Tag Archives: racism

The Appalling Indiana Statehouse…

After a truly revolting episode in the Indiana Statehouse, a recent quote from Sacha Baron Cohen seems particularly apt. Cohen was quoted as saying “If you’re protesting against racism, you’re going to upset some racists.”

Which brings me to what transpired in Indiana’s Statehouse on Thursday.

During the House session on Thursday, a bill concerning school district boundaries that some are calling racist sparked an emotional and angry debate. Several legislators walked out of the chamber, GOP legislators in their seats booed and shouted “no” and “stop,” and some members even clashed in the halls after Black legislators spoke out against the bill. 

The confrontations broke out on a day when Black members were celebrating Black History Month by wearing traditional African garb. 

“We kind of felt like it kind of fed into how the members were acting,” said Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis. “I think having on the African garb and our members going up there stating how they felt about a bill, I think that just antagonized them even more.”

The bill would allow de-annexation of neighborhoods that are currently part of the South Bend Community School Corporation, which is mostly non-white, and move them to John Glenn School Corporation, which is mostly white. 

According to several media reports, the boos and jeers in the chamber were followed by confrontations in the hallways and the mens’ restroom. 

Among the lawmakers who got up and walked out was Jim Lucas, who has previously been sanctioned by the GOP Speaker of the House for sharing a racist meme. (Our daughter has told me that she sees Lucas’ Facebook page on occasion, and that it is an appalling collection of racist and conspiratorial commentary.) The chairwoman of the Black caucus has called for Lucas’s removal from several committees, pointing to his intransigence and hostility. She also called for the entire House to have bias training, noting that “his thinking and his behavior is enabled by the complacency of some of our colleagues.”

“Complacency” is a kind word for it. Thursday’s behavior certainly underscored her point.

Efforts of largely white school districts to break away from districts with significant numbers of  minority students, and to– not-so-incidentally– take their funding with them isn’t unique to Indiana. Both The Atlantic and The New York Times have reported on instances in Louisiana and Alabama in which white communities have tried to separate from minority communities.

“Laws in 30 states explicitly allow communities to form their own public-school systems, and since 2000, at least 71 communities across the country, most of them white and wealthy, have sought to break away from their public-school districts to form smaller, more exclusive ones,” The New York Times reported, citing a study by EdBuild.

Based on the United States Census, as of 2019, South Bend was 61.7% white while 48.5% identified as part of a minority group. 

Predictably, the author of the bill denied any racial intent, claiming the measure was based on concerns about transportation. If you believe that, I have some underwater real estate you may be interested in purchasing…but even giving him the benefit of the doubt, the unseemly reaction by many lawmakers to legitimate concerns voiced by their Black colleagues was the give-away. Booing, jeering and accosting lawmakers and witnesses who dare to raise an obvious issue is hardly the principled debate on the merits of a bill that taxpayers and voters have the right to expect.  

The bill passed the House with a vote of 53-42. Fourteen Republicans joined Democrats in opposition. It will now move to the Senate, where more optimistic Hoosiers can hope for more civil–and less revelatory–consideration. 

Episodes like this go a long way toward explaining the “brain drain” that keeps educated people from settling in the state. If I were thirty years younger, I wouldn’t stay in Indiana either. There’s a reason Indiana is called the buckle of the Bible Belt–or more colorfully, the middle finger of the South. 

 

The New Confederacy

Little by little, as media sources obtain access to previously unavailable information, Americans are learning the true extent of the criminal and racist activities of the Trump administration–and far more concerning, we are now seeing how far gone, how amenable to those characteristics, today’s QOP remains.

One example among many: in the final, lame-duck days of the administration–after the election but before Biden’s inauguration–the Justice Department moved to undo what the Washington Post called “decades-long protections against discrimination,” by
moving to change the interpretation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Title VI bars discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by recipients of federal funding.  The rules apply to the recipients of some six billion dollars of annual federal aid, and provide that actions will be considered discriminatory if they have a demonstrably discriminatory effect on protected groups. That’s what’s known as a “disparate impact.”  Under the new version, only intentional discrimination would be prohibited.

Intentional discrimination is incredibly difficult to prove, as lawyers who bring cases under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment can attest. (In order to succeed, challenges brought under that clause must show evidence that at least a part of the challenged law or action was intended to be discriminatory.)
 
According to the Post’s report, the Trump administration had been considering the change for over two years, but had waited until its final weeks to try to put it into effect. It was one of William Barr’s last efforts before his welcome departure as Attorney General.

And as usual, the Trump administration ignored the required procedures for making  significant policy changes.

Typically regulations of this magnitude are published first as proposals and the government collects public comment before publishing its final version. It would be unusual to publish a final regulation — particularly one of this magnitude — without going through that process, but the document says that its proposal falls under an exception and therefore the administration is not required to seek public comment.

Conservatives have long argued that allegations of discrimination should require proof that any disparate effects were intentional. If this argument is accepted, it allows the defense to deny the existence of structural racism: if person X doesn’t have a conscious animus, then what he does isn’t racist. So the bank officer who declines a mortgage under his bank’s redlining criteria, the police officer who participates in “stop and frisk” activities only in “certain” neighborhoods, the HR department that hires applicants based upon “cultural compatibility,” the City Council that paves streets far more frequently in the “nicer” areas of town–all are off the hook.

If no one is burning a cross on a Black person’s lawn, or screaming the “n” word, there’s no racism.

The Trump administration’s effort to bolster structural barriers to equality is just one of many examples of what has become distressingly clear during the past four years: today’s QOP is our contemporary version of the Confederacy. It is dominated by White Christian male supremacists intent upon doing whatever it takes to protect their historic hegemony–intent upon ignoring/excusing the operation of systems developed and maintained over the years that lock in White advantage without demonstrating cruder, more obvious bias.

It is not a coincidence that those willing to engage in that cruder racism–the “out and proud” racists of the KKK and Proud Boys and neo-Nazis– flocked to Trump and today’s Republican Party.  The efforts of more “respectable” members of the party to maintain plausible deniability–to distance themselves from their Confederate motives– is increasingly unconvincing.

The problem, as I have repeatedly noted, is that a two-party system needs two adult parties. It will be interesting to see if the embryonic efforts to form a new center-right party to replace the cult that is the current QOP go anywhere….

 

 

 

So Here We Are…

Can you stand one more post about the January 6th insurrection?

Investigations in the wake of that shocking assault are steadily turning up evidence that it was anything but a spontaneous response to Trump’s crazed rally speech. It had been planned, and not just by the conspiracy-believing members of the rightwing’s radical fringe, but with the connivance of seditionist members of Trump’s campaign, his White House, and members of Congress.

The identities of these conspirators will eventually be made public, but who they are is ultimately less important than what they are–representatives of White Christian Nationalists who see themselves as losing out in today’s America.

Thomas Edsall writes a weekly column for the Washington Post on politics, demographics and inequality. In the wake of the riot on January 6th, he considered how “racism, grievance, resentment and the fear of diminished status came together” to fuel the fury and violence. He began with the obvious: the dominant role played by “out-and-out racism and a longing to return to the days of white supremacy.”

But Edsall also acknowledged the need to probe more deeply–to try to ascertain the roots of the anger and to identify the elements of contemporary life that serve to “trigger”  violent expression.

It may sound trivial at first, in light of what happened, but how important is the frustration among what pollsters call non-college white men at not being able to compete with those higher up on the socioeconomic ladder because of educational disadvantage? How critical is declining value in marriage — or mating — markets? Does any of that really matter?

How toxic is the combination of pessimism and anger that stems from a deterioration in standing and authority? What might engender existential despair, this sense of irretrievable loss? How hard is it for any group, whether it is racial, political or ethnic, to come to terms with losing power and status? What encourages desperate behavior and a willingness to believe a pack of lies?

Edsall posed those questions to a range of academic researchers. Their responses were sobering.

A sociologist at NYU dubbed the rioters “ethnonationalists,” and described  Trump supporters as those who want to return to a past when white men considered themselves the “core of America”–when minorities and women “knew their place.” Since they realize that such a return would require the upending of the existing social order, they’re prepared to pursue violent measures.

Another sociologist, a professor at Johns Hopkins, concurred:

They fear a loss of attention. A loss of validation. These are people who have always had racial privilege but have never had much else. Many feel passed over, ignored. Trump listened to them and spoke their language when few other politicians did. He felt their pain and was diabolical enough to encourage their tendency to racialize that pain. They fear becoming faceless again if a Democrat, or even a conventional Republican, were to take office.

There was general recognition from those Edsall consulted that It is incredibly difficult for individuals and groups to come to terms with the loss of status and power. Before Trump came along to provide a culprit, these individuals lacked what one scholar called “a narrative to legitimate their condition.” Trump provided a narrative that gave “moral certitude” to people who  believed that their decline in social and/or economic status was the result of unfair and/or corrupt decisions by so-called elites.

According to a professor of psychology at Yale, the insurrection reflected angst, anger, and refusal to accept an America in which White (Christian) Americans are losing dominance.

And, I use the term dominance here, because it is not simply a loss of status. It is a loss of power. A more racially, ethnically, religiously diverse US that is also a democracy requires White Americans to acquiesce to the interests and concerns of racial/ethnic and religious minorities.

Others who responded to Edsell’s inquiry noted that contemporary America is especially vulnerable to right-wing anger due to our high degree of income inequality, and lack of a welfare state safety net to buffer the fall of people into unemployment and poverty.

You can click through and read the various responses, but they all reminded me of an exchange in the film An American President. Michael Douglas, playing the incumbent, points to his opponent during a press conference and says something to the effect that “you have a choice between someone who wants to fix the problem or someone who wants to tell you who to blame for it.”

Trump voters chose the guy willing to tell these deeply unhappy people who to blame.

 

 

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.