Opinion: Racist Contradictions in Defining Freedom in Trump’s America

Last May, the conservative group Michigan United for Liberty organized protests in the state capitol against Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders.  While the group, composed of roughly 8,000 members, had already formalized its complaint against the orders in a law suit, the protest provided a forum for a defiant public expression against what the group sees as a gross violation of people’s constitutional freedoms. read more

Opinion: Stephen Miller’s Racism Is Trumpier Than Trump

We continue on the journey of asking ourselves what kind of country we want to be, as impeachment hearings continue to build the strongest case imaginable against Donald Trump, and his administration continues to do horrible things to the extensive list of people it considers “other.”

For the longest time, Trump’s draconian treatment of immigrants (especially POC seeking asylum) was associated with Stephen Miller, who is nicknamed by several in my Twitter circle, “Baby Goebbels”.

Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center published the first in what will be a series of articles on Miller’s racist emails, which show a near obsession with all things white nationalist.  The first article outlines the source material on which Miller based his anti-immigration policies that are associated with the Trump administration.

“The emails, which Miller sent to the conservative website Breitbart News in 2015 and 2016, showcase the extremist, anti-immigrant ideology that undergirds the policies he has helped create as an architect of Donald Trump’s presidency. These policies include reportedly setting arrest quotas for undocumented immigrants, an executive order effectively banning immigration from five Muslim-majority countries and a policy of family separation at refugee resettlement facilities that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General said is causing “intense trauma” in children”.

The White House on Mr. Miller’s behalf, complained and whined that outing him as a white nationalist is an anti-Semitic attempt to disassociate him from his Jewish identity.

If nothing else, Stephen shatters the image that all Jews actually understand the consequences of holding the views that he espouses.  There are some conservative Jews who question the Jewishness of those who are more liberal because they learned the lessons of history.  And, there are some liberals who may be tempted to distance their Jewish identity from the likes of Stephen Miller.  I want to, but I believe people are smart enough to know that Stephen Miller is not representative of most Jews, not even a minority.  He is definitely not representative of Judaism, or for that matter any of the major religions and political philosophies.

He is, however, the reason why I firmly believe that someone’s background doesn’t always tell you who they are.

Miller is, without question, Jewish, and no one is denying that fact.  But as his uncle, David Glossar,

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/08/13/Steven-miller-is-an-immigration-hypocrite-i-know-because-im-his-uncle-219351 read more

Opinion: Inciting Hatred Ought to Be an Impeachable Offense

[Where indicated, this article includes opinion by Tobias J. Grant, legal analyst at PoliticusUSA]

If a president incites one group of Americans to hate another group of Americans, it ought to be an impeachable offense. No matter what your views on the size of government may be, surely we can agree that a President must be duty bound to protect all Americans – not just the ones he likes.

When Beto O’Rourke expressed his outrage, he spoke for me. There are few times in my life when I’m willing to defer to someone else on matters close to the heart – like how we treat each other. It was Beto’s finest moment. Anyone still wondering what to say about Trump the white nationalist, domestic terrorist, should listen to Beto and take detailed notes.

But O’Rourke’s outrage conveyed emotions that have been building in me since the day Donald Trump announced his campaign with disgustingly racist comments, and with Melania Trump standing by his side.

I’m tired of skirting the issue. Donald Trump has been inciting hatred and violence against a long list of people he doesn’t like ever since. He won the Republican nomination and the Electoral College vote fanning the flames of racism and white supremacy. He intends to do it again for the 2020 election.

The fact that he can win enough votes to win the Electoral College not only disgusts anyone with any sense of decency, it is frightening if you are on that long list of people who are targeted daily by Trump and by people in his base.

We are not talking about “political correctness”. We’re talking about being able to go shopping for school supplies without getting shot by some crazed Trump supporter with a weapon of war. We’re talking about being free to worship in a church, a mosque or a synagogue without being gunned down – even though security means having armed guards in your place of worship. Armed guards, people.

Armed guards in schools, in malls, on airplanes.

Does anyone feel safer? More importantly, does anyone feel free anymore? When was the last time going to any public place didn’t involve having the requisite I.D. or an examination to make sure you aren’t carrying something that will set off the metal detector?

When was the last time you could kiss your child good-bye as they go to school without you thinking, even for a moment, this might be the last time I see my baby alive.

When was the last time you could assume your spouse would arrive home alive and well from work?

The guns are roaming free while the human beings are in prison.

So when Donald Trump spoke on the horrors that happened in El Paso and Dayton this weekend, I wasn’t expecting a healer in chief. I wasn’t expecting a statesmen who would recognize that you shouldn’t need to do a risk analysis before going to the movies or eating at a restaurant.

I was expecting the Donald Trump we got. He blamed the epidemic of mass murder on the internet, on video games, on the media and on anything but the hate for which he has been turning up the temperature for weeks.

He said some things that few would argue with, like the fact that white supremacy is an evil ideology. The thing is, Donald Trump is a white supremacist who panders to white supremacists, who support him because he’s a white supremacist. This is where I say that the logic leads to the conclusion that Donald Trump is evil.

Ok, I can hear the outrage. You can’t say that about the President! Yes, I can and more importantly, yes we must.

If we’re ever going to find our way out from this dystopian nightmare, we have to admit some basic truths and we need to do something!

Yes, of course the Senate should pass gun safety bills sent there by the House of Representatives. And yes, Trump should sign those bills into law.

But it doesn’t end there. We’re nowhere near finished doing the work that needs to be done. For as important as gun safety measures are, it is also important to admit that we have a white supremacist domestic terrorism problem. We need to designate white supremacist groups as terrorist organizations.

We must also acknowledge the man sitting in the White House is to white supremacy what Osama Bin Laden was to radical Islam! The man in the White House has given that ideology legitimacy and a voice more powerful than any other. We have to call Trump’s ideology by its name. It’s white supremacy based domestic terrorism.

Every time Donald Trump uses the office of President to attack and demonize people he doesn’t perceive as American, he is inciting domestic terrorists. If you’re on the long list of people Trump doesn’t like, you have a target on your back.

He is encouraging white terrorists to act as one of them did this past weekend. That man took his war weapon and drove 10 hours to gun down people he thought, because Donald Trump said so, are an “infestation”, an “invasion,” and come from “sh*thole countries.” He said it in tweets, speeches and even in Facebook ads.

This leads me to a question that has been on my mind since the El Paso massacre. If we can impeach a President for having a blow job and lying about it, why the hell can’t we impeach a President who incites one group of Americans to harm other groups of Americans?

Tobias J. Grant and I had a long discussion about this, knowing it was a thought exercise. The Trump campaign’s willingness to accept Russia’s help in the 2016 election and the numerous times Trump obstructed justice have been the focus of investigations that could lead to an impeachment.

But of the presidents who faced impeachment charges, none of them incited one group of Americans to hate other groups of Americans, repeatedly and leaving nothing to the imagination.

It should go without saying that when a President incites violence against any citizen, there must be more of a response than a tweet, or even a well thought out opinion piece.

So this is where I turn it over to Tobias J. Grant.

We propose that Trump’s incitement of violence is an impeachable offense. Officials, the President included, can be impeached and convicted and removed from office for “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The men who wrote the Constitution didn’t say much about what exactly that means. Regardless, we can be pretty sure that if something is an ordinary crime, there’s a good chance it is impeachable. Inciting violence is a crime, but is Trump’s incitement serious enough to make him unfit to stay in office?

The answer is yes. Trump being who he is, provoking mass shootings is not ordinary incitement. For starters, his incitement falls short of his duty to faithfully execute his office. That duty includes taking care that our laws, too, are faithfully executed. Also, his crypto-white supremacy is repugnant to the principle of equality, a principle firmly and rightly ingrained in the Constitution and American political culture. Besides, heads of state are supposed to be moral leaders, to lead by example. Recent mass shooters follow Trump’s many bad examples. In Trump, faithful execution of our laws, making equality real, and moral leadership are sorely lacking. So lacking that for him, the ordinary crime of incitement to violence rises to the level of being “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Even though he doesn’t stand at the head of a mob rioting and lynching, he provides impetus for the vicious mindset that festers and festers until it finds the fatal outlet of mass shootings. For that, he deserves to be thrown out of the Oval Office.

Both of Tobias and I agree on that, and perhaps we’re the only ones who do.

I realize there are holes you can drive a Mac truck through. Without question, Republicans will object, as will anyone who considers the political reality that Mitch McConnell’s Senate is never going to convict this President.

I also know that Donald Trump’s words are inspiring to killers – too many killers. They’re gunning down synagogues. They’re sending bombs to newsrooms and to high profile Democrats,  because they criticize Donald Trump. And now they’re driving for hours to stop what Donald Trump says is an “infestation.”

Americans cannot let this stand. Maybe impeachment isn’t the answer. Maybe the answer is censure. Maybe the answer is the House merely saying it impeaches the President and doesn’t send the articles to Senate for trial. Maybe it’s something Toby and I haven’t thought of. But I know with every fiber of my being that doing nothing makes every one of us complicit in the next mass shooting.

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.

 

 

 

Three Billboards Provides Guidance for Addressing Hate in Trump’s America

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.