighted issues that have received less attention:

One little discussed consequence of no deal is that the UK will immediately lose access to EU databases and other forms of cooperation including the European arrest warrant, the Schengen information system and Europol. This will hinder policing and security operations in a world where data is key to solving crime. Nor is it inconceivable, say, that we will witness a rise in organised criminal activity, as gangs seek to profit from this disruption.

And then, there are the problems that have been foreseen, but not solved:

But perhaps the biggest and most dangerous unknown is what happens on the island of Ireland. The UK government has said it will not apply checks and tariffs at the Irish border – a stance which is at odds with its commitments under, inter alia, WTO rules. The EU, however, has made it clear it intends to apply the rules, though whether all checks will be imposed from day one is less obvious. Both sides are likely to blame the other, with unforeseeable political and economic consequences.

Over the longer term, the economy will adjust. But there will be a significant cost. Our earlier research, which analysed the effects of trading with the EU on WTO terms, found that after 10 years this would reduce the UK’s per-capita income by between 3.5% and 8.7%; other credible analyses come to much the same conclusion.

With or without a hard Brexit, the decision to leave the EU will weaken the UK in multiple ways. With or without Impeachment or a “blue wave” in 2020, the U.S. will need a generation–at least–to recover from the systemic damage inflicted by a mentally-ill ignoramus monumentally unfit for the office he holds. If we recover.

The UK and the US are both in a world of hurt because significant percentages of citizens in both countries voted their racism. In England, a vote for Brexit was an anti-immigrant vote; in the U.S., a vote for Trump rewarded his abandonment of dog-whistles in favor of full-throated, unembarrassed bigotry.

As a result, there’s you-know-what in the mess kit.

The Urban-Rural Divide…Elsewhere

I’ve posted before about the urban/rural divide, and why it’s politically consequential.

In 2014, the Wall Street Journal quoted Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, for the proposition that the differences in the United States aren’t really “red versus blue” but “urban versus rural.” That observation has been echoed widely, as the differences between residents of rural and small-town America and those who live in urban areas have become steadily more pronounced.

Religion–a historically important generator of conflict– is one such difference: urban Americans are more than three times more likely than their rural counterparts to say that religion isn’t particularly important to them. (Attitudes on social issues reflect that difference: rural residents are far more likely to consider homosexuality a sin and to oppose same-sex marriage, to oppose abortion, and to support restrictions on immigration.)

A survey by Pew in 2018 found white rural residents twice as likely as white urban dwellers to insist that they don’t enjoy a social advantage by reason of their skin color.

Rural residents are more likely to be older and poorer and more likely to be isolated than urban dwellers. They are also far more likely to be Republican.

Despite the fact that some 80% of Americans now live in cities, the structure of America’s electoral system continues to significantly advantage rural voters, especially but not exclusively through the operation of the Electoral College. Whether what is called the urban/rural split is defined simply as city versus country, or by a more complex cultural regionalism, those ubiquitous red/blue maps attest to the measurable and consequential differences between urban and rural Americans.

This situation, according to the Washington Post, is not exclusively an American phenomenon.A report from 2016 suggests a very similar state of affairs in Europe.

What shaped European politics over the past two years might appear to some like a revolution of rural Europe rising up against the establishment and economic winners.

Support for Britain leaving the European Union was highest in rural areas in the June referendum.

It is also “rural France” that might empower far-right politician Marine Le Pen next year.

In Germany, the urban establishment underestimated the backlash the recent influx of refugees would provoke in less densely populated areas.

In rural northern Europe, the article tells us, younger, better educated men and women have moved to cities to find employment. That statement also describes states like Indiana, where small towns continue to empty out as young people depart for more densely populated cities.

Even in federal republics like Germany, which lack the dominance of one single capital city, an urban-rural disconnect is increasingly visible. Whereas Berlin has attracted foreigners and Germans alike, its surrounding areas have seen a rapid demographic change. Supermarkets have closed, and bus connections were canceled as a result. It is a pattern which can be observed all over Europe at the moment.

The description of those who have stayed in Europe’s rural areas is familiar here too: a feeling of being left behind has replaced the pride of place that used to characterize small villages and hamlets. Rural residents exhibit a sense of abandonment and replacement that the article suggests is largely responsible for the election of Trump and the vote for Brexit.

When people feel left behind, they want someone to blame.

And as these native Britons feel trapped with no economic future, they see images of an increasingly diverse population in the cities. To many Brexit supporters, concerns over an influx of immigrants were among the reasons they voted to leave the E.U.

In Germany, similar feelings have created a different kind of backlash: anti-immigration protests and anti-refugee attacks. Economically distressed eastern Germany has seen the vast majority of those attacks. That region, an area which consists of five states excluding Berlin, accounts for only about 15 percent of the German population. Yet the majority of anti-immigrant attacks took place in the country’s east in 2015.

In one way, it’s comforting to recognize that we aren’t the only country experiencing this problem. But while “misery loves company,” commiserating with that company doesn’t solve our problems.

A country with a functioning government would work to address the problems of rural decline–try to ameliorate the isolation and frustration that feed racial and ethnic resentments. But we don’t have a functioning government.

We have an administration that needs to keep fueling those rural frustrations and resentments. They are the sentiments that motivate the GOP base.

Losing Privilege And Throwing A Tantrum

In 2016, following Trump’s win of the Electoral College vote, reasonable Americans  debated a foundational question: why? What would prompt a voter to cast a ballot for someone so obviously unfit for any office, let alone the Presidency? There were plenty of theories offered: hatred of Hillary, misogyny, a desire to blow up “the system,” Trump’s overt appeal to racism.

In the almost three years that have followed, the question changed. Now the mystery is his continued support by a significant majority of present-day Republicans. (I say present-day, because there have been sizable defections from the GOP in the wake of Trump’s election.) After three years of embarrassing behavior, constant obvious lies, and ample evidence of both ignorance and mental illness, how has he managed to retain the loyalty of his base?

A lot of us have guessed the (depressing) answer, but three years of academic research and simple observation have confirmed it. As a recent article initially published by Salon put it,

Trumpism is a form of backlash politics fueled by white rage at a perceived loss of privilege and power in a more diverse and cosmopolitan world. Trumpism is a temper tantrum along the global color line fueled by anxieties about power and social dominance.

That about sums it up.

It isn’t like the administration is trying to hide its bigotry. Aside from the horrendous treatment of brown people seeking asylum, there have been homophobic Executive orders about who can serve in the armed forces, anti-Semitic characterizations of Jews who disagree with Trump’s policies on Israel, attacks on Congresspersons of color, and a wide variety of other assaults aimed at those considered “other.”

Recently, reporters uncovered the fact that the Justice Department, among others, has been including white nationalist propaganda in official emails.

The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review last week included a blog post from an anti-immigrant hate site in its daily news briefing to immigration court employees—and it was no accident: BuzzFeed News reports it has done this several times over the past year. It hasn’t been just the DOJ, either. “In addition, similar newsletters sent to the Labor Department, ICE, HUD, and the Department of Homeland Security included links and content from hyperpartisan and conspiracy-oriented publishers.” Among the sites have been Western Journal and Epoch Times, two sites that have spread birther and QAnon nonsense.

But a good chunk of this egregious behavior has come from the Justice Department, which has distributed links from VDARE, a white supremacist site popular with anti-Semites and other shits, at least six times since last September. In the most recent incident last week, the Justice Department shared a VDARE post that attacked immigration judges by name and “with racial and ethnically tinged slurs,” said National Association of Immigration Judges Union President Ashley Tabaddor. “If I had sent this,” she commented, “I would be facing serious disciplinary action.”

As the Salon report noted,

In their 2016 article “Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism,” social scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris also locate Trumpism as part of a global right-wing movement that is channeling what they describe as “retro backlash.” This is a feeling “especially among the older generation, white men, and less educated sectors, who sense decline and actively reject the rising tide of progressive values, resent the displacement of familiar traditional norms, and provide a pool of supporters potentially vulnerable to populist appeals.”

In the absence of principled Republicans in the Senate, Trump has been able to populate government agencies and–what is more frightening–the federal bench with men (and a very few women) who share his hostility to disfavored minorities.

The Salon article cites research suggesting that Trump voters embrace chaos in the hopes that what emerges will allow them to regain what they feel they have lost.

Whatever the psychology, there is one overriding lesson for Democrats: they will not “peel off” many–if any–Republican voters. Those who still support Trump are a lost cause, and trying to appeal to them is a fool’s errand. What will defeat Trump and his cult is turnout. 

Most Americans, fortunately, strongly disapprove of Trump and his racism. Our job is to make sure they vote.

It Isn’t Hypocrisy–It’s Worse. Much Worse.

In a comment a few days ago, Gerald posted a link to Raw Story, headlined “Why Evangelicals Won’t Care about Jerry Falwell Jr.’s apparent sex scandal.”

Presumably, they also won’t care about the self-dealing, corruption and similar behaviors that were the focus of a preceding expose in Politico. 

What I found fascinating about the Raw Story version wasn’t the detailed enumeration of Falwell’s multiple unChristian behaviors. His full-throated support for Trump had already provided ample evidence that the publicly-espoused values of his brand of Christianity were bogus. What I found interesting–and hopeful–was the publication’s willingness to identify the actual values of that brand.

The article began with evidence of Falwell’s sexual kinkiness and financial improprieties–and a prediction that none of it would matter to his followers.

The pretense that the religious right was motivated by faith and morality was dropped — or should have been — when white evangelicals flocked to vote for Trump in greater numbers than they did for George W. Bush, who if he was convincing about little else, was convincingly a man of faith.

Here’s the thing: The real purpose of the Christian conservative movement is to uphold white supremacy and patriarchy, full stop. As long as Falwell Jr. keeps that up — as his father did before him — his flock will stick with him just as they’ve stuck with Trump, a thrice-married chronic adulterer who has bragged about sexual assault on tape.

The article went on to debunk the evident belief of the whistleblowers who shared the information with Politico that Falwell Senior had been a better, more authentic Christian.

The elder Jerry Falwell was a bigot through and through, and his version of Christianity was primarily, if not solely, about rationalizing a white supremacist, misogynistic and homophobic worldview.

Falwell first rose to fame as a Baptist minister due to his stalwart opposition to civil rights, which he called“a terrible violation of human and private property rights.” He declared that the 1964 Civil Rights Act “should be considered civil wrongs rather than civil rights.” He also once declared, in response to the historic Brown v. Board of Education case, that if the Supreme Court “had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made.”

Falwell Senior made little effort to hide his racism. He criticized Martin Luther King, Jr. for political activism, despite his own equally political activities. The article also reports what scholars have recognized for some time: the attacks on LGBTQ citizens and women’s reproductive rights were intended to divert attention from the racism that was less politically palatable.

Falwell became even more politically involved  when the federal government under Jimmy Carter stripped tax-exempt status from all-white private schools, which Liberty University was at the time. To punish Carter, Falwell helped form the Moral Majority in 1980 to support Republicans and defeat Democrats. He and other organizers shrewdly pivoted away from open support for segregation and opposition to civil rights toward the more politically palatable politics (at the time) of opposition to feminism and LGBT rights. Falwell would try to distance himself from his past by claiming later to oppose segregation, but he kept finding himself on the wrong side of history, such as when he supported South Africa’s apartheid government.

So Jerry Falwell Jr. isn’t straying from his father’s legacy, but expanding it. From the beginning, it’s always been about white supremacy and patriarchal control. The sanctimony was just plastered over these ugly intentions to give all that hate a holy makeover.

So why isn’t this behavior properly called hypocrisy?

Despite the repeated, strenuous efforts of liberals to point out the hypocrisy, Trump’s support on the Christian right never seems to weaken. That’s because it was never, ever — not for one moment, even at the height of the George W. Bush era of big-time Bible-thumping — about sincere religious conviction. It was always about white supremacy and patriarchy. To call this “hypocrisy” misses the point, in a sense, because to be hypocrites Christian conservatives would have had to believe in something larger than their own bigotries to begin with.

Bingo.