Of American White Supremacy: the Constant Plague

It leads to the continuing slaughter and unnecessary imprisonment of African Americans.  It leads to impoverished and working-class Euro-Americans to vote catastrophically against their own personal and economic interests.  It leads Euro-American women to vote for an admitted sexual assaulter for President. It leads to enthusiastic, widespread display of a flag that represents slavery, rape, murder, and terror: the Confederate flag. It leads to an irrational foreign policy.  It gets conflated with patriotism and Americanism.

It leads “pro-life” “Christians” to support a murderous justice system and a savage attitude toward healthcare, both of which kill people, just as it once led them to own slaves and lynch human beings.  It leads to de facto Jim Crow educational policies.  Even in relatively improved situations—such as the status of African Americans and Latino Americans in higher education—it leads to continuing dehumanization: racist graffiti on campuses, racist security “services,” racist treatment of professors and students, etc.

It is White Supremacy, an idea rooted in the fake science of 17th and 18th centuries, completely fictional constructions of multiple human species when in fact there is only one.  And obviously this idea helped to make slavery and genocidal colonialism, among other things, morally acceptable to alleged Christian nations, including ours.

White Supremacy never goes away.  It only changes shape, at most.  Slavery has ended, but widespread immiseration of minority populations remains, as does a proliferation of hate groups and lynching talk from elected representatives:  while still a U.S. Senator, Jim DeMint said of newly elected President Obama, “we will break him”; recently an elected official in the South said those responsible for removing monuments to confederate figures should be lynched.   The mindset leading to such rhetoric determines the character of the GOP, which is a White Supremacist Party.  As noted, de facto Jim Crow practices remain in the justice system, the political systems (voting rights eroded), the educational system, and the healthcare system.

Shortly before she retired from the liberal arts college at which I teach, a highly respected, nationally decorated colleague said to me, after I had mentioned the miserable jog the college did at recruiting and retaining Black students, “Why don’t they [African American students] just go to historically Black colleges [as opposed to “annoying” “us”,” I guess was the rest of the point.  In the GOP mind, she probably counts as a typical “liberal” professor.  Liberal and White Supremacist, unapologetically so.  Multiply her worldview by hundreds of thousands, and you’ll get some sense of how White Supremacy vitiates allegedly enlightened institutions. Imagine how that worldview inspires innumerable micro- and macro-aggressions, every day.

White Supremacy affects the Left, with hard-line quasi-socialists, including Bernie Sanders, downplaying (at best) the presence and effects of racism.  It affects liberals, who may say the right things but are almost never as aggressive as they need to be to wipe out White Supremacy.  It affects seemingly smart men like Justice Roberts, who asked, when the continuation of the Voting Rights Act was before the court, just how long such an Act (and other measures) was supposed to be allowed to go on.  In other words, when would “they” (African Americans) be satisfied?  Embedded in the rhetoric is the attitude of a White Supremacist doing somebody a favor and growing oh so weary of it.  The answer to the “how long” question is “as long as it takes,” of course.  And of course his Court struck down the Act, or at least its most potent parts, and doing so led directly to widespread voter suppression in the South and Midwest, where White “Christian” governors and legislatures reign.

It affects identity, not just in the narrow sense of “identity politics,” but in the sense that millions of Euro-Americans simply cannot construct an identity that doesn’t depend significantly on the belief that in some deep biological sense, they are superior to African Americans.

I just had lunch with a remarkably smart, well educated, successful former student who is African American.  She said that after Trump was elected, “it didn’t take long” for a White man driving a truck with a Confederate flag decal to yell the N-word and other violent expressions at her—no, not in the South, but in Westlake Village, Los Angeles.  Subsequently she visited Kansas City, Missouri, where she “didn’t feel safe” because of how White folks were behaving in public.  Multiply her experiences by millions and imagine the psychological impact on African Americans.  Imagine the stress this impact creates.

White Supremacy is certainly tied up in Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accord on global warming because gleeful ignorance, doing thing because you can, showing contempt for scientists in particular and higher education and research in general, and throwing your imagined White Man weight around are linked to this problem of identity.

It affects the media, not just White Supremacist Fox News but also more mainstream outlets, who rarely mention the profound White Supremacist appeal of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the GOP and who rarely challenge the Democrats on their feckless or non-existent responses to racist policies.

It certainly affects academia, informing notions of the liberal arts, hurting students and professors, and leading other professors into very sad, racist territory, putting the lie to all their high-minded posturing.

Decades ago, the genial, urbane legal scholar Derrick Bell told me that he was telling friends that vicious racism [White Supremacy] in the U.S. would never go away.  And he added that a feeling of relief, at least briefly, came over him when he recognized and expressed that fact.

As a political and social entity, Euro-Americans have always had the power to knock the crap out of White Supremacy.  Instead, they take half-measures—at best.  Otherwise, they are by turns uselessly guilty, stupidly liberal, viciously “conservative” [let’s get real: the GOP is the same as the Dixiecrat Party], unctuously sympathetic, and enthusiastically harmful. They say shit like “I never owned slaves,” which is supposed to lead to the logical conclusion that “so I don’t have to do anything about White Supremacy [except enjoy it.”  “All lives matter,” “Obama got elected—what more do you want?,” “make American great again,” “Obama isn’t American,” and yadda yadda yadda. They do things like defend murderous police and vote for Donald Trump, already in the category of worst presidents ever, although he doesn’t own slaves, as Jefferson and Washington (among others) did.

Euro-Americans simply won’t get the job of eradicating White Supremacy, its legacies, and its consequences, done.  Much of the time, they perpetuate it, on purpose or through indifference and willful ignorance.  White Supremacy should be, but never will be, part of our daily political dialogue, given the horrors for which it has been responsible.  It is at the amoral core of the U.S.  It is the most obvious matter of urgency and the most ignored.  Sure, there are multiple factors that led to the election of a gleefully White Supremacist, “birther” President, who is catastrophically unfit for that position.  But if there were no White Supremacy or if there were only an enfeebled remnant of it, there would be no President Trump.

The disease of American White Supremacy continues to proliferate like a plague.  It makes everybody sick, one way or another.  I have no clue what to do about it, even though I write against it and do very tiny things in my very tiny sphere to oppose it.   I wish something would wake up Euro-Americans, en masse.   Wishing is not a strategy.

 

Donald Trump, the Ultimate Affirmative Action Candidate

After I watched the first presidential debate last night, I asked myself how someone as unprepared to serve as president, as ill informed about the world and national policy, and as badly composed could be the nominee of one major political party.   Many citizens must have been asking the same question, and I will add, although I shouldn’t have to, that the question pretty much ignores the politics of it all.  The perplexity has to do with the candidate, not his policies (?) or his Party’s policies.

It then occurred to me that Trump may be the ultimate affirmative action candidate, and here I am using “affirmative action” in the parodied, distorted sense its many critics have used it.  In their minds or in their cynical rhetorical strategies, affirmative action means that unqualified candidates take jobs that White candidates deserve because of liberals and their quota systems.  In reality, affirmative action mostly means this: because racism and bigotry have been at the heart of American history from the get go, perhaps some proactive (affirmative, as opposed to passive) steps to enlarge candidate pools should be taken.  I teach at a university that is “an affirmative action employer.”  All that has ever meant here is that the university advertises jobs so as to attract women candidates and candidates of color.  It has never meant that any department or program must hire person X because of that person’s gender or ethnic background.  Never.

But using affirmative action in the reactionary, parodic way, one may easily conclude that Trump is that affirmative action candidate the White Right has always warned us about.  He is completely unqualified for the job, if we take experience, temperament, knowledge of history, knowledge of global politics, grasp of policy, grasp of economics, ability to handle complexity soberly, patience, etc., into account.  But a mass of “angry White voters” wants him because they must have a White reactionary, and even a White Supremacist, president.  Birtherism is nothing more than an iteration of showing that “uppity” Black man who’s boss.

Trump’s supporters suffer from the cognitive dissonance of there having been a Black president for 8 years.  Even White evangelicals are flocking, so to speak, to Trump’s candidacy. Don’t laugh!   I’m just spit-balling here, but I can’t see evidence of Trump’s representing a Christian view of the world.  He is, for one thing, the Mammon candidate.

Even the media are in on the game.  They tend to normalize the horror he represents. They discuss him as just another Republican nominee, except for his fame and eccentricity.  The appropriate responses–incredulity, perplexity, outrage, urgency, figurative evisceration–are infrequent, at best.

Somewhere between 35 and 40 million citizens will vote for Trump–maybe more. They will do so because they must have a White male president, a White avaricious male demagogue, racist, misogynist, and xenophobe.  Qualifications be damned.  The country be damned.

 

All Politics Are (Not) Local

Herein the blog asserts that Governor Chris Christie’s journey from New Jersey (where he is caught in the consequences of using the other kind of bully-pulpit to bully politicians who didn’t support him) to Las Vegas, where he must kiss the ring of a GOP Mega-Funder, is emblematic of the pseudocracy.

Such is the pseudocracy that ancient adages may be threatened.  Probably the adage, “You can’t beat something with nothing,” remains reliable, although didn’t John Ashcroft lose to a dead person in Missouri? Oh, well: the exception that tests the rule.

The blog believes (here I imitate Bill O’Reilly: “The Factor believes . . .”) that the adage “all politics is [are] local” is endangered. True, Chris Christie has his eye on the White House, so it is expected that he would suck up to a national Mega-Funder. That said, Mega-Funders such as the Koch Brothers pour money into House elections, flooding Congressional districts, and those elections frequently feature state officials wishing to climb, but they don’t climb based on how they brought farm-money home; they run on how well they conform to a nationalized Tea Party formula.

Moreover, the “issues” seem increasingly national. That is, if you associate with or want to please the Tea Party, you must be rabid about the budget in a Tea Party sort of way, viciously anti-Obama (not merely anti-Democratic), nativist, Randian, and NRA-friendly. You must, essentially, run on the implied promise of getting nothing done. “I will do nothing about immigration. I will do nothing about health-care, except oppose ways to deliver it. I will not work on the budget. I will work against it. I will not soil my hands with policy. I will vote regularly on symbolic ‘legislation.’ I will make government not work.”

And the idea of a New Jersey Governor flying to Vegas–Vegas: how perfect is that?–to perform for cash somehow captures what the Citizens United decision not so much did to politics in the U.S. but what it completed. The coup de grace.

Of course, candidates in both Parties must suck up to Big Funders, although it must be said that one way Obama and Democrats fought back against oligarchical money was to raise money online from “small” donors–three bucks a pop, even. Nonetheless, the Dems have their bundlers and Mega-Donors. In this sense, it is a one-Party system.

And even the online appeals to small donors have a national character, so that (for example) if a citizen gave money to Obama’s campaign, he or she will be asked every day to contribute to election-campaigns in a wide variety of states and Congressional districts, however far-flung.

There may come a time when Democratic candidates must fit themselves to a constrictive mold. For the moment, it seems as if only the GOP is functioning that way, so that experienced politicians (like Dick Lugar) get undercut by primary-challengers who have agreed to shape themselves according to assembly-line specifications. Model Tea Party.

Christie is in trouble because of painfully provincial, local, and stupid politics. Shutting down a bridge? Really? But he hopes to escape by doing a pole-dance (block that image) in our real national capital, Vegas. Viva, Chris Christie!

Meanwhile, the blog sentimentally longs for the old days of moderately corrupt pork-barreling, when at least we could count on incumbents to bring home money for roads, bridges, and buildings, and thereby (wait for it) put people to work. What a quaint idea. Horse-and-buggy thinking. Dear Blog: Grow up! Way too local and pragmatic for the pseudocracy, which, like our data, lives in a Cloud and cannot, must not, concern itself with what might be productive for a state, a district, a county, a city, or some people.

All politics are vaporously national. Does the assertion hold up? The Blog must ask some political scientists.

The Unintended Literature of Politics

Here is a brief quotation from a story in the San Jose Mercury News about Senator Santorum’s quitting the primary-campaign:

Bridget Nelson, a Tea Party activist who co-hosted a March 29 fundraiser for Santorum in Alamo, spoke with him Tuesday and said she’s “bummed” but will soldier on.

“I felt that for the first time in a long time, here’s a presidential candidate the conservatives can get behind who loves God first, country second,” she said. “He just said he wants to be involved still in politics and hopefully in the future possibly running again in 2016, but right now this is the best decision for him and his family.”

If this conversation were depicted as “overheard” in a novel like WAR AND PEACE, we’d be fascinated by all the ironies and nuances. Consider just the mixture of language itself:

“Tea Party,” “Alamo,” “bummed,” “soldier on,” “loves God first, country second.” The first two samples are often interpreted simplistically, but anyone who looks carefully into the Boston Tea Party and the defeat at the Alamo will ponder the unintended complexities in Ms. Nelson’s statement. Then comes “bummed,” straight out of “bum trip” or “bad acid trip,” from the 1960s. “Soldier on”: voters as PFCs. And finally, “loves God first, country second.” I don’t mean to be difficult, but shouldn’t all voters want a candidate who respects the country and more or less keeps his or her faith to himself? Aren’t a hefty number of Americans perturbed by some Muslims, who indeed love God first and country second, as their faith instructs?

If you haven’t read the first page of WAR AND PEACE in a while, you might give it a go. There’s a party going on–a high-class one–in St. Petersburg. War is about to happen. But the odd entanglements of language, egos, and petty desires–as they often do–intrude.

The Issue of Wedge-Issues

The noted semi-pro source, Wikipedia defines a political “wedge issue” as ” […]a social or political issue, often of a divisive or otherwise controversial nature, which splits apart or creates a ‘wedge’ in the support base of one political group.”

That I can’t immediately think of a wedge-issue Democrats have used to attract GOP voters (or independent voters) or to suppress GOP voting (by cheating fair and square, as opposed to legislating voter-suppression) probably only means I haven’t been paying attention; it could also mean that the GOP is simply better at using wedge-issues. They seem to be better at a lot of things associated with campaigning. In a moment, I will take a stab at identifying a Demo-wedge-issue, however.

It most certainly also means that my definition of a wedge-issue would be limited to those issues that–however they are decided, and they may have already been decided–they will not materially affect the lives of the voters whom are wedged.

My favorite example is “gay marriage,” which the GOP, by putting the issue on state ballots, has used as a wedge issue. There I am, voter X, a man married to a woman. For whatever reason, I oppose gay marriage. So I find myself leaning toward the GOP on this issue and in general because the issue is on the ballot this time. The proposition on the ballot will outlaw gay marriage, but maybe gay marriage isn’t even legal in my state. Moreover, even if it were legal, how would two gay men’s getting married materially affect my life? And what if other things proposed by the GOP were going to affect my life negatively? I might ignore all that because I’m quite emotional about the wedge-issue. So the tactic has not just peeled me away from the Democrats; it has pulled me away from my own self-interest–arguably.

One probably could argue, with some good reason, that what the Dems call “the war on women” is a wedge-issue designed to attract Independent and Moderate-GOP voters–of all genders. However, if for the moment we use my narrower definition of “wedge issue,” a reasonable counter-argument might be that, if I live in a state that has passed the mandatory invasive-imaging law governing women who go to a clinic that offers abortion, I am voting based on something that could, if I am a woman, materially affect my life and other women’s lives. And men’s. Many fathers of women must be appalled by this law.

Such a situation doesn’t make the Democrats less cynical than the GOP, of course, and I mention this example chiefly to highlight the difference between a gratuitous wedge-issue and one that might have more legitimate impact on lives.

In any event, the concept of a wedge-issue and the deft deployment of referendum-voting to drive wedges home may reasonably be viewed as one more element of the pseudocracy–an element deployed by both major parties.

Of “Statesmanship”

A far-flung colleague with some personal experience with Congress wrote the following:

“A statesman can get elected, but never re-elected. Much of the voting populace thinks it’s begging for a statesman, but what it really wants is Pontius Pilate. The impact of the ever increasing media and the various outlets for immediate and accessible communication have made statesmanship impossible. What allows for statesmanship is the desire of the voters to elect someone whom they trust to do the right thing on their behalf. In this day and age, virtually all of the voters think they know the right thing regardless of how this knowledge may have been acquired.”

To follow up on the point(s) a bit: the more confused voters are, then, by the process–lies, truthiness, spin. baiting, propaganda–the less likely they are to know who might have their genuine best interests in mind, and the less likely they are to identify correctly what their best interests are. In this regard, it is interesting to observe the reactions to the bombing of Libya. The reactions from politicians seem chiefly calculated; some may be “philosophical” or principled: hard to say. The reactions from common folk seem products of predispositions against or for intervention (in general) or against or for President Obama. One wonders how many of the reactions are based on a thorough calculation or consideration of “self-interest.”

My own “self-interest” in the political arena tends to include a desire for long-range planning–in matters of foreign policy, the revenue-side of the budget, the environment, land-use, energy (precisely how safe are the reactors–I mean really?), and so on. I’ve never been tempted to vote for a candidate (for example) because she or he might lower, raise, or leave alone my personal local, state, or federal taxes. I cite this example merely to demonstrate how flexible the “self” part of “self-interest” can be, not to suggest my way is correct.

The Oxford Dictionary online links statesman and statesmanship to the good or expert management of the state and its interests, but I think the terms have taken on a connotation that suggests the politician in question is acting with a bit more honor and a bit less personal calculation than does the usual politician.

Once in a meeting of our faculty, a good friend and colleague could have pressed for a vote that would have gone his way, but instead he chose not to press the issue and to let the issue be unresolved until the next meeting, when his side of the issue may well have not prevailed. A dean at the time remarked, “That’s very statesmanlike of you.” Just so. The friend and colleague was being fair-minded–another connotation of “statesman” and “statesmanship,” maybe.

The word “statesman,” by the way, goes all the way back to 1600–the first OED citation being from a play by Ben Johnson. Also of interest (to me) is that we the people haven’t quite yet found a non-sexist equivalent; “the language,” that protean force, hasn’t accepted “stateswoman” or “statesperson.” Something satisfactory, idiomatically, to our “ears” will come along.

But back to the original points from the far-flung colleague: politicians, their handlers, and the media have so confused most citizens that most citizens may not know what their long-term self-interest may really be–as condescending as that may sound. People really do vote against what reasonably seems to be their self-interest. At the same time, politicians seem so caught up in zero-sum games, posing, baiting, and playing to the base that an old-fashioned, even quaint, notion of “statesmanship” never occurs to them.

Was President Obama behaving in a statesmanlike way when he compromised on health-care? I don’t know, but at the moment I’m leaning 60% toward a “Yes.” What is far more interesting, even to me, than my opinion (or lack thereof) on this matter is that it is probably impossible to have this discussion with most citizens. Many progressives’ visceral response is that he “caved in” on the single-payer option and sucked up to large health-insurance companies. Many conservatives and other GOPers and apparently all of the “Tea Party” will have the visceral response that he let the federal government “take over” health-care. There just doesn’t seem even to be the elbow-room available to conduct the discussion.

Is No Rhetoric Worse Than Spectacle-Rhetoric?

I think Thom Hartmann made a good point on his radio show yesterday: that Congress at least should have discussed if not voted on the president’s decision to direct American airplanes to bomb Libya and the broader decision to get involved in the civil war there.

Hartmann’s reasoning is that the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war and not, therefore (an implicit therefore, Hartmann admits), the president.

Of interest is that a Rep. on the right and one the left agree with him: Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich. But therein, perhaps, exists a symbolic demonstration of how little power Congress, and thus the people they allegedly represent, has/have over the decision to go to war. For Paul and Kucinich are Congressional eccentrics; some even view one or the other or both as crackpots. This view doesn’t mean they are wrong on the subject; it just means that their position on war-powers will have no influence.

One topic we explore variously on this blog is the decline of public and political discourse, to the extent that such discourse now consists almost entirely of slogans, sound-bites, truthiness, wedge-issues, deceptions, fibs, baiting, astro-turf events, and so on–even as debate, adult conversations, data, common ground, agreed-upon facts, and subtlety have all bit disappeared.

But is no rhetoric–that is, Congress said nothing about bombing Libya–better than pseudocratic rhetoric? A close call, but I’d say no. Even if a “debate” about whether to bomb Libya were nothing more than a posturing-fest, with gas-bags fully inflated, at least Congress would have almost gotten off its Constitutional duff.

On the other hand . . ., I have five fingers: that is, does any of us believe that Congress will take back “war powers” from the Executive Branch? Ever? Still, as sick as I am of listening to politicians talk the way they talk, I think I’d still like the ones in Congress to start talking about war.

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