Is there a difference between loving Trump and hating women and people of color?

Hi Joel,

Perhaps I’m a glutton for pain, but I follow several “Deplorable” social media sites. These are the kinds of places where “–isms” (racism, sexism, etc.) are welcome. The participants take great pride in being “free speech zones” where “political correctness” (also factual correctness) is not tolerated. Every once in awhile, someone pops into a conversation to say that, hey, maybe Deplorables should be nicer to each other, especially when someone asks a genuine question or expresses real concern that, uh, maybe the Trump presidency isn’t meeting expectations (The lack of a border wall is a serious concern.). Trump devotees quickly berate anyone who raises a doubt, with the more patient of them arguing that Trump is playing 11 dimensional chess and that we should never have any doubts about someone who is clearly so smart and successful. Others just call names. So, yeah, it’s a real gutter.

There is a lot that interests me about these groups. Do none of them have friends or loved ones who would be hurt by the language they use to describe others? Granted, I doubt any of them know any actual socialists (one of their top insults), but surely they know people with intellectual disabilities (The r-word is their favorite, unfortunately.). They get hugely offended by people calling them racists, but they love to invoke racists tropes, even though the use of an explicit racial epithet might get a post removed, even as they say that people of every race should support Trump. Like, I’m not sure how the personal and political merge with these folks, unless they are as awful to people in their personal lives as they are in their political chatter, which is likely.

But here is another thing that confuses me: Their obsessions with Hillary Clinton and the Obamas. Their Dear Leader has been president now for a year and a half, but they can’t seem to let go of their anger about Clinton or the Obamas. (Of course, Trump is the same.) They absolutely delight in saying bad things about them. Posts mocking the Clintons and the Obamas get lots and lots of likes–more, often, than posts uplifting Trump–and they go back to issues like the Lewinsky scandal and Whitewater. And while think that the Lewinsky scandal continues to matter for #Metoo reasons, Deplorables just use it as a way to mock Mrs. Clinton for her “failure” to retain sexual control over her husband.

Trump meme.jpg

Above, a pro-Trump meme shows Trump’s face. Above his head are the words “Hello America!” and, at the bottom of the meme are the words “Meet your new set of balls.” Pro-Trump memes often mention his sexual prowess, wealth, and other measures of masculinity. 

Just this week, a poster asked others to share Trump memes. In response, thousands of others posted mostly mean-spirited memes. (Those that were not mean-spirited were over-the-top images of Trump, like the one I share below.) Those that directly referenced Trump frequently used racist, sexist, ableist, or homophobic language, but what was more common were memes showing pictures of Clinton or the Obamas. These images derided them as mentally ill, disabled, intellectually inferior, and sexually “perverse” (Mrs. Clinton as sexually unattractive, Mr. Obama as effeminate, and Mrs. Obama as secretly transgender), and the Obamas are presented, in a variety of racist ways, as unworthy of living in the White House.

It’s not a surprise to me that these themes–ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism–are features of pro-Trump memes. These are the themes of the presidency, too. And I shouldn’t be surprised that Clinton and Obama remain targets for that kind of bigotry. Indeed, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continue to rile up conservative anger so effectively that the GOP is running midterm ads in several states that feature this retired politicians. They are counting on conservative voters to get so mad about Clinton and Obama that they will turn out in what is looking like it could be an election in which Republicans could lose big.

What, exactly, are they so mad about? Clinton, after all, has been relatively quiet since she lost, and the Obamas have been even quieter. Hillary Clinton released a memoir about the election, of course, and Bill Clinton has co-authored a political thriller with James Patterson, while Chelsea Clinton’s public voice is mostly on Twitter. Not exactly real threats. The Obamas are in talks with Netflix about developing a show highlighting inspirational people. You can’t call them sore losers or political threats.

So, why do Republicans keep bringing them up?

I think it’s that, ultimately, their ads use Clinton and Obama in the same way that those memes do: to remind conservative, white Trump voters that the world is changing. Women and people of color are rising, and in the winner-take-all world they value, that has to be a loss for them.

In other words, they’re scared.




Tom Brokaw gives a master class in how not to respond to a sexual harassment accusation


You’ve probably heard by now that former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw has been accused by two women — one anonymous, the other not — of sexual harassment during the time he was the company’s biggest news star.

I don’t know whether Brokaw is innocent or guilty of the charges, but I do know the letter he sent to colleagues denying the accusations is an ugly piece of work.

The essential message of Brokaw’s letter: I’m a great man. This woman who accuses me is of little consequence! How dare such a little person attempt to bring down the great man! And, oh, by the way: Maybe she”s a slut.

An excerpt. The emphasis added ismine:

I am angry, hurt and unmoored from what I thought would be the final passage of my life and career, a mix of written and broadcast journalism, philanthropy and participation in environmental and social causes that have always given extra meaning to my life.

Instead I am facing a long list of grievances from a former colleague who left NBC News angry that she had failed in her pursuit of stardom. She has unleashed a torrent of unsubstantiated criticism and attacks on me more than twenty years after I opened the door for her and a new job at Fox news.


She came to NY and had mixed success on the overnight news. As I remember her try out [sic] onTODAY did not go well. Her contract was not renewed.

Here is a part of her story she somehow left out. I think I saw her in the hallways and asked how it was going. She was interested in cable start up [sic] and I said I didn’t think that was going anywhere. What about Fox, which was just building up? She was interested and followed me to my office where, while she listened in, I called Roger AilesHe said, “send her over.”

She got the job. I never heard from her or saw her again. I was aware that she became a big fan of Ailes, often praising his considerable broadcasting instincts in public. But when he got in trouble on sexual matters, not a peep from this woman who now describes her self [sic] as the keeper of the flame for Me:Too.

I am not a perfect person. I’ve made mistakes, personally and professionally. But as I write this at dawn on the morning after a drive by [sic] shooting by Vester, the Washington Post and Variety, I am stunned by the free ride given a woman with a grudge against NBC News, no distinctive credentials or issue passions while at FOX. 

Read the whole thing if you want. Brokaw gives his side of the story in more detail than I’ve quoted here.

But it’s remarkable how much energy trying to diminish the credibility of her accusations by saying: “She’s wasn’t a good TV journalist. She failed. She worked for Roger Ailes.”

There’s a sly undercurrent to the Ailes’ mentions, because Ailes famously lost his job after multiple stories emerged about his sexual harassment of female employees. If Ailes harassed pretty women and Vester did ok at Fox, Brokaw sure seems to be saying, what do you think that means?

The problem here, of course, is that the #MeToo moment has shown that powerful men often prey on less-powerful women in large part because the power differential makes their advances difficult to deny. So it’s weird that Brokaw’s denial of the incidents relies so heavily on reminding people of that power differential.

Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe Brokaw is lashing out because he’s legitimately angry, and nobody told him that there are better and worse ways to defend one’s credibility.

And a wise man might even consider that his perception of an encounter, rather than being the definitive take, might look different from the perspective of a woman with ess power. In which case, the proper response would be to acknowledge the possibility of Rashomon effect at play: “I do not remember this incident as Ms. Vester seems to. I do not recall forcing a kiss on her. I have tried to conduct myself responsibly and with integrity throughout my career.”

But that’s not what Brokaw did. I’ll leave it to readers to decide why that might be.

Explaining the Fiery Hate of White Supremacists

Hi Joel,

I know, I know–I talk a lot about religion and hate. But what are you supposed to do in this day and age?


Nazis held a rally in rural Georgia this past Sunday. About 24 members of one of the US’s largest hate groups, the Nationalist Socialist Movement, set a swastika and an othal rune ablaze. The swastika, of course, is a symbol of Nazi Germany, and the rune, too, was adopted by some WWII-era Nazis in an effort to revise Nordic religion in support of white supremacy, a move that contemporary white nationalists are making, too, as Damon T. Berry explains in Blood & Faith: White Nationalism in American Christianity. 

Members of the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the US, hold a swastika burning after a rally on April 21, 2018 in Draketown, Georgia. Community members had opposed the rally in Newnan and came out to embrace racial unity in the small Georgia town. Fearing a repeat of the violence that broke out after Charlottesville, hundreds of police officers were stationed in the town during the rally in an attempt to keep the anti racist protesters and neo-Nazi groups separated

Above, losers invoke the Klan, Nazi Germany, and racist paganism at a small rally for white supremacists in Georgia this weekend.

Photo by Spencer Platt. 


Speaking of racists setting things on fire, Review of Religious Research has a newish (November 2017) article out about church arsons. Available for free online, “When Faith, Race, and Hate Collide: Religious Ecology, Local Hate Cultures, and Church Burnings” by John P. Bartkowski, Frank M. Howell, Lynn M. Hempel, and Jeremy R. Porter is about church arsons in the US South. Some readers might know that there was a spate of African American church burnings in the 1990s, which is the time period under study. The researchers ask 1) if communities with more congregations are at greater risk, 2) how faith-based and secular civic engagement affect such acts, and 3) how the local hate culture (including a history of lynching and interracial homicide rates, as well as the presence of organizations that combat hate) influences these events.


Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 5.47.45 PMAbove, a map of church arsons in the mid-1990s. Almost 150 churches were burned. At the period of highest activity, a church was burned every five days. 

The research is complex and addresses a number of variables, but I want to pull out just a few findings of interest:

  • Where African Americans had higher unemployment rates compared to whites, church burnings were more likely.
  • In communities where more African Americans were elected to public office, church burnings were more likely.
  • Where African American congregations are more common, church burnings are less likely.
  • Where churches participate in faith-based and secular civic engagement, church burnings are more likely.
  • Where civil rights organizations are present, church burnings are more likely.
  • A history of lynching in the area corresponds to an increased likelihood of church burnings.
  • Black-on-white, but not white-on-black, homicides corresponds to an increase of church burnings in an area.

As the authors note:

In short, the coalescence of historical and contemporary violence perpetrated by whites against blacks is significantly linked to the number of black churches burned in the South during the 1990s.

The authors don’t go this direction, but, looking at their results, I can’t help but see evidence for a broader claim that some of us have been yelling about since the rise of Trump: that white anger toward people of color is not about economic anxiety but about fear of the loss of white power. To summarize the findings: it’s not black economic advancement that provokes white rage but the exertion of power by African Americans–their election to public office, the use of their churches to impact a community, their defense of their civil rights.


PS. Readers who want a regular update on scholarship on hate should sign up for the International Network for Hate Studies’ free newsletter. 

Confusing Honesty and Cruelty: Shania Twain Edition

Hi Joel,

If you don’t follow Country Music news, you might have missed the story: Canadian singer Shania Twain told an interviewer at The Guardian that, if she could have voted, she would have voted for Trump.  In that interview, she said: 

“I would have voted for him because, even though he was offensive, he seemed honest…. Do you want straight or polite? Not that you shouldn’t be able to have both. If I were voting, I just don’t want bulls—. I would have voted for a feeling that it was transparent. And politics has a reputation of not being that, right?”

It’s a frustrating moment in the interview, which is really a compelling piece of writing from a woman who is admirable in many ways. And Twain knew about it–and heard about it, especially from the many LGBTQ+ who have made her into a kind of country queer icon. So, yesterday, she came out with an apology and an explanation on Twitter:

Twain 1Twain 2Twain 3Twain 4

I think her answer probably wasn’t merely strategic, mostly because I don’t think you can attract a strong queer following if you are lying about being inclusive. 

See the source imageAbove, Shania Twain. And, dammit, just looking at this pictures means I’m going to have “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” in my head all day now. 

What interests me in her initial signal of support for Trump is that all of us are tired of dishonest politicians, and we want someone who is a straight-shooter. It’s something I hear all the time in defenses of Trump: that he tells it like it is. 

The set-up for the defense is usually something like this: “Trump might be offensive, but he’s honest.” I think that the more accurate version of how Trump defenders think is this:I believe that Trump is honest because I think that people who are offensive are more honest than people who aren’t offensive. 

And that makes sense, if you are a person who cares for others. For those of us who are kind and considerate and who care about the dignity of others, the only time we would say something potentially hurtful is when it was honest and necessary. If a person with a normal ability to empathize with others says something that risks pain for others, it likely means they ARE being honest, because they wouldn’t say something hurtful just to be hurtful–they would only say it to move the relationship to a better place.  I’m embarrassed by how much you are drinking when we go out with friends or You’re boyfriend is a jerk to you are things that partners and friends say to each other, even if they are blunt and cause a moment of pain. For most of us, our lies are pleasant and our honesty is what causes others pain, so if we are hurting someone with our words, it’s because we are being honest. 

That’s not how Trump operates. His lies are overwhelming cruel, intended merely to put others down. Rather than seeing his bluntness as evidence of his honestly, we need to see it as evidence of his dishonesty. His meanness doesn’t mean he’s a straight shooter; if he is being mean with his words, you can bet he’s actually lying. 

So, how come we keep hearing this defense of him, even as we see him lying? 

I get the appeal of strong opinions and frank talk. I’m drawn to them myself, and shutting up was one of the hardest tasks of young adulthood for me. I truly feel for the speaker in Pete Bernhard’s “Orphan:” 

My heart goes backwards, my heart drops down 

I hear my voice say things I told it not to

Don’t know who it’s directed at

Or why I chose to say something like that

And now what’d I truly plan to do

Dude, I’ve been there–confusing anger for passion, thinking I was being persuasive when I was just being pushy. And when I sometimes still veer that direction, that’s me stumbling in a very long race that I intend to win. I’ve had to learn, as the song says, “It was important, but it wasn’t worth dyin’ for”–which also means that rarely is an argument worth hurting someone else for. (But sometimes it is, and so I will. The question, I think, is if you are punching up or down.) 

But, for Trump, that’s the very point, and so hurting others becomes evidence of his forthrightness, which means the crueler he is, the more honest he looks. 

Why do people buy it? In part because they believe that he is like a normal person. (He is not, and those who have left abusive relationships can see in his behavior the behavior of their abusers.

But to get there, they have to think that his honesty outweighs his cruelty. That means that they think the bad things he says about others are true (his honesty) and that the objects of his cruelty–people of color, immigrants, women–can, at minimum, be sacrificed to it and, at worst, deserve it. 

So Twain is right: Trump speaks to “a portion of America like an accessible person they could relate to.”

Which is exactly the problem. 


Above, Pete Bernhard’s video for “Orphan.” 

He sings, “But a lot of people don’t like me
Not my music, I mean personally.” Have a listen.



Kris Kobach, Incapable of Decency or Shame or Compassion

Doesn’t anyone love Kris Kobach enough to tell him to stop? Doesn’t he have a mother or a friend who can speak to him earnestly, kindly, and directly and say, “Kris, you look like a monster?”

The Kansas Secretary of State is organizing a pro-gun rally on the capitol steps for tomorrow–the same day that Kansas students are joining other students nationwide in a walk-out to commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine shooting and call for an end to gun violence.

At least some of Kobach’s supporters will be open-carrying.

Kobach is attempting to make Kansas “the most pro-gun state in America,” which is a really revealing phrase: He doesn’t say that he wants to make it a place where people have the fewest restrictions on their 2nd Amendment rights or where the laws are sturdy around the right to gun ownership. For normal people, believing in the right to gun ownership does not mean that a person advocates for more guns–just like a person can believe in the right to an abortion without believing that more abortions are a good thing. But, for the Secretary of State, rights are less important than guns. Guns, more guns, more powerful guns, in more hands, in more places–that is the goal.


Above, Kris Kobach ponders his agenda for the day. Who should I harass first? Immigrants? Non-white voters? Children who live in terror of being gunned down in school? So many vulnerable people to be mean to, so little time! 

In defending this tasteless event, Kobach says that there are people, post-Parkland, who are trying to “challenge America’s gun culture.” They are trying to argue that “firearms themselves (are) no longer legitimate in America.” He, of course, means, this is a bad thing. But, first of all, it’s perfectly legal to challenge the culture and to argue that guns aren’t legitimate. Everyone, including those too young to vote, is allowed to argue for a different vision of America.

And, second of all, we can change the culture without changing anyone’s rights. Why the hell wouldn’t someone hoping to shape the future of Kansas’ politics want to get rid of American gun culture? Whether you love guns or hate them, whether you think we have an individual right to stockpile weapons or you think that arms are for well-regulated militias, you have to be able to see that our gun culture as it is is not working. We don’t have to change the law to change the culture.


You can try to be woke and still screw up when it comes to racism. That’s no excuse for not trying.

It’s not easy being anti-racist:

Schultz, whose company has been known for its inclusion and political correctness (to the point of occasional controversy), has received praise in the past for speaking out against racism. After the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, when President Trump blamed “both sides” for violence, Schultz said that elected officials were not using “their voice with due force and eloquence to elevate the ideal of equality.”

But the Philadelphia incident raises questions about how deeply Schultz’s sensitivity on racial discrimination seeped into the company.

Conservatives, of course, are gleeful:

Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 12.59.53 PM.png

Let’s first of all say this: If Chris Stigall is defending you, you probably need to deeply examine whatever it is in your life he finds praiseworthy.

That said: You can try desperately to be woke and still find yourself screw up on matters of race. It’s not because black people are trying to trick you into screwing up — it’s an odd trap that would leave the trappers arrested by police simply for being in a coffee shop — but because it’s easy not to see one’s own blind spots when it comes to race.

I’ve written in these parts about my own experience realizing I’d screwed up a racial issue. I don’t need to revisit it again here: It was that painful. But my own experience came after years of writing about white privilege, of trying to be an advocate for racial justice. And I still fucked up.

That’s not an excuse.

To listen to the Stigalls of the world, one might assume white people are owed credit for not being racist. But, as my wife says in a different context, you don’t get a cookie for doing what you should do. The fact that you take a beating when you – or your employees – do a racist thing is not proof of the unfairness of anti-racism.

You work against racism because it’s the right thing to do. And you do it humbly, knowing those blind spots might bite you despite your best efforts. And when somebody stumbles on the journey, well: Best to point it out, try to see that justice is done, then welcome them to continue on the journey.

It’s not easy. But it’s better, wiser, than turning our backs.


Do Black Lives Matter in church?

White on the outside.

I’d like to recommend this piece at The Marshall Project about a man who ended up leaving his church because of its indifference to Black Lives Matter issues.

While there are probably some mostly white churches that get it right on issues of racial justice, studies show that the majority don’t. According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, white evangelical Protestants stand out as the religious group most likely to say the criminal justice system treats people of color and whites equally with 57 percent endorsing that belief. More specifically, 62 percent say that police officers treat blacks the same as whites.

The distance between these beliefs and reality suggests that white Christians are failing to hear their brothers and sisters of color. And that failure raises serious concerns about the ability of mostly white congregations to advance the gospel of Jesus, a victim himself of state violence.

I think the thing that’s surprised me the most about the response of many white people — in and out of the church — is an underlying, rarely stated presumption that they understand the experiences of black people better than black people understand their own experiences. Listening is really hard. We’d all do well to practice it more often.