Category: racism

From the producers of The Apprentice

The New York Times reports that Trump’s convention is coming into shape, shepherded into production by a team from The Apprentice.

Conventions bore me, whether they are live or virtual, Democratic or Republican. I didn’t watch much of the Democratic production in real time, though I did catch Brayden Harrington and Jacqueline Brittany, who I thought were awesome. Biden was pretty good too.

The Republican event will also feature real people, including the kid who sneered at the Native American and that attractive couple who defended their St. Louis mansion from protestors with automatic weapons. Trump will give a major speech every night, supported by his kids and spouse, along with Larry Kudlow, Rudolph Giuliani, Kelly Ann Conway, and other rarely-seen figures. There will be a Democrats-for-Trump feature too, though the participants have yet to be announced. I predict that Trump will campaign against Kamala Harris and the media rather than Biden, and that his theme will likely be the booming economy, a Covid response that is the envy of the world, Mid East peace, America’s rising stature in the world, how he has done more for black people than any president since Lincoln, and how those same black people are plotting to murder us in our sleep.

It all sounds like a train wreck to me, but what do I know? I’m sure Republicans will say they loved every second of it, whether they tune in or not. And whatever polling bounce he gets will be trumpeted loudly.

What Comes After Pandemic Denialism

Two themes Defoe revisits over and over again in THE JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR: 1) The deaths are under-counted, and 2) The endemic and the newly poor–the hundreds of thousands of servants, craftsmen, service workers, and other laborers who were left high and dry by the halt of the economy–are compelled to become the pandemic’s front-line workers, guarding the houses where infected people and their households are confined, collecting and burying the bodies, and delivering food and care to the sick and dying (unwittingly spreading the contagion as they do so). The main reason the poor didn’t rise up and sack London, Defoe says, is because so many of them were sick and so many died. Also (no small thing) because of charity.

History should teach us that economies and societies are fairly resilient and extremely forgetful. Bombed out cities come back to life as soon as the fighting stops; plague survivors go back to making, buying, selling, and reproducing themselves without a pause, even when there is no vaccine and the contagion is likely to return. The poor, who bear the greatest burden, make this possible, though their own stories are rarely told.

Keeping all that in mind, it’s not as bizarre as it seems at first glance that so many MAGA people are in denial, insisting that the virus is a Chinese super-weapon, a Democratic hoax, or that its victims are either pretending to be dead or deserve to be. They do the same thing whenever there is a mass-killing, and as the oceans rise. They want the story to be about them and their victimization.

Though people tell me that there won’t be another New York, now that people in red states are crowding into churches and beauty parlors and bars, they will surely start to die in numbers that they can’t deny. When that happens, they will switch from denying that the the black, brown, poor, and old in the blue cities are suffering and start blaming them for their own.

And so you arrive at the ultimate logic of ultra-nationalist populism–the “other” becomes an infestation, a germ, and racism a matter of hygiene.

The Morning After

Trump is a vicious moron, but he has the invaluable property of being a strip of human litmus paper–put someone or something in his ambit and you find out who/what they really are. Jeff Flake: sanctimonious coward. Ted Cruz: spineless opportunist. Lindsey Graham: sycophantic opportunist. John Kelly: authoritarian racist. Crown Prince MBS: Murderous tyrant. Marco Rubio: Ridiculous Little Man. Jeb Bush: Effete Legacy. Or on the other hand, Barack Obama: Great-American-whose- fatal-flaw-was-his-over-estimation-of-his-enemies. James Comey: Flawed-and-bathetic-narcissist-but-a-genuine-patriot-who-is-trying-to-atone.

Dip the whole United States in the Trumpist cup and you realize, like Trump himself might put it, that “We’re not so nice. We kill a lot of people here too.” The voter suppression in Georgia and North Dakota that shocks people today–the only difference now is that it is controversial. Back in the good old days that we all long for, southern blacks only enjoyed the franchise when the federal government put a gun to state authorities’ heads. Native Americans weren’t fully enfranchised until 1924 (the Dawes Act gave some citizenship in 1887, provided they renounced their tribal affiliation) and their votes have been routinely suppressed ever since.

The kind of incendiary racism and know-nothingism that Trump and Fox News have been spouting these last two weeks–that Stacey Abrams, a Yale Law School graduate, minority leader in the state House, voting rights activist, and even a successful romance novelist, for Christ’s sake, is prima facie unqualified for the job she is running for; that hordes of brown-people-with-diseases are being paid by Jews to storm the border–are bedrock beliefs for a good third of the country AND THEY WERE THE CONSENSUS FOR A LOT MORE OF US FOR A LONG TIME BEFORE. “Don’t be a baby,” as Trump might say. “Didn’t you read THE NEW HATE?”

Never-Trump Republicans can belly up to the bar and wax nostalgic among themselves about the glory days when William Buckley purged the crazies from their party (something that never happened) and Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan personified all that was good and generous and prosperity-producing (they didn’t), but Democrats need to be more forward-thinking. Trump exposes the weaknesses of the old-line Democrats even more clearly than Bernie did.

I’m not blaming Hillary and Biden, or the Democrats who lost last night–far from it. In fact, I’m looking to some of them (Gillum, O’Rourke, Abrams) to lead us out of this wilderness. But I want to give Trump his due. By showing us how racist and oligarchic this country still is, by showing us how much more corrupt and rotten its economic systems are, how compromised and racist its criminal justice system, he has set a high bar before us. And after last night, we at least have a little bit of power, a foundation to work from.

Nothing worth doing has ever been easy.

Election Day

Somewhere in FIRE AND FURY, Michael Wolff described the 2016 election as a “rent in the space-time continuum.” For left-leaning political obsessives, that’s precisely what the last two years have felt like–a ghastly singularity in which the rules of physics are suspended, up is down, time runs backwards, etc. For millenialist evangelical types, I imagine it’s felt much the same, only in a good way–a foretaste of Jesus coming to restore the rightful rule of white men over women and the lesser races, and to punish the Jews and heretics.

And so I’m off to vote. Tonight, we’ll find out if Trump was a fluke or a harbinger.

It’s a big moment–like sitting outside the doctor’s office, waiting to hear the results of the biopsy.

Hoofbeats

I was listening to the BBC in the car yesterday. One of their reporters had penetrated the depths of Yahoo land to talk to American citizens about the election. “Of course I’m voting,” one said. “I’m terrified of the violence.” I was so relieved. “The Democrats are just out of control,” he continued. “Yelling at politicians in restaurants.” The BBC guy was as taken aback as I was. “But what about the pipe bombs sent to Democrats, the shootings in Kentucky and Pittsburgh?” “Oh, Trump has nothing to do with any of that. How could he? But I am terrified of this caravan. They’re breaking our laws. It’s an invasion, and Trump is calling out the military to stop it.”

I keep thinking that we’re all being gas lighted–that the news media is so afraid of being caught flatfooted like they were two years ago that they’re leaning all the way in the opposite direction. Trump isn’t the moronic would-be fascist racist that he seems; Tuesday will erase the worst of the last two years. But of course we’re not and he is and it won’t, no matter how well it goes.

When I was little, my mother used to tell me how her mother listened in terror for the hoof beats of the Cossacks’ horses at night. It sounded like a fairy tale to me.

Race killings, would-be assassins, and the largest anti-Semitic massacre in US history

Hate murders in Kentucky and Pittsburgh, and mail bombs to Trump’s adversaries. Ten days till the mid-terms and Trump is determined to make the election about foreign vermin and rootless cosmopolitans. It can happen here. It is happening here. No, Trump isn’t Hitler–he’s a two-bit hustler with a rotting brain. But he is taking us down a path that we would recognize immediately if it was happening somewhere else.

Ridiculously, I have been taking some of this week’s events personally, as in, why did I bother to write all those words about right wing populism for all of the difference they made? And was I too easy on America’s right wing political class? I argued that while they were cynically using age-old hate tropes to energize voters, what they really cared about was keeping the rich rich. Now I’m not so sure. I really do think the Trump core is white supremacist–and by “core” I don’t mean those blue collar guys in diners (though lots of them are too), but Federalist Society-approved judges, Congress-people, TV propagandists, think-tank presidents, political consultants, and an embarrassing number of professional writers.

While Bowers brought home how virulent anti-Semitism still is in some of the cesspits of the US–and how commonplace its vilest tropes are on Fox News and in Trump’s twitterstream–I don’t think it’s healthy or reasonable to make this weekend’s events about “the Jews.” They’re about hate and xenophobia writ large, and they have less-than-nothing to do with Israel’s ghastly politics. Jews should be championing the rights of refugees everywhere, whether they are Central Americans or Palestinians.

At the same time, I’m pretty sure that if Trump switched out his economic policies for Bernie’s tomorrow, most of his followers wouldn’t notice the difference, as long as he kept that same note of contempt in his voice and continued to ridicule and deride the elites, “foreigners,” and people of color. What matters to them is his us-against-them mentality.

I don’t see anyone restoring a sense of comity to this broken country. Countries do heal from civil wars, but one side has to lose first.

Deja Vu All Over Again

I’m so afraid we’re living through October, 2016 again: the favorable but wavering Democratic polls, the hope that our national nightmare will soon be over, the fear that it will never end.

It’s amazing how quickly the Saudis have eclipsed the Kavanaugh hearings in the headlines–and how absolutely catastrophic both stories would have been to a less catastrophic administration. It beggars the mind that the Trump and Kushner tax evasion revelations and the terrifying global warming report barely stayed in the news for more than a day. By election eve, who knows what we’ll be talking about? If Trump and company have their way, the Democrat penchant for lawlessness and violence and the white male apocalypse.

The big lesson that I take from the last two years is that we were never as united or forward-looking a country as forward-looking people liked to think. White high school graduates were united, no doubt, but mostly in their disdain for non-white men and women and progressives of all colors. Victories were won, of course. But Trump has exposed a racist/obscurantist/authoritarian bedrock to the American polity that me and most others of my ilk had convinced ourselves was much more crumbly than it is–and that is certain to outlast Trump and Trumpism.

That whole “we” thing has turned out to be a hallucination.

Anti-Semitism and the Alt-Right

Back in 2008, I wrote a book that took a skeptical look at the phenomenon of paranoid conspiracy theory. Most of it, I learned, still follows the template that was laid down in THE PROTOCOLS OF THE LEARNED ELDERS OF ZION a century ago, which purports to reveal that organized Jewry is using socialism, popular culture, and its vast money power to undermine the moral and economic foundations of the Christian West, with the ultimate goal of ruling over it from a Davidic Superstate in Jerusalem. Dig past the surface of any subsequent New World Order conspiracy and you will soon recognize this same basic narrative, whether the antagonist is international Communism, the UN, race-mixing integrationists, or shape-shifting lizards. Since 9/11, Islamic Jihad and creeping sharia have been squeezed into the template as well.

The alt-right is a loose movement, born on the Internet, that has brought together and catalyzed a lot of the people who subscribe to these conspiracy theories. I see it as a product of a kind of Intersectionality in reverse. For all their differences with each other, its members see themselves as victims of a hegemonic Cultural Marxism that seeks to undermine whiteness, the traditional state, traditional religion, and traditional masculinity, and replace it with a globe-spanning reign of totalitarian political correctness.

Among their number are anti-feminist mens’ rightists, War of Civilization Islamophobes, scientific racists, Christian dominionists, classic anti-Semites, self-styled Libertarians, and even some radical Zionists. Donald Trump, a casual trafficker in conspiracy theories, racist dog whistles, and vulgar sexism, was their chosen candidate in 2016. After his victory, he installed Steve Bannon—the former chief executive of the Breitbart Report, the premier platform of the alt right—in the West Wing of the White House.

The election and its aftermath have been enough to make anyone believe in conspiracy theory, but I don’t and you shouldn’t. As Masha Gessen wrote in The New York Times last week, “the 2016 election was unimaginable…but we seem to have fallen into a trap: The unimaginable, happening out in the open day after day, not only continues to dull our defenses but also creates a need to see a conspiracy big enough, a secret terrible enough to explain how this can be happening to our country.”

Conspiracy theory has more to do with theology or literature than it does with history-as-it-is-lived, which is to say, politics. Conspiracy theory sees history as a well-crafted story, in which every character knows his or her role, and every twist propels the plot forward to a certain end. Jews have often been its antagonists, but we are not immune to the conspiracist temptation ourselves.

After Trump issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that undercut Jewish ownership of the Holocaust, many were quick to connect the dots between his election and the cemetery desecrations and bomb threats against JCCs that were being reported in the news. When Trump floated the ridiculous idea that his Jewish enemies were planting false flags to discredit him as an antisemite, many believed that he had proven that he was.

I believe that too, but now I also know that, for whatever reason, an Israeli Jew phoned in some of those bomb threats. We live in a world in which there are Jewish victims and Jewish perpetrators, Jewish by-standers and Jewish allies, and in which some Jew-haters are Zionists and many anti-Zionists are Jews. Reality requires us to hold all sorts of things in our heads at once. The fact that some of them seem to contradict each other doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t all be true. Reality is not an equation.

Most of all, reality demands that we acknowledge that everything that happens isn’t about us. Antisemitism was and continues to be a real thing, but it is not the only thing. At our present moment, Islamophobia and racism loom much larger.

The Deeper Roots of The Not-so-New Hate

Joseph Schmitz, a Pentagon Inspector General who left in 2004 under a cloud of accusations of anti-Semitism, is one of Donald Trump’s national security advisors. This has gotten me thinking about the nexus between political anti-Semitism and right wing (and fringe left-wing) politics.  Schmitz says that his 38-year marriage to an ethnically Jewish woman absolves him of any taint of anti-Semitism, but he has other family connections that suggest otherwise–he is the son of John Schmitz, the ultra-right wing Orange County Congressman whose holocaust denial got him booted from the John Birch Society (and who also gained notoriety for having a second family, and whose daughter–but I’ll let you Google that one).

How is it that a “debt king” who proposes to downgrade the US’s sovereign debt, who finances his business empire with Russian capital and staffs his campaign with Russian agents has become the leader of a party that was premised on fiscal austerity and anti-Communism? How has a thrice-married playboy who doesn’t know his Two Corinthians from the Koran become the candidate of choice of so many Evangelicals? And how has an avowedly pro-Israel candidate with an orthodox Jewish son-in-law, a converted daughter, and Jewish grandchildren become a beacon for a neo-Nazi like David Duke?  Believe it or not, I think it has more to do with mathematics—or more precisely, with some innumerate people’s fear of mathematics—than it does with economics.

If our partisan politics were as rational and money-driven as we like to think, the obvious coalitions would be between Wall Street, Main Street, and Silicon Valley on the right and the unionized– and especially the de-unionized–proletariat, service class, and students on the left. Instead they’re mostly driven by geography, with cities and inner-ring suburbs leaning leftish and exurbs and rural southern and mountain regions rightwards; by race, ethnicity and religion; by education; and even by gender and sexual preference. Jews are over-represented in the intellectual leadership of the neo-Conservative and neo-Liberal right, but as a voting bloc, they are reliably left-leaning (though numerically insignificant–Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus together make up about 6 percent of the US population).

Setting Trump aside, whose politics are incoherent and opportunistic, and taking a much broader, high-level view, the great fault lines in our politics are mostly cultural and of long-standing: the north versus the Old Dominion and the western frontier; farmers versus city folk; religious authoritarians versus secular materialists; Northern Europeans versus brown and black people and Jews, Muslims, and Asians. This is how the GOP became the home to both members of the investment class and the white nationalists that once made up such a big part of the Democratic party in the south. And this is why, as I wrote in my book The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and anti-intellectualism are such potent motivators for its base.

But in some ways the biggest fault line is between people for whom money is a simple means of exchange, a kind of proxy for barter, and people that use money as a means of making more money–and this one runs right down the center of the Republican party and bids fair to fracture its already fragile coalition of wealthy low-tax, anti-regulation contributors, morals crusading evangelicals, and know-nothing white nationalists. The hatred of usury, the fear of fiat money, the horror of fractional reserve banking is closely related to the timeless fear and loathing of sorcerers, witches, Satanists, and Jews, and it is what a gold bug like Ron Paul, a conspiracist like Alex Jones, and a programmatic anti-Semite like David Duke have in common. Farmers and manufacturers (Producers, in the language of the old Populists) are rooted in place; money people are cosmopolitan and globalist.

Protocols of the Elders of Zion anti-Semites didn’t hate the Rothschilds just because they were rich, or because their ancestors killed Jesus. They hated them because they used debt to make something out of nothing (interest)–and because they were presumed to use the leverage that gave them over the debtors to create action at a distance (which is both politics and a kind of magic).

A big part of our cultural divide is numeracy. Math is an esoteric language and tool. People who understand its principles and know how to wield it practically live in a different world than regular people do. When physicists look through its lens, they can see that the world is round, not flat, and that it moves around the sun rather than vice versa. When evolutionary biologists look at the mechanism of natural selection through a lens of mathematical probabilities and genetics, the development of complex organisms isn’t remotely as unlikely as, in the classic analogy of the so-called scientific creationist, a 747 being assembled by a tornado in a junkyard. When a regular person looks at money, he translates it into what he can buy immediately. When a financier looks at money, he sees it the way a quantum physicist sees the underlying constituents of the material world–as something in motion and flux, but that can be understood and predicted up to a point by probabilities.

Conspiracism, gold-buggery, programmatic anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, blood-and-soil nationalism and, yes, Trumpism itself are not just rebukes to science–they are an attempt to create an alternative science and economics that anyone can understand.

The Jewish Glass Ceiling

Setting aside Scandinavia, which is ahead of us on everything, and of course Israel, which turns the paradigm upside down, the US is probably the least anti-Semitic country in the world. Washington’s magnificent letter to the Newport congregation ( “it is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights”) precedes Jewish emancipation in France by one year and in Great Britain by more than half a century (though as with so many of the founders’ stirring phrases about equal rights, Washington’s words were aspirational: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and North Carolina restricted Jewish rights until long after the Constitution was ratified and New Hampshire held out until 1876). For every Tom Watson, Henry Ford, and Charles Lindbergh, there’s been a Louis Brandeis, a Bernard Baruch, or a Felix Frankfurter; for all the Hymietown and Jew York City slurs we’ve had to endure from the right and left, Leo Frank and Yankel Rosenbaum are exceptions that prove a rule. Though not immune to anti-Semitism, Jew-hatred has never been this country’s official policy. Women as a political class (Protestant women as much as Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic women) have had much more to overcome institutionally. And yet for all that, neither party has run a Jew for president. Why is that? Institutional racism flourishes, and yet we managed to elect an African American. Cultural misogyny runs just as deep and we are on the cusp of electing a woman. I suspect a real answer would be both counter-intuitive and incredibly enlightening about a whole host of things.