Tag Archives: Donald Trump

The Weaponization of Anti-Racism

I Know Your Are But What Am I

In 2019 everyone is a racist and no one is

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 16, 2019 • Politics

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HE BELIEF THAT human characteristics, abilities, and worth are determined by the colour of skin is useful wherever societies are organized along tribal lines. A nation founded upon genocide and slavery will be a nation with a very bad conscience—unless a justification for these can be invented. If one category of human being can be said to be beneath another, whether as a matter of natural law or of divine will, then the myriad inequities established by organized human effort can be treated as a mere expression of nature.

In other words racial classification systems are the product of human barbarities and not the source of them. A man will sleep better at night if he is able to convince himself that the people he enslaves and murders are not as fully human as he is, incapable as they are of thinking and feeling as he himself does. The English for example already ruled over a great many foreign peoples when the faux science of human racial differences developed. Social Darwinism came to America in the late 1800s, after the institution of slavery and the mass murder of Indigenous peoples. The utility of racial conceptions is reflexive, for these conceptions affirm that whatever the supposed injustices or inequalities, some categories of people are by their nature lords and masters of others.

Because this way of thinking about the world regards human beings in the broadest of terms, as groups, it tends toward systemic outcomes. A mass of unique persons must be treated as individuals, especially where character is concerned, but a group whose human characteristics are thought to be shared by virtue of the colour of their skin may be safely organized and managed en masse. This is done most efficiently by means of a systemic approach, which is to say through law and custom and the general dissemination of ideas and beliefs and habits required to maintain the dominance of one group over another. Once a group of persons has been reduced to a common denominator, it is no matter to erect and maintain a system that manages their supposed characteristics, and indeed such a thing will be deemed fitting and even necessary.

The term for apprehending the human world by way of skin colour and other physical characteristics is racism. Once a society has been thoroughly organized according to the logic of racial conceptions, the machinery runs itself almost beyond the notice of its beneficiaries. In a thousand small and subliminal ways these beneficiaries will absorb the habits and outlook of their ancestors and compatriots. Having read only the books written by their forebears, they will know as a matter of course that their ancestors were noble and benevolent. The material and ideological derivation of their outlook will be hidden from view, like the making of sausage, and for similar reasons. For the doctrines of racial human characteristics and racial supremacy to survive, the illusion must be maintained that no such doctrines exist, or exist only as matter of nature and not of human exploitation.

A generation ago it was understood by scholars and activists that racism is systemic in nature. To grow up in a society organized around racist conceptions of human nature and human society is to have planted within one’s mind racist ideas and habits of thought. The work of anti-racism in a society understood to be systemically racist is the work of exposing and critiquing systems—laws, customs, ideology, workplaces, institutions, and so forth. So long as ideas circulate freely and widely in a society, without being challenged, the tendency will be for individual members of that society to adopt them uncritically and in many cases unconsciously. Racism was considered a social and cultural artefact and not the product of an individual and degenerate mind.

Somewhere along the way the work of confronting the rot of racism took a turn. The understanding that racism is a universal toxin, mediated through social systems, gave way to a vigilance for the individual offender. In all likelihood this turn occurred at a time when the perception of political progress made it possible to imagine oneself, and indeed to present oneself to others, as above and beyond the mental disease of racism. In any case the critique of systemic racism has yielded largely to a conception of racism as the provenance of bad people, that is to say as originating in the diseased minds of offenders. If only one can shame enough of these offenders, and drive them out the public sphere, then perhaps racism can be defeated.

Combatting racism from a systemic point of view is one thing, and combatting it from an individual and moral point of view is another. Under the social conception of racism it is a matter of no controversy that we have all inherited a toxic legacy of racist ideas, actions, and arrangements. Understood as an individual and moral failure, however, the charge of racism will in every case be denied and repudiated in the service of career and reputational survival. Over time the characteristics and criteria of generally-agreed-upon racism narrow. The President is unlikely to be considered a racist by his supporters for anything short of shouting the N-word at passersby (if even that) and doubtless there are few if any Trump voters who would say that they are racist. The term is today a grenade lobbied at one’s enemies, not to inflict injury but to hearten the troops, so Trump and his people retaliate in kind. He says that he hasn’t a racist bone in his body—the racists are the Congresswomen who criticize him.

None of this is to deny or downplay the existence of actual, existing bigots or the responsibility that they bear for the contents of their minds. As the politics of America descends into identitarian, tribal warfare it is easy to imagine anti-racism itself becoming simply another weaponized posture with no force or purpose or value beyond immediate political expedience. Perhaps a decade ago leaders might have brokered a deep and nuanced national conversation about race in America, but the time for this appears to have passed. The President does all within his powers to ensure a divisive tribal fight between his inflamed base and an outgroup of migrants, refugees, liberals, and media. The opposition obliges him. Nothing is gained, no one wins, and nobody is better off. ⌾

2020 Vision

Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi has a long history of knowing when to play it safe and when to rock the boat

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 12, 2019 • Politics

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N THE DAY Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born, 13 October 1989, Nancy Pelosi was two years into a Congressional career that would yield the highest ranking female politician of American history. Pelosi inherited a seat twice vacated by death, the first of Phillip Burton and the second of his wife Sala. From the former Pelosi also inherited a commitment to AIDS research and legislation, concerns which at the time set her apart from the Washington establishment and in particular the Reagan administration.

I begin here to remind the reader—should the reminder be necessary—there was a time Nancy Pelosi was something of an Ocasio-Cortez figure, pushing controversial and outside-the-box thinking on recalcitrant colleagues. As a San Francisco Democrat, Pelosi came to Washington from a district that had been consistently blue since she attended her first national convention in 1952. In the alchemy of these contradictory themes, of safety and boat-rocking, the career of Speaker Pelosi was forged.

No one survives even in the safest of districts without wits, and Pelosi is a sharp and shrewd politician. Obamacare could well and with good reason have been called Pelosicare, dependant as its passage was on her considerable skills. She is among the most competent and effective Speakers of the House of the past forty years. But longevity has its hazards. It wasn’t long ago that Pelosi held up the liberal end of the argument. Today we have the younger and more strident voices of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar—a fresh generation of Democrats keen to take on the President. Pelosi has now become the resistance, not of Trump but of the mavericks within her own party.

The President will not be removed from office by means of an impeachment vote. Pelosi’s calculation is that hearings will only aid Trump’s fortunes in 2020, by supplying fuel to his engine of paranoia and vindictiveness. She’s been around long enough to have noticed that impeachment is now (along with the special counsel) an all-weather political tool, drawn from the chest as a matter of routine business, a habit that does not exactly thrill the public. “You can’t impeach everybody,” she has said, when in fact her career seems to have taught her that you can’t impeach anybody—not even Bill Clinton, whose removal from office had the support of the House but not of the Senate.

The case for impeachment has two aspects, one political and one principle. On the political side one must calculate the electoral hazards, and who can doubt that Pelosi has done so. The principle aspect requires an answer to the question, Does the President merit impeachment? Pelosi’s rivals in the Democratic party have answered this question to their satisfaction. They want to exercise the oversight function of Congress and send a message that no President is above the law. Pelosi however appears interested only in the political calculation.

She believes the centre will hold and that Trump will succumb to something that she calls self-impeachment. The voters will decide. Perhaps in the meanwhile evangelicals will restrain the President in matters such as mass raids and deportations. Secretary Acosta’s illegal sweetheart deal with the child mass-rapist Jeffrey Epstein? The president’s call. There is no role for Congress. When presented a question touching upon the behaviour of the Trump administration, Pelosi spills the phrases I’m not focused on / don’t know much about / am not interested in that. “We have a great deal of work to do here for the good of the American people and we have to focus on that,” she says, without much by way of specifics. As for the mavericks in her party, “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.” Oof. Pelosi has gone beyond not wanting to rock the boat to not wanting to sit in it.

A year ago Joe Biden was the seasoned politician and the beloved Obama sidekick. He was untouchable until suddenly he wasn’t. Survive long enough and you will confront your own obsolescence. It may be that Pelosi is steps ahead of the rest of us, playing a Democratic version of Trump’s QAnon four-dimensional chess. Perhaps Trump will “self-impeach” and the world will be better for it. Perhaps the best course of action is to wait. Nancy Pelosi has a long history of knowing when to play it safe and when to rock the boat. She’s among the smartest politicians out there, until she isn’t. ⌾