Archive for Race
Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
We all know those as the words of Joseph Welch to Sen. Joe McCarthy during the infamous 1954 Army–McCarthy hearings. When Welch was done, the gallery burst into applause. It was the beginning of the end for McCarthy and his Communist witch hunt. The Senate censured him in December that year.
Our present (Muslim) witch hunt reached new heights of insanity this week with the arrest of 14 year-old Ahmed Mohammed in Irving, Texas. Known at school as “the Inventor Kid,” the son of Sudanese immigrants brought a homemade electronic clock to school to impress a teacher, only to find himself arrested and later suspended for – what? – inventing while Muslim?
The incident has brought the kid international fame and an even brighter future. Meanwhile, Irving’s mayor, whom the Dallas Morning News describes as “a hero among a fringe movement that believes Muslims — a tiny fraction of the U.S. population — are plotting to take over American culture and courts,” defends the action. And Irving’s police chief had to go on television to explain why officers arrested Mohammed as a suspected bomber, or as a hoax bomber, when they knew the clock was just a clock.
How many times in the last decades have we recalled Joseph Welch’s rebuke and wondered when some contemporary version of Welch would break the spell of the serial mass insanities, conspiracy theories, urban legends, and hoaxes that have beset this country for decades? And we’re not talking just Muslims post-September 11.
We’re talking about moral panic over ritual Satanic abuse in the late 1980s. Or fingerprinting toddlers against unseen abductors. Or a wave of false memory syndrome. We’re talking about the serial confabulations surrounding Bill and Hillary Clinton: the Clinton “body count,” the “hit” on Vince Foster, the Clinton “drug ring,” etc. We’re talking about the Birthers and the Truthers and all the others – including the leading Republican candidate for president – who have made it their business to traffic in the kind of propaganda that might make the KGB blanch. We’re talking about the popularity of reality TV that is anything but. We tune in for the spectacle. To borrow from the Bible, we have exchanged lies for truth.
Scholars have called this the “operational aesthetic”: a kind of spectacle in which the conversation surrounding the show becomes the show itself. And it was pioneered by P.T. Barnum in the decades prior to the Civil War, long before the showman became a senior partner in the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
What did this operational aesthetic look like in practice? Consider, for example, Barnum’s famous “Feejee Mermaid“: a stuffed monkey’s torso, sewn to the tail of a fish, that Barnum tried to pass off as a mythical sea creature – and which Americans flocked to see in vast numbers.
In Trump’s case, it’s his hair.
As Charlie Pierce says, “This is your democracy, America. Cherish it.” It is one in which there are bogie men under our beds, and bright, brown-skinned kids with science projects might be terrorists. The New York Times this morning observes of the Republican’s presidential field:
And that, America, is frightening. Peel back the boasting and insults, the lies and exaggerations common to any presidential campaign. What remains is a collection of assertions so untrue, so bizarre, that they form a vision as surreal as the Ronald Reagan jet looming behind the candidates’ lecterns.
It felt at times as if the speakers were no longer living in a fact-based world where actions have consequences, programs take money and money has to come from somewhere. Where basic laws — like physics and the Constitution — constrain wishes. Where Congress and the public, allies and enemies, markets and militaries don’t just do what you want them to, just because you say they will.
At long last, when will it end? Where’s Joseph Welch when you really need him?
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
In effect, Bernie isn’t running for President of the United States of America. He’s running to be President of Progressive America. And when you are running to be an ideological standard-bearer, your ideological fellow travellers all demand you adhere to their own standard. That involves not just checking every box on the liberal to-do list, but giving maximum rhetorical emphasis to everyone’s top priority. Which is impossible. It’s a game that can’t be won.
Sanders has already proposed immigration reform more liberal than the 2013 bipartisan Senate bill in a speech to the National Council of La Raza and incorporated a searing critique of entrenched racism into his regular stump. His reward was a public scolding by Seattle activists who prevented him from speaking at a Social Security rally, one of whom demanded the crowd “join us now in holding Bernie Sanders accountable for his actions.”
Perhaps what they (and other activists) really want to hold Sanders accountable for is whatever hope and change Obama failed to deliver. This time, no prisoners.
It’s like a riff on a bad joke. How many cops does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the cop has to want to change.
A year after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, not a lot has changed. Subsequent events have made relations between police and communities worse. In Baltimore, Freddie Gray’s death is still raw. Interim police chief, Kevin Davis, acknowledges there is some introspection happening. Half of white Americans, Gallup reports, are dissatisfied with how police treat blacks (down from the high 60s two years ago). Davis says:
“We have a profession with authority that no other profession has,” Mr. Davis told the AP last month. “We can take a person’s freedom away and … a human life if justification exists to do so. Where we are in this moment in time is, we have to engage in a great deal of self-examination, and look at how we can do things better.”
Eric Garner: selling loose cigarettes
John Crawford: shopping at Walmart
Tamir Rice: playing in a park
Walter Scott: burned out brake light
Freddie Gray: running from police
Sandra Bland: failure to signal lane change
Sam Dubose: not displaying a front license tag
The first three were on foot. Police stopped Freddie Gray for running when he saw them. Police stopped the other three for minor traffic violations. All African American and all dead after the encounters.
In 45 years of driving while white, I recall being pulled over for something as trivial as failure to signal a lane change exactly once. How many times had Sandra Bland at age 28 been stopped for minor offenses before being dragged from her car on July 10, 2015?
In the case of Sam Dubose, a grand jury this week indicted Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing for murder over the July 19 shooting. The (ironically named) Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph Deters called the shooting “the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make, totally unwarranted.”
Watching the body-cam video, it seems that Dubose wanted to get away when the white officer asked him to step out of the car. Imagine that.
Imagine you are an African American stopped for a traffic violation as trivial as a missing front license plate and, based on recent events, consider the possibility that in moments you might die. What does raw instinct demand? Fight or flight?
Except choosing either (as if instinct is a choice) is proof for the warrior cop of something much more threatening than an expired tag. Fleeing imminent death becomes proof of malice, the way drowning once proved an accused witch innocent.
According to Deters, Sam Dubose died over “chicken crap stuff” and Tensing “never should have been a police officer.” One wonders how many others fall into that category.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
It is not clear as I’m writing this exactly what went down in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon:
The streets of Cleveland turned ugly on Sunday following the first national Black Lives Matter conference, where activists convened to discuss the use of deadly force between police and African Americans.
Witnesses told local ABC affiliate Newsnet5 that a 14-year-old who was thought to have been intoxicated was slammed to the ground after transit police confronted him about an open container by a bus stop.
Think Progress has more:
After this arrest, protesters rallied near the scene, and one video of the protest shows them linking arms in an apparent effort to prevent police from breaking up the protest. According to reporting by Jonathan Walsh, a reporter with the ABC affiliate, that’s when a white officer began to pepper spray the crowd.
— Dante Boykin (@DanteB4u) July 26, 2015
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Bland failed to signal that she was changing lanes so a trooper pulled her over. The trooper was going to give her a written warning but Bland became argumentative and uncooperative, officials say.
The Chicago Tribune provides additional details:
Trooper Erik Burse, a department spokesman, said last week that Bland was going to be left off with a warning for a minor traffic violation, but was charged with assault on a public servant after she kicked the officer.
The trooper who stopped Bland has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by the FBI and Texas Rangers for allegedly violating the department’s “courtesy policy.”
The stop escalated over a cigarette, according to the family’s lawyer, Cannon Lambert:
In Texas, they still think the Obama is planning to invade. Jade Helm 15 is coming. In Bastrop, Texas, some fear martial law and a white apocalypse. Using a variant of Fox News’ “some say” the county GOP chair tells the New York Times, “in the minds of some, he was raised by communists and mentored by terrorists.” Former mayor Terry Orr explains:
“People think the government is just not on the side of the white guy,” Orr said.
The current Bastrop mayor, Kenneth Kesselus, who also supports Jade Helm, agrees. Kesselus said the distrust is due in part to a sense that “things aren’t as good as they used to be,” especially economically. “The middle class is getting squeezed and they’ve got to take it out on somebody, and Obama is a great target.”
Others in town see the paranoia as “the logical outcome” (if the word even applies) of a political climate where “the state’s Republican leaders have eagerly stoked distrust of the federal government, and especially of Obama.”
For a sub-sect of Christians, it is an attack on “religious liberty” when they can no longer tell equally free Americans how they can and cannot live. As Yul Brynner said, playing Moses, their god “IS God.” The Big G, the top dog, the Big Kahuna. Freedom of religion in America is fine, and all, so long as other, lesser faiths understand whose god IS God.
Fear of losing that top-dog status is behind the insistence by conservative Christians that America was founded as a Christian nation. White fear of having to share power with former slaves was behind decades of Jim Crow and KKK terror. Thus, it is “erasing white history and white culture” to take down a flag flown as a constant reminder of just whose race is boss.
“Religious liberty” has become the catchphrase for people who find their ability to lord it over their neighbors eroded by America extending freedoms they enjoy to “lesser thans” whom they fear. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges to extend the blessings of legal recognition of marriage to same-sex couples has them freaking out. The American Spectator calls the ruling “the Dred Scotting of religious liberty.”
It’s as peculiar a conception of liberty as it is a peculiar definition of persecution. Especially for a group so flush with cash and influence. Talking Points Memo reports on the Hobby Lobby Bible museum planned for just off the Mall in Washington. Among other things, it will be there as a staging area for lobbying efforts and marches by the Christian right:
You knew it was coming as soon as calls to remove Confederate battle flags caught fire across the South starting in Columbia, SC:
The Ku Klux Klan has been approved to hold a protest rally at the Statehouse next month against removing the Confederate battle flag, with the group calling accused mass murderer Dylann Roof a “young warrior.”
The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan applied for the permit last week to hold a rally for 100 to 200 people on July 18 on the north side of the Statehouse.
Actually, this Klan group hails from North Carolina:
Calling itself the “Largest Klan in America,” the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are based in Pelham, N.C., according to the group’s website.
A man identifying himself as the “great titan” of the N.C. chapter of the Loyal White Knights left a message with The State saying his group is holding the demonstration because “to us they are erasing white history and white culture right out of the history books. That’s why they want to take that flag down.”
Frank Rich takes aim at the gutlessness of the GOP’s 2016 presidential hopefuls:
Say this about the Old Confederacy: At least its leaders had the courage of their own bad convictions. Today’s neo-Confederate GOP politicians, vying for primary votes in Dixie 150 years after Appomattox, proved themselves to be laughable cowards. Confronted with the simplest of questions – should a state capitol display a flag that stands for slavery, racism, and treason? – they hedged (all of them), spouted gibberish (Ted Cruz), or went into hiding (Rand Paul). If they’d been the Rebel generals in the Civil War, it would have been over in a week.
This was, Rich writes, “the second time in three months we’ve seen GOP presidential contenders unwilling to stand up to the unreconstructed bigots still infesting their party’s base.” In April, they had caved or hedged over “religious freedom” bills passed to sanction discrimination against gay families. They then retreated faster than Lee at Gettysburg after civil rights groups and the NCAA condemned Indiana’s version, and influential CEOs objected to the states dissing their customers.
Seems like only yesterday that Gov. Bobby Jindal and his legislative tigers were lying down like the Siegfried and Roy cats before the once enfant terrible, Grover Norquist. They wrote asking his and Americans for Tax Reform’s permission to sorta kinda raise state taxes after Republican economic dogma had driven Louisiana’s balance sheet (like Kansas’ before it) deep into the red.*
But boy howdy, whichever of these bowls of jello survives being a debate contestant on the RNC’s “Who Wants To Be The Next War President,” you can be sure we will be treated to months of tough-sounding ads telling us that only he (it will be a he) has the balls to protect Uh-murca from the jihadis’ long, curved knives.
* Meanwhile in Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton’s Democratic leadership led the state to the top of CNBC’s list of best states for business in 2015.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)