Opinion: Obama’s Endorsement Challenges Biden, Re-Imagines Presidency for the Future

Last Tuesday, former President Barack Obama gave his much-anticipated endorsement of his former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy. 

The endorsement was expected, of course, despite the wait Obama imposed, which seemed likely attributable to his preference to time his speech in the wake of Bernie Sanders’ own endorsement of Biden, creating a crescendo effect. read more

Opinion: Let’s Not Forget the Virulent Sexism Pandemic in Face of Coronavirus

Some of the most recent weeks in American history alert us, if we’re paying the least bit of attention, to the fact that sexism is alive and well, indeed robustly thriving, in U.S. culture and society.

Last March 11 brought a moment of victory and also frustration in the struggle for women’s rights, for human rights, in the U.S.

Notable Hollywood producer and notorious serial sex offender Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for multiple sexual assaults against women, a victory pending a probable appeal.

Weinstein, while not testifying during his trial, did speak up at his sentencing hearing, unleashing a spate of sexist commentary which we should understand not as idiosyncratic to the mind of man in weakened and aging state, arguably on his last leg, but as sadly and dangerously symptomatic of a prominent strain of sexism characteristic of, dominant in, American life and institutions.

Here’s one of Weinstein’s comments in which he credits himself for the rise of the Me Too Movement and also excuses himself and men in general for basically being confused, not understanding that sexually harassing and hating women is wrong, a violation of human rights:

“You know, the movement started basically with me, and I think what happened, you know, I was the first example, and now there are thousands of men who are being accused and a regeneration of things that I think none of us understood.” read more

Asked If Sexism Played A Role In Warren’s Exit, Trump Responds With Sexist Trope, Calling Her ‘Mean’

Responding to questions from reporters on Friday regarding Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s departure from the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination contests, President Donald Trump said that she lost confidence from voters because of how “mean” she is.

He also questioned her credentials as a candidate.

“I think lack of talent was her problem. She had a tremendous lack of talent,” Trump said, according to reporting from The Daily Beast.

Trump seemingly recognized that Warren “was a good debater” who he believed “destroyed Mike Bloomberg very quickly like it was nothing.”

TRUMP says @ewarren lost because “people don’t like her. She’s a very mean person. And people don’t like her. People don’t want that. They like a person like me, that’s not mean.”pic.twitter.com/k9mOTMaH7B read more

Opinion: For Trump, States’ Rights are OK for Racism and Sexism, but not Saving the Planet

Last Thursday the Trump administration announced its intention to revoke California’s right to set its own auto emissions standards.

The state’s special authority to set its own standards, stricter than federal regulations, dates back to the 1960s when California was battling particularly severe air pollution. Since then, however, California has been influential in encouraging other states to follow suit in acting more urgently to protect our environment. Twelve states have adopted California’s standards, effectively establishing a near nation-wide standard.

For the Trump administration, I guess, the authority of states’ rights just extended too far.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, in announcing the administration’s plans to revoke California’s special authority, asserted, “No state has the authority to opt out of the nation’s rules and no state has the right to impose its policies on everybody else in our whole country.”

She contended also that the state’s stricter standards “harms consumers and damages the American economy.”

Never mind that, even according to Forbes magazine, Chao is dead wrong in her assessment of the effects of these standards on consumers and the economy. Higher fuel costs, Forbes reports, will punish the consumer and thus the economy overall; and, of course, the increased air pollution and overall damage to the environment come with their own substantial costs. Additionally, automakers themselves have opposed these freezes in emissions standards because they threaten to make American manufacturers less competitive globally.

Indeed, according to Forbes, the revocation does not support American business overall but is consistent with Trump’s deregulatory tendency and his support for the oil industry, in this case at the expense of the overall economic and environmental health of the nation.

Chao’s erroneous and damaging assessments aside, what is also stunning about her announcement is her rejection of states’ rights in favor of the federal government’s power to exert its authority nationally.

Support for states’ rights has long been the rallying cry, the political bedrock, of right-win conservative politics, enabling them to challenge federal civil rights legislation and maintain racist practices, such as segregation, regardless of what the federal government said. For a recent example of how states’ rights doctrine, more popularly referred to as federalism, works, we can look to the

Supreme Court’s ruling read more

It’s NOT the Economy, Stupid; it’s a Stupid White Supremacy Undermining the Economy

When Donald Trump tweets something patently racist, as when he tweeted the squad of four should go back where they came from or when he derided Baltimore as “rat and rodent infested mess,” media pundits can spend days debating whether or not Trump is racist.

The idea seems to be that if Trump can be declared a racist and enough people admit he is racist, somehow that settles some ongoing and open deliberation for which the national audience has been on tenterhooks awaiting a verdict—as if determining he is a racist will be a “gotcha!” moment and his 2020 chances for re-election all but annihilated.

Uh-oh! Trump’s a racist! We can’t elect him.

Ex-post facto spoiler alert: the electorate knew in 2016 what his racial attitudes were.

Instead of discussing Trump’s racial attitudes and having heated arguments about whether or not they rise to the level of racism, perhaps a more effective approach to addressing the electorate is to actually discuss in analytical ways how racism works and how racism impacts their lives in negative ways; how the racial attitudes to which Trump gives expression, if they were to inform policy, would not actually uplift the lives and economic conditions of white voters but rather worsen them.

Last October, for example, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), in its 30-year blueprint for regional economic development, cited racial and ethnic inequality, particularly as manifested in African American unemployment, as the most significant obstacle to addressing Chicago’s lagging, even stalled, economic progress.  As the blueprint’s executive summary puts it, “Metropolitan Chicago simply cannot thrive when so many people and places are left behind. Despite our numerous enviable assets, we fall short of ensuring economic opportunity for all residents. Though also true of many other regions, this unfortunate reality is particularly evident here.”

While the agency presents many solutions, a key element emphasized is the need for “prioritized investments” rather than the tax cuts that many political conservatives consider crucial.

It is precisely this the type of thinking and outlook, however, which is rooted in social reality and history and which would help most to create an effective economy for all, that Trump is able to manipulate by deploying racist ideology.

CMAP is basically making the argument that a rising economic tide lifts all boats.  We hear this argument all the time from politicians who argue that tax cuts for the wealthy—or, another way off putting it, investments in the wealthy—stimulate economic growth and thus help everybody. CMAP, however, has identified the key obstacle to growth not as a lack of investment in the wealthiest among us but in a lack of investment in racial and ethnic communities, in racial and ethnic economic disparities.

Thus, what would help lift all boats is investment in communities of color, those communities have in fact endured significant disinvestment over the years.

But calls to invest in communities of color, even if that investment would benefit all, are precisely what trigger racial resentment, what some call racism, and which we need to discuss. Resorting to shorthand labels like “racist,” which lead to dismissal rather discussion, won’t help us challenge Trump’s racial attitudes and the resentments he so artfully and maniacally stirs up.

 Study upon study show us that racism and sexism are key drags upon the economy and keep us from availing ourselves as a society of all the human productivity at our disposal, productivity that could be put to use to serve our needs.

Thus, overcoming the obstacles in our thinking that prevent us from doing so is key.

In her 2016 New York Times bestseller Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, Arlie Russell Hochschild heads deep into the Louisiana bayou to understand the prevailing attitudes among white people suffering economically and why they seem to vote for conservatives who do not seem to support policies that help them economically.

Put crudely, Hochschild finds that the animating belief in this culture is that there is a line in America of those waiting their turn for economic reward, and immigrants and people of color are trying to cut in that line, aided and abetted by liberal democrats in Washington, D.C.

Call it racism. Call it racial resentment. Call it simply a powerful cultural belief.   It needs to be discussed and analyzed, not judged and dismissed.  We need to talk about how this view of the line, this sense of a need to have a rightful advantage, actually works against these whites’ well-being.

In her powerful book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson offers a powerful analysis off U.S. history from Reconstruction forward, looking at how white resentment toward African Americans, cultivated since the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, has in fact undermined both capitalism and democracy.  Among many arguments and analyses she offers, she points out how African Americans have historically been undermined through racially discriminatory and downright repressive laws and policies in their quest for economic self-sufficiency.

African American self-sufficiency and economic achievement, however, would actually help create a more productive economy for all and also make people less dependent on the state and taxpayer dollars for assistance.

But we really can’t begin to explore the ways variations of white supremacist ideology work against the interests and well-being of the majority of Americans if we don’t expand our political and social discourse beyond the making of judgments.

Our media shouldn’t be spinning wheels debating who is a racist; it needs to be engaged in educating Americans about the meaning and consequences of political positions and policies, helping them understand the dynamics off our society, and helping them think about their interests as well as the overall public good in sophisticated and rounded ways.

 

 

 

Playing upon American Hatred of Working Class, Trump Can’t Represent Workers’ Interests

In a tweet last March, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to the elitist assaults on her that attempt to diminish and discredit her intellect and governing abilities based on her working-class roots and identity:
“I find it revealing when people mock where I come from, & say they’re going to ‘send me back to waitressing,’ as if that’s bad or shameful. It’s as though they think being a member of Congress makes you intrinsically ‘better’ than a waitress.”

Ocasio-Cortez here addresses a much larger tendency in U.S. culture, one which, as a culture and society, we talk about much less than, say, we do racism or sexism. Don’t get me wrong, the practices and ideologies that devalue and attribute inferiority to people on the basis of skin color and sex are alive and all-too-well in U.S. life, deeply ingrained in both our institutions and, frankly, in the minds of many.

But we do talk about it as a culture, even if not enough and not in the most productive ways. And these practices and ideologies are subject to scrutiny and redress in the legislative arena, even if that legislation is highly contested and thus far grossly insufficient to remedy and combat the deeply-rooted prejudices, indeed hatred, informing social and economic practices of discriminating against women and people of color.

And a good number of Americans, whether or not they fully walk the walk, agree that racism and sexism have no place in a society that aspires to an egalitarian ideal.

Much less questioned is the practice of devaluing people, economically and culturally, based on what, occupationally speaking, they do in the world. Few challenge whether the burger-flipper at McDonald’s deserves as much pay—is worth as much—as the CEO, whether the school custodian deserves as much as the principal, whether the postal carrier or grocery store clerk deserves as much as a lawyer or doctor, and so on. Because of our nation’s dominant belief in meritocracy, these inequities make sense, even though McDonald’s could not produce wealth without the burger-flippers and the school could not run without the custodian.

And these economic valuations carry with them social and cultural valuations of people as well. On the whole, U.S. culture looks down on the working class, attributing inferior intellectual ability and simply less importance to working-class people.

Obviously, sexism and racism play a role here too. Women’s work and women workers have historically been devalued because women have been seen as physically and intellectually inferior; and people of color, obviously, have been labeled as intellectually inferior and often less than human and thus undeserving.

Ocasio-Cortez, though, is taking on this less-talked about form of supremacist or hierarchical thinking, which at times is referred to as “classism,” an “ism” of which she is often the victim in her congressional seat.

Donald Trump, for example, recently attacked the Green New Deal she proposed as “the craziest thing.” But look at how he presented it, linking it to her previous employment: “The Green New Deal, done by a young bartender, 29 years old. A young bartender, wonderful young woman.”

He doesn’t assess the Green New Deal on its merits. And he certainly doesn’t assess Ocasio-Cortez on the content of her character and intellect, which is formidable.

Rather, he dismisses the ideas based on her working-class identity and history, as do others.

She is just a waitress, just a bartender. Therefore, her ideas must have no worth because “those people” are less intellectually able.

Addressing this discrimination, this hatred, really, is important for challenging the anti-egalitarian elements of U.S. culture.

I’m brought back to Kurt Vonnegut’s classic 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, as Vonnegut really puts his finger on this damaging ideological hate—and self-hatred—animating U.S. politics and culture. His character Howard Campbell, an American who has become a Nazi propagandist, writes a monograph about American culture, in which he diagnoses the hatred of those who make less money—a hatred that is also internalized. The monograph reads:

America is the wealthiest nation on earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand—glued to a popsicle stick and flying from the cash register. read more

The Endless War on Terror: Remembering 9/11 and Knowing Our Neighbors

In the midst of our tributes to the first responders of then and now, in our gratefulness for those who serve in our nation’s military and for those who have given their lives in this service, and in our hope for tomorrow, can we also make room again to ponder the call to welcome the world’s exhausted, suffering, homeless ones for whom this nation’s welcome light shines?