Tag Archives: racism

About that 40%…

The problem isn’t Trump. As numerous people have recognized, Trump–despicable and dangerous and deranged as he is– is the symptom, not the disease.

I’ve previously posted about the systemic and structural fault-lines that have been exploited by Trump’s GOP supporters and fellow-travelers–but the disease, the root problem, isn’t the systems. It’s those supporters. Polls suggest that some 40% of Americans fall into that category, and the recurring, haunting question is: why? How could any sane adult look at this man and say, yep, that’s the guy I want directing my government? That’s the role model I want my kids to emulate?

Actually, I think my manicurist answered that question during a recent appointment.

She’s an adorable young woman (and very “woke” as the current terminology would have it). We were discussing the election, and she shared her distress that several family members were Trump supporters. I asked the question I always ask: why? What was her impression/ best guess about the basis of that support? She thought for a moment, then said “I hate to say this, but I think they are sort of racist, and Trump gives them permission to feel that way.”

Her anecdotal suspicions continue to be confirmed by the research, some of which I’ve referenced in prior posts. As more studies emerge, the evidence continues to grow.

The Washington Post recently reported on research into the authoritarian proclivities of Trump supporters–research that  linked those tendencies to racial animus.

In “Authoritarian Nightmare,” Bob Altemeyer and John W. Dean marshal data from a previously unpublished nationwide survey showing a striking desire for strong authoritarian leadership among Republican voters.

They also find shockingly high levels of anti-democratic beliefs and prejudicial attitudes among Trump backers, especially those who support the president strongly. And regardless of what happens in 2020, the authors say, Trump supporters will be a potent pro-authoritarian voting bloc in the years to come.

The research paints a picture of  people who are “submissive, fearful, and longing for a mighty leader who will protect them from life’s threats.” They are particularly prone to divide the world into friends and foes, and to believe that the foes far outnumber the friends.

Other researchers have reached similar conclusions using very different methods. Vanderbilt political scientist Larry Bartels, for instance, recently used YouGov survey data to find that many Republican voters hold strong authoritarian and anti-democratic beliefs, with racism being a key driver of those attitudes.

In the most recent study, respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “Once our government leaders and the authorities condemn the dangerous elements in our society, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our country from within.” Roughly half of Trump supporters agreed with that statement,  which–as Altemeyer and Dean point out– is “practically a Nazi cheer.”

If there has been one overarching lesson to be learned from the past few years, it is the (previously unappreciated) extent to which tribalism, racism and bigotry explain things that are otherwise inexplicable. A recent essay from New York Magazine analyzed the failure of Congress and the President to agree on a second, desperately needed stimulus package. The author’s conclusion was stunning: “bailing out” blue states would benefit ethnic minorities–something Republicans are loathe to do.

The most plausible explanation for this state of affairs is this: Most Senate Republicans face no great risk of losing their seats to a Democrat this year or any other. For them, the main threat to their power is a primary challenge. And right now, conservative media has turned opposition to fiscal aid into a cause célèbre, casting support for “blue-state bailouts” as treasonous.

How hateful do you have to be to withhold aid during a global pandemic to people you see as “Other”–even if by doing so, you and those you view as your own kind are harmed as well?

Even if there is a blue tsunami on November 3d, the people who hold these attitudes will still constitute a troubling percentage of the electorate. We can only hope that they fall far short of a majority.

And I have to wonder: What the hell is wrong with them?

 

 

An Inflection Point

I just watched one of those “viral” videos of people protesting–almost rioting–against a mandate that they wear a mask. If I were being kind, I would say that their complaints were uninformed. More accurately, their commentaries ranged from stupid to selfish to deranged. 

If protesting the wearing of masks to prevent transmission of a virus was the only symptom of American irrational behavior these days, that would be concerning enough, but these people are also, clearly, Trump voters. And for the past four years, I have struggled to understand the psychology of people who can look at this aggressively ignorant President with his pathetic make-up, listen to his inarticulate word-salads, read his childish and ungrammatical tweets, and think “Yes! That’s someone who should represent my country abroad, and control the nuclear codes.”

The United States is at an inflection point. Where we go from here will depend upon how we respond to the pandemic, to climate change, and to unacceptable levels of economic inequality, among other challenges–and whether those responses improve our society or further debase it will depend upon whether we decisively eject Trump, his appalling administration and his GOP enablers. 

That, in turn, will depend upon the number of voters who think wearing a mask deprives them of “freedom” and believe the ludicrous buffoon in the White House is doing a great job.

Political science research has convincingly tied Trump support to racism, and that relationship has become quite clear–but when you think about it, the persistence of so much virulent racism despite some 50 years in which society has (slowly) changed, and during which Black and White Americans have increasingly come to know each other as individuals is a puzzle of its own.

Why are these people so angry and hateful? Why does the loss of unearned social dominance enrage them? What do they fear?

It’s true that bigotry increases in tough economic times, but many of these people are financially comfortable. It’s also true that these attitudes are more prevalent among the  uneducated, but I know a lot of people who never went to college who are “salt of the earth” and I have also encountered plenty of racists with advanced degrees. 

One of Paul Krugman’s email letters (I don’t have a link) suggested to me that the answer may lie in an inability to live with ambiguity. Krugman was discussing Trump’s dismissal of science in general and climate change in particular, and noted that epidemiology, climatology and  economics all require the modeling of complex systems in which no prediction ends up being exactly right. Certainty eludes us.

Science and technology have created a world of constant change and multiple shades of gray.

The scientific method rests on consistent efforts to falsify prior results. Political ideologies and economic theories inform legislation that in practice often generates unintended consequences and sends us back to the drawing board. Religious diversity challenges fundamentalism. Technology continually upends everything from transportation to communication. All of these influences combine to open new intellectual vistas and cast doubt on the old– and that process inevitably changes the culture.

As I tell my students, the two phrases I hope they use more often after leaving my class are “it depends” and “it’s more complicated than that.”

A significant percentage of humans evidently cannot deal with an environment characterized by ambiguity and change, with a lack of “bright lines” and universally-accepted certainties–and as a result, they reject the possibility that people who look, love or worship differently from themselves have as much claim to humanity and respect as they do. 

In November, I guess we’ll find out how numerous they are.

 

 

 

The Election In Black And White

Today is Labor Day in an election year. It’s a time in the election cycle when media sources are filled with punditry– advice to Joe Biden and the Democrats, “analysis”  of Trump and the GOP, and a variety  of theories about political strategies that work and don’t.

I’ve come to a depressing conclusion: the November election is about one thing  and  one  thing only. The results–and the margin of victory– will tell us  whether  America is finally ready to address the virulent racism that has  infected both our personal  attitudes  and our governing institutions, and say “enough.”

The headline from a September article  in The Intelligencer is on point:“Many GOP Voters Value America’s Whiteness More Than Its Democracy.”

The article began with what is by now a  depressingly familiar litany of Trump’s assaults on democracy and the rule of law. The author dutifully noted that these assaults, and Trump’s  failure  to even  pretend to honor longtime  democratic norms–have “scandalized a significant minority of Republican elites.” Then came the obvious observation that the chaos and incompetence of the administration has not dampened the enthusiasm of  what is now the rank-and-file of the GOP.

One explanation for Republican indifference to such deeds is that Republicans aren’t aware of them: Fox News’s programming and Facebook’s algorithm have simply kept red America blissfully ignorant of the commander-in-chief’s most tyrannical moods…

But a new paper from Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry Bartels suggests an alternative hypothesis: Many Republican voters value “keeping America great” more than they value democracy — and, by “keeping America great,” such voters typically mean “keeping America’s power structure white.”

Bartels is a widely-respected political scientist. His study was an effort to understand  popular indifference to democracy on the American right. His  conclusion was that “ethnic antagonism” predicted that indifference. In other words, racial animosity overwhelmed any concern Trump supporters might harbor about the governance of the country–and that popular support for authoritarianism within the GOP isn’t motivated by concerns over conservative Christianity’s declining influence over public life but rather with the dominance of the white race.

I don’t think I ever appreciated just how ugly and pervasive America’s racial animus has been, or the  degree  to  which it was embedded in the laws of the  land. I’ve been reading The  Color of the  Law, a recent book that sets out the history of laws requiring  racial segregation  in  housing. Those laws were immensely more widespread and draconian than I had ever  known–they went well beyond FHA and VA refusal to insure mortgages in neighborhoods that allowed Black people to live there. Restrictive covenants and legally-enforced redlining lasted far longer  than most of  us untouched  by them would  have  supposed.

Reading about the blatant bigotry that created America’s ghettos–and the mob violence (not-so-tacitly approved by police) that often erupted when Blacks purchased homes in white neighborhoods– reminded me of David Cole’s  eye-opening 1999 book, No Equal Justice, which I read several years ago. Cole documented the multiple ways in which the justice system doesn’t just fail to live up to the promise of equality, but actively requires double standards to operate–allowing the privileged to enjoy constitutional protections from police power without incurring the costs of extending those protections to minorities and the poor.

It’s bad enough that the America I actually inhabit turns out to be so different from the  country I thought I lived in, but on November 3d, we will find out how many of our fellow citizens are white supremicists who agree with Donald Trump that anti-racist training is “UnAmerican.”

The last paragraph  of the linked  article really says it  all.

When democracy came to America, it was wrapped in white skin and carrying a burning cross. In the early 19th century, the same state constitutional conventions that gave the vote to propertyless white men disenfranchised free Blacks. For the bulk of our republic’s history, racial hierarchy took precedence over democracy. Across the past half century, the U.S. has shed its official caste system, and almost all white Americans have made peace with sharing this polity with people of other phenotypes. But forfeiting de jure supremacy is one thing; handing over de facto ownership of America’s mainstream politics, culture, and history is quite another. And as legal immigration diversifies America’s electorate while the nation’s unpaid debts to its Black population accrue interest and spur unrest, democracy has begun to seek more radical concessions from those who retain an attachment to white identity. A majority of light-skinned Americans may value their republic more than their (tacit) racial dominance. But sometimes, minorities rule.

Florida, Felons And The Franchise

According to The Guardian, voter disenfranchisement is an American tradition.

It’s hard to dispute that charge when we find ourselves in the middle of vicious–and very public– attempts to suppress the upcoming vote: an assault on both vote-by-mail and the Post Office that would deliver absentee ballots, enthusiastic and none-too-careful “purges” of state voter rolls, and of course the continued insistence that “Voter ID” documentation is needed to prevent (virtually non-existent) in-person voter fraud.

But it’s hard to beat the obscene shenanigans of the Florida GOP, which has used every mechanism in its power to defeat the expressed will of citizens who voted to return the franchise to formerly incarcerated citizens. The Guardian provided background:

Civil death is a form of punishment that extinguishes someone’s civil rights. It’s a concept that has been reshaped and reinterpreted over many generations, persisting in the form of felony disenfranchisement, through which a citizen loses their right to vote due to a felony conviction.

There are an estimated 6 million Americans who cannot vote in the country’s elections because of some form of civil death. Depending on the state they live in, they might even lose their right to vote permanently, or for years after they are released from prison. While the US has come to see this form of civil death as status quo, it is actually rare for a democratic country to take away a citizen’s voting rights after they leave prison, let alone forever. Countries like Germany and Denmark allow prisoners to vote while incarcerated, while others restore their rights immediately after release.

The US’s history of restricting the number of people who can vote in elections goes back to the colonies – and it’s a history that has disproportionately affected black people.

Why am I not surprised that this policy–like American social welfare policies–is rooted in racism?

The Guardian article proceeds to lay out the history of felon disenfranchisement, going all the way back to ancient Athens, Rome and medieval Europe and then through history, up to and including the Supreme Court’s refusal to find that either the Civil Rights Act or the 14th Amendment to the Constitution forbid the practice. The history also laid out the way in which the drug war–which Michelle Alexander showed decisively was a new form of Jim Crow–was cited to justify the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated individuals  who “just coincidentally” were overwhelmingly African-American.

In 2018, Florida voters passed “Amendment 4”, a measure that would restore the franchise to up to 1.4 million ex-felons. That ballot initiative, the Guardian noted, was one of the most significant voting rights victories for this population in decades.

So what happened?

Republican legislators passed a new law requiring ex-felons to pay court fines and fees in order to regain the right to vote. Critics of the law have called this payment requirement a modern-day poll tax. In July of 2020 the supreme court ruled in favor of the legislature, making it difficult for hundreds of thousands of Floridians to vote in the upcoming election.

As NPR reported last month,

The U.S. Supreme Court has left in place a lower court order that likely will prevent hundreds of thousands of felons in Florida from voting in the November election. It is the fourth time that the court has refused to intervene to protect voting rights this year.

In the wake of the George Floyd murder, white Americans have begun (belatedly) to recognize how many of our policies are motivated by racial animus–and how many of those policies end up hurting everyone, not just their intended victims.

When it comes to voting rights, the GOP’s sustained effort to depress the votes of urban dwellers, people of color and poor people is both an admission and an attack: an admission that the party cannot win “fair and square,” and an attack on the majority rule that is the essence of a democratic system.

 

No More Dog Whistles

To my readers: Watch President Obama’s eulogy to John Lewis, and remember what a President looks and sounds like.

Now I return you to my regularly scheduled screed….

________________________

Can you stand one more post on Republican bigotry? I ask because there’s a new story every day.

For example, there was a recent report from The Hill about a display in the office of Representative Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.)–  an 1897 book, “General Robert Edward Lee; Soldier, Citizen and Christian Patriot.” People waiting for a meeting with the Representative reported that

the book was opened to a page that read: “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and, I hope, will prepare and lead them to better things.”

Just another day in GOP-land.

A post devoted to enumerating explicitly anti-Black  behaviors by multiple Republican officeholders would be both long and redundant. There has been less focus on the party’s growing willingness to express its anti-Semitism, despite the fact that prejudice against Jews is another reliable element of White Nationalism.

I was reminded of the prevalence of that anti-Semitism by a recent news article–also from Georgia.

A political Facebook ad for Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue’s campaign has been pulled after sparking controversy and charges of antisemitism. 

At the helm of the controversial ad is a photo of Perdue’s Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff with what appears to be an exaggerated nose. In an investigation lead by The Forward, a media outlet geared toward a Jewish audience, it was determined that Ossoff’s nose was both “lengthened and widened.” 

Perdue’s campaign team says the ad was designed by a third-party vendor and that any distortion of the image was unintentional. The campaign team added that incumbent Perdue has a strong record of standing against antisemitism and all forms of hate.

 On Monday, Ossoff addressed the offensive photo seen in the ad by tweeting, “I’m Jewish. This is the oldest, most obvious, least original antisemitic trope in history. Senator, literally no one believes your excuses.”

Perdue said that Ossoff’s nose was “inadvertently” widened when the picture was resized for use in the ad; however, observers pointed out that the nose was the only part of the photo that was affected. They also noted that the ad showed Ossoff together with Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (who is also Jewish), and accused them of trying to ‘buy Georgia,’ a not-so-subtle allusion to centuries-old anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish people.

The Intercept recently had an article  about Trump’s ironic attack on Muslim Representative Ilhan Omar, calling her anti-Semitic for two insensitive tweets about Israel (for which she has “unequivocally apologized”) and saying she should resign. The article highlighted six Republican members of Congress it said “should resign first” for having exhibited far worse anti-Jewish behaviors.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, representative for California’s 23rd Congressional District, has promised to “take action this week” against Omar over her tweets.

This is the same McCarthy who took to Twitter in October 2018 to accuse three Jewish billionaires — George Soros, Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg — of trying to “buy” the midterms. He posted his tweet just a day after Soros received a pipe bomb at his home in New York.

McCarthy never apologized.

The article listed five others: Steven Scalise, who in 2003 spoke at a convention of the white supremacist European American Unity and Rights Organization, a group founded by David Duke; Louie Gohmert (enough said); Matt Gaetz, who invited the notorious Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson* to be his guest at the State of the Union, and who has appeared on Alex Jones’s “Infowars” show. (Among other canards, Jones has accused George Soros of funding the caravan of migrants from Central America); Steve King (again, enough said); and Paul Gosar,

Rep. Paul Gosar, the Republican who represents Arizona’s 4th Congressional District, has claimed that the far-right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 — at which marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us” — was “created by the left” and led by an “Obama sympathizer.” He has also suggested that Soros funded the event and falsely claimed that the Jewish billionaire “turned in his own people to the Nazis.”

In fact, Gosar is so brazen in his conspiratorial, anti-Jewish bigotry that his own family has felt the need to publicly denounce him.

Republican anti-Semitism has become so widespread and obvious that a new website has been developed to track it.

The website — which is part of a broader campaign against white nationalism launched earlier this year by progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc — aims to educate the wider public on the explosion in far-right antisemitic incidents since Trump became the Republican presidential nominee.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the GOP has abandoned its dog-whistle in favor of an out-and-proud White Nationalist bullhorn.

In November, we’ll see how many Americans endorse that bigotry.