Tag Archives: bigotry

The Southern Strategy

Speaker of the House Michael Johnson is the latest product of Richard Nixon, Kevin Phillips and what we now refer to as “the Southern Strategy.”

Speaker Johnson is an avowed Christian Nationalist, an Evangelical who attributes his election as Speaker to God.

Johnson was formerly counsel to the Alliance Defense Fund–a far-right, Christianist organization deeply committed to the culture wars. (He authored the ADF’s brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, representing the baker who argued that baking a cake for a gay couple’s wedding would violate his religious freedom.)

As many media outlets have reported, Johnson was counsel to Louisiana Right to Life before starting his own legal firm, Freedom Guard, to “defend religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, marriage and the family.”

After the Supreme Court decided Obergefell, Johnson wrote for the magazine of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis that Christians would be increasingly “pressured to choose between their conscience and conformity.” He urged readers to read the Bible to discover “how God intends for us to live out our faith in a hostile world.” And “despite the radical secularists’ efforts to convince the public otherwise,” he argued, “it is not ‘bigotry’ to remind people of God’s claims on our lives and biological reality.” He also offered free legal services, through Freedom Guard, to any government officials, like justices of the peace, who feared they would “compromise their faith by issuing marriage licenses or solemnizing marriages under circumstances that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

There’s much more (he’s also a Young Earth climate denialist), but why do I connect his  theocracy to the Southern Strategy? Answer: because it is all cut from the same cloth–the conviction that God intended America to be dominated/ruled by White (“European”) Christians.

Jamille Bouie outlined the Southern Strategy in an essay for the New York Times.

Phillips had worked as a strategist on Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign, the experience of which supplied much of the material for his book. His argument was straightforward: Nixon’s victory wasn’t just a momentary triumph but the beginning of an epochal shift in American politics, fueled by a latent conservatism among many members of the white middle class. These voters were repulsed, Phillips wrote, by the Democratic Party’s “ambitious social programming and inability to handle the urban and Negro revolutions.”

The latter point was key. “The principal force which broke up the Democratic (New Deal) coalition is the Negro socioeconomic revolution and liberal Democratic ideological inability to cope with it,” Phillips declared. “The Democratic Party fell victim to the ideological impetus of a liberalism which had carried it beyond programs taxing the few for the benefit of the many (the New Deal) to programs taxing the many on behalf of the few (the Great Society).”

If one tallied Nixon’s share of the national popular vote, at 43.5 percent, and added it to the share won by the governor of Alabama, George Wallace, at 13.5 percent, then you had, in Phillips’s view, the makings of a conservative majority.

The Republican Party was revamped to wage culture war, to appeal to voters who see the world as an existential struggle between “us” and “them.”  The Southern Strategy defined “us” as White and “them” as people of color, and that racist element remains central, but it has been joined by bigotries against a wide variety of other “thems.” Jews, of course (history’s most durable villains); Muslims, LGBTQ people…Anyone who isn’t a White Christian Nationalist.

Every credible academic study done after the 2016 election confirmed the importance of racism to Trump’s (Electoral College) victory. Every subsequent poll and/or study has corroborated the deep divisions between values held by ordinary Americans and those held by respondents who self-describe as White Evangelical Christians.

During the 1968 Presidential campaign, Kevin Phillips reportedly told the journalist Garry Wills,“The whole secret of politics is knowing who hates who.”

Before he died, Phillips became a fierce critic of the Republican Party he’d done so much to create, but by then, hate had become part of the party’s DNA. As Bouie concluded his essay,

The Republican Party did not just win the white South in the years and decades after Phillips wrote “The Emerging Republican Majority.” Nor did it just become the party of the white South — or at least its most conservative elements. No, what happened is that the Republican Party Southernized, with a politics and an ideology rooted in some of the most reactionary — and ultimately destructive — tendencies of that political tradition.

So here we are– with a Speaker of the House who fully embraces those destructive, reactionary beliefs–a Speaker intent upon substituting White Christian Nationalism for a Constitution profoundly influenced by the Enlightenment.

It’s not a good omen….




Yesterday, I titled my post “Yes!” Today–after the election of a new House Speaker–I can only retreat into “No!”

After nearly four weeks of total dysfunction, the House GOP elected a Speaker candidate–essentially, Jim Jordan without the public buffoonery and scandal baggage. According to the Washington Post, here are five things to know about this previously undistinguished culture-war Representative from deep-Red Louisiana.

First–and least surprising, although deeply troubling– he’s an election denier.He opposed certifying the 2020 election and urged Trump to “stay strong and keep fighting” as Trump tried to overturn his loss in the presidential race. He tweeted out a message urging Trump to fight the results, adding “We must exhaust every available legal remedy to restore Americans’ trust in the fairness of our election system.”

Johnson also objected to certifying Biden’s electoral win and was one of the architects of a legal attack on the election that consisted of arguing that states’ voting accommodations during the pandemic were unconstitutional. He led a group of 126 Republican lawmakers in filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court alleging that authorities in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan had “usurped” the constitutional authority of state legislatures when they loosened voting restrictions because of the pandemic. The court rejected the underlying complaint — filed by the state of Texas — citing a lack of standing, and dismissed all other related motions, including the amicus brief.

Second, and extremely concerning, he was one of 57 lawmakers — all of them Republicans — who voted against a $39.8 billion aid package for Ukraine in May. Although a majority of GOP Representatives support aid to Ukraine, Johnson is not among them.

Third–and probably least surprising–Johnson, “a constitutional lawyer who identifies as a Christian,” opposes abortion. He actively celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, has insisted (via Twitter) that rights are not protected by government but “given by God,” and those God-given rights don’t include reproductive autonomy for women. He supports an absolute national ban on abortions.

The antiabortion nonprofit Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America gives Johnson an A+ ranking on this issue, stating that he “has voted consistently to defend the lives of the unborn and infants,” including by “stopping hard-earned tax dollars from paying for abortion, whether domestically or internationally.”

Fourth, his election cements the takeover of the GOP by Trumpers–as if there was any doubt.

He served on Trump’s legal defense team during his two impeachment trials in the Senate. He has called charges against Trump — which include a federal case relating to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election — “bogus,” and has said the legal and political systems have treated Trump unfairly.

Fifth, Johnson displays the anti-LGBTQ bigotry we’ve come to expect from the GOP’s pseudo-“Christian” culture warriors. He continues to oppose same-sex marriage, for example.

Johnson has positioned himself on the far right of the political spectrum on several social issues, even within the current conservative Republican conference. Notably, he introduced legislation last year — modeled after Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill — that would have prohibited discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as related subjects, at any institution that received federal funds. The Human Rights Campaign, a pro-LGBTQ civil rights organization, gave Johnson a score of 0 in its latest congressional scorecard.

Johnson also opposes gender-affirming care for minors and led a hearing on the subject in July. In a statement, he described gender-affirming care — meaning medical care that affirms or recognizes the gender identity of the person receiving the care, and which can include giving puberty or hormone blockers to minors under close monitoring from a doctor — as “adults inflicting harm on helpless children to affirm their world view.”

Health-care professionals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, disagree, but Johnson and his ilk dismiss expertise of all kinds in favor of listening to the God they have created in their own image…

So here we are, fellow Americans.

I’d rate the likelihood that Congress will now begin attending to business somewhere between zero and minus-one on a ten-point scale; at best, we will be treated to a more regularized performance of hari-kari.

If the extreme public meltdown of one of the nation’s political parties was taking place at a less-fraught time, I might actually find watching it enjoyable. But with two wars raging and a government shutdown looming, it’s agonizing to watch ideologues and intellectually-vacuous incompetents take the helm of the ship of state.

Johnson is a good fit for a political party that has been reduced to trading on ignorance, hate and fear. He’s a disaster-in-the-making for a country that needs to return to its constitutional and philosophical roots.


Who’s Grooming?

The public expression of bigotry and hatred is evidently cyclical. The election of Donald Trump gave racists permission to voice sentiments that had previously been banished from polite company; that permission has since extended to an eruption of anti-Semitism and homophobia.

Until Elon Musk bought Twitter, much of that vitriol was confined online to the “dark web” and a sprinkling of small social media platforms serving communities of bigots. Musk has now invited them back, making it more difficult to avoid encountering the seamy underworld populated by these angry and hateful people.

There have always been fabrications shared among people needing to justify their prejudices–against Jews, there was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and a variety of blood libels. More recently, attacks against LGBTQ people have been focused on hysteria over so-called “grooming”–accusations that echo old libels about gay pedophilia.

Suddenly, drag queen story hours have been re-imagined as preludes to child sexual abuse.

Salon recently reported on an incident that reflects this effort to paint gay people and their allies as “groomers”–and the willingness of GOP politicians to jump on that bandwagon.

Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, falsely accused Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., of saying that “pedophilia isn’t a crime” when Porter actually said that LGBTQ people have been wrongly branded on social media as “groomers” and “pedophiles.”

The exchange between Porter and Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, came during a Congressional hearing held to listen to survivors of the Club Q shooting and other activists, who testified that anti-LGBTQ violence was being encouraged by hateful right-wing rhetoric.

HRC had reported on  “the 500 most viewed, most influential tweets that identified LGBTQ people as so-called ‘groomers.'”

“The ‘groomer’ narrative is an age-old lie to position LGBTQ+ people as a threat to kids,” Porter said. “And what it does is deny them access to public spaces, it stokes fear, and can even stoke violence.”

Porter went on to ask why Twitter allows posts calling LGBTQ+ people “groomers,” since it presumably has a “hateful content” policy; Robinson responded that while community guidelines exist, platforms also need to hold users accountable to those guidelines. Twitter  clearly isn’t doing so.

“[T]his allegation of ‘groomer’ and of ‘pedophile,’ it is alleging that a person is criminal somehow, and engaged in criminal acts, merely because of their identity, their sexual orientation, their gender identity,” Porter said. “So this is clearly prohibited under Twitter’s content. Yet you found hundreds of these posts on the platform.”

If anything about HRC’s report could be considered “good news,” it was a finding that a very small group is driving this homophobic effort. The bad news is their attacks are reaching millions of people.

Just ten people drove 66% of impressions for the 500 most viewed hateful “grooming” tweets — including Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw, extremist members of Congress like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and pro-Trump activists like “Libs of TikTok” founder Chaya Raichik.

The report found that posts from the 10 people alone reached more than 48 million views, and the top 500 most influential “grooming” tweets altogether were seen 72 million times.

In tweets by Jackson and Libs of TikTok, the exchange between Porter and Robinson was deliberately and falsely reported as Porter saying that pedophilia “isn’t a crime.”

Jackson further amplified the falsehood and tweeted: “Katie Porter just said that pedophilia isn’t a crime, she said it’s an ‘identity.’ THIS IS THE EMBODIMENT OF EVIL! The sad thing is that this woman isn’t the only VILE person pushing for pedophilia normalization. This is what progressives believe!”

As despicable as this Rightwing effort to blame the nation’s troubles on “those people”–gays, Blacks, Jews, immigrants, progressives–these attempts at misdirection aren’t new.  Would-be authoritarians, lacking any positive agenda (the GOP hasn’t even bothered to produce a party platform lately), fall back to inculcating fear and repeating a tine-tested message: if your life isn’t going the way you want it to, it’s the fault of [fill in your targeted demographic.]

Ignore us. Look at the shiny object.

Unfortunately, there really is “grooming” going on. Those campaigning to paint “the other” as dangerous, nefarious and unAmerican are the ones grooming young people and those who don’t know any better–teaching them that differences are threatening, that they are victims, and that the problems they face are never their fault or the fault of the people who look and pray like they do.

As a witness at that hearing testified, that hateful lesson–“grooming” children to become bigots– evidently requires attacking someone in a wig reading “Red Fish, Blue Fish” to a group of children at a library.

I am so tired of these people!



In Defense Of Political Parties

When I first became politically active, political parties were far stronger than they are today. (Granted, that observation is much truer of the GOP than the Democrats, for the simple reason that Democrats, a far more diverse assemblage, have traditionally engaged in intra-party fratricide.)

There are a number of reasons for today’s weakened GOP.  A prominent one is the ability of candidates to raise money via the Internet–they no longer have to depend upon the party elders to endorse and direct contributions.

Then there’s gerrymandering.

Thank to the Republicans very skillful and successful national gerrymander in 2010–a redistricting that created a large number of deep-red Congressional districts– a number of candidates who won those districts no longer saw any reason to cooperate with national party figures, or work for the party’s national priorities.. Those Representatives (dubbed the “lunatic caucus” by former Speaker John Boehner) knew that the only real threat to their re-election would come from being primaried by someone even farther to the Right, and that they would pay no price for ignoring the over-arching needs of the national party.

The significant erosion of partisan authority has had some positive aspects, but I want to suggest that the negatives have far outweighed the positives. For one thing, in the world I formerly inhabited, lunatics like Marjorie Taylor Greene and unashamed bigots like Paul Gosar (and so many others) would never have gotten the nod.

I thought about that erosion of partisan authority when I read a post-midterm essay from the Brookings Institution. The author was speculating on the lessons each party should have taken from those surprising results–if they retained the ability to learn and adapt.

Put bluntly, it is difficult for the contemporary parties to learn anything. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are not the coherent institutions they once were, with active local chapters that held meetings and powerful national institutions that held the purse strings. As political scientists have come to describe it, the parties today are “hollowed out”: amorphous ideological groupings populated by media organizations, consultants, issue advocates, and donors.

The hollowing of the parties is very bad for our politics, not least because it makes it hard for parties to learn from electoral experience—mistakes and successes—and shift gears to win more votes. The direction of the contemporary Republican Party is chosen to a meaningful extent by Fox News and other conservative media outlets, and those media are, in turn, driven by their bottom line. Outrage and conspiratorial thinking sell, whether or not they win elections. On the Democratic side, the preoccupation of the donor class with high-profile national races has long left down-ballot races desperately underfunded—even though a vast amount of our politics is determined in states and localities. These are obvious electoral liabilities, but because strategic decisions are not made within a robust party structure, it is very hard for the left or the right to adjust course.

So, neither party is actually well positioned to learn anything from the election, simply because neither party coalition is institutionally strong enough to act as a party. But, given this major limitation, what might the partisan coalitions learn this year?

The author went on to suggest what lessons ought to be learned: certainly, on the Republican side, the need to run higher quality candidates. (I would add to that the need to have a platform, rather than dispensing with policy preferences in favor of running only on a promise to “own the libs.”) The lesson for Democrats is the “need to continue the  vital work of preserving election integrity– shoring up election administration and protecting voting rights.”

Parties should respond to an election by considering how to be the choice of more of the voters. But lessons are hard to learn in politics, and our parties today are exceptionally weak institutions. Under these conditions, the plausible but dangerously wrong lessons of 2022 may well be, for the right, a more palatable authoritarianism, and for the left, a new complacency.

Implicit in this analysis is an even more important lesson: a healthy democracy requires at least two respectable political parties run by grown-ups able to moderate the influence and prominence of the party’s whackos and bigots.

Including the influence and prominence of former Presidents…..


I still remember when I first recognized the extent and reality of racism. I was in middle school, and I thought, well, when enough people have intermarried to make the whole world more or less the same color, that would take care of the problem.

At that age, I was blissfully ignorant of the tribalism that would make mankind unlikely to reach that simple “solution”–or the likelihood that if we were all the same skin color, we’d find other ways to distinguish between “us” (the good guys) and “them” (the suspect “others.”)

What made me recall the naïveté of my long-ago “insight” was a really fascinating essay in the Hedgehog Review, titled “My Identity Problem.” In it, Alan Shapiro–a poet and professor of English– muses about his lifelong experience of “belonging, yet standing apart.” Shapiro focused on the relationship between his Jewish-ness and his American-ness, and  explained how that experience affects his approach to contemporary arguments about cultural appropriation: is a given example an exercise in empathy, or an unjustified (and inevitably inauthentic) intrusion into someone else’s culture?

That led him to a consideration of the way group identities serve us, and then to a really wonderful anecdote from one of his classes that–at least for me–illustrated the impossibility of avoiding “appropriations.”

A student of Japanese and Latino descent in one of my classes pushed back strongly when I advanced that line of reasoning: “That’s different,” he said. “Black and brown people can write from a white perspective because they aren’t part of the white power structure. When you do it, it’s cultural appropriation. We should just focus on our own culture, and not raid someone else’s. It just isn’t kosher.”

I thought at first that he was joking, using the word kosher. But no one laughed, and he wasn’t smiling. I said, “That’s an interesting word, kosher. A hundred years ago it was a word only Jews used, and only among each other. Now it’s so mainstream it’s hardly even a Jewish word.” I wanted to ask the student what he meant exactly by “white power structure,” but frankly, on this occasion (as on others), I was afraid to give offense.

Still, I continue to wonder: By “white power structure,” do people mean redlining and other unfair lending practices, police brutality, or biased hiring? Does it also include the cars we drive, the latest devices we avidly consume, the huge chunks of time devoted to social media, selling ourselves and our enviable lives to thousands of “friends” we’ve never met? Is anybody pure? Is any culture? Even while we’re all caught up in various systems of power, and despite the rigid monolithic metaphor—white power structure—the systems that make up our social life are neither fixed nor fated, but are constantly in flux, emerging and dissolving unpredictably.

And though it may seem like a small thing, I was deeply touched and heartened by how “naturally” a word like kosher had been assimilated from “my” culture into the American speech of a gay man whose father was Japanese and mother Latina. What better evidence of both the assimilationist metaphor of the melting pot and the identity-driven metaphor of a tossed salad. The exchange with my student seemed proof to me of just how impossible it is to privatize culture, how culture is not a thing or a piece of property you can build a wall around. Never unalloyed, it exists and flourishes through promiscuous intermingling.

As Shapiro writes at a later point in the essay, our group identities are an inescapable part of who we are–but only a part.

In an America where most of us identify as members of many “groups,” (what sociologists and political scientists call “cross-cutting” identities), being a member of any particular one–even a particular marginalized population–doesn’t determine how we think or act. We all take different parts of ourselves from the various communities to which we all belong–a reality that prevents us from being wholly defined by any specific one of them.

That reality is ultimately why bigotry–racism, Anti-Semitism, etc.– is so stupid.

At its core, bigotry is the belief that group identity trumps individuality and behavior—the belief that people who share a skin color or religion or sexual orientation all share essential characteristics that distinguish “them” from “us.” It is a worldview that refuses to see people as people—as individuals who deserve to be approached and evaluated as individuals.

It just isn’t kosher.