Tag Archives: white nationalism

A “Collective Psychotic Episode”

Tuesday’s post, published early by mistake. See you Wednesday morning.

I am (unhappily) persuaded that the thesis of an October 4th article for Salon is correct.

David Mascriotra’s opening line was “There is only one political party in the United States.” He went on to defend that observation

The first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump demonstrated with hideous clarity that the Democratic Party is currently running against not a conservative public policy agenda or a coherent philosophy of governance, but a collective psychotic episode, channeled through an authoritarian demagogue who is equally propelled and crippled by his own neuroses.Gore Vidal, one of America’s best chroniclers of empire, once provided instruction to a British interviewer expressing confusion over the radical hostility Republicans showed toward Barack Obama, and the former president’s inability to react with equal aggression: “Obama believes the Republican Party is a political party when in fact it’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred — religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word ‘conservative’ you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They’re not, they’re fascists.”

Mascriotra doesn’t fall into the all-too-frequent mistake of centering his criticism on Trump and his gang that can’t shoot straight. His analysis focuses on the real problem–the fact that the Republican Party has  undergone a radical transformation from a genuine political party into a cult–or, as the quoted paragraph graphically puts it, a “mindset.” And a pretty ugly mindset, at that.

This analysis rejects the (weak) excuse that Republican office-holders don’t stand up to Trump because they are afraid of what the author calls the “bloodlust” of the Trump cult. Although there is undoubtedly some of that, he argues that–at least at the federal level– they share Trump’s hatred of democracy, and he shares statements from several of the “usual subjects”– Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and others–to prove his point.

Republican officeholders and voters “are glad to see him waging war on a system designed to give representation and power to a diverse group of citizens.”

We all know what “diverse group of citizens” means: brown and black people, women, gays, Jews and Muslims. It always comes back to what is increasingly impossible to ignore– the almost total capture of the GOP by white supremacists. To rank and file Republicans, “Making America great again” means recommitting the country to the rule and social dominance of white male Christians. As Mascriotra says, “there is no other reasonable conclusion to draw from the fact that between 80 and 90 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s performance in office.”

That conclusion –that the GOP is no longer a party, but a white supremacist cult– is also supported by the lack of anything resembling an agenda or a platform.

An American without health insurance, or who pays a high monthly premium for inadequate coverage, can expect nothing from the Republican Party. Working parents who cannot afford child care and have no disposable income after paying each month’s bills can expect nothing from the Republican Party. A young college graduate unable to qualify for a mortgage because he has tens of thousands of dollars in student debt can expect nothing from the Republican Party. Poor children suffering through hunger and struggling to learn basic skills in a dysfunctional school can expect nothing from the Republican Party.

Mascriotra quotes George Will for the proposition that the GOP has abandoned any former connection to a coherent, genuine conservatism. He concludes that Trump’s inability to debate Biden, evidenced by his descent into tantrum and invective, was largely because Republicans no longer have principles or programs to debate or defend.

Through their multi-decade commitment to shrinking government down so small that it can “drown in a bathtub,” to use the words of Grover Norquist, what was once a reasonably coherent pro-business conservative party has arrived at its logical endpoint — a fascist power grab under the guise of an incoherent personality cult.

The late Stanley Crouch warned Republicans of their trouble in the late 1990s, explaining to Charlie Rose that you “cannot assemble a group of lunatics” to follow you without eventually following them into lunacy.

Reminds me of the lyric from the song, “Bring in the clowns.”

Don’t bother–they’re here.

 

 

Education Versus Indoctrination

The title of this post could just as accurately be “racists versus non-racists.” With his recent announcement of an upcoming Executive Order requiring the nation’s schools to teach “patriotic” history, Trump has abandoned any effort to veil his message or obscure his target audience.

The federal government has no authority over school curricula, but that’s irrelevant; the point of this announcement was to reassure his base that the administration and the Republican Party will continue to support white supremacy. Calling accurate history “leftwing indoctrination” leaves no room for misunderstanding. ( Talk about “whitewashing” history!”) 

According to the Guardian, 

Speaking at a conference in Washington DC on Thursday, the president announced a new national commission to promote “patriotic education” and counter the “decades of leftwing indoctrination” to which he claims US schoolchildren have been subjected. “Our youth will be taught to love America,” he said.

Trump once again attacked the New York Times’s Pulitzer prize-winning 1619 Project; that project– which marked the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship arriving in America–was a meticulously-researched history of slavery and its aftermath. 

As Kevin Kruse tweeted: “History that exalts a nation’s strengths without ever examining its shortcomings, that prefers feeling good rather than thinking hard, that seeks simplistic celebration over full understanding–well, that’s not history, it’s propaganda.” 

As Bill Barr (aka crazy corrupt person) recently noted, history is written by the victors. That’s true, even though Barr said it. What he didn’t say–and clearly doesn’t understand–is that to the extent that history is whitewashed, airbrushed and inaccurate, it is an impediment to future progress. Just as fake science interferes with efforts to understand the world around us, fake history impedes efforts to understand the society in which we live.

But of course, this isn’t really about history curricula. This is meant to reassure his racist cult. You need only read what he said. This is from NBC:

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump accused schools of teaching students “hateful lies about this country” and said he would be taking steps to “restore patriotic education” as he continued his opposition to efforts to raise awareness about racial inequalities.

Speaking at what the White House described as a “conference on American history,” Trump said that he plans to sign an executive order soon to create a “national commission to support patriotic education” called the 1776 Commission and that he is directing funding to create a patriotic curriculum for schools.

“Our youth will be taught to love America with all of their heart and all of their souls,” Trump said. The White House declined to say when Trump would sign the executive order.

Trump also repeated his allegation that teaching America’s history of race was “toxic propaganda” and “a form of child abuse in the truest sense of those words.” (I’m sure David Duke agrees.)

This announcement about a proposed Executive Order came on the heels of news that the Office of Management and Budget had prohibited departments from using federal funds for diversity training, and a previous threat from Trump to cut off funding for schools that teach the 1619 Project.

As one pundit noted, “Patriotic Education” is a term and an approach most widely associated with China, North Korea and more recently Hungary, where Trump buddy Viktor Orban supports rehabilitating “cohorts of a mid-20th century leader who also happened to be a brutal Nazi conspirator.” “  

Not that long ago, when the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia removed millions of educated people from cities and moved them to the countryside under the guise of providing them with patriotic “re-education”, and then killed them and buried them in mass graves, now better known as “The Killing Fields”. 

For that matter, patriotism can’t be taught. Patriotism is a form of love, and love can be reciprocated, it can be portrayed and discussed, but it cannot be forced. Ironically, it is more likely to accompany an accurate portrayal of America’s history.( I still recall stories during the Korean War attributing North Korean success in breaking the will of captured American soldiers by showing them evidence of American behaviors inconsistent with what they’d been taught. They no longer knew what to believe.) 

It is no longer possible to avoid recognizing what’s at stake on November 3d. It is no longer possible to pretend that a vote for Trump is anything other than a vote for white nationalism– and a vote against the America we do love.

 

The Explanation

I  no  longer know where  I found  this quote–I neglected to record its origin. It  may have been from  a private exchange, but if not, and if any of you reading this can point me to the source, I’d appreciate  it.

The thing  is, it really explains a  lot:

I looked at the hundreds of people at Trump’s rally tonight, unmasked and older, and almost all so very white, and saw a group of people so afraid of the future they are willing to say yes, willing to throw in their lot with a malignant narcissist because he tells them they can recover a world in which they felt more relevant, a world they control.

A reactionary group of older white men look at a global future in which questions of clean energy, climate change, economic fairness, and human equality are uppermost, and their reaction is to cling to a world they control.

I’ve recently read several commentaries pooh-poohing what their authors  regard as  “over the top” descriptions  of what’s  at stake on  November 3d. I don’t know what reality those authors inhabit, or what histories have informed their opinions, but I firmly believe that anyone who doesn’t see this election as an existential choice is either willfully blind or disastrously uninformed.

Every single day, credible media report on new actions taken by this administration that intentionally undermine the common good. Environmental protections have been eliminated, public schools undermined, the rule of law decimated. Trump’s tweets and rhetoric continually set Americans against each other. Agencies charged with the health and well-being of the population have been subverted, and people have died  unnecessarily as a  result. A lot of people.

In place of the  accountability and communication Americans have a right to expect, we are   inundated daily with lies, manipulated videos, altered quotations–constant disinformation and propaganda.

If Trump was simply incompetent, that would be troubling but not existential. If  he  was simply corrupt, that would  be concerning, but  also not existential. But he and the supine GOP have gone  much further than mere incompetence and corruption.

Traditional aspirations–think “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” have been turned upside-down in favor of an increasingly explicit white nationalism. In the place of  a platform and policies, Trump and the GOP  that is now his reflection simply promote fear–fear of the “other,”  fear of losing white Christian male dominance, fear of social change. In place of efforts to bring us together, they continue to sow discord and encourage political tribalism. 

In the last  few days, Trump has increased  his encouragement of violence and mayhem,  presumably believing  that increased unrest will cause voters to rally to  his  “law and  order”  candidacy.

What keeps me up at night is the possibility that my life-long belief  in the essential goodness  of most Americans–not all,  but most–has been misplaced. What if there  are many more white guys afraid of a future they have to share with women and dark people than I ever thought?

I follow Nate Silvers’ FiveThirtyEight.com, and have  trouble wrapping my head around the polling that shows a steady 40% approval  of the childish buffoon who has commandeered our government. I look at scholarly research showing that “racial  anxiety”–i.e., racism–is the single most  reliable  predictor of support for Trump and his GOP. I see  comments on Facebook  by presumably reasonable people endorsing  bizarre conspiracy theories and patently obvious untruths.

And I’m terrified. When I wake up on November 4th, I want to breathe a  sigh of relief because the people I believed in have gone to  the polls and put an end to our four-year American nightmare.

What  if I’ve been wrong all these years? What if  it can  happen  here?

Facing Up To The Challenge?

As protests continue and the “President” (note quotation marks) continues to unravel, I am seeing some hopeful signs of a national awakening. I’ve previously noted that–in contrast to the 60s–there is enormous diversity in the crowds that have taken to the streets demanding justice, and fortunately, most of the media is highlighting that diversity.

Media (with the predictable exception of Fox) is also taking care to note that much of the chaos and looting is attributable to the efforts of white nationalist “race war” agitators and opportunistic hoodlums, not the protestors. They are also covering the backlash against Trump’s clumsy, militarized crackdown on peaceful protestors in order to clear the path for his ludicrous (and arguably sacrilegious) “photo op.”

Particularly gratifying are the signs of a welcome–if belated–pushback by the military.

A retired colleague of mine sent me a copy of the letter issued by Mark Milley, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (a letter which Milley copied to what appears to be the entire military establishment). The letter began by reminding recipients that every member of the military takes an oath to protect the Constitution and the values embedded within it–values that include the belief that all people are born free and equal and entitled to “respect and dignity.” He also referenced respect for the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Assembly clauses.

Milley’s letter came at approximately the same time that General Mattis–finally!–spoke out:

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis said in a statement published in The Atlantic.

“Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens —much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

As these military men pointedly noted, their allegiance is to the Constitution–and by implication, not to the wannabe dictator occupying the Oval Office.

As reassuring as these reactions have been, I’m pinning my hopes for meaningful change on signs that unprecedented numbers of white Americans are ready to confront the realities of America’s social structures–ready to genuinely consider the longstanding effects of systemic racism and the dramatically-different realities experienced by white and black Americans.

A former student of mine has a once-in-a-while blog; I was struck by his most recent post, just a few days ago. He began by saying that, as “a privileged white male, I have been struggling with what I can add to the critical dialog on race during these turbulent times.”

He went on to take issue with the statement  that there is “only one race, the human race.”

While a beautiful sentiment, and a biological fact, for a white person to say that “there is only one race” discounts—in most settings—the lived experience of black and brown folk and shuts down any authentic conversation on race.  As one of my favorite writers on the subject, Dr. Robin DiAngelo explains in her lecture Deconstructing White Privilege,

“To say that we are all the same denies we have fundamentally different experiences. While race at the biological level is not real, race as a social construct based on superficial features is very real with significant consequences in people’s lives. The insistence that “we are all one” does not allow us to engage in that social reality.”

The entire post is worth reading, especially for his observation– only now beginning to be widely understood–  that racism is not (just) a moral problem; it is “a system of unequal social, cultural, and institutional power.” As he writes, so long as racism is seen as an individual moral failing, the structures and institutions designed to maintain white supremacy will remain in place.

About those structures…

It’s absolutely true that, as many defenders of the status quo like to say, laws can’t change what is in people’s hearts. What that facile truism fails to recognize is that laws do change behaviors, and that, over time, changing behaviors changes hearts.

Consider the effects of Loving v. Virginia, the case that struck down laws against miscegenation. One big difference between now and the 60s has been the increase in interracial marriages. Those unions haven’t simply allowed people who love each other to wed; they’ve educated–and changed– extended families, co-workers and friendship circles. 

The fire this time isn’t a repeat of the 60s. This time, more minds are open. This time, we can do better.

 

So Much Winning…

The Guardian recently made awards to the very worst “leaders” in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a pretty substantial list, beginning with announcement that the UK’s Neville Chamberlin award would go to Boris Johnson, and proceeding through several others ( the “Tiger Woods award for making us feel we barely knew you” went to the whole country of Sweden, and the “Walking Dead Award for Reminding Human Beings Our Greatest Threat is One Another” to the anti-lockdown protestors in the US), before landing on the Grand Prize Winner–no surprise there–Donald Trump.

Like Boris Johnson, he ignored international warnings about the coronavirus when meaningful action could have slowed its spread. He held public rallies even while experts begged for social distancing. He’s used press conferences to attack reporters, repeat lies and push treatments that some studies now suggest may be unproven cures at the same time he’s demanded praise. He’s promoted people who don’t know what they’re doing, allowed the demotion of others who desperately do, he’s abused leaders who’ve taken responsibility for their citizens, and adamantly taken none himself. He’s talked about his TV ratings while Americans were buried in mass graves.

The only award in which he’s not competitive is one for failing to meet expectations – because nobody who’s watched Trump for five consistent minutes is surprised by this disaster at all. America outstrips the world for coronavirus infection. There have been more than 842,000 cases there. More than 46,000 Americans are dead.

Donald, you blitzed this competition. It’s your crowning achievement! Now, go put a glittering corona on your head!

And that was written before he suggested injecting disinfectants….

Trump’s incompetence and corruption are no surprise to people who follow the news, but even Americans who are charitably referred to as “low information voters” can hardly help being aware of just how badly this sad, mentally-ill buffoon is performing.

Which brings me back to my recurring, unfathomable question. Why does anyone still support him?

It’s a question I see frequently in my Facebook feed; a mystery we talk about with friends and family. The easy answer, of course, is that these are uneducated or stupid people who occupy an “alternative fact” universe. Unkind–and unhelpful– as that description is, it probably does describe the sorts of people we saw pictured with misspelled signs and AK-14s at the demonstrations protesting pandemic shutdowns. On the other hand, there are clearly some intelligent, educated people who continue to defend this horrific administration, and who continue to support this demonstrably insane President.

Some, of course, are plutocrats and other beneficiaries of fiscal favoritism who care about nothing but their own pocketbooks. What about the others?

The social science research that has been done in the wake of the 2016 election confirms a strong relationship between what scholars delicately call “racial resentment” and support for Trump.

Obviously, not every Trump voter in 2016 was a White Nationalist, but fear of being “replaced,” of losing White Christian male privilege, is really the only available explanation for the continued fidelity of those not on the “payroll” who recognize his personal deficits and abysmal performance and nevertheless still support him.

I hate the conclusion I’ve reached. I hate what it suggests about a significant percentage–fortunately not a majority–of my fellow Americans.

As the pandemic has dragged on, so many Americans are demonstrating what is best about us–compassion, charity, creativity and a recognition that we are all–all– in this together. My hope is that these are the Americans who will turn out in massive numbers to vote blue in November.

About that vote…

David Sedaris recently had the perfect rejoinder to those who respond to “vote blue no matter who” by pointing to the (undeniable) faults of those imperfect Democrats. I think he said it all:

I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.