Opinion: How Trump, Against Himself, is Making America Safe for Anti-Racism, Democracy

This unfortunate and hopefully soon-expiring moment in U.S. history, Donald Trump’s presidency, has been anything but subtle in summoning the worst energies, impulses, and dimensions embedded in the nation’s history and still animating contemporary culture and politics. 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

Opinion: Beware of Anti-Trump Republican Apostates Claiming Conservatism Isn’t Racist

Defending conservativism against charges it is an inherently racist ideology has become de rigeur among not just that sector of Republicans that has for some time sought to distinguish and distance themselves from Trump but also among more recent apostates jumping the sinking Trumpist GOP Titanic.

As Trump’s overt racism threatens to expose, or indeed has exposed, the ugly ideological core of a Republican Party that has long sought to play upon white voters’ racial anxieties and suppress the Black vote, not to mention challenging civil rights at every turn possible, of late the drumbeat has been louder in the efforts to rescue conservatism from its associations with racism.

The tactic seems to be to return the political rhetoric of Republican conservatism to the dog-whistle racism encoded in terms like “small government,” “states’ rights,” “tax cuts,” and “fiscal responsibility.”

Former congressman Joe Walsh’s recent appearance on Morning Joe exemplifies this seemingly orchestrated initiative.  Walsh rode the Tea Party wave into the House of Representatives back in 2010, campaigning with a fulsome devotion to anti-Obama birtherism and an unapologetic anti-Muslim ideology. He ardently supported Trump in 2016.

Now, of course, he has thrown his hat in the ring as a challenger to Trump in a Republican presidential primary.

Host Joe Scarborough guided Walsh through his ritualistic mea culpa, giving him the opportunity to apologize and reject his racist past and his support for Trump, to let us know he has grown. Indeed, it is precisely because he has grown, that he is seeking to right his wrongs by seeking to oust Trump.

Once it became clear Walsh had seen the error of his ways, he and Scarborough bonded over what attracted them to conservatism and Republican politics. They talked about the need for small government and fiscal responsibility, complaining about Trump’s exploding deficits and out-of-control spending.

The gymnastic rhetorical exorcism was complete. Republican politics and traditional conservatism were dispossessed of Trump—head-spinning, vomit, scary voices, and all.  That old Joe Walsh who used to pee on the carpet was gone, and real pre-Trump Republicanism was back in business.

He could now join the ranks of anti-Trump Republican apostates like MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, former communications director during the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney regime. Wallace claims she didn’t leave the party; the party left her by changing its core platforms, saying “This Republican Party is unrecognizable to me . . . I’m not embarrassed to share a political party with John McCain or the 41st president or 43rd president.”  Her show is also known to parade other disaffected Republicans such as David Frum, Steve Schmitt, and Charlie Sykes.

The message is the same: The conservative politics of the Republican Party and its long tradition are wholesome enough and not at all racist; it was just Trump who brought racism to the party.

In a recent column in Time titled “My Fellow Republicans Must Stand Against the Alt-Right Virus Infecting America,” David French danced a similar pattern, arguing that while the white nationalist has been thrilled by and attracted to, perhaps even enabled by, Trump’s rhetoric, that movement is separate both from Republican conservative politics and even, he argues, from Trump. Focusing on Trump, he argues, is too narrow and won’t address the real problem plaguing America, which is white nationalism. Indeed, French went even a step further than Walsh, refusing even to throw Trump under the bus. The real problem is that white nationalism has infected America, and the GOP is the victim of this same infection.

He puts a point on this argument, writing, “To be clear, the vast majority of conservative or right-leaning Americans are not racist, hate racism, and utterly reject the ideology and language of white nationalism.”

Timothy P. Carney, in a recent opinion piece in The Washington Examiner titled “It’s time to create a conservative ecosystem that doesn’t welcome racists,” opens with a similar position, arguing that Republicans aren’t racist but for some reason racists have been attracted to the party: Liberal commentators will always say conservatives are just a bunch of racists. This is a lie. But conservatives need to do a better job convincing the racists that it’s a lie.”

Republicans, he says, need to start running more candidates of color to scare racists away.

But is racism really absent from the core of conservative politics?

Consider the recent bombshell reporting on the newly-released tape of Ronald Reagan’s conversation with Richard Nixon, in which Reagan referred to African diplomats as “monkeys,” begins to make this point clear. Reagan doesn’t sound all that different from Trump, when he tells Nixon, ““Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television, as I did, to see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them — they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”  And Nixon laughs.

The only difference between Trump and Reagan here is that Reagan thinks nobody will hear the conversation, so his hateful racist attitudes can inform Republican policies in coded and unrecognized ways.

And let’s remember exactly how Republican operative Lee Atwater described the Southern Strategy he crafted to get Nixon elected in 1968 and, really, move to consolidate Republican dominance in the South moving forward to the present.

Here’s how Atwater characterized the strategy in a 1981 interview, laying bare its racist underpinnings:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “[N-word], [n-word], [n-word].” By 1968 you can’t say “[n-word]”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N-word], [n-word].”  (parenthetical substitutions of “n-word” are mine.)

The exorcism, it seems, cannot be complete without dismantling the GOP and conservative ideology down its fundamental DNA.

Racism is the foundation of conservatism in the United States.

Beyond Disowning Trump, GOP Apostates Must Be Accountable for History of Exploiting Political Offices at People’s Expense

Joe Scarborough, former Republican but still self-proclaimed conservative host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, has hoisted himself into media and political limelights of late with his popularizing of the moniker “Moscow Mitch” for senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has refused to bring to the senate floor for a vote a bill to fund measures to protect U.S. elections from Russian interference.

Certainly, Scarborough has positioned himself as an anti-Trump crusader, critical of both Trump and a sycophantically compliant GOP. He, in fact, publicly announced his departure from the Republican Party on Stephen Colbert’s show in October 2017.

Scarborough stands with other disaffected Republicans, such as former Florida representative David Jolly, who formally left the party, and talk show host and former member of George W. Bush’s administration Nicolle Wallace.

Wallace claims she didn’t leave the party; the party left her by changing its core platforms, saying “This Republican Party is unrecognizable to me . . . I’m not embarrassed to share a political party with John McCain or the 41st president or 43rd president.”  Her show is also known to parade other disaffected Republicans such as David Frum, Steve Schmitt, and Charlie Sykes.

There is always something unsettling about these figures’ somewhat holier-than-thou turning on the GOP, disavowing its current politics and form as though they represent a sharp break, an incongruous discontinuity with the respectable and dignified GOP with which they reverently identified.  This stance of moral indignation at Trump’s cruelty, hate, and flagrant celebrations of racism and sexism, just doesn’t sit right.

It’s not just insufficient; it’s dangerously deceptive, erasing the Republican Party’s complicity in producing Trump and in promoting the divisive, repressive, self-serving, and hostile politics characteristic of the current White House.

This week’s bombshell reporting on the newly-released tape of Ronald Reagan’s conversation with Richard Nixon, in which Reagan referred to African diplomats as “monkeys,” begins to make this point clear. Reagan doesn’t sound all that different from Trump, when he tells Nixon, ““Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television, as I did, to see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them — they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”  And Nixon laughs.

The only difference between Trump and Reagan here is that Reagan thinks nobody will hear the conversation, so his hateful racist attitudes can inform Republican policies in coded and unrecognized ways.

This m.o. is, of course, the playbook of the infamous Southern Strategy, which has been insufficiently addressed and recalled by media pundits. Michael Tomasky is one of the few, penning a piece about how the Southern Strategy has returned “with a vengeance.” And Maya Wiley, in a recent segment on Hardball, invoked it to point out that Trump, even in violating the code of the Southern Strategy, represents a continuity with past Republican politics:

“So all we`re really seeing here is a continuation.  Donald Trump blew up the southern strategy when he ran for president.  Remember, the southern strategy, which Richard Nixon perfected, which was sort of wink, wink, nod, nod, we`ll use coded language, but we`ll be very polite because we don`t think racism is okay to say aloud.  So we`ll wink and we`ll nod.  He threw the wink and the nod out already in 2016.”

But we aren’t getting enough analysis of and emphasis on this linkage between past and present when it comes to demanding accountability from these now self-satisfied, even self-righteous, disaffected Republicans lamenting the loss of their dear GOP.

Let’s remember exactly how Republican operative Lee Atwater described the Southern Strategy he crafted to get Nixon elected in 1968 and, really, move to consolidate Republican dominance in the South moving forward to the present, aiding and abetting the likes of Scarborough.

Here’s how Atwater characterized the strategy in a 1981 interview, laying bare its racist underpinnings:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “[N-word], [n-word], [n-word].” By 1968 you can’t say “[n-word]”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N-word], [n-word].”  (parenthetical substitutions of “n-word” are mine.)

So what did Republicans like Scarborough support? What did the George W. Bush administration, for whom Wallace served as a Communications Director, support?  They supported vigorously positions that defended states’ rights and tax cuts—the codes for defending racist policies. States’ rights, of course, are about allowing states to skirt federal enforcement particularly around civil rights issues, enabling local governments to be as racist as they like. And Atwater neatly explained the racist dimensions of tax cuts.  Scarborough was a member of the New Federalists that advocated for states’ rights, and he had been recognized by the conservative organization Americans for Tax Reform for his support for cutting taxes.

And anyone who has seen Adam McKay’s Vice, a biting satirical “documentary” of Dick Cheney’s rise to power, or Rachel Maddow’s more serious Why We Did it, documenting the complicity of the Bush administration and oil corporations in deceiving the American people to sell the invasion of Iraq, can certainly see good reason to believe that the administration in which Nicolle Wallace participated is not different from Trump’s in the way it abused the Presidency for personal enrichment or to serve the enrichment of a good old boys corporate network at the expense of the American people.

Without accountability for this past and how it has created our present, we can’t move forward in a new direction by fully recognizing the mistakes off the past.

We can’t be fooled that restoring a GOP establishment is any less racist or harmful to the people than Trump.

We might ask Wallace, given the Southern Strategy and the corporate-sponsored Iraq war, if Trump’s GOP is really so unrecognizable.

Rampant Misogyny and Racism Challenge the Working of Our Representational Democracy

In the first round of Democratic primary debates, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke up strongly not just in favor of women’s democratic rights but in favor of the necessity of having women representing themselves both on the political stage and in the proverbial political back room in advocating for their own interests.

The second part of Gillibrand’s insistence, that it’s not just that women’s interests need representation but that women need to be the ones representing them, reinvigorates an important challenge to our representational democracy, highlighting a tension that has historically vexed—and continues to vex—our system: how effectively can representatives really advocate for the multiple constituencies they supposedly represent? And can they even adequately understand them?

Trump’s Presidency makes this crisis of representational democracy clear with a vengeance, as his approach to “governance” of seeing winners and losers already signifies that he is not out to advocate for the best interests of all but to defeat those he categorizes as his opponents.  He doesn’t even exercise the typical political courtesy in pretending that he views his policies as best for all in the nation; he has been fairly clear that he seeks to play to and represent only his “United Base of America.”

But the content of Trump’s character, its thorough-going racism and misogyny, has for the most part always been pretty evident.  He hasn’t hidden it; rather, he has celebrated it, making it his chief campaign platform.

Gillibrand’s position makes us wonder in deeper and subtler ways if we are at a moment yet when we can rely simply on the content of one’s character in choosing a leader to represent us.  I, as a white man, like to think that I have progressive views and care about equal rights and dignity for women, people of color, transgender people, gays and lesbians, disabled people, rural and urban populations, and so forth.

But is content of character enough to represent the interests and understand the experiences of such diverse and different constituencies, especially when we’ve seen in the past few days the remarkable lack of agreement on whether or not telling a group of American citizens to go back where they came from constitutes racism?  And especially when we know that bias and prejudice are often, perhaps mostly, not consciously recognized. Nobody, even Klansmen, really thinks they are racist or sexist.

The power of Gillibrand’s debate commentary lay precisely in the fact that she addressed not what happens in the open but what happens behind closed doors in those smoke-filled rooms with men wielding big cigars.

When the issue of abortion rights came up, she took control of the microphone. “I want to talk directly to America’s women and to men who love them,” she said. “When the door is closed and negotiations are made, there are conversations about women’s rights, and compromises have been made on our backs. That’s how we got to the Hyde Amendment,” she elaborated, referring the amendment which bans federal funding for most abortions.

“When we beat President Trump and Mitch McConnell walks into the Oval Office to do negotiations, who do you want when that door closes to fight for women’s rights?” she asked. “I have been the fiercest advocate for Roe v. Wade, and I promise you when that door closes, I will guarantee your reproductive rights no matter what.”

When that door closes . . .

These closed doors take many forms, including the closed doors in our minds which blind us to our own biases and prejudices.

I am reminded of the words of the mid-19th-century American writer Sarah Margaret Fuller, a proponent of women’s rights and suffrage.  In her work Women in the Nineteenth Century, she speaks directly to the need for women’s voting rights precisely because of this problem of representation I’m addressing.

She writes,

As to men’s representing women fairly at present, while we hear from men who owe to their wives not only all that is comfortable or graceful, but all that is wise in the arrangement of their lives, the frequent remark, “You cannot reason with a woman,”—when from those of delicacy, nobleness, and poetic culture, falls the contemptuous phrase “women and children,” and that in no light sally of the hour, but in works intended to give permanent statement of the best experiences—when not one man, in the million, shall I say? No, not one in the hundred million, can rise above the belief that Woman was made for man,–when such traits as these are daily forced upon the attention, can we feel that Man will always do justice to the interests of Woman?

Fuller’s answer, of course, is “no.”  And she highlights how views that demean and infantilize women are built into our language and deeply embedded in our cultural assumptions such that men don’t even recognize them.

Trump’s overt racism, doing away with the racist coding Lee Atwater coded when devising the Southern Strategy to consolidate Republican power by concealing the racist dynamics of policies and campaign strategies, shows us to some extent what lurks behind the closed doors of the dominant cultural and political mind in America.

But there’s more for us to see and understand in terms of the prevalence of misogynistic and racist dynamics at work in U.S. culture and society which highlight an abiding crisis in our representational democracy, one Fuller pointed out a century and a half ago.

Gillbrand urges us to see that it’s not just the content of our characters that matters; it’s also the bodies that house that content and that shape the content as well which matter.

The diversity of Democratic candidates gives us a chance to reflect more deeply, wisely, and carefully about how best to represent the interests of all in our faltering democracy in need of repair.