With the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia Senate Republicans are determined to deny President Obama the ability to appoint a new justice to the open seat. This closely follows House Republicans decision to completely ignore the President’s budget. While these are recent examples, they’re the apotheosis of McConnell’s long term political strategy to deny President Obama any opportunity to govern.
I’m currently reading Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Marrow of Tradition“, a novel fictionalizing the very real race riots that ended Republican rule in Wilmington, North Carolina at the end of Reconstruction. I can’t recommend the novel enough.
What is made abundantly clear in the novel, and in more academic works like Eric Foner’s “Reconstruction”, is that these race riots weren’t only expressions of virulent prejudice. They were also conscious and deliberate seizures of political and economic power. In Chesnutt’s Wellington “The Big Three” are motivated by personal ambition, and greed as well as antipathy towards black people. This is critical to understand when looking at the history of prejudice in America. We too often view our history of racism as an unfortunate accident of fate when people quite consciously used bigotry to advance their personal, political, and economic goals at the expense of the marginalized.
Today Donald Trump’s campaign explicitly creates a link between turning towards tribalism and restoring and perceived economic losses over the last twenty years. While we have seen his xenophobia, and racism decried as wrong-headed and ugly we must also understand that he is calling for a redistribution of resources from immigrants, Muslims, and others towards the working class white people who serve as his base of support. When Trump dons his “Make America Great Again” hat he is implicitly calling for a seizure of resources on behalf of those deemed worthy by his tribe. How else can one describe a policy that would see a wall built to impede the flow of immigrants in order to keep capital in the hands of natives that is paid for by a foreign government?
While there has been speculation about whether or not Trump actually believes his rhetoric about Muslims, black people, and Mexicans the question is irrelevant because the practical effect is the same. We spend too much time looking to ascertain the hearts and minds of politicians who policies have clear and concrete consequences and implications. The power dynamic and practical effect of the proposed redistribution of power and resources works the same whether the actor is a true believer or not.
Ta-Nehisi Coates was able to make this connection between power and prejudice explicit in his writing on housing and the history of racism in his case for reparations. The same dynamic is at play in the present and it would serve us well to recognize it while we can still work to prevent any further injury.
There is a narrative around “political correctness” that is taking root as established knowledge for liberals and conservatives alike. Folks such as Jonathan Chait, Kevin Drum, and Conor Friedersdorf have all recently written about”political correctness” and how it has become too burdensome, or downright dangerous, in our political culture.
Chait, Friedersdorf, and Drum write about “political correctness” as an illiberal and authoritarian force, punishing well-meaning intellectuals for not using the correct magic words. While Ben Carson is describing an explicit and intentional conspiracy theory against Christians when he invokes “political correctness”, these well-meaning folks believe there is an implicit conspiracy, by activists, against intellectuals and college professors who don’t use the correct jargon when thinking out loud.
In describing his issue with “political correctness” Drum writes, “Even those of us on the left feel the wrath of the leftier-than-thou brigade from time to time…sometimes I cross an invisible line and get trounced for it.” This seems to be the main gist of the complaint. Drum, Chait, and Friedersdorf all argue that intentions are being rendered irrelevant because there are a contingent of activists ready to shout them down for factors outside of their control.
The Republican Party holds undeserving sway in our political system because we value their voters more. Empirically the composition of our legislature stems from gerrymandering that overvalues Republican voters. The Senate’s small state bias also tilts power in favor of Republican voters too. Contributing to this is a culture that also views the sentiments of Republicans as more valid than that of Democrats.
Watching the Republican Primary debate last night it is a wonder that there is still a narrative around “moderate” Republicans restoring sanity to this process. There aren’t any “moderate” Republicans in this race. While the Republican Party composed of a coalition with some moderate voters, the candidates their party are putting forth doesn’t reflect them at all.
Take Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina. Christie has blamed peaceful protesters for the danger any and all police officers face, Fiorina is using a horrific lie about Planned Parenthood as the cornerstone of her appeal to evangelicals. Last night they continued to revel in excess by proposing to do everything they possibly could to antagonize Russia and China in the name of asserting American leadership.
Donald Trump’s candidacy has moved the Overton Window, the range of ideas the public will accept, so far to the right that Sen. Cruz is now the more “reasonable” option for Iowa caucus-goers. As I write, Congressman Steve King (R-IA) who’s greatest hits include; inspiring the blog name with his comments about Obama during the Pigford case, has a history of anti-Muslim rhetoric that stops just short of Trump, and has warned of immigrants with “calves the size of cantaloupes“, is being interviewed on CNN as a Ted Cruz surrogate and positioning Sen. Cruz as the more realistic vehicle for the sentiments that the Trump campaign has fomented.
This is the same Sen. Cruz who authored the government shutdown of 2013 in an attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Cruz has said that if given the opportunity he would also shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood. Sen. Cruz has pledged to ban all abortions and, like Sen. Rubio, would deny any exemptions for rape or incest. Sen. Cruz has been pushing his party to take a more hard line stance against immigration, rather than proposing a realistic plan for comprehensive immigration reform. Sen. Cruz has also joined the Republican chorus in offering tough talk on Daesh, despite the inefficacy of his proposed course of action.
President Obama has been the all-purpose “get out of governing” solution for the Republican Party since Obama won the Presidency in 2008. The GOP has blamed Obama for their inaction on comprehensive immigration reform, though they didn’t support when President Bush proposed it either. This neat little dodge allows candidates like Rubio to have it both ways in theoretically supporting immigration reform while assuring his base that he won’t act on it. The GOP also blames Obama for government shutdowns that they launch. They blame Obama for the attack in Benghazi thought the GOP Congress voted not to increase funds to secure embassies. If anything is going wrong, no matter what it may be, the GOP knows exactly who to blame. For the Republican Party President Obama is the source of all the world’s woes.
So it should come as no surprise that the party of personal responsibility knows the exact cause of all of Trump’s support. It is especially rich that Frank Luntz, Republican messaging guru, has the temerity to place Trump’s rise at Obama’s feet. Frank Luntz has spent his entire career advising Republicans on ways they can exploit the disaffection and anger of its base with the ultimate goal of making sure the corporation friendly agenda of Establishment Republicans can be carried out. Confronted with the fruit of his labor he’s ready to pass the buck onto Obama.
Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin is in the Supreme Court again. The lawsuit centers on whether or not “less qualified” students were admitted to The University of Texas at Austin, at the expense of Abigail Fisher, due to their race. The case targets the black population at the school. Despite the fact that less than 5% of the students who were admitted were black the year she wanted to attend. Ms. Fisher and her lawyers don’t believe the legacy admits, athletes, or musical prodigies “took her spot”, no, it is the people of color who deprived her of her opportunity to walk the Forty Acres.
Full disclosure, I was attending The University of Texas at Austin at the time the lawsuit was working its way to the Supreme Court for the first time and submitted a statement in support of UT-Austin with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. I was President of the Black Student Alliance at the time, and the case served as another instance that we were told by some we simply weren’t welcome.
Finland is currently drawing up a proposal to give its citizens an universal basic income. If all goes as planned this should be huge because it will provide some empirical data to judge the claims of those who have been arguing universal basic income is the most sensible solution available in ending poverty.
In theory an universal basic income seems like a policy proposal most everyone can get on board with. Universal basic income would reduce the size of government by making many of the social safety net programs redundant. The policy would also work to eliminate poverty in a manner that is broad based and reduces hurdles low-income folks have in gaining access to aid. I speculate that an universal basic income would go a long way towards reducing the shame we heap upon the poor in this nation for systemic failures of policy. In addition to this, universal basic income would reverse the erosion of bargaining power among workers we’ve seen through the dismantling of labor unions.
Senator Marco Rubio has, unknowingly, demonstrated the exact mindset among conservatives that cause many to question their sincerity when they pledge to keep Americans safe.
Senator Rubio was willing to commit to a policy of surveillance against cafes, diners, and mosques with the threat to shut down radical “gathering places” in the wake of the attacks in Paris. Sen. Rubio offered this intrusive policy abrogating the right to privacy for Muslims in the name of safety. Conservatives argue this violation of the Constitution is simply what is necessary to insure the safety of Americans. The right to privacy would have to be broken to reduce the chances of terrorism killing Americans, tough cookies.
Senator Rubio now believes that expanding background checks on gun purchases would simply be too burdensome for gun sellers in the wake of the attack in San Bernardino. Gone is the willingness to sacrifice privacy for safety. In its place an overarching concern for the small gun seller that was absent for the Imam, barista, and short order cook.
It is amazing to see the Republican Party that was unequivocal in their commitment to safety in the wake of a terrorist attack on foreign soil, now urge nuance and caution concerning guns in the wake of multiple domestic terrorist attacks on American soil. This selective caution on display concerning guns, while there still is no hesitation present in their willingness to attack Islam as the unmitigated source of all extremism.
In general, the rhetoric surrounding the sanctity of life rings hollow when the same movement serves as the chief defender of our current lax policy regime concerning the regulation and sale of firearms. Eventually the Republican Party will have to square this circle. Right now the leading hope for the wise and august Establishment can call for unprecedented surveillance against Muslisms one day and then argue that we need to be more considerate of the gun salesmen within a month.