Last Monday the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear a case brought by Kim Davis, a former country clerk who, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case legalizing same-sex marriage, who refused to issue certificates for such marriages because of her religious objections to them. She was sued and even jailed for this refusal and was appealing her case.
A 19th-century German philosopher once asserted that the educators must be educated, the point being what was passing for knowledge and learning in the world seemed, based on the state of the world and its lack of universal well-being, perhaps more than arguably was not serving us well.
President Trump, we should know by now, is the master of distraction, making it hard for the news cycle to keep up with his endless string of controversy-inspiring tweets and incendiary behaviors. As the media gets caught up in dissecting the language and meaning of one text, he is on to something else.
It is important, though, that we preserve a memory of the catalog of hate and horrors that have occurred under and, really, been inspired by Trump’s divisive and deadly leadership so the record is clear and, more importantly, so we can comprehend and challenge the social, particularly racial, dynamics he is engineering.
As I wrote about recently in PoliticusUsa, our conversation, particularly in the media, tends to get bogged down in argument over whether or not Trump is racist instead of describing, explaining, and understanding how racism is working—and how Trump promotes its working—in U.S. society to the detriment of the majority of Americans.
Preserving this memory is particularly important in the context of Trump’s urging of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib be barred from entering Israel as part of a congressional delegation on grounds that they are anti-Semitic.
Certainly, both have criticized Israel’s treatment of and policies toward the Palestinian people, as are many Israelis as well as Jewish people around the globe. A critique of Israel is not in itself anti-Semitic, nor is a call for the humane treatment and even sovereignty of the Palestinian people.
And what do we make of Trump’s implicit endorsements of anti-Semitism and the general promotion of hate, often resulting in deadly violence, his peculiar brand of leadership has inspired?
Trump has been an ardent of supporter of Israel, and yet arguably a purveyor of anti-Semitism.
How do we understand what we might call this anti-Semitic brand of Zionism?
It is worth teasing out a bit the relationship between anti-Semitism and support for Zionism.
They are really not strange bedfellows at all.
Consider that the Ku Klux Klan supported the efforts of the Black activist Marcus Garvey from the 1910s and 1920s who started the Universal Negro Improvement Association and advocated for a Back to Africa movement.
Why would the KKK support a Black activist? Well, think about it, Garvey wanted Blacks to live away from whites. The call for Black sovereignty and separation, which Garvey viewed as freedom from white racism, dove-tailed nicely with the KKK’s own desire for segregation.
So, along the same lines, we can see that supporting a homeland for Jews is not inconsistent with anti-Semitism.
More to the point, however, it is crucial to understand the relationship between the theology of evangelical Christians, upon whose support Trump depends, and Zionism.
Evangelical Christians have long supported Zionism not because they have affection for Judaism and its adherents but because of their powerful belief in biblical prophecy that declares the Messiah’s second coming will and must be preceded by God’s gathering and resettling of the Jewish people in a homeland. For decades, support for Israel has been a key component of political platform of the evangelical right, as is evident in the words of prominent spokespeople such as Pat Robertson. The Christian narrative of the Messiah’s return cannot be fulfilled without the existence of Israel.
Understanding these dynamics is important in light of Trump’s positioning himself, in his support for Israel, as the crusader against anti-Semitism, and Tlaib and Omar as anti-Semites because of their critique of Israel and expressions of support for Palestinians.
Here is where it’s important we sustain a memory of Trump’s presidency thus far.
Let’s start here: Jews will not replace us.
We must always remember the episode in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia that witnessed white torch-carrying marchers vociferously chanting those words at a white supremacist Unite the Right rally.
It is also worth remembering President Donald Trump’s statement that among those marchers were some “very fine people,” as he refused to condemn their anti-Semitism and white supremacism overall.
Also worth remembering is Robert Bower’s October 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh, a hate crime that took the lives of 11 Jewish worshippers. Before this relentless and inhuman 20-minute attack on those worshipping in the synagogue, Bowers had authored a social media post ranting against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for bringing in “invaders in that kill our people.”
Amidst the constant eruptions of new tweets from Trump and new behaviors from him and his administration, setting off renewed and repetitive discussions in the media about whether or not Trump is racist, there is risk this long line of events will recede from our memory.
Indeed, the killer in the recent mass shooting in El Paso, motivated by anti-immigrant hate, very much echoed the language of Bowers in his use of the rhetoric of “invasion” to characterize immigrants entering the United States. Obviously, this rhetoric also very much echoes that Trump has employed since the inception of his 2016 campaign for president, which, it is now widely understood, has cultivated a fertile ground not just for overtly racist rhetoric and policy, but for overtly racist deadly violence. While the rhetoric of El Paso shooter has been understood as influenced by Trump’s, I have not seen the connection made to Bower’s.
As we chart this pattern and put the pieces of Trump’s tweets and behaviors together, it becomes clear that Trump’s support for Israel is part and parcel of, and absolutely consistent with, his larger nativist platform manifested in his anti-immigrant policies, his overt racism as seen in his attacks on inner cities, and his calls for those he labels “others,” such as Omar and Tlaib, to go back to where they came from.
Jews will not replace us, a chant Trump refused to condemn, is consistent with chants of Immigrants will not replace us, People of color will not replace us, and so on down the line.
Let’s not forget this brief history of Trump’s racism amidst his constant distractions.
In a political moment when the American president not only stokes the fires of sexism, racism, and the hate they represent but also seems to embody these values, Martin McDonagh’s 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, in its thoughtful, sympathetic, and loving approach to understanding hate, could not be more timely.
Condemning the hate so powerfully prevalent in our culture these days is easy. Taking a careful and caring approach to understanding the dynamics of hate and where it comes from as well as our fellow humans who give expression to it in thought, speech, and actual violence against others, is far more difficult–but, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to teach us, absolutely crucial and necessary for creating a just and humane world.
Three Billboards chooses the latter approach, marking it as one of the most important and urgent films of the year—a year that witnessed tiki torch-carrying white supremacists storming Charlottesville, Virginia, an event that inspired terror in many Americans but which also manifested a set of feelings, beliefs, and attitudes it would be wrong to dismiss as marginal or aberrant and not acknowledge as characteristic of a chief current in some dimensions of American culture. We are a divided nation, and hate is not a minority report.
Repression and denial doesn’t make feelings go away, we know. We have to confront and process them. Three Billboards attempts to process and understand hate, so we can overcome it.
The film offers a profound analysis of hate and terror, understanding the hate so prevalent in our world as deeply rooted in—and as expressions of—American experiences of grief and trauma in our individual as well as collective national lives and histories.
The first character we meet in the film is Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) as she devises her plan to rent three billboards to display text calling out the Ebbing police, and in particular Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for, in her view, not devoting enough energy and resources to finding and arresting the person responsible for raping and killing her daughter. As one might imagine, she carries this loss as an open and abiding wound, an unresolved trauma that consumes her. In an interview with local media about the billboards, she links what she sees as the police’s neglect of her case with their apparent notoriety for torturing African Americans, asserting that if the police spent less time brutalizing people of color, they might be able to spend time solving her daughter’s rape and murder.
From here the drama begins, as her billboards and calling out of perceived sexism and racism in the police force generate tension and division in the town and even within her own family, as her son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) expresses anger at her for keeping ever-present and public for him such a painful episode in his life.
Willoughby, a character with political savvy but also sincere compassion, tries to talk to Mildred about the case, at once worried about the politics of the billboards but also seemingly genuinely motivated by human compassion. He tries to explain to her about the lack of leads in the case and need to wait for a potentially random clue or event to re-ignited the investigation.
His second-in-command Office Dixon, who is immature, hot-headed, and arguably prejudiced and at least racially insensitive, handles the situation less calmly, especially after Willoughby, whom we know is living in the throes of pancreatic cancer, commits suicide. At that point, Dixon, wrongly believing the suicide is motivated at least in part by the pressures brought on the by the billboards, brutally beats Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), the vendor of the billboards, and throws him out of a second-story window.
While certainly a case of police brutality and abuse of power, McDonagh also asks us to understand Dixon’s behavior as an expression of grief over his loss of Willoughby. Understanding Dixon’s hateful violence as a reactive, unhealthy, and abusive expression of grief does not excuse the behavior, but it does arguably transform how we might respond to Dixon and, by extension, respond to perpetrators of hate and violence in our world.
The theme is further complicated when Mildred, not knowing Dixon is inside, later firebombs the police station, leaving him badly burned. This extreme action the film also asks us to see as an act of violence and destruction, if not hate, that emanates from a deep grief and trauma. Because we had sympathized with Mildred as a victim with justice on her side enduring one of the most profound pains imaginable, the movie creates a viewing scenario in which we can more easily enter into her character to understand her violent response. But the movie asks us to extend this understanding to other acts of violence, even of hate, we might otherwise be less inclined to exert the energy to sympathetically understand.
At the time of the firebombing, Dixon is reading a letter Willoughby left him, in which Willoughby lovingly encourages Dixon in becoming a detective, recognizing his potential talent but advising him that he must overcome his hate and anger to arrive at a place of calm and thought, as these the art of detection requires both of these qualities.
Indeed, the art of understanding, the film underscores, requires calm and thought. This letter is profound and key to the movie.
In the film, we see Dixon reach out to and help Mildred, and we see Red Welby respond kindly and lovingly to Dixon in a moving hospital scene.
As the movie concludes, Dixon and Mildred are on the road headed to seek revenge on a suspected rapist. They are uncertain about whether they will follow through.
This is the choice with which the film presents our nation. How will we respond to hate? Will we in turn choose violence, or pursue solutions with calm and thought, processing our anger into something more productive?
In November 2016, I wrote a piece for PoliticusUsa titled “Trauma and Trump: Understanding America’s Vote Requires a Psychotherapuetic Approach,” in which I argued, in a nutshell, that we have to understand Trump’s election in terms of the dynamics of abuse and trauma. Those who suffer abuse, typically, will continue to put themselves in the way of abusers, re-creating abusive situations, until they come to address the trauma they’ve endured.
The American electorate, the mass of Americans, I suggested, have endured an abuse, lacking healthcare, living with economic and social instability, having difficulty meeting basic needs, and more. For masses of Americans, life in America is traumatic, and our nation’s history of genocide, working-class exploitation, slavery, women’s oppression, and more no doubt leaves a deep trauma in itself with which we have never come to terms or processed as a collective.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri highlights this need to process our national collective trauma and to think carefully—and lovingly, in the spirit of Dr. King—about how we understand and choose to respond to the hate and violence so prevalent in and characteristic of American life, both historically and in our contemporary moment.
"What will happen next? I doubt that Donald Trump will be able to calm and comfort the nation in that moment."
The willingness of this president to ignore what is specifically fueling the outbreak of deadly violence and hatred in Virginia will only give oxygen to those causing it.
With each announcement the shock and trauma of what’s happening to this country, the civil rights of its citizens, and future of the free press is felt all over again.
This is the mess Donald Trump created. Before he takes office, he must clean it up.
The empty souls of the Westboro Baptist Church are going to picket the funerals of the nine people murdered in a terrorist act, which they say is a lesson to stay away from Hillary Clinton fundraisers.
On Monday, New York Times columnist Charles Blow reminded the nation, that being black in America has consequences when African-Americans interact with the police. He relayed the story of how his son, Tahj, a Yale University student, was confronted at gunpoint by a campus police officer. The young man was unarmed and had committed no crime. He had just left the campus library. However, because Blow’s son resembled the description of a burglary suspect, an officer accosted the student, and forced him to the ground.
In his opinion column, Charles Blow expressed anger and concern over the way his son was treated. He proclaimed:
I am reminded of what I have always known, but what some would choose to deny: that there is no way to work your way out — earn your way out — of this sort of crisis. In these moments, what you’ve done matters less than how you look.
While expressing outrage at how the police treated his son, Blow did not mention the race of the officer who confronted Tahj. That officer was, like the suspect, African-American. When right-wing bloggers discovered that the detaining officer was also black, it set off a frenzy of writers upbraiding Blow for being a race-baiter. Breitbart.com proudly declared, “Race-Hoax Debunked: Cop Who Detained Charles Blow’s Son is Black”. Other right-leaning publications offered up similar rebukes. The New York Post, The American Thinker, and NewsBusters, all weighed in. Each right-wing site basically argued that the incident could not have been racial, because the officer involved was black.
In a follow up interview on CNN, Blow argued that the race of the officer was not as important as the fact that police culture encourages officers to profile black men. Academic studies support Blow’s argument. Sure if Blow knew the race of the officer when he first wrote his column, he probably should have mentioned it. Divulging the officer’s race would not have undermined his narrative, but it could have insulated him from later criticism alleging that he was hiding important details. However, nothing Blow said, or did not say, changes the reality that African-American men are viewed suspiciously by police officers, black and white alike.
Black males between the ages of 15 and 19, are
21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers
Even when the right tries to explain racism, they end up being racist. They are all in agreement that there are black criminals and bad cops. Funny thing, a cop who commits a crime, is indicted, found guilty and is serving time, well, they are a bad apple.
It was just a matter of time before the opposition and criticism of astrophysicist and Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson became overtly racist, and it is no real surprise that Fox News provided a nationally-televised forum for a white supremacist.
Some men have been suggesting Rodgers' killing of more men than women means he wasn't a misogynist. Nothing could be further from the truth.
By caving in to hate groups A&E has sent a clear message that haters are to be tolerated, but not those who are the victims of that hate.
The anniversary of the end of slavery was remembered by a tea party leader by admonishing African Americans to stop complaining their ancestors were indentured servants.
Senior Vice President Rob Schwarzwalder seems to be asking, “Why so angry, bro?” when he writes:
So, the Left is really, really angry that its religion (the state) and orthopraxy (the government) are being temporarily desacralized by Republicans. I’d feel that way if my faith were under attack, too (and, since it is, sometimes do). What’s extraordinary is the irrational, vicious language being used about conservatives and the GOP by those who oppose them.
Instead of a public outcry against blatant racism, main stream media failed to report the story on every evening newscast across the country.
It is time for Americans to call out white supremacy and racism in all its forms regardless the certain attacks by Republican Party faithful screaming those identifying dog-whistle racism are racists
Conservative Christians want to be able to spew hate and lies but for nobody to have the right to disagree with or refute them
Right wing Pastor Scott Lively hit a new level of crazy even for the far right by claiming that same sex marriage caused Noah's Flood.