There is no compelling evidence that Russian hackers interfered with US voting machines to change vote totals in the 2016 election.
Read that sentence again, carefully. It’s true, to the best of my knowledge. There is, however, an important distinction between not having evidence of something and knowing it did not happen, especially when there has been no investigation that might have turned up said evidence.
In recent days, I have seen experts I respect quote, in mocking tones, a YouGov poll that says more than half of Democrats believe Russia tampered with vote totals. There is a valid point here: Many voters misunderstand recent announcements from the CIA and Department of Homeland Security that Russian intelligence agents hacked a number of entities in an effort to swing the election for Trump. Those hacks did not include voting machines, and no government agency (or any other reputable source) has come forward to say the Russians hacked US voting machines.
That said, reporters overstep the truth when they say “Russia did not hack American voting machines.” No one knows whether they did or did not, because no investigation has occurred. Continue Reading
I have this theory, developed shortly after the election results came in. I had a lot of time to think, because like a lot of people I couldn’t get out of bed. My theory goes like this: Yes, there is a shamefully significant population of Americans who are virulently, aggressively racist. These are the Deplorables, the people posting Pepe memes and anti-semitic messages on social networks, and currently committing hate crimes as if the coming of President Trump announced the beginning of the Purge.
But that kind of racism alone can’t explain Trump’s election. It doesn’t explain the people I count among my own friends and family who voted Trump, but consider themselves progressives on race. That kind of racism is enough to get Trump part of the way, but not enough to put him in the Oval Office; what really put him over the top is white fragility.
If you haven’t encountered this term before, white fragility is the tendency among white people to get upset when they are challenged on their own, or America’s, problems with race. YouTube channel Newsbroke produced a video about white fragility that, while funny, is way too real.
And let me pause here to say that yes, white fragility is a form of racism and white supremacy. Prioritizing the feelings and individuality of white people above entire communities of non-white or marginalized people is white supremacy. But for purposes of this specific argument, I want to draw a distinction—because Deplorables are making a conscious choice, while fragile white folks generally don’t realize what they’re doing.
What changed was that marginalized communities, particularly people of color, refused to just come along for the ride.
To reach an electoral majority, the Democratic Party’s coalition has historically relied heavily on poor and working-class white voters and marginalized groups like people of color, LGBTQ people, and immigrants. Being a majority white party, however, the Democrats have tended to ignore the actual needs of those marginalized populations, and relied on the Republican Party to frighten voters across the aisle. In the 1990s Democrats campaigned on a platform of welfare reform and crime reduction, both built on thinly-veiled racist tropes. As recently as 2008, Democrats relied on LGBTQ voters while publicly opposing marriage equality.
What changed, importantly, in the run-up to 2016 was that marginalized communities, particularly people of color, refused to just come along for the ride. Early in her campaign, Hillary Clinton had a famous confrontation with Black Lives Matter activists. At the time she lectured, but that and other interactions shaped the way Hillary reached out to black voters. During her campaign, Hillary openly said that black lives matter, in those words, and she was the first candidate for US President to use the term “institutional racism” in a Presidential debate.
These are important first steps, and the right thing to do. However, I fear that fragile white voters felt alienated, and moved away from Hillary. That’s on them, of course, but if it’s true, I’m not sure what path the Democrats have to repair their coalition.
A point that’s come up many times since the election is that Trump won districts previously won by President Obama, and so “those voters can’t be racist.” But President Obama went to lengths to run as a non-racial candidate. He famously made a speech, regarded as one of the great speeches in US history, in which effectively absolved white people of their racial resentment, and gave cover to whites who prefer their racism to be presented as “economic anxiety.”
But make no mistake: Race was not just the key issue in the 2016 election. It was the only issue. Trump’s positions, almost to a one, flew in the face of traditionally conservative values, and yet he retained the majority of conservative support; yes, he received fewer votes than Romney or McCain, but only by a small margin, while Hillary’s support fell by millions of votes. The only issue on which Trump was consistently in line with traditional conservative values was racism and xenophobia.
Essayists and commentators will talk about other factors that led to Hillary’s precipitous loss in votes, and I don’t want to downplay them completely. Voter suppression and disenfranchisement, particularly, could have turned the election in many states. Economic anxiety is real?—?it’s just important to recognize that in the United States, economic anxiety among white people almost always takes the form of racism, with anger toward “welfare queens” and job-poaching immigrants, instead of fiscal policies and corporate greed.
But the fact remains that Trump took a huge majority among white men and a significant majority among white women, perhaps more shocking considering what we learned about Trump in the last six months (not to mention what we already knew about his attitudes toward women), and that is the reason he won. No other racial or ethnic group voted for Trump. Racism, of the Deplorable variety, does not explain those figures. White fragility does.
This is further reinforced by responses to the election result, as editorials insist that journalists didn’t do enough to understand the white working class. It’s apparent on social media, where white people point to low turnout among non-white voters as the cause. I’ve personally learned a powerful lesson in white fragility, as my criticism of wearing safety pins as “symbols” of racial unity has generated literally thousands of angry messages from white people, mostly variations on a theme:
Why are you criticizing people who are trying to help? Even a small gesture should be praised. If you criticize people, you’ll lose their support. I’m offended. My feelings are hurt. You should apologize and take that post down.
I have to assume Hillary got much of the same, when she dared stand behind a debate podium and point out the racism embedded in our government.
So what’s to be done about white fragility?
Well, for starters fellow white people, if we are truly outraged by the victory of a white supremacist demagogue, we need to change ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. A shocking number of white people still think Black Lives Matter is a terrorist group; even those who don’t go that far still complain about the “divisiveness” of the name and persist in reminding us that ALL lives matter. We’ve got to work to recognize white fragility as a defense of white supremacy, lean into our discomfort with being challenged, and stop insisting that our feelings be placated.
When non-white populations are facing hate crimes, police assassinations, mass incarceration, deportation, and public persecution, our feelings just aren’t that important. Not to mention that many white Americans, while our feelings may be hurt, are actively participating in a system that harms people?—?and all of us are benefitting from it. Our feelings themselves may be causing harm.
To non-white activists, and the Democratic Party? I’m really not sure what to offer. I’m legitimately concerned that there is no path where a candidate can honestly engage with marginalized groups on thee issues that really matter, and not risk driving away fragile white votes. I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe it’s to raise awareness of white fragility as a concept, in hopes that white Americans will recognize their failing and correct course. I’m really not sure. But I refuse to suggest, or even imply, that non-white voters should take a back seat to the hurt feelings of white voters so that “white economic anxiety,” which is generally code for racial fear and anger, can sit up front.
I’m at a loss. But I think we begin by recognizing the problem. White people, we need to stop being so damn fragile.
Seriously? This is a thing now? Wear a safety pin to show “you’re an ally?” So immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, and others who were targeted and persecuted and (further) marginalized by the Trump Campaign will know they’re “safe” with you?
No. Just no. Please, take it off.
Let me explain something, white people: We just fucked up. Bad. We elected a racist demagogue who has promised to do serious harm to almost every person who isn’t a straight white male, and whose rhetoric has already stirred up hate crimes nationwide. White people were 70% of the voters in the 2016 election, and we’re the only demographic Trump won. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is there’s a white nationalist moving into the Oval Office, and white people–only white people–put him there.
We don’t get to make ourselves feel better by putting on safety pins and self-designating ourselves as allies.
And make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for. Making White people feel better. They’ll do little or nothing to reassure the marginalized populations they are allegedly there to reassure; marginalized people know full well the long history of white people calling themselves allies while doing nothing to help, or even inflicting harm on, non-white Americans.
Remember the white guys in the 1770s who wrote all about freedom and equality and inalienable rights? Remember how they owned and sold slaves? Yeah, if that’s the spirit you want to evoke, go ahead and wear your safety pin. I’m sure lots of white people will smile when they see it. They might even congratulate you. But immigrants and people of color will recognize it as a symbol of your privilege.
Also, you know who is going to be out wearing safety pins like crazy? Trump voters.
If you really want to be an ally, and make a difference for the people harmed by Trump, there are plenty of ways to do that. In fact, here’s a link to a whole list of ways you can be a better ally to marginalized communities. Unfortunately, few of them will provide the kind of visibility or reassurance that you think your safety pin will.
I know, I know, you’re uncomfortable. You feel guilty. You think people are going to suspect you of being a racist, and you want some way to assuage that guilt and reassure your neighbors that you’re one of the good ones. But you know what? You don’t get to do that. You need to sit in your guilt right now. You need to feel bad. So do I, so do all of us. We fucked up. We didn’t do enough to change the minds of our fellow White people. We unfriended them instead of confronting them. We looked the other way or laughed uncomfortably when our aunts and cousins made racist comments. We were content then to be one of the good ones and now we want congratulations–but we fucked up, and now other people are going to pay the price.
Because guess what: Even if you aren’t a racist, you still benefit from racism. I’m a white guy with money. This isn’t going to hurt me much. Yes, I’m bisexual, and therefore subject to some of the threats against marginalized groups. But it’s highly unlikely I’m going to be told I’m not American, or picked up by ICE and held in detention until I’m deported, or beaten or executed by police who decide my mere existence presents a threat to their safety, or denied the right to make my own decisions about my own medical care. For the most part, I’ll go about my daily life the way I always have–and if I want to, I can put a safety pin on my shirt and congratulate myself for being so woke, for being one of the good ones. Meanwhile I’ll be benefitting, every minute of every day, from a system that is designed to favor me over people whose skin looks darker than mine.
Don’t do it.
If you really need some way to show your support, if you just can’t bear to sit in your discomfort for even a little bit longer, here’s my suggestion: Instead of doing the thing white people invented to make ourselves feel better, follow the example of the people from the marginalized communities you want to support.
I recommend carrying a big sign. You can make your own, it’s easy. On the sign you should write, in big bold letters, “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
And hey, if you want you can use your safety pin to fix it to your shirt.
Hey, fellow white person. How much do we suck, huh? You know I used to defend the white racists who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution by saying “Well, they didn’t live the words they wrote, but they framed our country around morals that made us better than themselves.”
But that was kind of bullshit, because here we are 240 years later and we just elected a white nationalist demagogue, pretty much for the sole reason that he’s a white nationalist demagogue. We really fucking blew it, and we won’t even be the ones to suffer the consequences.
So now lots of white people are making themselves feel better by putting on safety pins, which is really bullshit. But not you and me. We’re going to do some things that will actually help the people we (as a racial cohort, anyway) have harmed. We aren’t going to congratulate ourselves on it, we’re not going to wear some stupid symbolic badge that says “Hey, I’m a good white person” so other white people will congratulate us on how woke we are. We’re just going to do these things because they’re the right things to do when you believe in fairness and equality and all those things the white racist founding fathers wrote about but didn’t believe.
Here are some really easy ways we can take concrete action that will bear results:
1. Be intolerant of intolerance
The first thing we have to do is make it clear that racism, discrimination, and intolerance are no longer values that we as a society will value. That means confronting other white people and making them feel marginalized for behaving in ways that do harm. You have to stand up against friends, relatives, and even strangers when you hear them saying racist or discriminatory things.
It’s not that hard; you say “What the hell is wrong with you?” and you walk away. One instance might not make a difference, but if it happens often enough, and if white racists learn that intolerance costs them social standing, they will eventually change–after all, the whole motive behind most white racism stems from loss of status.
The one exception is when you witness actual discrimination against another person. In those cases it is your responsibility to defend that person, not only by condemning the hate speech, but by staying with that marginalized person and treating them as an actual human being. You want to help people feel safe? Then forget your safety pin and do the work of actually helping people feel safe.
2. Seek out marginalized voices and perspectives
Here’s a question: How many black people do you follow on Twitter? How many black authors do you read? If you’re like many white people, the answer is not very many. I know I didn’t for a long time; I had to make a conscious effort to change that.
America is a culture that segregates by race, sometimes intentionally but often as an unexpected consequence of our social tendencies. Social media makes this worse–we’ve all heard of the echo chamber effect at this point. The best way to break free of that is to proactively seek out voices you aren’t hearing from.
The great thing, though, is that once you start paying attention to people different from you, whether that’s people of color, LGBTQ people, Muslims, people with disabilities, Desi people, East Asians, etcetera, you will begin to encounter other new voices that you’ll appreciate. But you have to take that first step.
Here are a few people I would suggest following, who have helped to broaden my own exposure. You can find them on Twitter, or in longer form work if you’re not so much into Twitter. Just Google their names. This is not a comprehensive list, nor does it cover all communities, it’s just a good starting point in my opinion.
Deray McKesson; Roxane Gay; Shaun King; Baratunde Thurston; Raquel Cepeda; Rebecca Cohen; Xeni Jardin; Sara Yasin; Kumail Nanjiani; Anil Dash; Jamelle Bouie; Rembert Browne; Heidi Heilig; Ta-Nehisi Coates
3. Confront your racism and don’t be fragile
Here’s something I can promise, if you take my advice on #2 and start paying attention to more marginalized voices: You are going to encounter some opinions that will upset you. Some that might make you feel discriminated against, some that might even make you feel victimized by racism.
Don’t stop listening. Don’t tune out. Lean into your discomfort. Force yourself to consider other opinions, and understand why people might say something you find offensive. I’m not saying you can’t still disagree–in fact, the ability to respectfully disagree is itself a skill many Americans, especially White Americans, are not great at. So learn.
You’ll learn a lot of terms you might not have encountered before, among them “White Fragility.” This is a reference to the tendency among White people to take offense when they are called out for saying or doing something discriminatory or even racist. It’s that thing you may have noticed where some White people think “racist” is itself a discriminatory slur, and instead of listening and examining what about their behavior might be problematic they get offended and even demand an apology from the person they have offended.
So don’t be fragile. Your feelings might be hurt, sure. You might even be offended. But resist that urge, and make yourself listen. Lean into the discomfort. All of us are programmed by a culture that embeds racism, and if we are going to be allies we have to recognize we are all capable of racist actions–only by listening can we learn to do better.
And remember, you don’t have to AGREE with everything you hear, nor do you have to express your disagreement. You just have to listen to other people’s views and try to understand where they’re coming from.
4. Use your privilege to support marginalized movements
Join a Black Lives Matter march. Attend a meeting of your local community group. Go to a Black church. When people ask what you’re doing there, say “I’m here to support you.” Then ask how you can do that.
Your whiteness affords you privileges that can be a powerful asset for activists of color and from other marginalized groups. For one thing, police and politicians tend to take a movement far more seriously when there are white people participating–consider the difference in the way the Occupy movement was treated, versus the protesters in Ferguson Missouri.
However, you have to resist the urge to appoint yourself a leader. You might think I’m joking, but it’s something White people are programmed with, often by the prevalence of “White Savior” narratives in our entertainment media. Your job is to follow the leaders of the movement and do what you can to support them, even if you think you might know a better strategy.
On a related note, be prepared for the moment when a reporter with a camera will seek you out at a protest to be the spokesperson for the movement. As a white person in a minority space, I promise it will happen–it’s happened to me more than once. When that happens, here’s what you say: “I’m just here to support the movement, because I believe in it. You should speak with the leadership, I think they’re over there.” Then point in the direction where the reporter can find group leadership. Resist the urge to make further statements, because I promise it will be your face on the news that night, and none of the people of color who greatly outnumber you.
5. Give your time and money
There are a ton of organizations that do good work protecting marginalized groups in the courts, through lobbying and public advocacy, and through education and community organizing. You can donate money to them, and often you can donate time by volunteering.
Among those I would personally endorse: The Southern Poverty Law Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Civil Liberties Union, International Rescue Committee, Planned Parenthood, and the Disability Rights Network. All of these organizations are effective and deserve your money.
If you can’t volunteer for a large organization like one of these, you can find a food bank or other organization in your community that helps serve vulnerable communities. Your local Black church can almost certainly help direct you.
6. Be proactive about inclusion in your daily life
If you are in any position of authority, be it at work or for an organization or club, you have an opportunity to be more inclusive of people from other backgrounds and communities. But the mistake a lot of White people make is to think that simply not discriminating is enough. You can do more, and do better, by taking proactive measures to invite people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized people into your space.
If you’re recruiting at work, don’t simply put your ads on the usual web sites and newspapers and expect that to be enough. Seek out places where you can recruit people underrepresented in your workplace; in many locales predominantly Black colleges and Black business associations can help you recruit. LGBTQ community centers will have job posting boards, and your town or city may have organizations that exist specifically to connect immigrants, refugees, and racial minorities with the community.
Make sure that the space where you meet is accessible to people with disabilities, who may be confined to a wheelchair or otherwise unable to use stairs, or to reach buttons or door handles. It’s also good to be convenient to public transportation, since many people from poorer communities rely on public transit to get them around.
Also, don’t be afraid to outright say in your job listing or community post that you encourage participation from members of minority communities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, people with past convictions, and so on. This sends a signal to people who might otherwise assume that they are not welcome, and can go a long way to diversifying your environment.
7. Avoid segregation
Once again, American culture tends in many ways to self-segregate, for many reasons that I won’t get into here. For whatever reason, White spaces tend to be very White, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something to fight that tendency.
If you’re willing to put a lot of effort into it, you can move. I realize that’s extreme, but I think it’s a powerfully transformative measure, especially if you have children. Growing up in a diverse community surrounded by people from different backgrounds tends to make people more accepting and open-minded, whereas growing up in homogenous spaces (like most suburbs) can make people fearful and insular.
Even if you don’t move, you can find easier and cheaper ways to diversify your own surroundings, or spend time in places that are less familiar. In many cases it’s as simple as going into the city nearest to you, and particularly neighborhoods that are not associated specifically with White tourism. In New York City, which is famously diverse but also strikingly segregated in many neighborhoods, you can eschew the Met or the Natural History Museum in favor of the New Museum or El Museo de Bario; skip dinner in Little Italy and go get soul food at Sylvia’s or matzo ball soup at a kosher deli.
Most houses of worship are very welcoming to people who don’t necessarily share their faith, especially parents seeking to expand their children’s horizons. Find a local mosque or synagogue and participate. Join a community group in a community different from yours. Your local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters is just waiting to help connect you with a “little” who, in many places, is likely to be from a family of color or an immigrant family.
If you’re willing to do a little work and a little traveling, there are lots of ways to make America less segregated.
8. Do the work to be inclusive
Finally, one of the easiest things White people can do (and yet often refuse to do) is to simply keep up with what’s happening in communities other than White communities, including the language people use with and about one another.
One does have to wonder how many White Americans out there will be wearing their little safety pins to indicate support for marginalized communities, but not even willing to learn the difference between Latinx and Hispanic, why “person with disability” is preferable to “disabled person” or “handicapped,” or recognize that “they” is now an accepted singular pronoun for those who wish to avoid gendering.
What many label “political correctness” is in fact a minimally difficult effort at using language that shows respect and engagement with communities that are not the predominant weilders of power in the United States. When White people complain that “they can’t keep up” with the changes in the way marginalized communities prefer to be addressed, what we are really saying is that we can’t be bothered to learn new words simply because they make other people feel more included and respected.
So take the time to learn new words, and learn what emerging issues are of concern to non-White people. If you’re following the other suggestions above, this actually won’t feel that difficult–but all of these things go a long way to actually help include and support non-White communities who have been harmed by recent American events. You can save your safety pin for laundry day.
A friend and former coworker shared these photos on Facebook. Her daughter picked up a book from the school library about Thomas Jefferson–specifically it’s “Thomas Jefferson” by author Doraine Bennett, published in 2012 by Georgia-based State Standards Publishing as part of their “America, My Country: American Heroes” series.
Does it seem like something is missing to you?
This section, entitled “Thomas Wanted Freedom,” reads: “Thomas believed people should be free. People in America were not free. The king of England ruled them. Thomas did not think this was fair. Thomas went to meetings with other men. They wanted to make their own laws.”
And “Thomas at Home” tells the story of Monticello: “Thomas’s father died. Thomas was fourteen. The plantation belonged to Thomas now. He wanted to build a house. He drew a plan for the house. Workers built the house. Thomas called the house Monticello. The name means little mountain. Thomas liked working on the house….”
Referring to Jefferson’s slaves only as “workers” strikes me as particularly eggregious.
My friend and her husband contemplated writing a few things in the margins, but ultimately have decided to visit the school Principal and recommend this book be pulled from the library. Granted, it’s clearly intended to be easy to read and understand (the publisher recommends the series for young children, those with learning or physical disabilities, English language learners, and those who lag behind in reading skills) but that doesn’t justify the whitewashing of American history.
The comments they received on Facebook were entertaining as well. “When was this book published,” one person asked. When the response came back “2012,” you could almost HEAR a gasp.
On their web site, the publisher brags, “Our focus on state-specific studies is unique in the market. While other publishers may provide state studies books, they may not fully cover the topics required in that state’s standards, or be written at grade level.” They also point out that their books meet Common Core ELA requirements. I sincerely hope that the state of Georgia has not established educational standards barring mention of slavery–though I wouldn’t be surprised if the Texas State School Board is to thank for this.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard something about an opiate epidemic in the United States. But if you’re like me, you might have no idea how bad that epidemic really is. More than a quarter of a million Americans have died from overdoses in the last 15 years, and the problem is getting worse. And yet many of us know nothing about it.
I’ve heard bits and pieces about the problem in various places. As the candidates for the 2016 election have made appearances in various towns, people have asked about the heroin epidemic–and that’s part of the problem, because it’s not really a heroin epidemic per se. As an opiate, heroin certainly plays a role, but prescription drugs are at least as common as heroin, if not more common. And notably, the prescription pad is generally where this epidemic originates.
Hooked by the Prescription Pad
Doctors writing prescriptions are probably to blame for one of the more odd and interesting aspects of this epidemic: It’s running rampant through communities of white Americans, particularly middle-class and upper middle-class whites, but is much less problematic in communities of color. That runs counter to stereotype and past patterns of drug addiction1, and experts point to racial stereotype and bias as the likely explanation.
Put simply, doctors are statistically less likely to write opioid prescriptions for black patients. Studies suggest that doctors worry about black patients becoming addicted or selling their prescription drugs on the street. White patients trigger no such concern, and many critics believe doctors have been much too quick to prescribe opiates for white patients. In effect, racial bias has shielded the black community from a devastating epidemic.
In response to the perceived over-prescription, a movement arose to limit or stop opioid prescriptions entirely, but this is partly blamed for pushing Americans hooked on prescription opioids like vicodin and oxycontin toward illegal opioids like heroin. VICE recently ran a good piece about the consequences for patients with chronic pain who believe they need opiates. When their doctors refuse to continue the prescription, many turn to illegal drugs. Some simply suffer through the limitations of daily pain; others commit suicide.
A personal aside here: In 1995, I fractured a vertebra in my back, and my physician at the time wanted to send me home with a 30-day morphine prescription. A nurse cautioned my parents that at the end of a month I would be a “screaming addict,” and so my parents balked and instead I got 30 days worth of enormous ibuprofen tablets. One more reason to appreciate their judgment.
Life in the Bubble
I finally woke up to the severity of America’s opioid problem thanks to The United States of Anxiety, a joint production of WNYC and The Nation magazine. I highly recommend the podcast, which not only touches on the addiction issue, but other matters of race and class that have led the US to the situation we find ourselves in today.
One of the points made on that program is about the way we today live within “echo chambers,” physically and intellectually isolated from those who differ fro us, and how that can create a bubble in which we are unaware of issues affecting other communities. I’ve long recognized that phenomenon in politics, but the idea that it would lead to a hidden epidemic killing hundreds of thousands of Americans is startling.
One expert points to the fact that the epidemic has been ongoing since about 2001, and yet President Obama barely mentioned it until 2015. The reason, he suspects, is that the President himself is in a bubble, and he just didn’t know about it.
That’s astounding, and immensely problematic. But it’s hard for me to be too judgmental, when I myself had no idea.
On this same subject I’d also highly recommend you check out an episode of the NPR podcast Embedded, which takes listeners inside an HIV outbreak in Indiana linked to abuse of the prescription opioid Opana. It’s pretty dark, but as I listened I found myself questioning whether drug companies are deliberately producing presciption opioids with the intent of addicting users.
- The crack epidemic of the 1980s, for instance, was generally seen as a black problem, but the use of cocaine (of which crack is just one form) was consistent across all races; white people just tended to use powdered cocaine more frequently than crack. The way this particular epidemic was represented in the media is another illustration of the way race shapes the way Americans perceive reality. ?
As the third and final debate of the 2016 Presidential Election concluded last night, it was clear to anyone that Donald Trump’s collapse was complete. After a performance in which he threatened to end 215 years of peaceful transition of Presidential power, vascilated between condemning and admiring Vladimir Putin, and lashed out at the last minute by labeling Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman,” even the most die-hard conservative commentators had to admit that he’d lost.
Except, perhaps, Rudy Giuliani, who has transformed from America’s mayor to America’s greatest sycophant.
But Trump’s catastrophic collapse is not his alone. Certainly the election is far from over, but polling data shows that barring some unforeseen development, Hillary Clinton will win the election in a landslide so dramatic that the Democrats will likely take the Senate and possibly–even in spite of prohibitive gerrymandering–the House. As one could tell watching Bill Kristol practically collapse into tears on Morning Joe, the Republican Party is in dire straits, done in by an identity crisis and a fundamental sickness of which Donald Trump is a symptom, not a cause.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Only a scant 22 months ago, the Republicans were picking up massive gains in every body of government, from Congress to Gubernatorial mansions to state and local offices. As the 2014 election set records for low turnout, Tea Party Republicans seemed the only people motivated to go to the polls and signify their disapproval of President Obama and his policies.
But was it really ever about his policies? Trump’s rise provides evidence for something many on the left, myself included, have been saying since the earliest days of the Tea Party: That their energy and anger was never really about taxes or sovereignty or the Constitution, it was about race, white nationalism, and xenophobia. This was clear from the start to anyone who paid attention; people claiming to be driven by tax policy didn’t know anything about actual tax policy; what they “knew” was that President Obama was an African Muslim bent on taking their guns and destroying America.
This is the energy Donald Trump seized, and rode past 17 other candidates, all of them (arguably) more qualified than him, to the Republican nomination, despite the party establishment’s best efforts to stop him.
But why? Why couldn’t the Republicans trust their voters to choose policy and electability over racism and xenophobia, to save them from certain doom at the hands of Donald “The Groping Narcissist” Trump?
Simple. Because Republican policy has been broken for years, so broken that to get voters to support them, the GOP built a coalition of hate and fear. But as the population of people to be feared has grown, and more people added to the list, that coalition has found themselves outnumbered and incapable of winning the important elections.
Republicans knew as early as the 1960s that they could not win elections on the merits of their policies. The roots of Donald Trump’s rise are in Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which used coded rhetoric and stoked latent Confederate resentment after the Civil Rights Era to win white racists to the Republican Party. Nixon replaced Johnson’s War on Poverty with a War on Drugs, which was only ever really a war on black communities.
By the 1980s it was Ronald Reagan, telling the story of a fictional “inner-city welfare queen,” playing on racism to get poor whites to vote against welfare programs from which they benefitted; but racism alone was not enough to win every election, so in the late 1970s and early 1980s the Republicans formed a pact with the so-called “Moral Majority,” the American theocratic movement that feared gays, abortion, and atheists.
Muslims, who through the 70s and 80s took a back seat as villains to the Soviets, would have to wait until the end of the Cold War to be labeled as the greatest enemies of the state, and while murmurs of white anxiety about Mexican immigrants were heard, it would not be until the 1990s, when recession made the job-destroying consequences of Republican policy vividly apparent, that white conservatives began pointing fingers at Mexico and the need for southern border security.
But the predominantly white population on which these tactics worked was ever shrinking as a percent of voting population, and as culture shifted and LGBTQ Americans gained mainstream acceptance the GOP lost one of their wedge issues. Republicans had a wake-up call in 2012, and in the miniature identity crisis that followed considered the need to alter immigration and jobs policies to appeal to Latinx Americans, soften on anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and otherwise shift to invite a wider section of America’s increasingly diverse voting base.
Instead, the party went the other way, intensifying their rhetoric until they alienated even those relatively few diverse voters who still aligned with them. Rather than work to embrace minority populations (who, combined, now constitute a majority of Americans) the Republicans advanced new voting requirements to prevent those minorities from voting, a desperate and despicable ploy to preserve the power of their alliance just a little bit longer.
Many experts cited Republican fears about alienating their base, and the need to win local and primary elections dominated by Tea Party voters. The implied assumption there, however, and one that I believe is correct, is that softening would not successfully attract new voters because Republican policies are fundamentally flawed. This is why there are no more Rockefeller Republicans, and almost no more of Bush’s “compassionate conservatives.” The only way to get people other than the most wealthy corporate elite to vote against their own self-interest and to support the Republican party is to appeal to their hatred and bigotry.
And so the GOP candidates and party establishment finds themselves now, cursed with a candidate who cannot win–and whose catastrophic candidacy seems poised to drag the entire party down with it–as the inevitable product of a machine they created.
The only solution? If the Republican Party wants any chance at winning major elections in the future, it must evolve. The United States is never going back to the way things were in the 1950s, and it is past time that one of our two major parties stop pretending otherwise.
Our immigration system is antiquated and broken, and voters will embrace realistic, reasonable immigration reform. Closed borders and isolationism are neither practically feasible nor appealing to Americans who embrace our diversifying culture. No more mythology about immigrants bringing crime and drugs; reforming the way ICE approaches immigration enforcement and transforming it into something humane and decent would win a lot of votes.
No more “tough on crime” laws. Mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws are devastating to communities and carry a huge tax burden to enforce. In recent years, the curtain has been drawn back to reveal the ugly reality of American law enforcement. Modern policing is oppressive and incompatible with any party that claims to value a small government that doesn’t intrude in people’s lives. Put forward meaningful reforms on law enforcement, including community policing and sentencing guidelines.
While you’re at it, bring the War on Drugs to a definitive end. The idea is totally compatible with the core values of reducing regulation, shrinking government, and minimizing tax-funded public expense. The War on Drugs costs Americans billions every year, it destroys families and communities, and it doesn’t do anything to prevent drug abuse. Legalize drugs, tax their sales (Republicans prefer use taxes to income taxes, right?) and use the revenues to fund rehabilitation and education that might actually solve drug abuse problems–like the catastrophic opioid epidemic that generally already begins with the legal use of prescription drugs.
Abandon the anti-science stance that allows you to deny climate change is an existential crisis, and bring the same energy and enthusiasm to that problem that the GOP does to all other matters of national security. Stop allowing corporations to pretend carbon emissions aren’t the problem, and instead work with them to incentivize solutions.
It’s time to reevaluate all Republican policies, but especially the most hard-line, because the beliefs to which you cling hardest are the ones with the least rational justification. Trickle-down does not work, that’s a proven fact. Christianity has never been our official religion, and it never will be, so stop trying to force it on us. The Second Amendment affords Americans the right to self-defense, but right now Americans need defense from the Second Amendment.
All of these reforms would change the GOP from an out-of-touch relic that relies on trickery and manipulation to achieve any power, and provide a viable second party alternative to voters who feel frustrated by our broken political system. Would they alienate the racist white voters who have come to define the Republican Party? Abso-fucking-lately they would. The GOP would need to be prepared for a lot of angry phone calls, bigotry, and death threats of the variety those on the left currently receive on a daily basis. You’d probably also see a number of GOP politicians jump ship to become independents or join the Liberarian Party.
But that’s okay; embracing meaningful changes in policy would attract conservative-leaning voters who right now align as reluctant Democrats, or feel totally disenfranchised. In all likelihood, a GOP that kept to conservative principles while embracing science and realistic policy measures would lure bright centrist politicians away from the Democratic Party to replace fringe Tea Party extremists who jump ship.
And perhaps most importantly, such changes would again provide the American voter with two viable parties from which to choose. As a very left-leaning Democratic voter myself, I desperately want a reasonable and attractive Republican Party to force my politicians to work hard and put forward real solutions to our problems.
Will the Republican leadership see it this way? Almost certainly not. For one thing, appeals to racism have been so intrinsic to the party for so long that many of the officials themselves are racists. Others are corporate shills who aren’t interested in doing work that actually benefits the country, just the next rhetorical trick that will keep Americans voting against their own self-interest. My expectation is that the GOP will keep on the same path, maybe even further intensifying their rhetoric, until their victories are limited only to the whitest and most bigoted state and local offices, and congressional districts so gerrymandered they look like the letters of some alien language.
But wouldn’t it be nice if Trump were the last of the racist Republians? If Nixon’s Southern Strategy was finally laid on the ash-heap of history, as they say, and America entered 2017 with two rival political parties ready to face the realities of the 21st century instead of trying to turn back the clock?
Human progress moves slowly; that’s a fact. In government, in the United States, it is almost incentivized to move slower still. But Donald Trump and his catastrophic, embarassing bid for the Presidency is a death knell for the Republican Party. The question is whether it can reinvent itself and rise, or be itself consigned to the ashes.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons