Lies, Damned Lies, and “Other People’s Babies”

What, exactly, is the value of the truth?

If a lie is told often enough to the right ear, it is nearly always believed as fact, especially if it serves to perpetuate the support of who told the lie, and confirms the bias against the subject of the lie. And as has been proven countless times in the last fifty-plus days, this administration has proven that all it needs is to simply air whatever it wants–especially if it’s untrue–and people will believe it as fact.

We are currently living in the beginning stages of an era in which facts and logic are being rendered moot. Where easily refutable lies are fervently believed as an “alternative” version of the truth by those still elated to have a President Trump in the Oval Office, eager to believe and trust whatever they believe the “truth” to be. Where conservative plagiarism–the stealing of another’s writings and claiming it as their own–is excused and derided as a “hit job” by the “mainstream media.”

With baseless accusations of his predecessor wiretapping Trump Tower, and in attempting to rush through a soul-crushing replacement for the Affordable Care Act past the Congressional Budget Office, the Right has proven that only their “truth” matters, and they will pursue its realization to the detriment of the American people.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent outlines several points of the Trump administration’s strategy against the CBO today:

The CBO was created a half-century ago as a neutral, objective agency to assist Congress in empirically-based, independent governing, by giving it data and technical advice that is not tainted by executive branch political considerations. The point is not that the CBO’s word is gospel. It can and does get things wrong. But as Jonathan Cohn explains, while its projections about the Affordable Care Act were hardly perfect, it got much of the big story right, and its forecasts are as good as or better than anybody else’s. White House aides are not exercising merely healthy skepticism about the CBO’s findings. Rather, they are saying they won’t accept those findings as legitimate, if they are politically inconvenient — and they are signaling this in advance. There is every reason to believe that many Republicans in Congress will take their cues from this and echo them.

By itself, this might not be all that outlandish — there is a long history of such stuff — but it needs to be placed in the larger context. There is Conway’s off-the-wall depiction above of the purpose of congressional investigations. Meanwhile, when Trump got called out for the lie that he won the popular vote but for millions who voted illegally, the White House threatened an investigation to prove it true, using the vow of probes as a tool to obfuscate efforts to hold him accountable. On Friday, Sean Spicer greeted the good February jobs report by claiming that the numbers “may have been phony in the past” — when they reflected job growth during the Obama presidency that Trump derided as fictional — but now they’re “very real.” Government data is real only when Trump says it is. Everyone had a good laugh over this, but at the risk of being very earnest, government data is supposed to inform policymaking.

 

This is a clear affront against governance in good faith, as well as an institution that would protect the country from bad governance. The Right knows their version of healthcare reform is a massive giveaway to the insurance companies, as well as yet another expensive concentration of wealth to the rich.

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Here’s a nice reminder why Kellyanne Conway got banned from MSNBC. From The Washington Post:

Kellyanne Conway was doing okay. She’d effectively neutralized the bubbling outcry over comments she made to the Bergen Record, in which she defended President Trump’s evidence-free claims of wiretapping by noting that various household devices could be used to surveil a target. “You can surveil people through their phones, through their — certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera,” she’d said, comments that were more about Team Trump’s long-standing use of isolated anecdotes to rebut broad trends than they were about Conway auditioning for a role in a James Bond film.

So when Chris Cuomo brought the whole thing up on CNN’s “New Day,” she effectively repeated the dismissal she had given to ABC News earlier: She was talking generally about how spying could take place, not making specific allegations.

On CNN, though, her phrasing was a bit more fraught. “I’m not Inspector Gadget,” she said. “I don’t believe people are using the microwave to spy on the Trump campaign.”

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Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is a horrible, horrible man.

This is an especially sickening statement, given that this is the man who said undocumented immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling marijuana on their backs. King is quite possibly the most overt racist in the Legislative Branch, but in this period of time, where a man could run on a clear platform of hatred and fear of anything not white, male or Christian, King just can’t help to feel emboldened to be exactly who he is.

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I hope everyone in the NYC area is getting prepared for a serious snow tonight. According to most reports, we are to expect anywhere from 12-18 inches of snow. Perhaps even more, depending on what this incoming nor’easter does. If you haven’t gotten your supplies for this late winter blizzard, you might want to pick up a few things tonight.

Just a quick public service announcement.

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Racism, the Erosion of Trust, and the Lost Art of Objective Analysis

The 44th Executive of our Nation.

“I want my country back.”

When screamed into the public discourse at a town hall five years ago, these words became the call-to-arms for the purest, most virulent fringes of conservatism to unite. For centuries, the United States, for all its initial tropes about freedom and liberty from the British crown, had held to a very basic ideal: that you were only considered a “real American” if you were a white,  land-owning man. This was rigorously enforced through indentured servitude, chattel slavery, and de jure segregation. Slowly but surely, the oft-mentioned “arc of justice” bent towards racial equality, reducing in the minds of many the impact of overt, naked bigotry.

When Barack Obama was elected President the first time, it upset centuries of deeply held beliefs and norms about the purity of the office. Blacks could serve as members of presidential cabinets, even as high as Secretary of State, but anything even remotely leading the Executive Branch was off-limits. The Right first viewed Obama’s rise as a horrible mistake of history; another of those “firsts” the Blacks love oh-so much, and would be forgotten just as quickly. But when Obama was elected to his second term as the Executive, the truth the Right refused to acknowledge before eventually came out. This President was now more than some passing fad the electorate would grow out of; he and the demographics that voted for him were now the harbingers of the Right’s demise. Despite the warnings of pundits, pollsters and the occasional plagiarizing libertarian Senator, the Republican Party was now that of the Aging White Rich Guy, with nothing between them and complete societal irrelevance.

These things are not new. But through all of this hatred and chaos remains the task of examining the science of these matters with clear, pragmatic distinction, able to emotionally disconnect from the issues and properly analyze the data set before us. Understanding the history and devastation of racism in America is a multidimensional–and multicultural–debate that is not for the simpleminded, and to his credit, Jonathan Chait of New York magazine attempted to do so, in a cover story entitled, “The Color of His Presidency.” However, his analysis has been repeatedly and aggressively criticized in the press, which is both sad and indicative of many of the points he was trying to make.

Where Chait Was Wrong…

DEFINITIONS ARE FUNNY THINGS in the construction of narratives, and nowhere is that more true than in Chait’s three words “prominent Republican figure.” When not placed within a clearly defined context, one is free to interpret that phrase however they wish. How do we define prominence? Is prominence determined by who shows up in media the most, or who has actual lawmaking power?

Pat Buchanan is a “prominent Republican figure”–if this were the year 1988. In 2011, however, Buchanan openly referred to Barack Obama as a “boy”, doing so in one of the most remarkable displays of career suicide ever recorded in an MSNBC interview with Rev. Al Sharpton. As if to compound his fall from the mainstream, Buchanan would go on to write a book on how bad America will be for white people in eleven years.

Despite his past significance in Republican politics, Buchanan was not the most “prominent Republican figure” to call President Obama a “boy” while in office, as Chait alleged. In terms of lawmakers, that disgrace goes to Rep. Mike D. Rogers, a Republican from Alabama’s Third District with seats on several House subcommittees:

We survived Jimmy Carter … we can survive this ol’ boy. … This is very similar to the mid-1970s. We had a long war (Vietnam), a corrupt administration, the nation elected a peanut farmer from Georgia and had high home-mortgage rates. Then at the end of four years, the American people said ‘enough’ and elected Ronald Reagan. It took him two years to dig us out, and we had two decades of prosperity. Then we backslid and we elected a community organizer from Chicago. History repeats itself.

In this respect, Chait was mistaken. While no biographies have been published yet calling this President “Boy Obama” (and given the current state of the conservative publishing industry, none likely will), Obama has endured reprehensible animus throughout his presidency on behalf of conservatives, having been called a “skinny, ghetto crackhead” by L. Brent Bozell III, founder of Media Research Group. Arguably the most “prominent Republican figure” over nearly three decades, Rush Limbaugh has racially assaulted President Obama repeatedly, referring to him as the “Halfrican American” in 2007 and appropriating a Los Angeles Times headline for a Paul Shanklin song entitled, “Barack the Magic Negro.”

And while the Clinton presidency was in many ways worse in terms of Republican partisan sentiment (who could forget those wonderful conspiracy theories about Vince Foster and Ron Brown), Clinton never had to cough up a birth certificate to prove he was a citizen of this nation.

This is what Chait got wrong. However, this piece was filled with much more that he was right about than people are giving him credit for.

What Chait Got Right

THE PRESIDENCY OF BARACK OBAMA is one that has produced much in terms of exposing America’s maturity deficit, showing how ill-prepared we are as a nation to have the “much-needed conversations” about race necessary to bring this country closer together. But even more than this, the criticism of people with views that do not differ all that much from their own has taken a nosedive in maturity as well. Consider this portion of Chait’s piece, in which he seeks to mark a clear distinction between a classical and social history of the Obama era:

…if you instead set out to write a social history of the Obama years, one that captured the day-to-day experience of political life, you would find that race has saturated everything as perhaps never before. Hardly a day goes by without a volley and counter-volley of accusations of racial insensitivity and racial hypersensitivity. And even when the red and blue tribes are not waging their endless war of mutual victimization, the subject of race courses through everything else: debt, health care, unemployment. Whereas the great themes of the Bush years revolved around foreign policy and a cultural divide over what or who constituted “real” America, the Obama years have been defined by a bitter disagreement over the size of government, which quickly reduces to an argument over whether the recipients of big-government largesse deserve it. There is no separating this discussion from one’s sympathies or prejudices toward, and identification with, black America. 

Here lies our first evidence of objective analysis being lost. As “conversations” have stratified across the country (as seen everywhere from Twitter hashtags to weekend news shows), the one thing lost above all else is trust. Chait talks about a scientific study done for UCLA by Michael Tesler and David Sears in 2010 that showed how race was indeed the primary motivator for most of the heated political discourse seen throughout Obama’s first term:

Like the [Dr. Henry Louis] Gates incident, Carter’s controversial racial comments generated considerable media attention. Claims of race-based opposition to Obama, in fact, received more attention than any other topic in the blogosphere from September 14 to September 25. Not surprisingly, 40 percent of respondents interviewed during this time period recalled hearing “a lot” about “charges that racism is a factor in criticisms of President Obama and his politics.” The president immediately attempted to dampen this race-based media firestorm by telling four Sunday morning talks shows airing the week of Carter’s comments that the vitriolic opposition facing his administration stemmed primarily from his policy positions, not his race. Whether or not these accusations of racially motivated opposition were actually true, the fact that they garnered so much press interest suggests that the Obama White House was operating in a more race-conscious atmosphere in its early months than were previous presidents.

As seen through the eye of empiricism, these findings were undeniably critical, but otherwise liberal critics attacked these findings as not being personal enough. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie basically wrote that the facts Chait found should not matter nearly as much as firsthand anecdotal accounts, accusing him of treating race as an “intellectual exercise” devoid of “lived experiences.” Melissa Harris-Perry, an MSNBC host and political science professor, strangely said the same thing, both saying in short that Chait’s view wasn’t Black enough.

Perhaps if Chait had written a piece that hit all the necessary buzzwords of one that has “checked his ‘privilege’ at the door” (a phrase that has become the new hotness when wishing to render dissent of any kind completely silent), he would have been hailed as one of the greatest assets in understanding how racism and scientifically proven racial hypersensitivity have affected the way people view the new political landscape. Instead, his analysis was treated as an affront to Black pain, and was given the echo-chamber treatment at MHP’s table while barely being allowed a chance to defend his premise.

This leads to several questions: In discussions on race in this country, what evidence should be used, pure scientific analysis or endless stories of “microaggressions”? Has faith in academic institutions eroded so much that people now view empiricism as some form of white oppression?

Also: was progressive ideology always this anti-intellectual?

Secondly, let us examine another point Chait was rigorously criticised for:

One of the greatest triumphs of liberal politics over the past 50 years has been to completely stigmatize open racial discrimination in public life, a lesson that has been driven home over decades by everybody from Jimmy the Greek to Paula Deen. This achievement has run headlong into an increasing liberal tendency to define conservatism as a form of covert racial discrimination. If conservatism is inextricably entangled with racism, and racism must be extinguished, then the scope for legitimate opposition to Obama shrinks to an uncomfortably small space.

The racial debate of the Obama years emits some of the poisonous waft of the debates over communism during the ­McCarthy years. It defies rational resolution in part because it is about secret motives and concealed evil.

He continues:

Few liberals acknowledge that the ability to label a person racist represents, in 21st-century America, real and frequently terrifying power. Conservatives feel that dread viscerally. Though the liberal analytic method begins with a sound grasp of the broad connection between conservatism and white racial resentment, it almost always devolves into an open-ended license to target opponents on the basis of their ideological profile. The power is rife with abuse.

The controversial nature of this statement is held in its absolute truth. To deny that we live in a society where to be openly branded a racist regardless of veracity often leads to public shame and humiliation (and in increasing cases, loss of status and livelihood) is a gross denial of recent history and progress.

Examples of this can be found in myriad: Joseph Williams, whose statements about Mitt Romney’s comfort level around white people in 2012 (the 47% video would eventually vindicate him) cost him his job with Politico and imperiled an illustrious three-decade career in journalism. Martin Bashir, on whose show Williams made his fateful comments, would lose his job after declaring that Sarah Palin should be subjected to the same punishment that slaves on Thomas Thistlewood’s plantation endured for her likening of the national debt to slavery. The aforementioned Melissa Harris-Perry was publicly reduced to a tearful apology for making a joke about Romney’s Black adopted grandson, Kieran.

Recent events have proven that this terrifying power is seen on the Right as well. Cliven Bundy was yet another courageous conservative “Everyman” getting stepped on by a bloated federal government until he decided to state his level of expertise on Black work ethic (involving “Nigras” and picking cotton), losing nearly every shred of mainstream conservative support he had. Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team, was already infamous for his housing discrimination practices before taped conversations with his mistress would render him persona non grata by the National Basketball Association, which banned him for life and fined him $2.5 million, the maximum allowed by the NBA’s constitution. Conservatives fell silent once it was discovered unequivocally that Sterling was a registered Republican.

And in a remarkable display of bipartisan racist intersectionality, Suey Park, a 23-year-old “hashtag activist”, was the darling of liberal media outlets such as Salon and The New Yorker for her #CancelColbert campaign, until it was found that she collaborated with conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, best known for her defense of the internment camps that Japanese families were held in during World War II.

If being called a racist is not a terrifying power–especially in an era of heightened public awareness via social media and overall basic enlightenment–why were the heinous sins of Donald Sterling brought out for a new generation to identify and denounce? If being called racist or accusations of employing them were not things avoided on levels approaching paranoia, why then are Williams and Bashir still unemployed?

In terms of policycraft, it has become quite easy to spot racism from the Right, especially after being given so many gifts of disgusting sentiment over the Obama years. From Rep. Steve King’s reprehensible comments about illegal immigrant drug mules and their “cantaloupe-sized” calf muscles, to Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint’s ridiculous revisionist history of the reasons behind the Civil War,  there is much to rightly condemn the Right on. As Chait pointed out in his piece, the Left indeed found Lee Atwater’s “nigger, nigger, nigger” remarks back in 1981 to be a “Rosetta stone” of sorts in seeking to decode conservative motives in lawmaking.

 So what would drive a person to believe that despite all the rancorous, very openly racist rhetoric the Right spouts, and all the subtle bigotry found throughout conservative dogma, that it is “completely insane” to believe that Republican politics is at its core an institution specifically designed to destroy minorities?

One answer could be that a view like this still holds to the possibility of actual bipartisanship being missed. If Republican racist absolutism were a real thing, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) would never have gotten together with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont back in January to attempt to revive the Voting Rights Act. Neither would Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), a Black liberal and a Black conservative, have ever collaborated on a bill last month that would create paid apprenticeships to help young minorities find a trade. But because no one ever expects actual governance to take place in such a bitterly divided political climate, the sentiment of persistent ethnocentrism becomes the prevailing narrative.

The thing that all people should be striving for is to clearly identify the issues our country faces. Our goal should be to work with those willing to work collaboratively, and shun all who seek to benefit from sheer ethnocentric rage, no matter where it comes from. The racism that has pervaded the Obama era exists without question, and seeing its effects on dialogue and trust in this country has been discouraging at best. But finding solutions–actually moving past conversation mode– to overcome it all is imperative to our nation’s survival and status, both here at home and around the world. We are indeed in the “pangs of a new nation not yet born”, and the last six years has made that evident. But as is the way of all growing pains, they cease, and we emerge both older, wiser, and stronger in the process.

Removing The Hoodie

Before Barack Obama ascended to the Executive Branch of our government, my favorite Black historical figure was not the one most would expect, say Frederick Douglass or George Washington Carver. It wasn’t even Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, or even Jackie Robinson. And no, it wasn’t even Martin Luther King, the one who everyone these days worships and whose offspring have sold his legacy to whoever will pay good money for it.

No, my favorite historical figure was Malcolm X.

Malcolm X could probably have been described as one of the most prominent Black Thought Leaders of his day, as he was Elijah Muhammad’s rising star while in the Nation of Islam. His was a fiery message of oppression and pain at the hands of the white man, one he had very close, personal experience with as a boy growing up in Nebraska and Michigan, where his father was brutally murdered in 1931.

However, when Malcolm X made that pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, returning with a message of peace for all with the understanding of the necessity of the Black community’s need of self-defense, his newfound pragmatism and insight became a threat to the prominence of those who had profited the most from his previous rhetoric. Ultimately, it would cost him his life. James Baldwin, in his book No Name in the Street, described in detail what made Malcolm X so threatening:

What made him unfamiliar and dangerous was not his hatred for white people but his love for Blacks; his apprehension of the horror of the Black condition and the reasons for it, and his determination so to work on their hearts and minds that they would be enabled to see their condition, and change it themselves.

Today marks the second year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder, and later this year will mark the one-year anniversary that his killer, George Zimmerman, got off. With the pain of Jordan Davis’ murder and the incomplete, confusing verdict for his killer that followed still fresh, the malaise, confusion and unfocused panic that is currently on display in our community has been frightening, to say the least. We are burdened by fear, yet locked in place by bitterness and despair, donning hoodies and creating hashtags seeking to reaffirm our self-worth.

On this day, however, I left my hoodie at home.

Why, you ask, would I not wear a hoodie in solidarity with Trayvon Martin? Because there is a much larger point that is being missed here. A big red truck full of loud, foul-mouthed Black teenagers did indeed threaten the racist sentiments of a violent, narcissistic thug, but let us bear in mind why all this is happening: A well-dressed Black man, a Constitutional law professor born of a single mother and an absentee father; husband to a dark-skinned woman who is the most courageous and beautiful First Lady to ever call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW home; father to two daughters who represent one of the brightest futures in Black political potential in this country, is the President of these United States of America, a nation historically designed for us to be nothing more than the property of the white man.

With Barack Obama, the lie of our limited potential in this nation was exposed. His existence as the leader of this country these last six years has been the cause of every shred of racial cognitive dissonance currently taking place in our nation, seen every time the Republican Party opens its mouth, creates laws, or silences entire states’ worth of African American voters through aggressive gerrymandering and draconian voter ID laws. No longer is the destiny of the young Black male restricted to being the next biggest rap star, athlete, or musical legend; we can command the power of nations, control armies, and sign bills into national law.

Black lives do indeed matter, but not just because we are fellow humans trying to live life in peace and safety; it is because there is now the ability for many more Barack Obamas to become President. And we dare to hold the solipsistic conceit to declare ourselves helpless, completely incapable of standing against the decrepit bones of white supremacy, despairing such that the supposed greatest minds on race would even contemplate suicide?

Foolishness. And shame on them for even letting the idea of ending their own life enter their minds.

We are capable of so much more. This is now a moment in which we must define who we are as a people, and challenge ourselves as a culture. The “violent, racist mob” Malcolm X spoke of does indeed threaten to beat down our doors and colonize us yet again, but like our ancestors before us, this moment demands civic action, not a reconfirmation of our defenselessness. Let us honor our dead sons by immersing ourselves in the democratic process, and fighting for laws that protect ourselves, and those that come after us. This must, in fact, become our self-defense. As Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz said recently, “…we’re not supposed to just sit back and let things happen but…we’re supposed to participate.”

 

 

Why I am Cynical on Matters of Race

The calm, dinner table scene in 1998’s American History X still haunts me to this day, even more than the scene in which Edward Norton’s character, the brutal skinhead Derek Vinyard, curb-stomps one of the Black men that tried to break into his truck. The calm, smooth manner in which Derek’s father, a cop bitter about how two new officers in his squad were put there due to what he derided as “affirmative Black-tion”, put down Derek’s teacher’s attempts to expand his mind as “bullshit. Nigger bullshit.”

This scene firmly encapsulated several of the complexities surrounding bigotry: the traditionalism of the family dinner table setting. The ease and seeming innocuous nature of how racial animus is introduced. The embrace of intellectual lack and the endearment of a intentionally limited conservative worldview, and how a traumatic episode can radicalize one’s deeply rooted hatred of the existence of otherness in the world around them.

Racism and bigotry most definitely exist. They are real. They are the twin sons of America’s original sin, raised in the brutality of Barbadian slave owners, codified into law by Roger B. Taney, and reincarnated in the forms of voter suppression, “emergency financial managers”, and by anyone that utters the words “states’ rights.” Work after work has been published about how institutional racism has given us the schools-to-prisons pipeline, redlining and block-busting in urban centers, “Stop-and-Frisk”, and other countless examples.

We are reminded all the time of the existence and prevalence of racism. Myriad voices have risen in acknowledgement of this country’s race problem, even building careers on its continued diagnosis. Americans watch as The Conversation on racism rolls on, in many ways appearing stronger than ever. But when will any of these “conversations” result in substantive change on a policy level?

Why does it seem that solutions are danced around with respect to solving racism, and that no one seems to be really serious about pursuing and ending its chronic grip around our country’s existence? Are we doomed to waste our time with think-pieces about how bad the streets that bear Martin Luther King’s name are, written by people who have made it plain they only want to “be curious” about racism, having declared it “not on me” to solve? Why in the world do we care so much about who gets an award for representing us in our entertainment, yet care little to nothing about how the democratic process of this nation works?

Racism is already a “solved” matter: There is no ending it, and there is no respite from it. As this country is full of the descendants of slave owners, there will always be bigots in this nation who will hate people of color for their very existence, especially since through Barack Obama we now wield the power of the Executive Branch. The collective conservative freakout over the existence of a Black President can be summed up to the fact that in their eyes, property was never supposed to be in charge of anything.

What matters now is how we make sure our interests are served by getting people of color elected in every branch of local, state and federal government. What matters is defeating conservatives, coming to understand that they are out for our destruction, are well-resourced, and only respect power in turn. Until this happens, we are resigning ourselves to the same issues for our children to deal with, when in fact we should be leaving them with new challenges to overcome.

We have not overcome yet. And while we complain about the lack of maturity or will for others to discuss race, I doubt very strongly that we have the same. Though ending racism be a fool’s hope, the pursuit of equality is not. It is one that we must become more serious about, and soon.