Monday, July 3, 2023

What The Ruling Really Says

Don’t kid yourself; the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling overturning nearly sixty years of affirmative action wasn’t about whether or not it was constitutional.  it was about making sure that white supremacy still has a voice in America.

From Mitchell S. Jackson in Esquire:

… In his (6-3) majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause. Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today,”

Reading the Chief Justice’s words, one might think that systemic racism has somehow vanished from the citadels of academia, when even the least bit of critical inquiry turns up the truth that it’s been alive and thriving. Roberts need look no further for convincing proof of the endurance of white privilege than the very position he holds. Of the 17 Supreme Court chief justices in this country’s history, every single one of them have been a white man; not to mention, the recent ones were educated and Ivy-League universities (Roberts himself earned his law degree from Harvard). For yet more proof of the power of elite educations, he need look no further than the fact that, of his current fellow justices, all but one—Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett—were educated at Harvard or Yale. The problem is Roberts and his “conservative” affirming court weren’t looking forreal forreal. If they were, they would’ve found that there’s been no such thing as equal protection or access in academia.

Not Roberts’ nor anyone else’s legalese should obfuscate this obvious truth: The campaign and eventual overruling of affirmative action is an act of white supremacy.


Once there was man named Noel Ignatiev. Ignatiev, a Jewish man, grew up in Philadelphia and as a young person was active in several social-political organizations. Ignatiev earned a Ph.D. in Education from Harvard in 1995. While in graduate school he studied racism, arriving at the wisdom that race is a social construct and not a scientific fact. Ignatiev wrote books about the subject (once pointing out the absurdity that a white woman could give birth to a Black child but a Black woman could never give birth to a white child) and founded a journal called Race Traitor to “chronicle and analyze the making, remaking, and unmaking of whiteness.” Ignatiev believed “ordinary Americans are drawn by the conditions of their lives in two opposite directions, one that mirrors and reproduces the present society of competition and exploitation, and another that points toward a new society based on freely associated activity.”

The whites championing and sanctioning the end of affirmative action are the former kind of Americans—the ones hoping to mirror and reproduce the competition and exploitation. And the most despicable and dangerous of those Americans are Throwback whites. Throwback whites want to regress us to the yesteryear when the only real competition they had was between themselves, and the rest of us were ripe for exploitation.

Throwback whites grabbed tiki torches and stomped through the Charlottesville screaming “YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US.” Throwback whites are championing book bans across the country. Throwback whites are fighting hard to gerrymander voting districts, scheming on other forms of voter suppression. A Throwback white, as the governor of Texas, banned diversity and inclusion departments and initiatives in state universities and colleges. A Throwback white, as the governor of Florida, billboarded his bigotry by gathering asylum-seeking immigrants in his state and dropping them in Martha’s Vineyard. One Throwback white, I swearfogod, is a Black man who’s squatted on the highest court for over 30 years, and all the while dedicated himself to jurisprudence that oppresses his skinfolk.

Be not lead astray—the Throwback whites are uninterested in ushering us to the utopia of equality and justice for all, rather in returning us to the days of the constitution’s penning, a time when I was 3/5th of a man, a fractionalized human who was forbidden an education.

And for white folks who exist on a continuum between “hella hopeful” and “disillusioned,” know this: The Court’s opinion is not some fringe perspective. It’s thinking aligned with figureheads who own a reasonable shot at becoming our next president.


Sunday, July 2, 2023

Sunday Reading

The End of Affirmative Action — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker.

Any proper obituary for affirmative action (1961-2023) in higher education would be obliged to note that it had been in decline for years before it met its ultimate demise this week. The policy had weathered successive legal challenges dating back to the nineteen-seventies. It was often difficult to tell whether the effect of these suits was to inspire more nuanced and legally sustainable approaches for insuring diversity or to better define the target opponents were aiming at. As with other untimely passings, the scale of what has been lost is difficult to assess in the moment. But not entirely impossible.

The term “affirmative action” was introduced in an executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy on March 6, 1961, articulating a policy of proactively impeding discrimination in hiring. In the ensuing years, there have been many iterations of this practice: numerical targets, or “quotas,” in the early days; increasingly sophisticated formulas pegged to goals of diversity more recently. But the common thread was a sober, if imperfect, attempt to grapple with the abiding inequality in American society and to navigate closer to equitable representation in our institutions and opportunities. It yielded significant results as an engine that drove integration in the wake of the civil-rights movement and helped expand the Black middle class.

Yet, almost from the outset, critics of the policy could be seen impatiently tapping their watches, questioning how long (white) society was meant to endure the patent unfairness of these racial considerations. (The gender considerations of affirmative action, which were introduced by the Johnson Administration, have been targeted in different ways.) Even its supporters were commonly ambivalent. In the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case, which challenged admissions practices at the University of Michigan Law School, the Supreme Court narrowly defended the policy. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

Yet “How long?” was always the wrong question. It presupposed that there was a standard speed at which groups whose disadvantages were the product of centuries of social engineering were meant to recover and achieve. The salient metric was progress, not time. It matters that, half a century after the end of the civil-rights movement, the median net worth of white households was still ten times the median net worth of Black households—a disparity driven by decades of restricted access to education, employment, and housing. These disadvantages were not simply the product of economic class—middle-class Black students in the United States are still more likely to attend schools with fewer resources than their middle-class white peers. Crucially, in the wake of the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case, one of the first significant challenges to affirmative action, these factors were discarded as a rationale for the policy in place of a more nebulous (and, presumably, more palatable) pursuit of social and institutional “diversity.” It’s worth noting that the two suits that Students for Fair Admissions brought, against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, which alleged, among other things, discrimination against Asian American applicants, and which gave the Court’s conservatives the opportunity to dismantle affirmative action, were heard in the midst of a concerted multi-state assault on the edifice of diversity that has sprung up in the decades since Bakke.

The Supreme Court telegraphed its 6–3 vote last October, when the arguments were heard. A Times headline blurted, “Supreme Court Seems Ready to Throw Out Race-Based College Admissions.” Notably, Justice Clarence Thomas, whose contempt for affirmative action dates back decades, to his years at Yale Law School and the inscrutable idea that the policy was responsible for the dearth of job offers he received after graduation, specifically questioned the utility of diversity as a goal during oral arguments. “I’ve heard the word ‘diversity’ quite a few times, and I don’t have a clue what it means,” Thomas said. “It seems to mean everything for everyone.” This is a specious argument. The many diversity programs in higher education have as their goal fostering heterogeneous communities across lines of nationality, background, interests, talents, and experiences. Of the hundred and sixteen people who have served on the Supreme Court, only two—Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas—knew what it felt like to attend a segregated school as a Black person. This perspective inarguably benefits a body dedicated to adjudicating cases that affect the entire society. The reasoning is not difficult to grasp, even if it is, apparently, difficult to uphold.

The ultimate impact of this decision will become clearer over time, but it is safe to predict that the result will be fewer students from traditionally underrepresented minorities on college campuses, particularly at the most competitive institutions. In 1998, after the University of California system stripped away race, gender, and ethnicity as a factor in admissions, the number of Black and Latino students enrolled at its most selective schools, Berkeley and U.C.L.A., dropped by some forty per cent. This was not just a product of there being fewer minority students admitted; fewer highly qualified Black and Latino students even applied, perhaps thinking that they wouldn’t get in. It’s not improbable for a national version of this phenomenon to crop up in coming years. It is also possible that the proportion of Black and Latino students at less well-resourced colleges, which generally have lower graduation rates, will increase. It would not be surprising for this ruling to generate a tide of applications at historically Black colleges and universities, albeit for reasons that signify less over-all opportunity.

The implications of this decision are not confined to future generations of students. As with abortion rights, this case deals with a policy that the majority of the public supports—in a recent poll, sixty-three per cent of Americans said that the Supreme Court should allow colleges to consider race and ethnicity in admissions—but that the majority of conservatives wished to see ended. The Dobbs decision, last year, furthered suspicions that this Court, with its 6–3 super-majority of conservatives, operates simply to translate Republican priorities into the law of the land. By last fall, faith in the Court had fallen to a new low—just forty-seven per cent of Americans placed “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the federal judiciary, reflecting a twenty-point drop from the results of a similar poll just two years earlier. This ruling will potentially exacerbate that distrust, and with good reason. Two decades have passed since Justice O’Connor set a timer for affirmative action’s viability, but the train seems to have arrived in the station early. The ruling marks a new departure, and we’re heading in the opposite direction from progress.

Doonesbury — Still got it.

Friday, June 30, 2023


Given the Supreme Court’s record of overturning precedents from generations past and basically taking away rights that minorities fought for, this ruling is not a surprise at all.

The Supreme Court on Thursday held that race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, a historic ruling that rolls back decades of precedent and will force a dramatic change in how the nation’s private and public universities select their students.

The votes split along ideological grounds, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. writing for the conservative members in the majority, and the liberals dissenting. While the ruling examined Harvard and UNC, its impact will be felt across the nation.

Elite universities have contended that without considering race as one factor in admissions, their students bodies will contain more Whites and Asian Americans, and fewer Blacks and Hispanics.

But, “the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race,” Roberts wrote, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. “Many universities have for too long done just the opposite. And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina and a proponent of affirmative action, read parts of her opinion from the bench in a show of profound disagreement.

“The devastating impact of this decision cannot be overstated,” she wrote in her dissent, which was joined by fellow liberals Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is the first Black female justice. “The majority’s vision of race neutrality will entrench racial segregation in higher education because racial inequality will persist so long as it is ignored.”

It was the second time in as many terms that the court’s dominant conservative majority has abandoned decades-old, landmark rulings. The votes were 6-to-3 in the University of North Carolina case and 6-to-2 in the Harvard case, with Jackson recusing herself because she served on a board at Harvard.

Last year, the justices ended the guarantee of abortion rights that the high court found nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade.

In her dissent, Sotomayor made a pointed reference to the speed at which the conservative majority is advancing its jurisprudence on key societal issues.

“The six unelected members of today’s majority upend the status quo based on their policy preferences about what race in America should be like, but is not, and their preferences for a veneer of colorblindness in a society where race has always mattered and continues to matter in fact and in law,” she wrote.

Don’t kid yourself, Justice Sotomayor. We still have affirmative action. It’s just for rich white folks now.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Old Times There Are Being Forgotten

Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker on Ron DeSantis’s attempt to whitewash Black history.

The debacle surrounding the Florida Department of Education’s recent rejection of an Advanced Placement course in African American studies is a reminder that battles over the past are almost always tied to efforts to win some war being waged in the present. The late-nineteenth-century romanticization of the Confederacy was meant to justify the new regime of segregation then being implemented across the South. That campaign was so successful that, in 1935, when W. E. B. Du Bois published “Black Reconstruction,” his reconsideration of the period following the Civil War, he devoted an entire chapter to the ways in which the South had lost the war but won the historiography.

The road runs in both directions. The social movements of the nineteen-fifties and sixties spawned their own, generally corrective takes on the nation’s past. The discipline of Black studies, which originated in the late sixties and is now more often referred to as Africana or African American studies, is a direct product of that wave of scholarly revisionism. Today, during a period in which states, particularly with Republican-led legislatures, have taken to removing books from libraries, stoking fears about critical race theory, and eviscerating diversity-equity-and-inclusion programs in schools—forty-two have proposed restrictive measures—it’s scarcely surprising that a discipline built on an interest in exploring Black humanity would find itself in the crosshairs. That such a thing would happen in Florida is even less so.

Last year, Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is frequently mentioned as a 2024 Presidential contender, signed into law the Stop WOKE Act, a piece of Trumpist culture warfare that regulates how subject matter relating to race can be taught in public schools, picking up from where the right-wing crusade against Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project left off. (The State Board of Education had banned the teaching of critical race theory in public schools in 2021.) DeSantis also signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which limits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools and became the centerpiece in a conflict over gay rights with Disney, one of the state’s largest employers. (The Governor voiced concern, too, about the inclusion of “queer theory” in the A.P. course, saying last Monday, “When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”) Both laws have been challenged in court, but together they show the demagogic lengths to which DeSantis is willing to go to burnish his profile among conservatives nationally.

DeSantis shared some of his own ideas about the nation’s past during a gubernatorial-campaign debate last fall, stating that “it’s not true” that “the United States was built on stolen land.” That claim, of course, is starkly at odds not only with the history of westward expansion but with the history of Florida; thousands of Native Americans were forcibly relocated from the region, with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In general, the Governor’s objective is seemingly to provide white Floridians, from a young age, with a version of the past that they can be comfortable with, regardless of whether it’s true.

The A.P. course is being piloted in sixty high schools across the country, including at least one in Florida, and is scheduled to be available to any schools that offer A.P. courses in the 2024-25 school year. There appear to have been few problems with teaching it, even in Florida, but on January 12th the state’s education department sent a letter to the College Board, which oversees the creation and implementation of A.P. courses, notifying it that the curriculum is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” On January 20th, Manny Diaz, Jr., the commissioner of education, tweeted, “We proudly require the teaching of African American history. We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education.” He cited the course’s references to notable academics, including Robin D. G. Kelley, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and the late bell hooks, as supposed examples of such indoctrination.

A day earlier, the College Board had released a statement saying that the course was still in draft form, and that “frameworks often change significantly” during the revision process. But the official framework of the course is scheduled to be released to the public on February 1st, the first day of Black History Month. The course guide for instructors, which runs to two hundred and forty-six pages, states in its preface that A.P. “opposes indoctrination” and that courses are built around an “unflinching encounter with evidence” and empirical analysis. It’s an odd note to direct at teachers of high-school students who have displayed the intellectual and emotional maturity to engage with college-level coursework. However, it’s likely intended not for them but for any bureaucrats and politicians who believe that “wokeism”—a threadbare slang term for social awareness—is an actual ideology.

Of all the criticisms aimed at the course, the most questionable is the department’s contention that it “lacks educational value.” The course includes contributions from some of the most highly regarded academics in the field, including the literary scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and the historians Nell Irvin Painter and Annette Gordon-Reed. Faculty from Harvard, Emory, Georgetown, the University of California, and the University of Connecticut are on an advisory board. With that contention, the department is, in effect, dismissing the import of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography “My Bondage and My Freedom,” excerpts of which are included in the curriculum; the Dred Scott decision, also excerpted; and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, whose origins are explored in detail. In fact, the idea that the subject matter covered in the course does not warrant a place in the classroom is contradicted by Florida’s own educational standards. Among the topics examined are the transatlantic slave trade, the roots of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the civil-rights movement, some of which students are taught as early as the fourth grade.

Last Wednesday, three Florida high-school students, represented by the civil-rights attorney Benjamin Crump, said that they were prepared to sue the DeSantis administration if the ban on the course is not lifted. But there is little likelihood that the course can be revised in such a way that it is palatable to DeSantis and the state’s education department without losing the essence of what it is attempting to convey about the miasma of race in American history. Their sense appears to be that the evils of the past are not nearly as dangerous now as the willingness to talk about them in the present.

I’m honestly puzzled as to what makes Gov. DeSantis thinks this a winning strategy for a run for national office. Right now he’s screeching at his Florida MAGA base, but there are lots of other states where Black history is taught without incident. Everyone says he’s the smarter Trump, but I’m not seeing it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Putting Blackness In Its Place In Florida

Karen Attiah gets to the heart of what anti-Blackness in Florida means.

There’s that saying that goes, “White privilege is when your history is the core curriculum, and mine is an elective.” Well, to Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Black history isn’t even worthy of that bare minimum.

Last week, it was revealed that the Florida Department of Education had sent a letter to the College Board, saying it would not adopt the board’s new Advanced Placement African American studies course for its public schools. The course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law,” the letter said, “and significantly lacks educational value.”

Meanwhile, AP courses in European history, American history, world history, U.S. government and politics, and other subjects, in various languages, remain untouched.

Quelle surprise.

For the uninitiated: The College Board has for decades offered AP courses and exams in a variety of subjects for high-schoolers. The course material is supposed to be more intensive and to mimic what would be offered at a college level. To high school students who do well enough on their AP exams, many colleges and universities offer first-year course credits.

This day and age, it ought to be no question that African American studies deserves AP treatment. It’s crucial for all students to have access to this history and this knowledge and for scholars in the field to have an opportunity to reach younger generations.

The availability of this course would also be hugely meaningful for Black students. Study after study has shown that Black students are likely to be more engaged and perform better in school when their identities and histories are affirmed — and in a way that goes beyond fetishizing Black trauma. I was an AP student myself, scoring well enough on the European and American history tests to gain college credit. But I will never forget how humiliating it was to ask my teacher why we weren’t learning about Africa and Black people when so many other groups’ histories were considered essential.

The AP African American studies course isn’t even formalized yet; it’s in a pilot phase. For a decade, a group of African American scholars has been working to develop the program. Only 60 schools across the nation are testing it for the 2022-2023 academic year, though the College Board is hoping to roll it out nationally by the 2024-2025 school year.

DeSantis’s move, therefore, can be seen as a preemptive strike — on the continuum with all his recent attempts to cut off efforts to teach tomorrow’s adults about Black Americans and their place in history.

This would be a slap in the face at any time. But DeSantis’s latest escalation comes during the same month as the centennial of the infamous Rosewood massacre, when White residents destroyed the all-Black town of Rosewood, Fla. It’s more like stabbing the backs of Black Floridians with a hot knife.

And surely Florida is a testing ground. Most likely, it’s only a matter of time before conservative groups in other states use their institutional power to attack AP African American studies as well.

The history of the African American experience in the United States can’t ever be eliminated. But the bastions of white power in this country are doing their damnedest to eradicate it. In 2020, the whole world watched a White police officer eradicate George Floyd on camera. Diversity and inclusion programs are being eradicated from schools and corporations. Now, a state is using its power to eradicate the (elective!) inclusion of the African American experience in education.

What can be done?

First, more colleges and universities should band together to say they will recognize AP African American studies and give incoming freshmen course credit for the AP exam. With those incentives, it stands to reason that more students and educators will want to see the course offered in high schools.

Second, colleges should continue expanding their offerings of Black history and Black studies, including majors, minors and graduate degrees.

There are also legal challenges in the works. Janai S. Nelson, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told my colleague Jennifer Rubin: “AP courses are college-level courses that, by extension, are protected under the First Amendment, and the specific targeting of African American Studies is evidence of unlawful racial discrimination.”

But allow me to zoom out. I’d be remiss not to note that this should be a learning moment for all of us — for White people especially — about the failure to rein in the post-Black Lives Matter normalization of anti-Blackness.

As soon as the panic about “wokeness” in schools and the supposed teaching of critical race theory hit the mainstream, many Black journalists could smell what was coming. The laws against critical race theory and legislation such as Florida’s Stop Woke Act (another DeSantis special that has faced legal challenges) were always about anti-Blackness.

I have tried making this point over and over in my writing and in chats with well-meaning people who wanted to understand what the right was fussing about. I would hear people insist that if we just explained what critical race theory was, we could win by making fools of the conservatives who were banning nonexistent critical race theory courses. Those folks were wrong.

Instead, by singling out AP African American studies, Florida is showing us what the end game was always about: making institutional anti-Blackness lawful again.

This is legitimizing the teaching of Jim Crow as the solution to “wokeness.”

Friday, January 20, 2023

Happy Friday

Nobody said that Ron DeSantis doesn’t have a sense of timing: two weeks before the start of Black History Month comes this bit of brilliance.

Florida will not recognize a newly created Advanced Placement African American studies course, with officialsarguing that the lessons are illegal under state law and that the class “significantly lacks educational value.”

The decision is the latest volley in Gov. Ron DeSantis’s long-running war on what he considers to be overly “woke” curriculum. The Republican governor is widely seen as positioning himself for a possible presidential run in 2024 and has made culture-war issues central to his political identity.

Florida’slegislature has enacted laws limiting how teachers can talk about subjects including race. A measure signed last spring, for instance, seeks to ensure that students are not made to feel guilty for racist acts carried out by others. “A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part,” the law states.

It was not clear, though, exactly what in the new AP class runs afoul of those limitations.

The decision was communicated to the College Board, which runs the AP program, in a letter last week that was released to reporters Thursday.

“In its current form, the College Board’s AP African American Studies course lacks educational value and is contrary to Florida law,” Cassie Palelis, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said in a statement. “If the course comes into compliance and incorporates historically accurate content, the Department will reopen the discussion.”

She said that under Florida law, districts need state approval to offer a course to their students.

The AP African American studies course, an interdisciplinary class that draws from history, literature, political science, art and other subjects, is being piloted in about 60 public high schools across the country, the first new course offering from the College Board since 2014. It was unclear whether any Florida schools are included in the pilot program.

I’m not saying that Ron DeSantis is racist.  No, not at all.

Something to soothe the nerves.

Vanda orchid in bloom.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Sunday Reading

Sound Familiar? — Charlie Pierce on history repeating itself at the hands on Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott.

The good people who manage the vast archives at the John F. Kennedy Library down by the bay in Boston are not people known to miss a trick. There is so much history stored there because, as we oldsters will tell you, the 1960s were a pretty target-rich environment, history-wise. Of course, JFK’s time in office was cut off before what we call the ’60s really got rolling. Consider: If he had not been murdered, Kennedy would have been president of the United States when the Beatles arrived and throughout the Summer of Love in 1967—but a lot of the seeds that sprouted later can be found in the stacks of his library, which sits like the prow of a ship, pointed out over a domesticated slice of the Atlantic Ocean.

For example, during his entire time in office (but especially after the Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961), Kennedy and the CIA were at sword’s point. Kennedy didn’t trust the CIA as far as he could throw Allen Dulles—and, in the aftermath of the Cuban fiasco, JFK threw him pretty far—and the spooks out at Langley thought the president was callow and not up to the job of being butch with the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro. (So many of the ‘Who Shot John?’ theories surrounding Kennedy’s murder have their roots in this undeniable conflict.) Anyway, on March 16, 1963, looking to manufacture a casus belli with which to justify another Cuban invasion, the Joint Chiefs of Staff came up with a plan called Operation Northwoods, a blatantly illegal and utterly batshit plan to create false-flag domestic terrorist attacks that could be blamed on Castro’s regime. One of these proposed actions involved blowing up John Glenn on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. The memo read, in part:

The desired result from the execution of this plan would be to place the United States in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances from a rash and irresponsible government of Cuba and to develop an international image of a Cuban threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere.

This sounds like so much Hollywood ballyhoo until you go to the JFK Library and hold the actual Operation Northwoods memo in your hands, and you look down at the signatures of receipt and discover that this cockamamie scheme went all the way up the chain of command to the president’s desk. Kennedy reacted by removing Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

But the plan existed, right there on paper. It was declassified in 1992, and its existence was revealed a decade later by author James Bamford. When Northwoods was abandoned, Alex Jones would not be born for another 12 years, but that yahoo has anchored his “false flag” theories for everything from the 9/11 attacks to the massacre at Sandy Hook in the fact that Northwoods was seriously contemplated in 1962.

Then there was Civil Rights Movment, the other great gathering storm of the Kennedy presidency. It can be argued forever whether JFK was too dilatory in engaging the great moral struggle of the age, that he might have acted too much as the party man in a Democratic Party still beholden to the segregationist Old Bulls of the Congress. But he sent in federal troops when open insurrection broke out at the University of Mississippi in 1962 over the admission of James Meredith, the first black student to enroll there. A year later, he signed an executive order federalizing the Alabama National Guard, which moved Gov. George Wallace out of the doorway so two black students could enroll in that state’s university. That same night, June 11, 1963, Kennedy spoke on television to the nation:

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

It was an important speech. Kennedy seemed to be climbing down off the fence. In Jackson, Mississippi, Myrlie Evers watched the speech with her young children. Shortly after it ended, they heard their father, NAACP leader Medgar Evers, turn into their driveway. They ran to meet him. Across the street, a racist monster named Byron de la Beckwith shot Evers in the back in front of his family. (It took 31 years and three trials before he was convicted in the shooting.)

In the archives of the JFK Library, there are thousands of pieces of paper dealing with the civil rights struggle. And on Thursday of this week, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for the ‘own the libs’ human-trafficking stunt of flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, the archivists at the library thought the tactic sounded familiar and they leaped onto the electric Twitter machine with an old newspaper clipping showing why that was.

In February of 1963, the president of the White Citizens Council of Mississippi announced that he had paid a black family’s passage by bus from Mississippi to New Jersey, where they would be deposited in front of the home owned by the parents of Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, with whom the Mississippi racists were still angry due to his role in putting down the insurrection at the state university the previous fall. The clever dicks of the time called this a “Reverse Freedom Ride.”

These stunts sent impoverished black families, gulled by empty promises of housing and employment, off to other northern destinations connected to various government lawyers involved in the dismantling of the Jim Crow system in the South. One bus from Arkansas was dispatched to the Hyannis compound owned by the Kennedys. An Arkansas organizer explained that:

“For many years, certain politicians, educators and certain religious leaders have used the white people of the South as a whipping boy, to put it mildly, to further their own ends and their political campaigns…We’re going to find out if people like Ted Kennedy … and the Kennedys, all of them, really do have an interest in the Negro people, really do have a love for the Negro.”

Another White Citizen goober named Ned Touchstone explained the strategy thusly, “Katzenbach has shown himself to be a friend of the Negro and a great civil rights leader.”

Does any of this sound familiar?

For more than six decades, the Republican Party—and the modern conservative movement that is central to all of its success—has energized itself over and over again by subsuming the foul flotsam of American apartheid. The late Republican ratfcker Lee Atwater explained the plan and the process in a now-infamous 1981 interview:

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

The strategy has succeeded so well, and the Republican Party has so deeply imbibed its message, that the party has grown careless in its implementation and reckless about the state of its camouflage. In 2016, it elected a president* that gave it permission to dispense with the camouflage entirely.

So we have the governor of Florida, apparently in league with the governor of Texas and god only knows who else, adopting an attitude toward asylum seekers that he transparently has cribbed from one the Klan employed in a time we thought we were long done with. And there is an audience for this kind of thing throughout the Republican Party because that audience has been carefully constructed for longer than many current Republicans even can remember. It is their natural constituency. They are our White Citizens Council now, even though most of us didn’t ask for one.

Doonesbury — What’s in a name?

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What’s Real, Mitch?

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

It does not exactly break your heart to see Mitch McConnell used as a piñata.

He is a man of uniquely pious hypocrisy, able to affect moist-eyed sincerity while ruthlessly chopping the legs out from under democracy. Whether it is stealing Supreme Court seats or defending an indefensible president, his superpower is the uncanny ability to lie, to know that you know he’s lying and yet to keep a straight face through it all.

So one does not weep to see him smacked about, as happened last week after he rhetorically implied that African Americans are something other than real Americans. But one hopes both ardent critics and casual observers understand that ultimately, this is not simply a McConnell problem — which is to say, not just a transient gaffe reflecting only one senator’s clumsy syntax.

For those who missed it, a recap: Asked last week about African-American anxiety over the Senate’s failure to pass legislation to expand and defend voting rights, the minority leader replied: “Well, the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African-American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans,”


It was a framing for which he is rightly being pilloried. Black voters have filled Twitter with images of themselves over variations of the message, We Are Americans, with the hashtag #MitchPlease. The NAACP tweeted archly, “Senator McConnell, what is the difference between African Americans and Americans?” On Friday, McConnell pushed back, claiming he meant to say “all Americans” and dubbing the criticism “deeply offensive,” which you’d say, too, if your mouth ratted you out while your brain was off duty.

But if you think McConnell is the only one who needs to be reminded that, as Black poet Langston Hughes once put it, “I, too, sing America,” you haven’t been paying attention. You missed Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet The Press” describing how “parents” are worried about critical race theory while “parents of color” might have a different view. You also missed CBS News’ tweet asking, “How young is too young to teach kids about race?” As if children of color don’t learn about race about the same time they learn about walking. Finally, you’ve missed all those news stories where reporters talk about “working-class voters,” “suburban moms” or “evangelicals” when they mean “white” — as if Black and brown people did not work, live outside the city or go to church.

Granted, this is not the bigotry of torches and hoods. No, this rhetorical decoupling of “African” and “American,” of Black people from normal human functions, represents “only” the bigotry of the implicit assumption, the things some people believe without consciously knowing they do — much less interrogating why they do. And yet, they do.

For them, white is the default position, the color of generic American-ness and, truth be told, generic human-ness. By contrast, Black and brown are the colors of exoticism, noteworthy only for how they diverge from, challenge or impinge the perceived norm.

That’s what McConnell’s mouth revealed about him. But it is necessary to recognize that he is not an outlier. Nor is inexact language the sin here. Rather, it is language that implicitly disavows, disinherits and disrespects tens of millions of people who are every bit as “American” as Mitch McConnell on his best day. Yes, it’s “only” the bigotry of the implicit assumption.

But that’s the most common kind.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sunday Reading

Must Be Nice — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

They gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Kyle Rittenhouse armed himself with a war weapon and went into an uprising to protect property he didn’t own in a place he didn’t live. He shot and killed an unarmed man who he said threatened him and tried to take his gun. He shot and killed another man who, likely believing Rittenhouse an active shooter, came after him with a skateboard. And Rittenhouse wounded a third man, armed with a gun, who testified that he, too, thought he was dealing with a shooter.

On Friday, Rittenhouse faced a jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to learn his fate. Having taken an AR-15-type rifle into the midst of last year’s protests over the police shooting of an unarmed African-American man and having killed two people, the white 18-year-old was acquitted on all charges. He collapsed from sheer relief.

Who can blame him? Must be a wonderful thing to get the benefit of the doubt. Would’ve been nice if somebody had given that to Ahmaud Arbery. Or Tamir Rice. Or, God rest his soul, to Trayvon Martin. He should be a 26-year-old man you never heard of. But nine years ago, when he was 17 — the same age as Rittenhouse last summer — he made the mistake of being Black and crossing the path of a man named George Zimmerman, who decided on sight that he was up to no good, stalked him and shot him to death.

Benefit of the doubt? Trayvon certainly didn’t get that from Zimmerman. Nor from the police in Sanford, Florida. Nor from Geraldo Rivera, who suggested he was killed because he wore a hooded sweatshirt. Nor did he get it from white conservatives, who went to outlandish extremes to portray this kid, this standard-issue boy armed only with Skittles and iced tea, as some scary thug who needed shooting. Nor did he get it from the jury, which set Zimmerman free. Trayvon was essentially convicted of his own murder.

There will be those who don’t understand why race is invoked here. Rittenhouse, after all, was a white boy who shot three white men.

But those men lost whiteness the moment they joined that protest. No, that doesn’t mean they became dark of skin or curly of hair. What it does mean is that to be a white person who stands up for African-American lives is to place yourself in opposition to the great body of whiteness and privilege by which this country is driven.

It is to lose — at least for that moment — the protections afforded to you to by the fact of being white, the assumptions and presumptions that ease your path without you even knowing it. It is to lose benefit of the doubt.

Rittenhouse, on the other hand, was immersed in it. Judge Bruce Schroeder bent himself like Gumby to accommodate him, even ruling that the victims could not be referred to as victims. And while conservatives went out of their way to thuggify Trayvon, they made a folk hero of Rittenhouse. Tucker Carlson even lauded him as someone who “maintained order when no one else would.”

Did Carlson ever once defend Trayvon’s right to simply walk home unmolested? Somehow, it seems doubtful.

Did the judge ever bend like Gumby on Trayvon’s behalf? No example immediately suggests itself.

The killing of one teenage boy and the acquittal of another reflect back to us something ugly and small and mean and true about this country. Namely that some tears matter and some don’t. Some get advantages and some won’t. And yes, some of us get the benefit.

But others get only the doubt.

Doonesbury — The garden spot of the galaxy.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Sunday Reading

DeSantis Misdeals the Race Card — Fabiola Santiago in the Miami Herald.

Poor Gov. Ron DeSantis.

He’s working hard to keep Blacks and Latinos off the playing field in Florida with voting- and protest-suppression laws, banning sanctuary cities and, now, ordering law enforcement to profile immigrants on the road.

But, here’s a hefty dose of reality to smack the governor in the face.

It’s too late to fight the demographics. Florida is gaining more Latinos than any other state, except, predictably, Texas, concluded the 2021 U.S. Latino GDP Report just released by the nonprofit Latino Donor Collaborative.

Between 2015 and 2019 alone, more than 700,000 Latinos were added to our state’s population. And according to the 2020 Census, which also revealed an increasingly multiracial America, Latinos make up 26.2% of Florida’s population.

That’s 5.3 million Hispanics, bad news for DeSantis, who can’t restrain his white-supremacist instincts — and is desperately trying to engineer an unfriendly atmosphere for both settled and new immigrants to Florida.

During the Donald Trump years, DeSantis targeted the influx of Central Americans, and he’s now doing likewise to Haitians under Joe Biden. He thinks he’s punishing this other “foreign” Florida, but he’s bad-mouthing and hurting all of us immigrants.

His newly issued mandate to law enforcement that they pull over drivers they suspect are transporting immigrants into the state is going to be tricky to carry out without violating Americans’ constitutional rights.

His directive amounts to blatant ethnic and racial profiling inspired by news that, while the Biden administration expelled 4,000 asylum-seeking Haitians in nine days, most of them men, immigration officials released families to loved ones in places such as South Florida.

While their asylum cases are pending, they’ll be part of another growing sector of Florida’s population — Blacks of Caribbean descent. Florida is the No. 1 destination for Haitians, where they make up 2.4% of the population.

How will DeSantis’ troopers be able to tell if that van on Florida’s Turnpike full of people of a certain skin tone is one of our lovely families traveling to Disney World or a suspected smuggling ring? They can’t. Injustices will be committed.

Outside of the Miami-Dade County cocoon, where racism, too, lives on but is less overt, Hispanic and Black families too often feel the discrimination without now having to worry about police being “encouraged,” as the governor put it, to stop them on the road on a mere “reasonable” suspicion of wrongdoing.

What constitutes such a suspicion to people like DeSantis?

Mere existence.

Given his history with dog-whistle language and actions, a car full of Haitians on a Florida road carpooling, minding their own business, being regular people, will do.

To enforce his immigrant-harassment policies, DeSantis named Larry Keefe, the former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida — a man who still uses in public the offensive “illegal alien” term — to serve as “public safety czar.”

At the press conference where he announced this latest round of infamies, DeSantis called his prejudice “protecting the people of Florida” because that’s all he sees, immigrants as criminals, not as the contributors to society that every economic indicator shows.

But we know the motive: The governor is seriously fear-mongering his way to reelection in 2022, and his base must be kept in a state of agitation. Race will do the job every time.

Thankfully, DeSantis is getting some push-back.

In September in Miami, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom struck down key portions of his sanctuary city ban. Bloom ruled that part of it “was enacted based on biased and unreliable data generated by anti-immigrant hate groups” and has a “chilling and disparate impact” on immigration communities.

Yes, a judge acknowledged what many of us said when DeSantis and Florida Republicans rammed this down our throats: He and the Florida Legislature acted with prejudice based on hate.

In fact, September has been a pretty bad month for DeSantis in court.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker also ruled against his attempt to quash protests in Florida, blocking the so-called “anti-riot law” DeSantis pushed in response to nationwide protests after the killing of George Floyd.

The judge ruled that the definition of “riot” in the legislation was too vague and likely violated the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, DeSantis still feels emboldened enough to keep on issuing executive orders to rein in Latino and Black population growth.

He’s so transparent, even wickedly comical at times.

During the Trump years, he ordered that local agencies fully cooperate with immigration authorities.  His new edict forbids state executive agencies from assisting the federal government in transporting immigrants from the southern border to Florida.

DeSantis also has sued Biden in federal court in Pensacola, friendly terrain to his anti-immigrant stance, alleging that many of the immigrants the Biden administration has “illegally released” will come to Florida and cost the state money.

His evilness, in practice, likely won’t stop anybody from reaching their Florida destination.

Plenty of humane souls will provide transportation and support to the Haitians, even buy Disney hats for the kids — DeSantis’ law enforcement officers, ready to profile, notwithstanding.

And then, there’s this: Latinos and Blacks are a growing force in Florida — and they vote.

Doonesbury — Perfect timing.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Monday, January 18, 2021

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way. But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me. This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them. And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.

Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights. He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone. He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause. I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else. The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.

There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion? But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for? Last August marked the fifty-sixth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. That marked a moment; a milestone.

Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.

For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.


Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

This Cannot Go On

Charles P. Pierce on the state of law enforcement in America.

I don’t know what to make of the events in Kenosha, a city with which I am somewhat familiar, and a city with a police department possessed of something of a…history. That history prompted some reforms that got national notice. These reforms now seem to have been inadequate. Jacob Blake is in the hospital, paralyzed, shot seven times in the back by members of the reformed Kenosha P.D. And Kenosha has erupted in protests and violence because citizens generally are frustrated and angry at being shot with impunity under color of law. And the crisis in American law enforcement heads into a very perilous new iteration.

Not long before Blake was shot, a brawl broke out in Portland between a mob of Proud Boys and a group of protestors. The Portland police declined to involve themselves. From the Washington Post:

As the brawls unfolded, Portland police officers remained at a distance. They made several announcements over loudspeakers, encouraging the crowds to “self-monitor for criminal activity,” even as people beat others with sticks, and at least two right-wing activists brandished handguns.“Each skirmish appeared to involve willing participants and the events were not enduring in time, so officers were not deployed to intervene,” the Portland Police Bureau said in a statement.

Police said they did not stop the violence, although the event met the criteria to be declared a riot, because too few officers were available to respond and they deemed it too dangerous to intervene. Officers were tired from responding to a much smaller and less volatile protest that was declared a riot the night before, the bureau said in a statement, and incident commanders also had concerns that officers would be targeted by the crowd.

It appears that the country’s police, feeling unwanted and unloved and embattled because justice is now demanded for the people they kill, are sliding into taking sides with the people who declare themselves as their supporters. This also appeared to be happening a while ago when gunslinging white dudes bum-rushed the Michigan legislature. On Tuesday, the same thing happened in Boise, Idaho. From NPR:

The clash was a manifestation of the anger and frustration from a vocal minority of far-right Idahoans that has been compounding over the last several months as the state has navigated its reopening amid the pandemic. To enforce social distancing, the gallery area above the House chamber was restricted with limited seating. But after the confrontation with state troopers, which resulted in the shattering of a glass door, Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke relented and allowed protesters to fill every seat.

The response stands in stark contrast to 2014 when dozens of advocates pressuring lawmakers to pass LGBTQ protections were arrested for standing silently in a hallway, blocking access to the Idaho Senate chamber. On Monday, an Idaho State Police spokeswoman, Lynn Hightower, said she wasn’t aware of any pending charges against protesters. The following day she released a statement saying that “Idaho State Police personnel determined they could not have made arrests on the spot without elevating the potential for violence,” and that an investigation was ongoing into any criminal behavior “that may have occurred.”

This can’t go on. A black guy gets shot seven times for walking to his car, but armed white goons can break into a legislative chamber and nobody gets clicked. And yes, it all will impact the presidential campaign, and yes, the president’s campaign will use video from the unrest to reinforce the bloody fantasies that they’re peddling to their nervous white base, and yes, the Biden campaign will be pestered by idiots to deplore, and distance, and renounce people and things. All of that will be as it will, but this can’t go on. Something very important will break. Cooler heads may prevail, but that’s not the way to bet any more.

Can you imagine the furor that would ensue if a Black couple who had brandished guns at the police had stood up at the Democratic convention last week and warned the country that the police were out of control? No, you can’t, because if a Black couple had shown weaponry in the presence of a police force, their funerals would have followed shortly thereafter. And even if they had been able to present themselves, the hue and cry from the Trump crowd would be louder — if possible — then that rant by Ms. Guilfoyle.

No, this cannot go on. Not with the current administration, and even if it were to be swept away in November, changing the president and the people in power in Washington isn’t going to overcome the hard-wired and institutionalized racism that permeates every level of our society.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday Reading

He Should Have Seen It Coming — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker.

There, yet again, were the flames. Before the furious conflagrations erupted in Minneapolis, the final weeks of May had already seemed like the answer to a grim math problem: What is the product of a crisis multiplied by a crisis? The official mortality count of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States swept toward a hundred thousand, while the economic toll had left forty million people out of work. It was difficult to countenance how so much misery could come about so quickly. But on Memorial Day we became video witnesses to the horrific death of George Floyd, at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. By Friday, the looted shops, the charred buildings and cars, the smoldering Third Precinct—these were evidence of what the world looks like when a crisis is cubed.

These seemingly disparate American trials are not unrelated; they’re bound by their predictability and by the ways in which the Trump Administration has exacerbated them since they began. In March, the President claimed that “nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion,” and he has echoed that sentiment throughout the course of the emergency. But virtually everyone paying attention to public health saw something like the novel coronavirus coming. In less than two decades, we have seen epidemics of the SARS, MERS, Ebola, and H1N1 viruses. The Obama Administration created a National Security Council Directorate to mitigate the impact of such events; the Trump Administration largely disbanded it.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the protesters in Minneapolis were “thugs”—a term with deep-rooted racist connotations—and later noted that the military was present in the city. “When the looting starts,” he warned, “the shooting starts.” This situation, too, is part of a long-building problem whose warning signs have gone unheeded by the current Administration. Progressives have widely criticized the 1994 Crime Bill, which was spearheaded by Joe Biden, but an element of that legislation has been underappreciated. The 1992 Los Angeles riots broke out after the acquittal of four police officers who had violently assaulted Rodney King (an incident that was also captured on video). As has often been the case with riots, the chaotic fury in Los Angeles was not simply a response to one incident but an accretion of anger at innumerable issues with a police department which had gone unaddressed for years. The Crime Bill authorized the civil-rights division of the Department of Justice to intervene in the instance of chronically troubled departments, by negotiating consent decrees that laid out specific reforms to be followed, and provided for monitors to oversee their implementation. Like the precursors to the coronavirus, Los Angeles—and later Ferguson and Baltimore—was an indicator of how such problems could play out without intervention. But, in this area as well, the Trump Administration has functioned like a building contractor who can’t recognize a load-bearing wall.

In July, 2017, in an address to law-enforcement officers in Suffolk County, New York, Trump told them to use more force when taking suspects into custody. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting the head,” he said. “You can take the hand away, O.K.?” The following May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a speech to the National Association of Police Organizations, said that the Justice Department “will not malign entire police departments. We will not try to micromanage their daily work.” That November, as one of his last acts on the job, Sessions issued a memorandum that severely curtailed the civil-rights division’s ability to pursue decrees with police departments. This meant that, in communities plagued with bad policing, resentments could accrue unchecked by any higher authority until they reached their detonation points. Those detonations tend to resemble the streets of Minneapolis this week.

On Thursday, in a press conference that was short on developments or new information, Erica MacDonald, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, said, “To be clear, President Trump as well as Attorney General William Barr are directly and actively monitoring the investigation in this case.” But what, precisely, does that mean? Barr presides over a civil-rights division that has been stripped of its chief mechanism for creating compliance among police officers. In the past five years, the Twin Cities area has seen three other controversial police shootings: of Jamar Clark, in 2015; of Philando Castile, in 2016; and of Justine Damond, in 2017. Each of these fatal incidents featured a victim of a different racial background from the officers involved, and each was highlighted as an example of police misconduct. Like the COVID cases that emerged in Seattle at the beginning of the year, Minneapolis is a study in the importance of foresight and planning, and an example of what happens when neither of those things occurs.

The President posted his “the shooting starts” tweet early on Friday morning, just hours before Officer Derek Chauvin, who had knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, was taken into custody and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Twitter, in an unprecedented move, labelled Trump’s tweet a violation of company policy against “glorifying violence.” A Presidential threat to have the United States military shoot civilians is the opposite of leadership, the antithesis of wisdom—a comment as ill-advised and as detrimental to the public well-being as recommending injecting disinfectant or self-prescribing hydroxychloroquine.

Our problems generally do not stem from treacherous unknowns; they’re the result of a failure to make good use of what is known already. In July, 1967, after a brutal police raid at an after-hours bar in Detroit, that city exploded in retaliatory violence. A month later, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech to the American Psychological Association, in which he described riots as “durable social phenomena” that arise in conjunction with discernible conditions—acts of lawlessness that mirror the excesses of those charged with upholding the law. Leaders cannot predict the future, but they can be cognizant of the immediate past, and the possible dangers it suggests. They cannot be clairvoyant. They need only be intelligent.

Doonesbury — Instant Karma

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Do It, Mitch

Leonard Pitts, Jr. on Mitch McConnell.

Dear Mitch McConnell:

Why don’t you just go ahead and call Barack Obama the n-word?

You know you want to. It’d probably do wonders for your blood pressure. And it would free you from the tiresome charade of using coded language to say the same thing. It would also free the rest of us from having to listen.

Your latest vomitous spew came last week, after the former president criticized Donald Trump for the “chaotic disaster” of his response to the coronavirus pandemic in audio leaked from a private conference call with alumni of his administration. He didn’t mention Trump by name, but then, he didn’t have to. Chaos is Trump’s brand.

“I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut,” you huffed in an online interview with a Trump campaign aide. “We know he doesn’t like much this administration is doing; that’s understandable. But I think it’s a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you. … Generally, former presidents just don’t do that.”

But Obama is hardly the first ex-president to speak ill of his successor. Clinton did it, Bush the elder did it, Carter did it, Ford did it. Heck, Teddy Roosevelt called his successor and former friend, William Howard Taft, “a fathead with the brains of a guinea pig.”

And “classless?” You realize, don’t you, that Trump once said it was OK to call his daughter “a piece of ass?”

Point being, you are tying yourself in logical and rhetorical knots here, Mitch. Why not cut through the tangle? Why not say what you mean? Just call him the n-word.

It’s not like the rest of us don’t hear it already in your contemptuous tone. If one didn’t know better, one might think you were addressing a not-so-bright junior staffer who spoke out of turn in a meeting, not a president of the United States. Former GOP Chairman Michael Steele certainly caught your meaning, retorting on Twitter, “I’m sure Mitch is aware that a grown-ass black man who happens to be a former president has agency to speak his mind on how his successor is managing this crisis, especially since his successor has yet to ‘keep his mouth shut’ about him.”

Just say it, Mr. Majority Leader. Why not? After all, racial animus has been part of GOP DNA since the 1960s, when disaffected Democrats, horrified at the idea of African-American voting and civil rights, fled to your ranks. For decades, the party wooed them in coded language that hid its meaning behind a fig leaf of deniability. You said “law and order,” “welfare queens” and “Willie Horton.” You never said “n—-r.” Never had to.

Then Obama was elected. Panic surged through your party like an electric shock, and codes were burned like crosses, suddenly insufficient to express GOP apoplexy at this threat to white hegemony. Language that had been opaque suddenly became Windex clear as this Harvard-educated professor of constitutional law was dubbed a “street hustler,” a “subhuman mongrel,” an “uppity” “boy” with a fake birth certificate.

Trump has been a leader in this movement for rhetorical clarity. He’s dubbed Mexicans “rapists,” said Islam “hates us,” told four congresswomen to “go back” where they came from, called black and brown nations “shithole countries.”

So your disrespectful tone toward President Obama, earnest as it is, seems overly genteel and out of step with the moment. This is 2020, Mitch. In 2020, Republicans say what they mean and darn well mean what they say. So go ahead and call Obama the n-word. It would be offensive, yes.

But we both know it would be honest, too.

Oh, I have no doubt that Mitch has called President Obama the n-word, and out loud, too.  And he’s not the only one.  I can think of any number of Republicans who do as well.  The veneer of civility was obliterated during his term in office, and once they got out of earshot of microphones, there were no holds barred.  I heard several of my acquaintances do it, starting when Mr. Obama first ran for the presidency.  Any attempt to shame them was useless because they weren’t about to be denied their freedom of speech by a faggot.  Those people are the core of the Trump base, which is now indistinguishable from the Republican Party.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A Faith Is Not A Race — Updated

Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice has issued a correction to his post based on reporting from Mark Joseph Stern at Slate:

The New York Times published a bombshell report on Tuesday claiming that President Donald Trump planned to sign an executive order that interpreted Judaism “as a race or nationality” under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI governs federally funded educational programs, so the Times warned that the order might be deployed to squelch anti-Israel speech on campus. “Mr. Trump’s order,” the Times further claimed, “will have the effect of embracing an argument that Jews are a people or a race with a collective national origin in the Middle East, like Italian Americans or Polish Americans.”

That turned out to be untrue. The text of the order, which leaked on Wednesday, does not redefine Judaism as a race or nationality. It does not claim that Jews are a nation or a different race. The order’s interpretation of Title VI—insofar as the law applies to Jews—is entirely in line with the Obama administration’s approach. It only deviates from past practice by suggesting that harsh criticism of Israel—specifically, the notion that it is “a racist endeavor”—may be used as evidence to prove anti-Semitic intent. There is good reason, however, to doubt that the order can actually be used to suppress non-bigoted disapproval of Israel on college campuses.

I’m going to let the original post stand because whether or not the reporting is incorrect, anti-Semitism in America is still on the rise.

From the New York Times:

Trump plans to sign an executive order on Wednesday targeting what he sees as anti-Semitism on college campuses by threatening to withhold federal money from educational institutions that fail to combat discrimination, three administration officials said on Tuesday.

The order will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion, to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students. In recent years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — or B.D.S. — movement against Israel has roiled some campuses, leaving some Jewish students feeling unwelcome or attacked.

In signing the order, Mr. Trump will use his executive power to take action where Congress has not, essentially replicating bipartisan legislation that has stalled on Capitol Hill for several years. Prominent Democrats have joined Republicans in promoting such a policy change to combat anti-Semitism as well as the boycott-Israel movement.

But critics complained that such a policy could be used to stifle free speech and legitimate opposition to Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the name of fighting anti-Semitism. The definition of anti-Semitism to be used in the order matches the one used by the State Department and by other nations, but it has been criticized as too open-ended and sweeping.

Politics aside, it’s dangerous to take something that anyone can adopt, such as a religion, and use it to define something that is genetic, such as race, or even circumstantial, such as nationality.  No one is born Jewish or Catholic or Buddhist or Quaker.  You may be born in a place where the majority is Jewish, for example, but show me the DNA marker that designates a particular faith.

There are also historical precedents for designating Judaism as a race or nationality, and as Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice, notes, it hasn’t turned out so well.

Any assertion of Judaism as a race and nationality is bad, as well as factually inaccurate. Making it official US policy, by way of an executive order, is potentially catastrophic. Other states that classified Judaism as a race and nationality include NAZI Germany in the Nuremberg Race Laws and the Soviet Union. The Nuremberg Race Laws went into effect in 1935 and were modeled on racial purity and separation laws from the Jim Crow south after Reconstruction was overthrown. In the case of the Soviet Union, the Soviet equivalents were a legacy and carryover of the pre-Communist Russian anti-Semitism that had permeated Russian life.

No one who isn’t either in denial or has decided to put political or personal profit ahead of reality, facts, and the truth needs any more evidence that the President and his administration are pushing a white supremacist agenda and are winking and nudging and signaling in a variety of other ways to Americans who would like to see the United States become a white, Christian herrenvolk. The Attorney General has now given two speeches in the past two months implying that this should be the case. But this new executive order is a significant development. And that is not meant to downplay what our fellow citizens; be they religious minorities like Muslims and the Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists mistaken for them because of superficial physiological resemblance; ethnic minorities whose families originated in Central and South America, the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and/or Africa, or LGBTQ Americans have been going through since January 2017. Rather it is an acknowledgment that things are accelerating in a bad direction. When governments declare Jews to be a race and nationality apart from the rest of the citizenry, bad things begin to happen. And they begin to happen quickly.

One of the goals of the founders of this country was to make this a nation where we did not distinguish between races and religions in order to form a more perfect union.  That we have not lived up to that over the last 250 years is a shame and a stain, but we have always striven to reach it.  This executive order does nothing to achieve it; it adds yet another layer of distinction that assures the racists and the white supremacists that they have been right all along.

Monday, July 15, 2019

“I’m Shocked, Shocked…”

I seriously doubt that anyone is truly shocked that Trump went on a racist rant via Twitter this weekend against four Democratic women in Congress, telling them to “go back where they came from.”  (For three out of the four, that would be here, as in the United States, including Cincinnati and New York.)  He’s merely thumbing out loud what he’s been saying all along in less direct terms, and I am certain that his base has been miles ahead of him on that score.  Certainly his minions have been laying that pipeline all along but couching it in Fox News-friendly fashion so it doesn’t sound like it’s spoken through a white hood in front of a burning cross.  The question is, what’s taken him so long to finally say it?

What will be mildly interesting is how his wormtongues such as Kellyanne Conway and the like will contort themselves into making it either no big deal or attempt to make it a positive for him.  I have no doubt they’ll try and perhaps even come up with colorful and creative ways of turning blatant racism into how great America has been made again.

What will be interesting for the moment is how this plays with the mainline Republicans and the ones who could actually do something about him.  There is no evidence whatsoever that they will grow anything that resembles a spine and stand up to him, and musing about denying him the renomination in 2020 is pure nonsense; of course he’ll be their nominee, and some of them will even campaign with him as the man who stood up against the brown Socialist horde of angry women.  If they didn’t reach the breaking point over his dissing of John McCain even after he’s dead, or the attack on the Gold Star parents, or the pussy-grabbing, or the scores of sexual assault victims coming forth, or the mocking of the disabled, or setting up concentration camps that would earn an Iron Cross from Heinrich Himmler, what makes anyone think that this old tired racist tripe will make any difference?  But let’s see them try to make the case that enough is enough and this time they mean it.  No, really, they do.

If there’s a glimmer of a silver lining or unintended consequence, it may be that this will put an end to the typical summertime dems-in-disarray that they worked themselves into with the spat between the Squad and Speaker Pelosi.  Nothing unites the disparate and disarrayed like an attack from the outside.  The irony is that if there’s a boost for the Democrats, it may well be that they have Trump’s thumbs to thank for it.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Universal Sickness

A gunman opened fire on two mosques in New Zealand on Friday (NZ time), killing at least 40 people.  The motive was racial; the assault was streamed live and documents in support of his attack were posted on line.

At more than 74 pages, the document outlines a white supremacist motivation for the attack. The writer, who identifies himself as a 28-year-old white man born in Australia, quotes the so-called 14 Words, the slogan shared by white supremacists worldwide. He said that while he supported white nationalist groups, he alone had decided to carry out the attack. He described the victims as “invaders” and accused them of seeking to replace white people. He wrote about attacking two mosques, one in Linwood and one in Christchurch. He focused on the latter because it was the largest, he wrote.

The Twitter account only started posting content on March 12, repeatedly sharing white nationalist content about “illegal immigrants.” Twice, the user shared a Facebook profile for the Otago Muslim Association, which the manifesto said was the first choice for the attack.

White supremacy isn’t just an American disease.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Making The Grades

It’s no small irony that Trump made a big deal about Barack Obama’s college transcripts and how he must have gotten into Harvard Law on nothing more than affirmative action all the while he sent his fixers back to his military school to find and bury his own transcripts so no one would ever know how well he did on his SAT’s or GPA.

You don’t need a PhD in psychology to figure that one out.

It also points out the fact that the only reason Trump got into the race in the first place was to show that uppity you-know-what his place.  Trump has been obsessed to the point of madness that Barack Obama is smart, funny, cool, and successful on his own merits and Trump is none of those and never will be.

You don’t need a PhD in theatre or literature to figure that one out.  Hello, Iago and Mr. Claggart in Billy Budd.

What is more disturbing is the fact that rather than celebrate or even acknowledge the fact that a kid from a broken marriage and working-class background could grow up, go to college, become a lawyer, a teacher, an organizer, elected official, and the first non-white president in the history of the country without buying off or gaming the system but doing it pretty much on his own perseverance and determination, Trump is determined to claim that the system is rigged against the people who, through no merit other than the gut feeling of jealousy and resentment about Others, are somehow deprived of their divine right to rule.  It’s a perversion of everything this country stands for.  It’s racism, pure and plain, and I don’t see any benefit in trying to make it sound like anything else.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday Reading

Dr. King’s Warning — Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Photo by Morton Broffman/Getty Images

For the first time since Congress passed legislation to make the third Monday of January a national holiday to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the National Mall—including the memorial dedicated to King’s honor—is closed due to President Trump’s insistence that Congress submit to his demand for a national monument to racism and fear. We must be clear that this is the impasse we face. Democrats cannot be blamed for failing to compromise.

On the opening day of the 116th Congress, Democratic leadership in the House took up bipartisan legislation to reopen the Congress that their colleagues in the Senate had already compromised to approve. Only one thing kept 800,000 federal employees from receiving their paychecks this past week: the refusal of Trump and his congressional enablers to consider that legislation.

Fifty-one years ago, Dr. King and the Poor People’s Campaign threatened to bring the federal government to standstill in order to demand that it serve everyone in America’s multi-ethnic democracy. In 2019, President Trump has shuttered the government to demand that we build a bulwark against the browning of America.

This is, as he promised it would be, Trump’s shutdown. But the president is not acting alone. Congressional Republicans who have been unwilling to stand up to the him for two years created the conditions for this present crisis. And all along the way, Trump’s white evangelical boosters have offered their blessing. Defending Trump on Fox News, the Rev. Robert Jeffress argued recently that Trump’s wall cannot be immoral because Heaven itself has walls. He did not mention the Bible’s testimony that Heaven’s gates are always open.

Though most religious leaders are not Trumpvangelicals like Jeffress, we must recognize the complicity of so-called moderates in a moment of crisis if we are to honor the memory of Dr. King. While most people today recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as both a great American and a great preacher, we would do well to remember that he was not affirmed by a majority of Christian leaders in his own day, black or white.

When we celebrate King, it is easy to conjure the image of a Klan preacher spewing hatred against the civil-rights movement, just as Trumpvangelicals offer a religious blessing to Trump’s white nationalism today. But segregationist preachers were not the only religious resistance to King’s efforts for systemic justice in America. Dr. King’s own denomination, the National Baptist Convention, pushed him out along with other Baptist preachers who insisted on the tactic of nonviolent direct action. Then as now, the opposition to reconstruction of American democracy claimed the moral narrative in our common life.

Dr. King objected—and his polemical response is what we remember half a century later. But the fact that the ecumenical leadership of the faith community in Alabama at the time felt self-assured in making this statement is a testimony to how prevalent their political “realism” was across theological traditions.

We must not deceive ourselves. Even as we gather in churches, synagogues, community centers, and university halls across America to honor the legacy of Dr. King this weekend, the so-called moderates’ call for compromise is drowning out King’s insistence that we cannot submit to the terms of white supremacy. Trump’s immoral demand for an unnecessary wall is an effort to concretize every lie that has been told about immigrants by this administration. Such a wall would be as poisonous to our common life as the “whites only” signs in 1960s Birmingham were to the citizens Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to support in their campaign to tear down Jim Crow.

King understood that whenever we compromise with a lie about who people are, we empower the political forces that have exploited our nation’s divisions to cling to power. The same politicians who want a wall today are also blocking voting rights and the expansion of healthcare to all Americans; they are the same people who have deregulated corporate polluters and denied climate science—the same ones who insist on increasing investment in the war economy while slashing our nation’s safety net and denying workers the right to earn a living wage.

We must be clear: Trump’s demand for a wall is not about border security. It is about a lie as sinister as the claim at the heart of Jim Crow—that America’s future depends on the values of white rule, not the promise of the multi-ethnic democracy we have struggled toward in this land for 400 years. We must not make the same mistake that the clergy of Birmingham made in 1963. If we would honor King, then let us follow him in refusing to compromise with a lie.

Nothingburger — Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker.

On Saturday, the twenty-ninth day of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Donald Trump tried to make a deal. The President, trapped between his far-right bona fides and the general electorate, offered to support a limited measure called the Bridge Act, which would extend temporary legal protections for Dreamers in exchange for full funding of his $5.7-billion border wall. The offer was reportedly crafted by Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, and without the input of congressional Democrats. Yet, almost on cue, Trump’s supporters claimed that the President had effectively flipped the script on his partisan detractors. “Compromise in divided government means that everyone can’t get everything they want every time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “The President’s proposal reflects that. It strikes a fair compromise by incorporating priorities from both sides of the aisle.”

The problem was that the offer addressed none of the Democrats’ concerns, either on the issue of the Dreamers, whose legal status Trump has put in limbo, or the shutdown, which Trump precipitated by demanding funding for the wall. In 2017, when Trump cancelled DACA, he gave Congress six months to devise a solution to protect the legal status of some seven hundred thousand Dreamers. Of all the proposals under consideration, the most conservative was a provisional arrangement known as the Bridge Act. It offered to freeze DACA protections in place for three years to buy Congress time as it sought to devise a proper solution. One of the bill’s sponsors, a Colorado Republican named Mike Coffman, who lost his reëlection bid last November, told me at the time that the bill was a last resort. Moderate Republicans preferred a more comprehensive solution that included a path to citizenship for Dreamers; the Bridge Act was something to have in place in case a deal couldn’t be reached in time. For all of its insufficiencies, the previous version of the Bridge Act would have covered many more people (some 1.3 million Dreamers) than the iteration outlined by the President on Saturday (roughly seven hundred thousand existing DACA recipients). Predictably, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, wasted no time in calling Trump’s latest proposal a “non-starter.” The question now is how long will the President, through clenched teeth, pretend he made the gesture in good faith?

It’s no accident that the White House has selected this measure to try to goad the Democrats, who, for the last several months, have been clear on one thing: no congressional deal on Dreamers would be acceptable unless it included a pathway to citizenship. The Bridge Act doesn’t just come up well short of that; in effect, it simply prolongs the status quo. Federal judges have already blocked the Trump Administration’s effort to cancel DACA, meaning the program is, for the time being, held in place. It’s a precarious situation—only existing recipients can renew their status, and new applications aren’t being accepted—but the Bridge Act is hardly a significant improvement. “The White House hasn’t released a bill yet, but the three years under the Bridge Act is not a three-year extension of DACA,” Kamal Essaheb, the policy director of the National Immigration Law Center, told me on Saturday. “Under the original Bridge Act, the protections end at a certain date in the future. So, if the Bridge Act is enacted today, all work permits would expire in January, 2022, for example. That’s not much of a give, because someone renewing their DACA status today would likely get a work permit into mid- to late 2021.” There’s a chance that the Supreme Court will hear the Trump Administration’s case for ending DACA, but as of now the Justices have not shown any sign that they will; it seems increasingly unlikely, therefore, that the Trump Administration’s appeal will be heard during the Court’s current term. An additional inducement offered by the President, on Saturday, has a similarly stale logic. He proposed a three-year extension of temporary protected status (T.P.S.), which allows victims of war and natural disasters to live and work in the United States, for the three hundred thousand people who lost it over the last two years because of Trump. In October, a federal judge in California blocked the Trump Administration’s efforts to end their T.P.S.

The President proposed a raft of other measures, few of them new or meaningfully different than the terms already being haggled over. He wanted to add more border agents; invest in immigration judges; increase drug-detection technology at the border. The Democrats, who on Friday proposed to add a billion dollars to border-security funding, shouldn’t be particularly opposed to any of these details on their own. Their objection, however, is both more general and more explicit: they want to reopen the government first, and then deal with Homeland Security policies.

Ultimately, the most revealing aspect of Saturday’s proposal is the bland predictability of it. Last year, around this time, the President backed himself into the same corner: he agreed, in an Oval Office meeting with Chuck Schumer, to trade close to five times the wall funding he wants now for a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Immediately afterward, he changed his mind, triggering a government shutdown. Earlier that month, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came to him with a bipartisan solution for Dreamers, which included changes to legal immigration and redoubled funding for border security—in short, all the measures the President had publicly demanded. He responded by blowing up the deal on the spot. Once more, Trump is hoping that the Democrats will flinch, and that no one will remember how we got here in the first place.

Doonesbury — More twitterpation.