May
11

As the political primary season rolls on Trump endorsed candidates keep winning their races. The media keeps seeing this as proof of his continuing power and influence within the Republican power. That’s all well and tidy, but I didn’t expect his power or presence to wane.  At the same time members of the former Trump administration keep revealing startling stories of how extreme, far-fetched, and dangerous his ideas were that had to be kept in check by more reasoned subordinates. Moreover, the Republican party has become a party of extremists. Not only is it racist, anti-immigrant, and pursuing Taliban-like policies toward women, it has become a party of federal interventionism, cozying up to our foreign opponents, and Christian religious fervor, that has caused real conservatives like George Will to leave the party.

The only hope we have of not sinking into Trump led authoritarianism has always been voting Democratic. To be sure, the Democrats have not made that easy with their lackluster candidates, stalled policy programs, and mixed messages. The story of the upcoming elections will be whether the Democrats can turn out enough voters to stop Republicans who are pursuing policies that most Americans say they don’t want. Some pundits say that the Biden administration’s failure to stop inflation will outweigh opposition to abortion as an election issue. We can only hope that the abortion issue becomes a “bridge too far” for the Republicans, but there is no guarantee.

Despite the fact that Biden himself can do little about inflation, America’s obsession with a cult of personality finds him boring compared to the flamboyant Trump. The fervor that extremist Republican voters have must be countered by an anti-Trump get out the vote movement. This would of course be easier if the Democrats united behind a policy program that actually served the needs of voters. They seem unable to do that. Even worse than that, the Republicans are winning without a program that would actually help the economics and well-being of the non-one percenters who support them. They are winning by appealing to the defensiveness of voters who feel they are losing some of the little they have, voters who have given up on believing the government will improve their condition and will settle for not slipping backwards. They feel they are under attack and the Republicans are their best chance at defending them from the people of color, non-Christians, and immigrants (legal and illegal) who threaten them.

The growing number of people of color in the country means that this is a losing strategy if the POC vote for Democrats. While this may bode well for the future all we actually have is the meantime and indeed it is a mean time. That is why voter suppression is such an important part of the Republican strategy. Many states have already implemented redistricting to weaken the political power of opponents to Republican candidates. That is the battlefield on which the coming political war will be fought. All of us who oppose Trump need to get out and vote as well as helping and encouraging others to do so too. That is why I contribute to groups like Stacy Abrams’ Fair Fight and Ride2vote. This is not the time for voter apathy, symbolic votes for third party candidates, or waiting for the right candidate to come along. We must hold our noses and vote for whoever can best stop the Trump endorsed candidates. This is a war in which some of us are fighting for our lives literally. We cannot be picky about what weapons we use. I detest the Democratic National Committee, it is out of touch with voters, too corporately oriented, and has engaged in some shady tactics. Nevertheless, it seems that our only choice is to vote Democratic this year and work to have better choices in the future.

Feb
19

This is going to seem like a long meandering entry that takes its time getting to its point, but please bear with me. As those who follow my Facebook newsfeed may know, I am currently rehabbing from hip replacement surgery. In the course of that rehab a musical phrase kept occurring to me: “I’m not what I used to be, I’m not what I want to be” I wracked my brain, searched the internet for those lyrics. Where had I heard them? Then I finally remembered. I used to teach four courses per year (I know, seems like a luxury nowadays) at a college. Some courses had to be taught in a two-year sequence, but every two years I had an open spot to teach a course of my own devising. Over 25 years ago with my free course I taught a course called “Redemption Songs” which looked at African American history through the prism of its religious and related secular music. It took as its title and central point Bob Marley’s song “Redemption song” which begins

“Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong
By the ‘and of the Almighty
We forward in this generation
Triumphantly

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs

The course was about how such redemption songs enabled African Americans to survive and move forward “triumphantly.” We looked at work songs, spirituals, blues, gospel, r&b, Motown, and finally reggae songs to explore the relationship between the music and survival. I remember we had some friends over for dinner and when the conversation turned to what I was currently working on. I played for them some of the music I was “auditioning” for the course. My friend turned to me in amazement. “You got somebody to pay you to listen to this music?” As I sheepishly said yes, he just shook his head. As part of the course, I showed a documentary “Say Amen Somebody” about the rise of African American gospel music built around the career of Thomas A. Dorsey who played the blues with Bessie Smith and composed many of the first gospel songs including “Precious Lord Take My Hand.” The featured artists in the documentary included the Barrett sisters who were quite well known and loved within the black community, but little outside it until this movie. Sure enough I found the phrase I had been looking for within one of their performances of “He chose me.” in the film. It wasn’t a part of the normal lyric for the song but an expostulation they added. It also led me to another of their performances in the film, this time of the song “No Ways Tired.” This song had begun life as an African American spiritual and had been “gospelized” by the famous gospel choir leader James Cleaveland. The Barrett sisters’ version had the lyric:

“Nobody told me that the road would be easy, but I don’t believe that he brought me this far to leave me.
Sometimes at night you know my way gets drear, but I hear my God say I am here.”

Given the song’s origin as a spiritual during slavery I could imagine those lyrics going through the head of a runaway slave or just a slave who had a hard day. The lyrics fit my current situation, but my situation seemed so petty in the face of those faced in slavery and freedom by so many other African Americans. This reminded me of an opinion piece I had read in the New York Times on February 13, 2022 by African American historian Dr. Tiya Mills:

“Everyone around me seems to be talking about the end. The end of nearly a million American lives in the Covid pandemic; the end of American democracy; the end of a public bulwark against racism and blatant antisemitism; the end of the post-Cold War peace in Europe; the end of the stable climate; and the end of our children’s best futures, to name a few undeniable possibilities. A condition of apocalyptic anxiety has overtaken us, raising our collective blood pressure, and sending us deeper into a maelstrom of suspicion, conspiracy thinking and pessimism. I confess that I have also been down in this foxhole of doomsday thinking, but hearing it voiced by one of my children, a girl who should have a whole, vibrant life ahead of her, snapped me out of my anxious crouch.

This is just a change. I have given these impromptu words of maternal reassurance some thought since then, and I am not prepared to retract them yet. This is not the end. It is a change, albeit the largest and most dramatic transformation that many of us have seen in our lifetimes. Change is often frightening. We strive for stability. Because of the stress change causes, we often shrink or freeze in the face of it.”

She continues:

“The capacity to recognize those moments of emergency, catastrophe and impending loss as moments of change and then to anticipate what might come next are part of the psychological and emotional tool kit that saved Black America….Despite our anxieties, we are not standing on the precipice at the end of America or the end of the world. Instead, we face change of a nature and magnitude that we may not fully perceive, but which history gives us a way to confront.”

I live in the state of Texas nowadays where conservatism has such an iron grip on politics, that I often feel like Dr. Mills describes. It is a state where actions to stem the spread of Covid are prohibited; there are bans on abortion; teaching history that might make white folks uncomfortable is prohibited; books that describe different experiences of America are banned by conservative parents who are taking over school boards; where walls are being built to keep out immigrants, and where the fossil fuel industry prevents meaningful climate change.

I will take her advice however and work to create change and mitigate the effects of these policies to the best of my abilities. My own problems seem “a hill of beans in this crazy mixed-up world” to quote the movie Casablanca. Perspective, it’s good for the soul.

Nov
26

The Rittenhouse case went exactly as I would have predicted. If I were a betting man, I would bet on white supremacy every time the judicial or legislative institutions of white America come into play. This comes not from some Cassandra-like prediction ability, but a lifelong study of American racial history. Why then did I feel it in the pit of my stomach? First, I guess because it confirmed that America is what I thought it to be. Any person of color who is looking to American judicial institutions for justice will find “just us” bearing the burden of a racially skewed system. However, it is more than that. I felt the same feeling when I realized that the murder of little children in Sandy Hook not only did not bring about tougher gun laws, but it also unleashed right wing conspiracy theorists who said that it never happened or was part of some left-wing plot. I felt the same way when the congresspeople whose very lives were endangered in the January 6 insurrection spurred on by Trump’s attempt to overturn the will of the people, refuse to condemn the insurrection and Trump himself. I feel the same way when Ted Cruz whose father and wife were attacked by Trump in 2016, still kisses his ass every chance he gets. When an underage vigilante crosses state lines and kills two white demonstrators and is not convicted, what chance do the rest of us have?

People of color always use a thought experiment to point out that racism is involved in any incident. We ask, “would the outcome have been different if the race of the participants were different?” I have seen some black commentary that if Rittenhouse had been black, it would have gone down quite differently. If the police would not have shot him, the judicial system would have convicted him in a New York minute. Not only would he not have had the $2,000,000 right wing slush fund to pay for the best attorneys, but he would also have faced a nearly all white jury. The argument that he feared for his life would not have worked. To continue our thought experiment, if Rittenhouse’s victims had been black the self-defense argument would have worked even better. It worked for Rittenhouse because the jury members themselves felt the same fear themselves. It has worked for cops for years and worked for Trayvon Martin’s murderer. We shall see what we shall see in the Arberry case, but I would not be surprised if those white men get acquitted too.

I am also mad at myself for holding on to the slightest hope that it could have been different, that things were changing, that finally we would see some justice. I feel like Charlie Brown continuing to hope that Lucy will allow him to kick the football rather than pulling it away. All his experience should tell him it will be the same as always, but he holds on to this vague hope that it will not. I go back and forth whether holding on to hope is a good or bad thing. Should I be a confirmed cynic or the slightest bit of an optimist. How can one go on without hope?

Finally, I think of my 5-year-old granddaughter. Right now, she is sheltered in a cocoon of love. We are building her confidence in her ability to act in the world. One day however, she is going to confront this ugliness in the world. When do we start preparing her for this? What can we do to prepare her to see the beauty in the world while at the same time standing firm against the ugliness? I may not be around when she does. I realize this is something that every parent of color must think about but that white parents probably do not. It is like preparing a male child how to act around the police, so he won’t come home beaten, jailed, or killed. Knowing what we know about the world, I shudder to think about the world she will inherit.

Aug
10

I currently live in the state of Texas where the Republican governor and the majority republican legislature have come down firmly that no government entity, including public schools, should issue a mandate that masks have to be worn in the current pandemic. They argue that people have the right to remain unvaccinated. They legally enjoin any government entity from even telling folks about those refusing to be vaccinated. They discourage private entities like hospitals requiring their personnel to be vaccinated. The basic argument is that the right of individual freedom supersedes the responsibility that any one has to their community and that no one should be forced to do otherwise. This of course flies in the face of the fact that governments do just the opposite all the time. Think of speed limits or taxes for example. However, this concern about individual rights has become part of the bedrock of Republicanism. It is the public rationale for opposing government spending, universal healthcare, business regulation, prevention of climate change and on and on. Under the surface it is about the winners of the capitalist game feeling that they shouldn’t have do things for anyone else. If they want to, they can engage in individual acts of philanthropy or even just kindness towards a few individuals. They just should not feel they have to be concerned with society as a whole.

Even if you believe in such individual freedom what happens when individual choices are a) Based on disinformation, b) Harm the community or c) Create chaos. To take these one at a time let’s start with disinformation. There has been a lot of disinformation about the Covid vaccines for example. People have heard that the disease isn’t so bad after all it has a relatively low fatality rate; that the vaccine itself has harmful side effects like infertility or ineffectiveness; and that the injections are part of a government conspiracy to place “trackers” in the population. Aside from its low fatalities the disease can easily become worse than the “flu” to which it has been compared, have long range respiratory, neurological and even physical effects. The vast lack of ill effects in the millions of people who have been vaccinated is evidence of the lack of extensive, severe side effects. Why people who carry a cell phone think the government needs to inject something into them to track them, speaks to the lack of understanding of how things are traced. If they think they are not being traced now, just have them click on an ad in Facebook. Granted the U.S. government has a long history of experimentation on unwilling subjects (I’m looking at you Tuskegee syphilis study), but the truth is these studies have been focused on the poor, indigent and people of color populations. The vaccine program hits the entire population including those movers and shakers who you know are taking care of themselves first. Those who believe it is part of some vast government conspiracy haven’t attended a committee meeting and seen how inept large groups of people are at getting anything done. Should people’s individual choice when they are based on such disinformation supersede the effect it has on the community at large?

This brings me to the second point. This respect for the individual choices will prolong the pandemic, endanger the immuno-compromised and the unvaccinated children, and slow economic recovery. It will thus have several harmful effects on the community beyond putting the unvaccinated at personal risk. What does it say about the social contract? The “social contract” is a term to describe what philosophers like Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke argue that “government” should do. In a nutshell they say that government is a subsuming of individual will for the benefit of society as a whole. It is the turning of the Republican view on its head; it says that the responsibility one has to the community should supersede the right of individual freedom and that rulers or governments are established to enact this social contract. Although what constitutes the social contract in a particular circumstance has changed since the 1700’s, the principle remains the same.

The result of ignoring the social contract can be chaos. I was reminded of this as I escorted my granddaughter to her first day of school this morning. We are lucky enough to live withing a ten-minute walk to school; we do not have to drive. However, many more people do have to drive. The parking lot at the school is clearly inadequate for the volume of vehicles when so many drive as on the first day. People were parked willy-nillly wherever they could find a place. They did not care that they were parked illegally, blocking paths that school buses would take, and preventing emergency vehicles for entering (God forbid that they needed to.) They were fulfilling their needs and the needs of others be damned. There was a police officer around, but she was so concentrated on making sure it was safe for children to cross the busy road on which the school is located, that enforcing parking regulations never entered her mind. I agree with her priorities here. The result was of course chaos. I could not help comparing this to the governor’s and state government’s stance on Covid 19 vaccinations. Both scientists and our experience so far tell us that the state government’s position on Covid, the support which Fox “News” and conservative politicians have given the anti-vaxxers, and the disinformation that has been spread about the vaccine, have created a “chaos” about this pandemic which is going to lead to more deaths, more infections, more strain on the medical system, and hopefully lessening support for those very politicians. As Levar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow “you don’t have to take my word for it” just wait and see.

 

 

Jul
10

I was born and raised up north in New York City. My mother came from the south, Atlanta to be specific. Her family moved to New York when she was about 10 years old during the Great Depression. I say “about” because she often shall we say misrepresented her age and was pretty vague about when the move occurred. Nevertheless (as I learned as I got older) the south still played an important although scarcely acknowledged part in my upbringing. The cuisine with which I grew up was unbeknownst to me a southern one. We ate all kind of greens (mustard, collard, and turnip), many parts of the pig that shall remain nameless here, grits for breakfast, sweet potato pie on holidays, and what I later learned was “hoppin’ john” (black-eyed peas). All of these were brought up north by families like my mother’s who came from the south during the great migration. My mother was too young to have brought the deference to whites and the expectation of segregation that was endemic to blacks growing up in the South, so she didn’t pass that along to me. New York during the 30’s 40’s and 50’s was certainly not immune to the racism that gripped and still grips America. However, my mother was a feisty little woman and she passed that along to us kids. I saw the flip side of this in my wife’s step father who had grown to adulthood in the south. He never did overcome his deference around whites and waited in his car at restaurants to see if blacks were allowed in before he would enter.

As Isabel Wilkerson has documented in The Warmth of Other Suns, African Americans believed that up north there were opportunities for jobs, advancement, and homeownership that were not possible in the south. My mother married a northerner and through hard work scratched out a lower middle class living for us in the north. We were able to move into previously white areas in Brooklyn and then Queens during the 1950’s and although those areas eventually became mostly black, I always went to integrated schools and had many white friends. The violence and hatred against “uppity” blacks that was often displayed on my television screen during the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s made me cross off the south as a place to live. As feisty (as my mother had taught me) and uppity as my educational and career path were making me, meant that if I had lived in the south my life would have been full of conflict. Although professional engagements occasionally took me to the south, I stayed in my professional enclaves as much as possible, watched over my shoulder often, and left as soon as I could. That is not to say I had any unpleasant experiences, and in fact had many pleasant ones, only that the threat of a racist encounter always loomed (at least in my head) the few times I went to the south.

I spent most of my life in New England ironically mostly in Maine, statistically the whitest state in the Union. My location at a small liberal arts college and in a college town minimized any unpleasant racial experiences that occurred. As cold and stand-offish as the Mainer stereotype is, I found that once you broke through that exterior Mainers were as friendly, independent, and as feisty as I was. I certainly look back at my time there with fondness. Upon retirement we looked for a warmer climate and better weather. Again, we avoided the south since my wife was even feistier than I and suffered fools even less than I did. We eventually settled in New Mexico where the rich diversity of cultures (white, Native American, Latino and African American) promised an intriguing set of experiences, different biospheres, and warmer weather still with seasons. I lived there quite happily for eight years, before my wife passed away. I then went to live with my son, daughter in law, and granddaughter in a suburb of Houston.

Approaching age 70 this was the first time I had actually lived in the south. The South of 2019 was a far cry from the south of the 1950’s and 60’s. The mayor of Houston is an African American, the police chief is a Latino American. Even the police chief in Birmingham, Alabama has changed from Bull Connor and his ilk to an African American. There are African Americans in the state legislature, there are judges who are people of color throughout the south, there are now people of color in the professional classes including lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs. I live in a wealthy suburban enclave that has a diverse population including Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans. The middle-class jobs, civil service jobs, the bank officers, grocery managers or clerks are no longer exclusively white. There are black folks everywhere. There are no legally segregated schools, hotels, or restaurants (my late father-in-law would be pleased.)

Yet despite these changes (which are much more than cosmetic) there is still an under-stratum of that south I always feared and avoided. I have heard it said that the south is comprised of people of color held hostage by a white political class supported by rural whites for whom racism and Republicanism is the bedrock of their existence. I have found this to be too true. There are still too many people stuck in old ways of thinking about the world many of whom are in the authority structures. In light of this I find the recent Democratic victories in Georgia and my mother’s old hometown of Atlanta, give me hope. Through a massive get out the vote effort by progressive and people of color groups, they were able to prevail against the Republican voter suppression, rural white voters, conservatives, and racists that have dominated statewide and federal politics for so long. It may not last more than two years, but they have shown it can be done. Texas is a long way from being able to do this and its size alone makes it even more difficult to do. We need to find our own Stacey Abrams who can organize a massive grassroots campaign to turn the south of my nightmares into the south of my dreams.

Jun
22

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been around since about the 1980’s but all of a sudden you are hearing about Critical Race Theory on the news. What is it and what is it not? Why are you suddenly hearing about it? What will be the result of banning it? It started as a movement among legal scholars to explain why the liberal tactics of affirmative action, elections, and federal action which were the blueprint for Civil Rights Movement, haven’t produced the longed-for end of racism in our country. It seeks to understand how the social structure and the professed ideals of “equal protection,” and the “rule of law,” have helped maintain white supremacy and the subordination of people of color. It elucidates these connections in order to change them. It has been largely an academic movement discussed intellectually though some of its ideas have seeped into the mainstream especially as police violence against people of color has become a more prominent issue. Republican politicians and legislators are now starting to make it the figurehead whipping boy of an all-out assault on teaching about racism in public education from primary schools to university. Why? It doesn’t take much to convince people of color of the white supremacy in the politics, laws, and economic policies of this country. Preventing racism from being questioned or taught will not convince them of the absence of racism when their daily lived experience tells them otherwise. It is obviously addressed to white people and possibly their fringe hangers-on of color. We are seeing this movement to halt discussion of racism because of recent Republican losses in the presidency and the Senate. Republicans are appealing to whites who are threatened by the loss of their supremacy by painting themselves as the defenders against attacks against them and the growing threat of people of color or the politicians who support them. They are trying to regain the presidency and the Congress in the next elections.

Whether these politicians are honestly ignorant and do not believe there is structural racism or whether they are cynically doing it to gain voters, is largely irrelevant to me. I am sure there are both. I am more concerned about the effects their actions will have in the real world. Structural racism will continue whether they acknowledge it or not. In a world in which people of color are becoming a majority in this country (it is already true for the population entering grade school) attempts to plead that structural racism does not exist will become a harder and harder sell. This of course makes little difference to politicians who only look to the next election and not to the long run. If they did, they would come out against structural racism to put themselves on the side of the angels and the most voters. Indeed, we may be at a tipping point when their support of white supremacy has created such a backlash against them particularly among voters of color, but among some whites as well, that they will increasingly find it more and more difficult to win elections. That is why the suppression of voting rights is also important to them. They cannot even now win fair and open elections so they have to resort to limiting the franchise to “the right (read white) people.” Regardless of success or failure of federal efforts to protect voting rights, their voter suppression efforts, although they may appear to work for the next election cycle, will eventually fail to secure their victory among a declining white electorate. In fact, their voter suppression measures like restricting mail in voting and days, places, and times for voting may affect their own supporters who are aging. Control of state legislatures and governorships which has been sustained by outsized power of voters in rural areas, will be overwhelmed by the votes in urban areas and increasingly diverse suburban areas. This is even happening in Texas where I live which has been a solidly red state. Whether this happens by 2022, 2024 or later I cannot predict. I can say that eventually it will happen.

The problem with the ostrich proverbially sticking his head in the ground to ignore the danger approaching, will eventually plague the Republicans. While they may soothe themselves with palliative measures like banning public school discussion of racism, reality is coming for them and they may not be ready for it.

Feb
22

Recently the media have been full of the narrative that there is a split in the Republican Party between Trump supporters and its supporters in the corporate world.  Though Trump was far from the choice of the business community, he promised the deregulation, tax cuts, and other policies that they wanted. They therefore held their noses and supported him once he became the standard bearer for the party. Trump’s ability to appeal to his supporters as a populist while at the same time working for the 1%, is uncanny. His claims that he actually won the election and there was massive voter fraud, did not in themselves frighten the “corporate” Republicans, it was just Trump being Trump. They were wiling to accept it as they had been willing to accept his other idiosyncrasies like the narcissism, racism, nativism and lack of empathy for others his populous supporters ate up. The insurrection of January 6 shook their belief that these idiosyncrasies were harmless and exposed the threat to the Republic that they represented. Even though it has been uncovered that Republican deep pockets financed the rally that led to the insurrection, many of the “corporate” supporters of Trump and other Republicans quickly backtracked and cut off the money supply to those claiming election fraud. Just as among elected Republicans however, only a fraction actually denounced Trump and his attempted coup. The damage to Trump’s control over the Republican Party has been minimal. As long as he has that control the business part of the Republican Party will eventually, with less fanfare, continue to support it.

Moreover the Trump supporters still remain in control of the party. They believed Trump and other politicians that the election was stolen from them. It did not matter how many courts had thrown out Trump’s accusations of fraud, that no real evidence of massive fraud was ever found, that it certainly is strange that Democrats down ballot did not seem to win if there had been fraud, or that Trump had asked Republican campaign officials to “find” more votes for him. All of this was just evidence of how strong the “deep state” truly was. One Trump supporter asked how Biden could have won when he didn’t know one person who had voted for him. Now that the Senate has refused to convict him, he will still be eligible for the 2024 campaign. The did not convict him even though he sent a mob to kill some of them e.g. Pence, McConnell, That is how much they see their maintenance of power dependent on Trump and his followers. He certainly has the stockpile of money contributed to keep him in office.

The success of the Republicans in the recent elections and in the country at large belie the wishful thinking among the aristocratic Republicans like Bush, Romney and the Lincoln project that the party has been damaged. Remember the Republicans were able to maintain 50 Senate seats, make gains in the House of Representative, and still control the legislatures and governorships of a majority of states. There is no movement for red areas of the country to change their political allegiance. Just because some people saw the light and did not vote for Trump, does not mean that there has been a revolution for the Democratic party. Unless the Democrats do something bold to win back the disaffected people who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, they will lose the Senate in 2022 and the 2024 presidential election will be up for grabs with or without Trump. One strategy for the Democrats would be the Stacey Abrams approach: to do grassroots organizing that increases the Democratic voting base, the passage of a Voting Rights Act to battle against Republican voter suppression and institute measures to make voting easier e.g. expanded mail in voting, making Election day a holiday etc.

The conditions that produced Trump are still there. The lack of faith in the electoral system, the feeling that politicians ignore them, the conditions that impoverish them, and the feeling that they have lost control over their lives, persist. They accept the scapegoats that have been presented to them: immigrants, people of color, Muslims. They feel these things so strongly that they consider themselves “patriots” when they try to overthrown a democratically elect government to install an authoritarian loser. Worse they may elect someone who is more competent at the things Trump attempted. They do not realize that that Trump worked to promote the interests of the people they should hate and who have been keeping them in dire straits. He really cares only about the power his supporters can give him and not about them as human beings at all. They will remain the lifeblood of the Republican Party.

Jan
22

It’s only been a few days since we had a new president, but things are becoming clear. Instead of the damned lies, empty promises, revenge fantasies, and paranoid delusions that so appealed to Trump supporters, we are getting a different type of presidency. In the first few public appearances as president we are getting painful realities or truths from Biden. We are getting scientists in control and being the public face of pandemic efforts rather than politicians trying to cover their asses. We are getting  transparency and clear explanations of executive orders. Most of all we are getting actions to help common people instead of helping cronies, corporations and the 1%. Let me be clear; as bold as these steps may appear I wish they were bolder. The centrist weight of Democratic politics and the slim majority in the Senate will hamper getting needed legislation passed. However as one CNN commentator put it “the adults are now in the room.” Instead of inexperienced loyalists put in place as rewards or to shore up Trump’s support, we are getting people who actual know how to do the hard work of administering government programs. Instead of syncophants we are getting doers. Instead of people who feel that they should tear down their departments because there ought to be less government, people who wanted to eliminate controls on big business and line their own pockets, we are getting administrators who actually believe the purpose of government is to help people. Trump administrators were not very good at performing their jobs. The Biden administration is. We were saved by the incompetence of the Trump administration, but we will be saved by the competence of the Biden administration.

Biden has said he will begin to address the problems and the realities that common people face rather than take actions that a conservative ideology recommends. He has started with the Covid 19 pandemic while the Trump administration simply threw up its hands at the end and just hoped the pandemic would go away. Trump and the 1% thought they could protect themselves through excellent medical care, experimental drugs, and escaping to protected hideaways. They pretended that the disease did not exist by going maskless and having large indoor events. The result has been prolonging and deepening the crisis. Biden’s team on the other hand has masked up, eschewed large gatherings, taken direct actions to ramp up production of personal protective equipment, testing, and vaccine production. Yes, all these things were going on to a limited extent under Trump, but it was left in the hands of private companies and states without guidance as to how they were to be administered. The result has been a confused, chaotic, and ineffectual rollout. Biden seeks to use the power of the federal government to speed up and smooth out the roll out.

Biden is next taking actions to help those who have been hurt by the pandemic. I don’t know what those are yet, but I have hope that they will at the least help more people than the Trump administration did. Truly “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning” as the Bible says.

Oct
19

Trump may still win the election. After all tens of millions still support him. Why? It seems to me that it is a cult. People support him because they see him as a beacon of light that will protect them against the impinging forces of darkness that threaten them. For the true believer facts, logical arguments, and pointing out his contradictions do nothing. Many cannot even explain them away or even need to. Their faith in him is blind. He is against the same things they are against and that is enough. Future historians will have much to say about this era and I doubt all of it will be kind. I’d like to get ahead of the game and offer my historical post mortem of this era now rather than later. What happened was this…

  1. Many Americans were fed up with a political system that failed to meet their needs. Trump appeared as an outsider who would upset the applecart of those smug Washington politicians. He had a persona created by and for reality television as a successful businessman who would make the tough and decisive choices to avoid the bullshit and move us forward. It turns out that the “reality” was that he is a failed businessman, narcissistic, lacking empathy, who had little understanding of the law, the U.S. political system, its history, and the Constitution. Rather than “draining the swamp” as he had promised in his election campaign, he hired cronies and sycophants who proceeded to undo their government departments and loot them for personal enrichment. People were hired and fired for their loyalty not their ability. Trump enriched himself and his class at the expense of the rest of the country. A pandemic swept down on the country and his incompetence was exposed. His concern was not to save lives but to minimize the effect of Covid 19 to avoid panicking the stock market. Most of these people came to regret the choice they had made and voted against him as soon as they could.
  2. Many people dissatisfied with the choice of candidates they were given simply did not vote. Over 90 million eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 election. That’s over 40% of the electorate. In the electoral college system in key states that was enough to swing the election Trump’s way even if he did not win the most voters. For people dissatisfied with Trump this brought about a surge of voting in the 2020 and a questioning of the electoral college system.
  3. For those believing in the authoritarian strain in government described by political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weller (among others) Trump was the ideal candidate. His strongman persona resonated with an American brand of authoritarianism which held that the president should not be hindered by things like the Congress, the court system, and a free press. All of these should be tailored to support him. Trump’s idea of a leader was the same: strong willed, free to enact his beliefs, and resenting those who hindered him. Trump did not understand the difference between being president and being a CEO. Neither Trump nor his authoritarian supporters understood that the American system was created in reaction to such a leader and that Congress, that court system and that free press were designed  precisely as limits on the president’s powers. The Republicans in the Congress allowed and enabled him to undo the checks that the framers of the Constitution had intended. Seeing his popularity they became convinced that the only way to stay in power was to support him by protecting him from impeachment, loading the courts with sympathetic judges, and voting down policies rather than reaching compromises. They were Trump’s enablers.
  4. Racists, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists listened with glee to Trump’s dog whistles supporting their causes. His refusals to condemn them emboldened them to publicly proclaim their beliefs and take measures to enact them. Racist acts and domestic terrorist plots sky rocketed during his regime. One plot uncovered by the FBI planned to abduct the governor of Michigan and start a civil war. Anti racism groups like Black Lives Matter and anti-fascism groups demonstrated in the streets against the rise of police brutality or misconduct, racism and fascism.

All of this happened and is not some dystopian dream or fiction. I am optimistic that his reign will end in 2020, but regardless of whether it does, its effects will go on for years unless the next regime works to curtail them. The last four years should be a warning to always maintain vigilance lest the dark side of Americanism slips its bonds. It is always there.

Oct
08

The amount of violence whites have inflicted on blacks is staggering. Police violence has been in the news lately, but there is the history of this violence stretches way back before this modern incarnation. Have you ever heard of a mob of angry blacks lynching a white person. How about attacking a white person who moved into a black neighborhood? Black folk attacking whites who were protesting? The very idea of these things is ludicrous. Until the 1960’s a race riot meant whites were attacking black folks rather than vice versa. Have you heard about these race massacres: Wilmington NC 1898, Atlanta 1906, Springfield, Illinois (which sparked the formation of the NAACP,) East St. Louis 1917,  26 cities (including Chicago) during the Red summer of 1919, Tulsa 1921 and Rosewood, Florida 1923. In each of these whites attacked blacks, killed black people, burned their homes and belongings. It was only from 1965 on that race riot meant blacks looting and burning. Even then they were attacking white storeowners in their community not marching out to the white suburbs attacking whites. I have often felt that the fear whites have about blacks is not about  some intrinsic violence in black people, but about a fear of blacks finally exploding in rage at the violence whites have perpetrated upon them and the subjugation blacks have endured. It is white guilt consciously or unconsciously leading to a projection of violent tendencies onto blacks. You can trace a direct line from the fear white slaveowners had of blacks rising up to end slavery and oppression, to the race massacres of the past, and the police violence of today.

Yet many bring up “black on black” violence to deflect charges of police brutality, as if that excuses it. Yes over 90% of violence against blacks has been perpetrated by other blacks. It is also true that over 80% of white violence is “white on white” violence. A better way to look at it would be to call it “proximity violence.” People commit violence most often against those closest to them. Most people committing violence don’t want to commute. Racial segregation, redlining, federal housing and loan policy show the lie that most residential segregation is because black folk want to live near other black folk and white folk most often want to live near other white folk. Whites have hidden behind a fear of declining property values or some other such rationalization. Racial segregation has been an explicit public policy.

That brings us to today. The few people commuting to commit violence are white folks like those in Charlottesville and Kyle Rittenhouse, both of whose victims were white. We have a president who has condoned this violence by calling them good people, celebrating them, and even telling the violent white supremacist group the Proud Boys to stand by. He has said that a loss of the election might trigger a civil war. The couple who threatened peaceful protestors as they were passing by, who brandished their weapons, were invited guests at the  2020 Republican convention. This presidential call for violence flies in the face of the FBI’s calling white supremacist groups the great domestic violence threat. Yet the president emboldens them. The news includes the FBI arrest of 13 people plotting to abduct the governor of Michigan and other Democrats to start a civil war. These incidents are examples of “white on white violence” that is done because of the furor which Trump has stirred up to mobilize his base. He has argued that there is an “antifa” organization trying to take away the freedom of Americans when law enforcement knows there is no such organization; that the Democrats are planning a socialist takeover of the country which figurehead Joe Biden will allow; and that federal “agents” (who are really a private army for him) are necessary to secure peace in protesting cities. These are lunatic charges that are being leant the power, credence and bully pulpit of the office of the president of the United States. Donald Trump may end up being the greatest perpetrator of white on white violence the country has known since the Civil War.

This goes beyond partisan politics to the very glue that holds our disparate ethnic groups and unequal economic system together. We used to believe that whatever the differences in political views were, the democratic system would allow a way to work them out without violence, That is no longer the case and the reason I see Trump as a threat to the very idea of democracy. There are certainly some Republicans and conservatives who agree, but they are not the rank and file. They are usually the Republican out-of-office elite. The rank and file are yet to be heard from and will be in the coming election. Let us pray that there are enough of these people who have awakened from Trump’s spell to see the naked truth and are repulsed by it.