Category Archives: Racial Equality

How Deep It Goes

I left the Republican Party in 2000, but for several years after my departure I held to the belief that the changes I’d seen–the growing radicalization and disregard for evidence that concerned me–remained an essentially fringe phenomenon. Yes, the fringe was growing; yes, it was exerting a troubling amount of control over the reasonable folks who still were in the majority, but it wasn’t (I fondly believed) a wholesale abandonment of sanity and reason in service of bigotry.

I was wrong.

There are undoubtedly people who remain part of the GOP from inertia, or denial, but it is no longer possible to view the Republican Party as anything but a threat to American liberty and equality. In the wake of the horrific massacre in Buffalo, Dana Milbank described the GOP’s transformation from a traditional political party to a White Nationalist cult. He cited statistics for the proposition that the problem–the moral rot– goes “well beyond the rhetoric of a few Republican officials and opinion leaders. Elected Republicans haven’t merely inspired far-right extremists. They have become far-right extremists.”

The study, released on Friday by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a decades-old group that tracks right-wing extremism, found that more than 1 in 5 Republican state legislators in the United States were affiliated with far-right groups. The IREHR (which conducted a similar study with the NAACP in 2010 on racism within the tea party) cross-referenced the personal, campaign and official Facebook profiles of all 7,383 state legislators in the United States during the 2021-22 legislative period with thousands of far-right Facebook groups. The researchers found that 875 legislators — all but three of them Republicans — were members of one or more of 789 far-right Facebook groups. That works out to 22 percent of all Republican state legislators.

I haven’t had time to access the study to ascertain how many of those state-level legislators are members of Indiana’s Statehouse, but I’m sure the number is significant.

The numbers reported are hair-raising enough, but the study excluded from its definition of far-right groups what it called “historically mainstream conservative groups” such as the National Rifle Association and even pro-Trump and MAGA groups. It included  contemporary iterations of the tea party and selected antiabortion and Second Amendment groups, white nationalists, neo-Confederates and sovereign citizen organizations that claim to be exempt from U.S. law.

In other words, the study looked only at the most radical of the reactionary groups.

Arguably, then, the study understates the true overlap between state-level Republican legislators and the far right. (Also, for obvious reasons, researchers couldn’t count legislators who belong to the several extremist groups that keep their memberships secret.)

Some of these far-right figures already have high profiles. ProPublica last fall identified 48 Republican state and local government officials — including 10 sitting state lawmakers — on the membership roster of the Oath Keepers, a militant extremist group. One Arizona state senator, Wendy Rogers, gained national attention for a speech to a white-nationalist conference in February during which she called for violence. Her remarks to the gathering (which Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) also addressed) earned her a rebuke by her fellow GOP state senators but proved to be a fundraising bonanza.

Proponents of “replacement theory” have been growing in number since Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has been championing the claim.

Though based in actual demographic trends — Americans of color will gradually become a majority in coming decades — “Great Replacement” holds that Democrats and the left are conspiring by nefarious means to supplant White people.

This idea, expressed by the alleged Buffalo killer (11 of the gunman’s 13 victims were Black), has found support from Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican. She accused Democrats of “a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION” in the form of an immigration amnesty plan that would “overthrow our current electorate.”

Variations of this have been heard from Republicans such as: Rep. Scott Perry (Pa.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus (“we’re replacing … native-born Americans to permanently transform the political landscape”); Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (Democrats “want to remake the demographics of America to ensure … that they stay in power forever”); Rep. Gaetz of Florida (Carlson “is CORRECT about Replacement Theory”); Vance, the party’s Senate nominee for Ohio (“Biden’s open border is killing Ohioans, with … more Democrat voters pouring into this country”); and Gingrich, former Republican House speaker (“the anti-American left would love to drown traditional, classic Americans … to get rid of the rest of us”).

It’s one thing to name (and–one hopes–shame) the highly visible Republicans promoting this racist bilge, but they aren’t the real problem. The real, very scary problem is that these  people are garnering votes and winning elections.

The real problem is the rank-and-file Republicans who support them.

A Second Civil War

I have been brooding over the implications of the racist massacre in Buffalo.

The facts are not in dispute.A teenage White Supremacist drove over 200 miles so that he could kill Black people who would be shopping in a supermarket located in a predominantly Black neighborhood. He killed 10 people and wounded three others. Reports tell us that this particular mass shooting was the deadliest in the United States so far this year.

This year. We’re 19 weeks in, and according to NPR, America has already had 198 mass shootings.

The 18-year-old shooter, Payton S. Gendron, livestreamed the gruesome attack as he mowed down shoppers and store employees.

Why would an 18-year-old drive to a neighborhood where he knew no one, specifically in order to kill people who had done him no harm? According to multiple reports, a manifesto he had authored and posted online repeatedly invoked the racist charge that white Americans were at risk of being “replaced” by people of color.

The New York Times newsletter described his entrance into the supermarket.

Around 2:30 p.m., as shoppers filled the Tops supermarket, the suspect arrived wearing body armor, tactical gear and a helmet with a video camera attached. He carried an assault rifle with an anti-Black slur written on the barrel and began firing in the parking lot. Three victims were killed outside, and one was wounded.

And as to motive…

The attack appeared to be inspired by earlier mass shootings motivated by racial hatred, including a 2019 mosque shooting in New Zealand and a massacre at a Texas Walmart that same year, according to the manifesto.

In chilling detail, the document outlined a plan to kill as many Black people as possible, including the type of gun to use, a timeline, a specific parking spot and where to eat ahead of time.

Gendron wrote that he chose the area of the supermarket because it was home to the largest percentage of Black residents near his home in New York’s largely white Southern Tier.

So here we are. Some 80% of voters want additional controls on gun purchases, but  rather than imposing reasonable restrictions or improving background checks, extremist politicians in states like Indiana continue to relax existing gun regulations. That permissiveness allows mental cases, domestic abusers and avowed racists access to weapons that should be limited to military use, permitting deranged shooters to inflict far more death and destruction than would otherwise be possible.

According to one report, Gendron was very heavily armed. He had tactical gear, a bulletproof vest and a tactical helmet, along with the camera that allowed him to livestream what he was doing. His firearms included a semi-automatic rifle, a hunting rifle and a shotgun, which were all purchased legally.

As stupid and unforgivable as Americans’ gun fetish is, it is White Supremacist hatred that is most horrific. This twisted young man killed people based on the color of their skin. These weren’t people he knew, people who might have somehow angered him. They were just “other”–and somewhere in his misbegotten life, he had come to believe that the mere existence of people with skin color unlike his own constituted an injury so great, so monumental, he would be justified in eradicating it.

We will undoubtedly hear from the defenders of an imagined version of the Second Amendment that the problem isn’t guns, it’s mental illness. Rational individuals will respond that (1) most people suffering from mental illness are not dangerous, and (2)  giving easy access to deadly weapons to the people who do display murderous impulses is its own form of insanity.

Racist domestic attacks have been increasing, along with all the other signs of a disintegrating national culture. It isn’t as if we couldn’t see this coming; over a year ago, an article in The Guardian reported

Racially motivated extremists pose the most lethal domestic terrorism threats to the US, according to an unclassified intelligence report that warned that the threats could grow this year.

The blunt assessment, in a report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, echoes warnings made by US officials, including the FBI director, Christopher Wray, who testified earlier this month that the threat from domestic violent extremism was “metastasizing” across the country.

Meanwhile, American government is gridlocked by a combination of obsolete political systems and the devolution of the GOP into a racist, misogynist cult intent on reversing fifty-plus years of human rights progress.

It’s hard not to agree with a bystander interviewed by the Guardian

“I do know that this isn’t the first time this has happened in America, so this will be pretty much the same,” said Lewis. “There will be candles, probably have a march, some preaching. But nothing that needs to be done is going to be done.”

Unfortunately, he’s probably right.

 

 

 

 

The Rear-View Mirror

Like many who read this blog, I get the Letter from an American from Heather Cox Richardson. Richardson is a historian, and the great benefit of her Letters is that they provide what I like to think of as a look in humanity’s rear-view mirror.

Driving a car requires checking the traffic behind us in order to navigate the road ahead. History serves much the same purpose (which is one of the many, many reasons why the rightwing hysteria over teaching the country’s history of racism is so deranged…)

A few days ago, Richardson shared an “aha” moment.

It has been hard for me to see the historical outlines of the present-day attack on American democracy clearly. But this morning, as I was reading a piece in Vox by foreign affairs specialist Zack Beauchamp, describing Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s path in Florida as an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the penny dropped.

She proceeded to outline the political currents prior to the election of Trump: the evolution of today’s GOP into the pro-oligarchy party, following what she described as the usual U.S. historical pattern to that point– “in the 1850s, 1890s, 1920s, and then again in the modern era, wealthy people had come around to the idea that society worked best if a few wealthy men ran everything.”

Each of those periods was a reaction to the expansion of civil equality. Richardson reports that wealthier Americans protected their privileged status by playing on the racism of  poorer white male voters– telling them that passage of laws protecting equal rights was really a plan to turn American governance over to immigrants or to Black or Brown Americans.

The idea that poor men of color voting meant socialism resonated with white voters, who turned against the government’s protecting equal rights and instead supported a government that favored men of property. As wealth moved upward, popular culture championed economic leaders as true heroes, and lawmakers suppressed voting in order to “redeem” American society from “socialists” who wanted to redistribute wealth. Capital moved upward until a very few people controlled most of it, and then, usually after an economic crash made ordinary Americans turn against the system that favored the wealthy, the cycle began again.

When Trump was elected, the U.S. was at the place where wealth had concentrated among the top 1%, Republican politicians denigrated their opponents as un-American “takers” and celebrated economic leaders as “makers,” and the process of skewing the vote through gerrymandering and voter suppression was well underway. But the Republican Party still valued the rule of law. It’s impossible to run a successful business without a level playing field, as businessmen realized after the 1929 Great Crash, when it became clear that insider trading had meant that winners and losers were determined not by the market but by cronyism.

Trump deviated from the usual cycle in one way–he didn’t care about enriching the oligarchy, only about enriching himself, his toadies and his family. Despite his  repellent personality and embarrassing ignorance of government and policy, he was especially dangerous because he turned the Republican base into a cult that no longer respected the rule of law.

Richardson warns that Trump’s deliberate destabilization of faith in our democratic norms is especially dangerous because it creates space for two right-wing, antidemocratic ideologies. Two current Republican governors model those ideologies: Abbott in Texas, who is pursuing the South’s Civil War insistence on “states’ rights,” and DeSantis in Florida, who is emulating Viktor Orbán’s “soft fascism.”

Orbán has taken control of Hungary’s media, ensuring that his party wins all elections; has manipulated election districts in his own favor; and has consolidated the economy into the hands of his cronies by threatening opponents with harassing investigations, regulations, and taxes unless they sell out.

DeSantis is following this model right down to the fact that observers believe that Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill was modeled on a similar Hungarian law. DeSantis’s attack on Disney mirrors Orbán’s use of regulatory laws to punish political opponents (although the new law was so hasty and flawed it threatens to do DeSantis more harm than good).

Richardson counsels us to look in that rear-view mirror–to access the knowledge and tools that history provides to defend democracy from the ideology of states’ rights.” But she also warns that, because the rise of “illiberal democracy” or “soft fascism” is new to us, we need to understand how it differs both from Trump’s version of autocracy and from the old arguments for states’ rights.

At risk of over-extending my somewhat strained analogy, Orbanism represents a massive pothole on the road to democratic self-governance and civil liberty–a pothole requiring us to drive carefully and keep our eyes on the road– ahead and behind.

Moral Clarity

At breakfast the other day, my husband asked me what I thought today’s Republicans really believe.

I should mention that he and I met when we were members of Mayor Bill Hudnut’s very Republican Indianapolis city administration, so our dismay with and disapproval of what the GOP has become has built over a period of years.  After giving his question some thought, I said today’s Republicans think the world should be run by White Christian men.

In a recent column, Jennifer Rubin made a similar point: The GOP, she wrote, is no longer a party. It’s a movement to impose White Christian nationalism.

People might be confused about how a Republican Party that once worried about government overreach now seeks to control medical care for transgender children and retaliate against a corporation for objecting to a bill targeting LGBTQ students. And why is it that the most ambitious Republicans are spending more time battling nonexistent critical race theory in schools than on health care or inflation?

To explain this, one must acknowledge that the GOP is not a political party anymore. It is a movement dedicated to imposing White Christian nationalism.

The media blandly describes the GOP’s obsessions as “culture wars,” but that suggests there is another side seeking to impose its views on others. In reality, only one side is repudiating pluralistic democracy — White, Christian and mainly rural Americans who are becoming a minority group and want to maintain their political power.

Rubin says that the MAGA movement is essentially an effort to “conserve power and to counteract the sense of a shared fate with Americans who historically have been marginalized.”

The hysteria on the right has led to the virtual abandonment of policy positions, or for that matter, anything remotely resembling adult argumentation. Rather than focusing on governance, the cult that was once a political party has substituted what Rubin accurately calls “malicious labeling and insults (e.g., “groomer,” “woke”), and the targeting of LGBTQ youths and dehumanization of immigrants.” Today’s Republican candidates characterize their opponents in terms that in our time would have made them outcasts in the party–they label Democrats (and rational Republicans, to the extent those still exist) “as sick, dangerous and — above all — not real Americans.”

No one should be surprised that the “big lie” has become gospel in White evangelical churches. The New York Times reports: “In the 17 months since the presidential election, pastors at these churches have preached about fraudulent votes and vague claims of election meddling. … For these church leaders, Mr. Trump’s narrative of the 2020 election has become a prominent strain in an apocalyptic vision of the left running amok.”

If anti-critical-race-theory crusades are the response to racial empathy, then laws designed to make voting harder or to subvert elections are the answer to the GOP’s defeat in 2020, which the right still refuses to concede. The election has been transformed into a plot against right-wingers that must be rectified by further marginalizing those outside their movement.

Rubin is correct when she says that America’s very real  political problems are minor when compared with what she calls  “the moral confusion” exhibited by millions of White Christian Americans. My only quibble with that observation is that White Supremacy isn’t really “moral confusion.” It is immorality.

What I find depressingly ironic is the fact that the “morality” preached in so many Christian churches is focused exclusively on individual (primarily sexual) behavior–as though “morality” is exclusively a matter of what happens below the waist and in the uterus, and has little or nothing to do with how we treat our fellow humans.

A morality that avoids grappling with people’s social behaviors–a theology that ignores questions of basic social justice–is no morality at all.

America may avoid a replay of our “hot” civil war, but make no mistake: we are in the middle of an existential battle for the soul of this country–and those fighting to retain their dominance are unrestrained by morality, by fidelity to the rule of law, or by allegiance to the (yet-to-be-achieved) principles of the Declaration, Constitution or Bill of Rights.

I firmly believe that a majority of Americans support pluralism, democracy and fundamental fairness. But I also know that people fight harder–and dirtier– when they feel cornered.

We live in a very scary time.

 

Who Are We #2

Us versus Them. It’s tribal, a way of approaching life that has–unfortunately– persisted through centuries. For most of those centuries, the major divisions have taken the form of national boundaries, although religion and skin color have been close behind.

In our increasingly globalized world, however, perceptions of who “we” are–and perceptions of the threats posed by “them”– are changing. The identity of the “tribe” to which one belongs is no longer totally dependent upon nationality or even skin color, although religious beliefs remain a potent part of what we might call the New World Disorder.

I was struck by some statistics in a recent New York Times column.The author was considering the genesis and character of pro-Putin/pro-autocrat sentiment on the Right.

It may feel shocking, but it shouldn’t be surprising that many Republican leaders and conservative elites think the American president is a more dangerous enemy than the Russian autocrat. There is an influential tradition on the right of idolizing Putin as a defender of white Christian values against the onslaught of secular, “leftist” liberalism. In 2013, for instance, Pat Buchanan, a leading voice on the “paleoconservative” traditionalist right, described Putin as “one of us,” an ally in what he saw as the defining struggle of our era, “with conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite”. Similarly, in 2014, famous evangelist Franklin Graham lauded Putin for having “taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda” – an agenda Barack Obama was supposedly pursuing in the US.

After the 2016 election, the simmering admiration for Putin morphed into GOP orthodoxy, with Donald Trump himself leading the Republican party’s pro-Russia turn. This rapprochement shaped the right well beyond conservative elites. Among voters in general, support for Donald Trump correlates strongly with a favorable opinion of Putin, and Americans who define the US as a “Christian nation” have a much more favorable view of Putin’s Russia. As recently as January 2022, Putin had a significantly higher approval rating among Republicans than Joe Biden.

The author followed those two paragraphs with a litany of far Right statements confirming that worldview: Steve Bannon declaring his support for Putin because “Putin ain’t woke, he is anti-woke;”  Christian nationalist Republican Lauren Witzke (a Delaware Republican candidate for Senate in 2020)  asserting that she supports Putin because he protects “our Christian values. I identify more with Russian, with Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden.”  Arizona state senator Wendy Rogers is quoted as saying “I stand with Christians worldwide and not the global bankers who are shoving godlessness and degeneracy in our face”; in case you (inexplicably) missed the anti-Semitic tropes in that statement, she then described Ukrainian president Zelenskiy, who is Jewish, as “a globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons.”

There were several others–and of course we all know what Tucker Carlson has had to say.

This critique has basically become dogma on the right: a radically “un-American” woke Left is out to destroy the country – and has already succeeded in undermining the nation considerably, especially its “woke, emasculated military,” as Texas senator Ted Cruz put it; a weak west foolishly “focused on expanding its national debt and exploding the gender binary”, according to rightwing activist Ben Shapiro.

For these culture warriors, the message is clear: the democracies of the West had it coming; they’ve been weakened by liberal decadence and “woke culture.”

Those fighting the so-called “woke” culture celebrated Trump’s election as a success in that culture war–as proof that the forces of reaction would ultimately prevail.

Rightwingers everywhere understand the transnational dimension as well as the world-historic significance of the current fight over democracy more clearly than many people on the left: is it possible to establish a stable multiracial, pluralistic democracy? Such a political, social and cultural order has indeed never existed. There have been several stable, fairly liberal democracies – but either they have been culturally and ethnically homogeneous to begin with; or there has always been a pretty clearly defined ruling group: a white man’s democracy, a racial caste democracy, a “herrenvolk” democracy. A truly multiracial, pluralistic democracy in which an individual’s status was not determined to a significant degree by race, gender, or religion? I don’t think that’s ever been achieved anywhere. It’s a vision that reactionaries abhor – to them, it would be the end of “western civilization”. And they are determined to fight back by whatever means necessary.

We are about to see what happens when “we”–the despised, “woke” humans who want to live in that “stable multiracial, pluralistic democracy”–are targeted and opposed by “them,” the neighbors and fellow-citizens) who view that desire with fear and contempt.

I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore….