Tag Archives: racism

In A Way, It Really WAS Obama’s Fault…

Whether the current eruption of White Christian Nationalism is–as I profoundly hope– its “death rattle” and not a more permanent, dangerous fixture of our political reality, it may be useful to consider what has triggered its current malevolence.

The road from the Emancipation Proclamation has been a long one, for reasons a number of historians have documented. The resistance of White supremicists, abetted by racist politicians, consistently impeded progress and continues to do so. But little by little, as the boots of those supremicists lifted from Black and Brown necks and as people of color (and women) were able to access education and get hired to do non-menial jobs, the environment has– slowly– shifted.

It has become difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the fact that talent and diligence–just like ignorance and sloth– are pretty widely dispersed among all populations.

Over the years, women, Latinos and Black people who occupy positions of authority have become more prominent and plentiful. Faces in the media and academia, and among co-workers and bosses and neighbors, have become steadily more diverse. And then, for the bigots, the ultimate indignity: a brilliant, classy Black President and his equally accomplished wife were “in the face” of resentful Whites for eight long years.

One way they could diminish Obama was to elect a crude, ignorant, classless racist to succeed him, as if to say: “See. Even a dumb, mentally-ill buffoon can do that job. You aren’t so special.” Another was to oppose and mischaracterize efforts to remedy the still-potent remnants of official racism–to pretend that vote suppression was “prevention of voter fraud” or  to insist (falsely) that demonstrations by groups like Black Lives Matter were as violent as their own.

I don’t pretend to understand the attitudes or thought processes (if they can be dignified by describing them as “thought”) of people who believe that a mob of White vandals trashing offices and defecating on the floor of the nation’s Capitol are representatives of a “superior” population.

As the saying goes, I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t play one on TV. I can only assume that what we are seeing is the inarticulate rage of people who are disappointed with their lives, who feel that the world is not according them the status and/or recognition to which they feel entitled, who have  comforted themselves with the notion that (as LBJ memorably put it) at least they were superior to Black people.

Take that comfort away, and they are truly bereft.

The question now is whether this most recent eruption will usher in any meaningful change. In the wake of the insurrection, there have been some encouraging signs that the determined “neutrality” of many people and businesses has been shaken. Donors are withdrawing support from several of the most culpable elected officials–those like Cruz and Hawley who clearly knew better but encouraged the uprising in hopes that indulging seditious fantasies would win them the support of Trump’s rabid base. The PGA will no longer authorize tournaments at Trump-owned golf courses. The Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers and even the rightwing editorial board of the Wall Street Journal are among those that have called for Trump’s resignation.

Will reaction to this shocking example of sedition go the way of the  “thoughts and prayers” responses to mass gun violence? Or will Americans finally, firmly reject racial and religious tribalism, and begin a final and vastly overdue commitment to civic equality?

I have hopes, but no crystal ball.

 

 

 

A Matter Of Morals

This is a very difficult time for those of us who are old enough to remember a much different politics.

When I was in City Hall, most elected Republicans and Democrats (granted, not all) could disagree over certain policies while agreeing about others. State Senators and Representatives could argue on the floor of a Statehouse chamber and go to lunch together afterward. Both Republican and Democratic Congressmen (yes, they were all men) would carry the City’s water in Washington.

And politicians of both parties honored election results and participated in the peaceful transition of power.

Why has that changed? Why do members of Trump’s hard-core MAGA base seethe with resentment and hatred of “the libs”? Why do so many of us respond to their hostility with incomprehension– as if they were representatives of a different species?

Well-meaning observers–pundits, political operatives, writers–counsel Americans to listen to one another, urge us to try to understand and respect each other, to make genuine efforts to bridge our differences.

Why do those pleas fall on deaf ears?

I think most thoughtful Americans struggle to understand the abyss that exists between the  MAGA true believers (and the integrity-free officials who pander to them), and the rest of us–the “rest of us” encompassing everyone from genuinely conservative “Never Trump” Republicans to the Bernie and AOC wing of the Democratic Party.

Like many of you, I have struggled to understand why Americans’ political differences have magnified and hardened. Clearly, our information environment has contributed greatly to the construction of incommensurate realities. That said, however, I think there is a deeper reason, and we find it at the intersection of politics and morality.

Political contests are about power, of course–about who gets to make decisions about our communal lives and behaviors. And power is obviously a great aphrodisiac. But purely political battles center on policy disputes–everything from where the county commissioners are going to put that new road to whether the country will enter into a particular trade agreement.

When politics works, the battles are overwhelmingly “how” arguments: how will we provide service X? What sort of law will solve problem Y? Who should benefit from program Z? Those battles certainly implicate morality, but not in the way or to the extent that our current disputes do. Increasing numbers of Americans believe they are engaged in a battle between good and evil–and to the extent the issues dividing us really are fundamentally moral ones, there is little or no common ground to be found.

I was struck by this observation in an article titled “The MAGA Hat Isn’t Campaign Swag. It’s a Symbol of Hate.”

Unless you’ve been marooned on the International Space Station, you know that Trumpism is racism, blatant or latent (here’s a summary of the voluminous evidence). That makes the cap no different than a Confederate flag. It’s racial animosity woven in cloth, unwearable without draping yourself in its political meaning. It would be like donning a swastika and expecting to be taken for a Quaker.

We Americans are still fighting the Civil War. As an article in the Guardian noted yesterday, the GOP has morphed into the Confederacy.

There has been a steady exodus from the GOP as its MAGA core has assumed effective control of the party.  And to be fair, there are still plenty of people who continue to vote Republican who do not fall into that category, although their willingness to ignore the obvious makes them complicit at best.

Those of you reading this post may disagree with the assertion that Americans are fighting over morality, not politics as we typically understand that term. But accurate or not, millions of thoughtful Americans  believe they are engaged in a battle for the soul of this nation, and are horrified by what they see as the willingness of some 40% of their fellow-citizens to spit on the aspirations of our founding documents and subvert the rule of law in order to retain a privileged status that they enjoy solely by reason of their skin color, gender and/or religion.

This isn’t politics as usual. It isn’t even politics as that term is usually understood.

Americans are having a profound and fundamental argument about reality, the nature of justice, the obligations of citizenship, and the kind of country we will leave our children and grandchildren.

That’s a hard chasm to bridge.

 

Atwater’s Explanation Still Applies

I believe it was Tallyrand who said “Man was given speech to disguise his thoughts, and words to disguise his eyes.” Had he been a contemporary American, he’d have been an enthusiastic Republican.

The late, legendary campaign consultant Lee Atwater once explained how Republicans won the vote of racists by manipulating language:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Nowadays, the economic linguistic game revolves around “socialism.” It took me a long time to realize that it’s the same game.

As an article in TNR noted,

to hear Republicans tell it, virtually everything government does is socialism; it is utterly foreign to the United States, and it cannot be implemented without imposing tyranny on the American people, along with poverty and deprivation such as we see today in Venezuela, where socialism allegedly destroyed the country.

It’s necessary to label and distort, to hide the real message, because many of the programs that trigger GOP hysteria over “socialism” are wildly popular: Medicare and Social Security come to mind. (Others are expected government services. As one friend noted on Facebook when it began to snow, “Look out for those socialist snowplows!”)

If GOP pundits and policymakers really wanted to discuss economics, rather than hide their actual motives, they would define their terms. They don’t, so allow me.

Socialism is generally what we call mixed economies where the social safety net is much broader and the tax burden somewhat higher than in the U.S. (Not as much higher as most think, actually)—Scandinavian countries are an example. The terminology tends to obscure the fact that most of those countries also maintain thriving private sector capitalist markets. 

Republicans misuse of the term also obscures the considerable amount of socialism enjoyed by wealthy Americans. A system that privatizes profits and socializes losses is hardly free-market capitalism. It’s socialism for the rich and brutal capitalism for the poor.

Socialism isn’t Communism. Communists believe that equality is defined by equal results. All property is owned communally, by everyone (hence the term “communism”). In practice, this meant that all property was owned by the government, ostensibly on behalf of the people. In theory, communism erases all class distinctions, and wealth is redistributed so that everyone gets the same share.  In practice, the government controls the means of production and most individual decisions are made by the state. Since the quality and quantity of work is divorced from reward, there is less incentive to innovate or produce, and ultimately, countries that have tried to create a communist system have collapsed (the USSR) or moved toward a more mixed economy (China).

Socialism isn’t Fascism. Some of our dimmer policymakers like to say that Nazi Germany was “Socialist” because fascism was sometimes called “national Socialism,” however the two are very different. In fascist systems, the nation is elevated—a fervent nationalism (MAGA?) is central to fascist philosophy. Although there is nominally private property, government controls business decisions. Fascist regimes tend to be focused upon a (glorious) past, and to insist upon traditional class structures and gender roles as necessary to maintain the social order.

The biggest problem with turning words into epithets, or using them to veil our real meaning isn’t just that it’s intellectually dishonest; it’s because labeling and dismissing avoids the conversations we ought to be having.

For one thing, the use of economic language to obscure real motives has left the U.S. with the most dysfunctional–and expensive– delivery of health care in the developed world.

The basic question in any economic system is: what should government do, and what should be left to the private sector? Another way to put that is: what services should be supplied communally? We “socialize” police and fire protection, provision of most physical infrastructure, and numerous other services–parks, garbage collection, schools, those snow plows–because it is fairer, more efficient and/or more cost-effective to do so. Those decisions don’t turn us into Venezuela.

When you deconstruct it, the GOP opposition to programs they label “socialism” is explained perfectly by  Atwater’s admission. White Republican Americans are unwilling to have their taxes benefit “those people.”

 

 

Two VERY Different Worlds….

Whenever I post about the growing body of research connecting America’s political polarization to bigotry, I can count on at least a few reproving comments from readers who are nicer than I am, insisting that attributing racist attitudes to a majority of Trump voters  is unfair, or at the very least, painting with far too broad a brush. 

But I keep coming across additional evidence.

The hyperlink will take you to an article from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, written by a social worker involved in one of the many yearly efforts to provide a decent Christmas to children whose families lack the resources to provide a happy holiday. She has been doing this for several years during which, she reports, she has found the charitable impulse of donors and the gratitude of recipients heartwarming.

Now, however, she writes that she can no longer “deny the chilling reality that I’ve become accustomed to, the new nature of how we treat our neighbors in society.”

As COVID-19 has pushed our organization to a peak in numbers of first-time applicants as well as those who were in need of human services (more than 20,000 this year alone in Allen County), it also gave me the highest number of demands from donors insisting that before they assist a family or help a child, they be given the political affiliation of their parents.

You read that correctly.

Donors insist that before they help, they know who the people they’re helping are voting for.

The first few requests I shrugged off as singular instances, until gradually they became a new norm for me to ready an answer for. All seem to be like-minded, that if they’re assisting children whose parents are voting a certain way, they are not worthy of basic necessities.

I’ve listened to endless defenses of this line of thinking, mostly ranting about how these anonymous people are lazy and unjustly entitled, all the while ironically insisting that “if I’m kind enough to give out of my own pocket, I have the right to make sure it’s not one of those people!”

The author never comes out and says which side of the political aisle has nurtured these attitudes, but her recitation of their nature leaves little room for doubt.

This year marks also the highest demand for “non-ethnic” names of children on our Angel Tree. Granted, no one says “only give me Caucasian-sounding names.” It’s a request for “traditional names” or “names we can actually pronounce.”

When you receive stacks of certain tags back, or watch the names on the online tree disappear, you quickly realize which names are consistently overlooked.

I’ve watched an influx this year of hateful comments as we kick off our campaign for the red kettle, urging people to give during a time when cash is scarce but the need is great. The animosity, the anger, the venom as people eagerly post how they refuse to help an organization that assists “system suckers” with their “welfare babies” (direct quotes).

The author reaches into her experiences as a social worker to enumerate the various kinds of hurt she’s seen–domestic abuse cases, childhood illnesses and deaths, soldiers with PTSD…the gamut.

This hurt, however, is new. And heartbreaking.

But for the first time, my heart has opened up to an entirely different kind of hurt. One that sees these people and in response clenches its fists. One who mocks and shames, who judges and scorns, then empowered, turns to rally others behind them to spread the sickness of hate.

Another data point: The Atlantic ran a post-election story with the headline “A Large Portion of the Electorate Chose the Sociopath.”The Atlantic article, by Tom Nichols, focused on the same question that has occupied the readers of this blog: who, after four years of Donald Trump, would vote for another four?

Nichols’ answer is the one I have reluctantly come to–as he says, the 2016 Trump voters who chose Trump because they thought he was “just like them” turned out to be right. They weren’t repulsed by brown children in cages, or attacks on “shithole” countries, or winks to Neo-Nazis and other “fine people” because –given the chance– they would do the same. 

There were seventy million of them. This isn’t the America I thought I inhabited.

Two Problems, Inter-related

Conversations with friends keep returning to a question I’ve been unable to answer: who are the Trump voters? Who are the Americans who lived through the last four years and marched to the polls wanting more of the same?

The answer is emerging. Votes for Trump are almost all attributable to two things: racial resentment and the rightwing media ecosystem.

Right now–thanks to years of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Breitbart and literally thousands of internet sites–it is perfectly possible to reside in an alternate reality, to live in a world that confirms your every preferred bias. When that world is at odds with the reality the rest of us inhabit, it absolutely precludes rational discussion and debate.

As I often tell my students, if I say this piece of furniture is a table and you say, why no, it’s a chair–we are not going to agree on how to use it.

As Jennifer Rubin recently wrote at The Washington Post,

The greatest challenge to our democracy is not that we hold deeply polarized beliefs, but that one party refuses to operate in a fact-based world that might challenge its beliefs. Whether it is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) propounding Russian propaganda, or the Wall Street Journal editorial page fanning Hunter Biden laptop conspiracy theories, or right-wing websites circulating falsehoods about crime and immigrants, we are awash with conservatives seeking to exploit the fears, ignorance and prejudices of many Americans

Rubin attributes the right-wing hysteria over “socialism” to that media bubble–she suggests rightwing media is “marooned in a weird time warp in which the ‘other side’ is some Cold War-era Marxist caricature.” Until very recently, I would have agreed with her analysis–I’ve frequently engaged in efforts to point out that the things that usually get labeled “socialism” are simply elements of the (necessarily) mixed economies of all modern nations, the public goods that markets cannot provide.

What I have finally understood–it takes me a long time, I’m dense–is that when the typical Trump voter hears “socialism,” that voter doesn’t think of an economic system. (Most couldn’t define the term accurately if they were asked.) What today’s Republican hears when an opposing candidate is labeled a “socialist” is: “this candidate wants the government to take your hard-earned tax dollars and use them for the benefit of ‘those people.'” (And we all know who “those people” are.)

Fear of “socialism” is where rightwing media and racism intersect.

Recently, a friend sent me an essay that laid it all out. Its central thesis is that more than half a century of white hostility to any kind of social progress has taken the country to a place that is dangerously close to social collapse,  culminating in Trumpism.

The author, Umair Haque, writes that “white Americans, as a group, have never, as a group, voted for a Democratic President. Never in modern history…. This trend goes back to JFK and perhaps before.”

Furthermore, Haque says that “Liberal, sane, thoughtful White Americans often overestimate how many of them there are,” and he backs that observation up with data showing that a majority of White Americans have approved of segregation, endless wars, inequality– and have made guns and religion primary social values. Majorities of White Americans have voted against most of what we think of as public goods–and against desegregation, civil rights laws, access to healthcare, retirement programs, and childcare.

The article is filled with depressing data. You really need to click through and read it in its entirety. (If you are White, you might want to pour a stiff drink first.)

I vaguely remember an old song titled “Two Different Worlds.” It ended, as I recall, with a promise that the “two different worlds” that the lovers inhabited would someday be one. Our task is a lot harder than the one in that sappy love song–we must somehow get a handle on the disinformation and propaganda and conspiracy theories–the media ecosystem that blocks out inconvenient realities and sustains White Supremacy. Then we have to have a White version of “the talk.”

Until we all see the same furniture, we aren’t going to agree on how to use it.