Tag Archives: racism

Americans Can Hear Trump’s “Dog Whistles”

It occurs to me that calling the Trump campaign’s racist messaging “dog whistles” is increasingly inaccurate.

An actual dog whistle– a high-pitched whistle used to train dogs– typically has a sound inaudible to humans. Politically, the term has been used to describe messages aimed at particular constituencies that can hear them, but using language or imagery that the broader public will not “hear” or understand.

Trump’s messaging, on the other hand, has gotten less and less subtle. We’ve gone well beyond the “very fine people on both sides” response to the Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville. These days, messages aimed at his most reliable supporters–racists–are heard and understood by growing numbers of the general, non-racist public.

Just this year, we’ve had several examples. There was the rally scheduled for Tulsa on June 19th. In 1921, Tulsa was the site of one of the most horrific racial pogroms in American history, and June 19 is Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the day slaves in Texas learned they were free. Until recently, most white Americans were unaware of both, but that has been changing as history texts have begun including the less savory parts of the country’s past. (Ironically, given the blowback to Trump’s announcement, many Americans who were unaware of that history now know about both.)

Then there was the announcement that Trump’s acceptance speech would take place in Jacksonville, Florida, on August 27. Black people in Jacksonville know August 27th as “Ax Handle Saturday”–a day when  people participating in a 1960 NAACP demonstration were chased through downtown Jacksonville streets and beaten. Another “coincidence.”

More recently, Trump retweeted a supporter shouting “White Power.”

And of course, there was the truly horrifying campaign message conveyed along with Trump’s current fixation on the ANTIFA of his imagination. A campaign attack on ANTIFA was illustrated with the same upside-down red triangle the Nazis had used in concentration camps to designate political prisoners.

Fewer Americans are familiar with the history of the red triangle, so its use by the campaign probably fits the dictionary definition of a “dog whistle.” The symbol was used in Facebook ads and on the “Team Trump” page, alongside warnings of “Dangerous MOBS of far-left groups” and requests that supporters sign a petition about ANTIFA.

And as if the triangle wasn’t explicit enough, the campaign placed exactly 88 ads using the symbol–88 is a white supremacist numerical code for “Heil Hitler.”

Nixon had his “Southern Strategy.” Reagan was regularly accused of dog whistles to bigots. The GOP has long been accused of covert messaging to America’s distressingly large number of voters who exhibit “racial grievance”–or are outright white supremacists. Even at the GOP’s worst, however, most campaigns have tried to have it both ways–appealing to the racists while not being blatant enough to alert the people in their own party who would be repelled by such messages.

Not Trump. For one thing, he can’t spell subtle. For another, his personal history suggests that he is entirely sympathetic to the “cause” of white supremacy. The evidence stretches from his early refusal to rent apartments to African-Americans, to his truly reprehensible vendetta against the young boys wrongly accused of a Central Park rape, to his ridiculous, disgusting “birther” campaign and his obvious, obsessive effort to destroy anything and everything done by Barack Obama.

Let’s not dignify the Trump campaign by suggesting that it uses “dog whistles.” Let’s call it what it is: a campaign by a white supremacist, for white supremacists.

 

Guns And Protests

The pandemic, the economy and the Black Lives Matter Protests have dominated news coverage the past few months, joined by politics as the Presidential campaigns begin in earnest–but although long-simmering public policy debates have received less attention, that doesn’t mean those issues have gone away.

Which brings me to one of America’s longest, nastiest and most intractable standoffs: guns.

In January, Bartholomew County, Indiana’s gun rights activists asked that county’s commissioners to declare Bartholomew County a Second Amendment “sanctuary.” According to The Republic, the local newspaper, 

The group, called the Bartholomew County Indiana 2A United Sanctuary, has sent a draft of a proposed ordinance to the Bartholomew County commissioners, Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department and Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, said Chris Imel of Ladoga in Montgomery County. Imel is the group’s organizer and a former Bartholomew County deputy coroner, serving in 2017.

As of mid-afternoon Tuesday, the private social media group had 4,471 members on Facebook. Imel said he created the Facebook page a week ago.

The group believes the “sanctuary” is necessary to prevent the enforcement of certain gun control measures that–in their opinions– violate the Second Amendment.

The measures that they assert “violate the 2d Amendment” include emergency protection orders, enforcement of gun background checks, and Red Flag laws. (Indiana’s Red Flag law allows authorities to disarm people who pose a danger to themselves or others; such laws typically include due process provisions allowing gun owners to retrieve their weapons through the courts if they can demonstrate they are mentally competent.)

The Bartholomew County Indiana 2A United Sanctuary group claims the proposed ordinance would allow local officials to “refuse to cooperate with state and federal firearm laws” perceived to violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, including any future proposed restrictions on clip capacity, silencers, bump stocks, bayonet mounts, among other items, according to the proposed ordinance.

In other words, the desired “Sanctuary” would direct law enforcement in the county to ignore pretty much any state law limiting firearms in any way. (It did make an exception for federal law.)

The Bartholomew gun group  is not, unfortunately, just an isolated group of rural Hoosiers who don’t understand how laws work. They have lots of company.

As of Jan. 7, more than 418 counties, cities and towns in 21 states have passed Second Amendment sanctuary ordinances, including locations in Illinois, Colorado, New Mexico, Washington and Virginia, according to Gun Owners of America, a gun-rights group.

On Friday night, Jennings County officials signed a resolution stating the county is now a Second Amendment sanctuary. There is no indication that the resolution signed in Jennings County was approved by any county or city councils or boards before it was signed by the sheriff and others, including Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour.

If the sweep of this “Wild West” movement isn’t unsettling enough, the Brookings Institution recently issued a report titled “How Covid-19 is Changing the Gun Debate.

Starting in mid-April, anti-COVID-19 lockdown protestors stormed and shut down everything from statehouses to Subway restaurants with assault weapons and pipe wrenches. These protests are being framed around gun rights and free speech issues. Protests are allegedly about fully re-opening the economy following state-sanctioned shutdowns. Protestors appear to perceive that quarantine measures to keep them safe and reduce the spread of COVID-19 are violations of their civil liberties. In turn, they act out their frustrations through expressions of their 1st and 2nd Amendment rights. Anti-lockdown protests have now occurred in 31 states across the country and gun sales surged to nearly 2 million in March.

Not only have gun sales surged, but according to the report, they’ve surged in liberal states–despite the fact that the armed lockdown protestors are clearly Trump supporters. The researchers were unable to tell whether this data represents purchases by liberals (arming to protect themselves in the upcoming civil war?) or by conservatives living in liberal states (adding to their burgeoning armories?)

America is currently experiencing the simultaneous effects of the worst aspects of our cultural history: deeply-ingrained racism, an inadequate social safety net, a radical individualism that disdains even the slightest appeal to the common good, and the celebration of anti-intellectualism.

The racist and anti-intellectual elements gave us Trump–and his heavily-armed base.

 

 

 

How We Got Here

As usual, Paul Krugman is both blunt and correct: How did we get here?

The core story of U.S. politics over the past four decades is that wealthy elites weaponized white racism to gain political power, which they used to pursue policies that enriched the already wealthy at workers’ expense.

Until Trump’s rise it was possible — barely — for people to deny this reality with a straight face. At this point, however, it requires willful blindness not to see what’s going on.

For three plus years, credible/mainstream media sources have treated Trump as a legitimate–if unfit–Chief Executive, and the GOP as a normal political party. That approach  finally seems to be giving way to a recognition that–as the saying goes– we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Genuine conservatives are appalled, as they should be; they understand that the appropriation of the label by would-be fascists will make it immeasurably more difficult to rebuild a responsible–or even civilized– GOP.

In the same issue of the New York Times that carried Krugman’s column, conservative columnist Bret Stephens described Trump’s worse-than-tone-deaf response to the protests: “Empathy is a word he can’t define, compassion an emotion he can’t experience, humility a virtue he can’t comprehend and kindness an act he will never undertake.”

In a column for the Washington Post, George Will–someone with whom I have rarely agreed–noted that there is “no bottom” to Trumpian awfulness, and insisted that we must defeat not just Trump but his enablers.

This unraveling presidency began with the Crybaby-in-Chief banging his spoon on his highchair tray to protest a photograph — a photograph — showing that his inauguration crowd the day before had been smaller than the one four years previous. Since then, this weak person’s idea of a strong person, this chest-pounding advertisement of his own gnawing insecurities, this low-rent Lear raging on his Twitter-heath has proven that the phrase malignant buffoon is not an oxymoron.

The Lincoln Project, formed by “Never Trump” Republicans, has aired some of the most hard-hitting ads highlighting Trump’s racist appeal.

As bad as it has been, things are now getting much, much worse.

I have previously characterized this administration as a marriage of the Mafia and the Keystone Kops. But I omitted the Brown Shirts.

Krugman’s column focuses on the way the Mafia contingent has used and abused the Keystone Kop contingent. Will and several other commentators from varying political perspectives have focused on the ineptitude, ignorance and (almost) comical incompetence of Trump and his cronies–the behaviors that remind me so forcefully of the Keystone Kops.

But the administration’s appalling response to the protests reminded me that there is a far more threatening parallel: the genuine “thugs” who are all too eager to smash and burn and incite, to turn peaceful demonstrations into justifications for imposing a police state that would protect white supremacy.

The demonstrations and chaos have reminded many of us oldsters of the rioting and mayhem that took place in the 60s. However, unless my memory is faulty–which is certainly possible– there are some very significant differences.

When I see the television coverage and cellphone videos of the current protests, I see an enormous white presence–it often seems 50/50–evidence that many, many white people understand (as those saccharine TV commercials during the Coronavirus conclude) “we are all in this together.”

Interestingly, in the videos I have seen of people breaking windows and looting, more than half of those caught on camera have been white. (Trump says they are “Antifa;” it is far more likely that they are his storm troopers.)

The final difference: Nixon may have been a crook. He was certainly paranoid, racist and anti-Semitic. But next to Trump, he was a paragon of benign sanity.

How these differences will play out depends on how many Americans–covertly or overtly–sympathize with the Storm Troopers, and how many understand that we really are all in this together.

I think it was Mark Twain who said history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. It’s up to us to make sure that this rhyme ends on a positive note.

 

 

 

Mad As Hell And Unwilling To Take It Any More

There’s a famous scene from the movie Network in which–prompted by a furious anchorman–people lean out of their windows and scream “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Any honest American knows that racist, dehumanizing and frequently violent attacks on black people, most of whom are simply going about their business and trying to live their lives, have been a constant of American life. With the ubiquity of cellphone cameras, however, it has become much more difficult to rationalize these incidents away–to tell ourselves, well, it couldn’t have happened the way it’s being reported, there must have been more to the story, or to engage in other denial mechanisms allowing those of us privileged by our whiteness to avoid really knowing.

It’s so much easier not to know, because if we know, we will also know we should do something, even if we’re not sure what that something is.

Over the past several years, there has been a constant stream of videos documenting unjustified and frequently horrific treatment of African-Americans–too often by the police who are charged with protecting members of the public, too often in striking contrast to the way those same officers are shown treating white hoodlums, and too often encouraged by the White Nationalist currently defiling the Oval Office.

The protests underway around the country are a response to the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by a police officer; they’re the equivalent of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Those protests began as peaceful demonstrations, but a number have morphed into violence and looting.

Violence and property destruction, of course, give the Trumpers an excuse to double-down on the racism and ignore the appalling behavior that triggered civil unrest in the first place. It plays into their hands. And it is beginning to look as if some of them weren’t going to wait for black rage to ignite those fires and break those windows.

Minneapolis officials have charged that “outside forces” (mainly White Nationalists, some of whom are eager for civil war) are infiltrating peaceful protests and kicking off the violence and mayhem.

At a press conference, Gov. Tim Walls, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison alleged that outside forces infiltrated the state, and began setting fire to historic businesses in communities of color. Ellison cited a widely circulating video (cameras, again!) of a white man in a gas mask holding an umbrella who was caught by protestors on video methodically breaking windows.

The Mayor reported that every person arrested during the protests was from out of state.

Authorities will begin releasing the names of those arrested, and those individuals will be “contact-traced” to determine whether they are known members or sympathizers of the white nationalist groups that have been encouraging members to wreak havoc in Minneapolis and other cities where protests are occurring.

So here we are.

After three-and-half years in which Trump has engaged in racist rhetoric, modeled bullying behavior, and displayed contempt for the rule of law, the Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists are understandably emboldened.

The people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 weren’t all racists–although a substantial proportion of them demonstrably were. In 2020, a vote for Trump or for any of the Republicans who continue to enable him will unequivocally be a vote for racism– and for the complete abandonment of what I have called “the American Idea.

 

It’s Jim Lucas’ Party Now

Indiana has a Republican state representative named Jim Lucas. Lucas has a history of quite overt racism (among other things, he’s posted a noose to a story about a black man accused of rape), and a few days ago posted to Facebook a truly disgusting picture of black babies, in diapers and with exaggerated features,  dancing and singing “we gon’ to get free money.” It was a meme straight out of the 1950s South–and so patently offensive that a few Republican officeholders (for the first time) offered tepid condemnations.

If Lucas was an aberration, that would be one thing. But he seems to be genuinely representative of his party and district. Our daughter says that when she needs to break out of her own Facebook “bubble,” she checks out Lucas’ Facebook page and is always appalled at what he and his constituents evidently feel is appropriate to post there.

Lucas is right at home in today’s GOP. As we see the 2020 Presidential race shaping up, it is impossible to ignore the evidence: the party of Lincoln has become the party of white supremacy.

Trump quite clearly intends to run on his “Obamagate” conspiracy theory, hoping that it will both distract from his disastrous bungling of the pandemic and once again solidify his racist base.

Let’s look at the signs.

When the FBI confiscated Richard Burr’s phone, pundits left and right saw it as the beginning of a justifiable effort to punish what was widely seen as Burr’s insider trading. They ignored the fact that there was no similar raid on Senators Loeffler or Feinstein, despite the fact that both had also made suspicious trades. Burr, however, had done  something far worse; he had presided over the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election–and had been instrumental in the issuance of preliminary reports confirming that interference.

Thanks to Barr’s Justice Department raid, Burr has now stepped aside, and his replacement will be selected by Mitch McConnell. It is widely anticipated that the final volume of the Intelligence Committee report will be “amended.”

Meanwhile, lapdog Lindsey Graham is conducting a separate Senate “investigation” of Trump’s “Obamagate” fabrications.

It’s true that Trump is unable to articulate exactly what he is accusing the Obama folks of doing, other than investigating Intelligence reports that found Russia had interfered with the election. It’s also true that there is absolutely no evidence that the investigation was in any way improper. Of course, the fact that Hillary Clinton had been cleared of any intentional wrongdoing–or any breach of security–didn’t stop “but her emails.”

And Obama’s black. Allegations confirmed!

Trump began his campaign with birtherism. He called Mexicans “murderers and rapists” at his announcement. He’s been endorsed by David Duke and Neo-Nazis. Ergo, you can expect “Obamagate” to be embraced by what is left of the Republican Party–the party of Jim Lucas.

Think I’m exaggerating? Think “nice” Republicans are distancing themselves from the racist messaging?

As the Indiana primary approaches, we’ve been “treated” to political spots from local candidates for the GOP nomination in the 5th district. (Some 14 candidates are vying for the GOP’s nomination in that district–it’s an open seat.) The candidate spots I’ve seen range from stupid to offensive. None are as overtly racist as Lucas; instead, they all include an explicit pledge of devotion to Trump–the current “dog whistle” for Trumpian bigotries. The absolute worst is one by a sanctimonious woman named Victoria Spartz, whose ad says she was born in the Soviet Union so she understands how awful socialism is (!), and touts her endorsements by both Right to Life and the NRA. Irony is dead.

The Republican Party I served for 35 years is also dead. The many good people I worked with have conceded defeat and abandoned the field, leaving the Cult of Trump to the Jim Lucases, William Barrs, Mitch McConnells and their clones.

In November, we’ll see whether Trump’s “Johnny One Note” campaign strategy–White Nationalism focused on his still-seething racist resentment of Obama–still works.