Wolf by the Ears: Why the GOP Can’t Stop being Racist

Joel:

This week you quite rightly pointed out the Republican Party’s anti-immigration policies are aimed at reducing the number of Democratic voters. Republicans have owned up to it, just as they’ve admitted that efforts to suppress black votes are efforts to suppress Democratic ones. And this is the history of white people since the founding: to insure that the votes of people of color will never overcome their own votes, that non-whites will not be able to pull the levers of power.

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Above, anti-immigrant protestors hold a sign saying “Send them back with birth control.” They don’t just want no immigrants in the US–they want fewer brown-skinned people in the world. 

To the argument you lay out, I will this:

Republicans fear non-white votes because Republicans (who are overwhelmingly white and less reflective of the national population than Democrats) have used elected office and government policy to hurt minorities and bolster structures that maintain their power.  They fear nonwhite power because they themselves has used power to hurt nonwhites. They fear retaliation because they know they deserve it. We can see it in the words of Thomas Jefferson, whose own relationship with slavery was–what is the polite way to say this?–conflicted, though not enough for him to act right. Despite the polymath’s genius in imagining a new form of government and his statesmanship in bringing it to life, he couldn’t see how powerful whites could do anything except maintain power over enslaved Africans and African Americans. Writing in 1820, he said:

But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.

Today’s Republicans see a similar issue: to maintain power, they must be racist.  And they have embraced racism as a political strategy with a kind of glee that suggests it might not be strategy alone that drives them.

This isn’t just the hard kick of a dying mule. It’s an immensely cynical strategy and one that is self-defeating. There are good reasons why many immigrants are more politically progressive than the average Republican. Unlike nearly anyone in Congress, they have often seen the effects of US warmongering up close, and the sound of American military jets flying overhead don’t inspire patriotism but fear. They have lost family members killed by American soldiers or with American-made guns and bombs. Too, they have lived in colonies and former colonies in places whose economies and landscapes have been decimated by the forces of capitalism. Today, the largest numbers of refugees settling in the US are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Burma, and Iraq–not all places where we’ve messed up, though, historically, we had to take in large numbers of refugee after bungling wars in Viet Nam and other parts of Southeast Asia–but places where our policies have not necessarily helped the local situation. Our undocumented immigrants come mostly from Mexico and points south--places where our economic and foreign policy has long contributed to instability.  They may be fleeing civil wars, genocidal dictators, drug wars, and grinding poverty, but that doesn’t mean that they love Ayn Rand or Paul Ryan.

But, while Trump advisor Michael Anton worries that such immigrants have “no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty,”  they, like African Americans, should not be presumed to be default Democrats. Very often, immigrants and refugees from the “Third World” that Anton despises so much as well as native-born people of color embrace gender and sexuality norms that align more with Republican’s so-called “traditional family values” than with the Democratic Party’s stances on abortion, divorce, parental authority over children, women’s rights, or gay rights. The Hispanic and African American students at my own university aren’t majoring in Queer Studies or Radical Leftist Rioting, after all, but in business and criminology. (In fact, criminology is the most popular major for black and Hispanic students at my university.)  International students are pursuing degrees in STEM and economics, not The Overthrow of Capitalism.

So why can’t Republicans imagine appealing to the foreign born and people of color? Is it because, like Jefferson, they cannot imagine the victims of their own racism doing anything except murdering them? Is it because they know that a coalition of social conservatives and robber barons doesn’t really make sense and that, eventually, social conservatives will realize it, too? Or is it because their racism isn’t merely strategic but also heart-felt?

It’s not just the Republican Party losing here. (Remember that the GOP has not been able to place a truly new candidate in the White House by popular vote since 1980. I was in diapers. Every Republican president who won the popular vote since then was either an incumbent president or VP.)  Our democracy would be richer if people of color could contribute to the national political conversation without having to go through the Democratic Party. There is no reason why the huge diversity of black voters so overwhelmingly chooses to vote Democrat–except that the Republican Party (and individual Republican voters) are so racist.  If anyone should be angry about the racism of the GOP, it should be conservatives of color.

 

Our Knee-Jerk Culture

Rebecca:

I was napping yesterday when James Comey was fired.

So here’s the thing: When I went to sleep, lots of liberal folks hated James Comey — for his actions that seemed to hurt Hillary’s election, broadly, but also more recently for incorrect testimony to Congress that suggested (again, falsely) a close Hillary confidant had emailed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to her husband.

So when I go to sleep: Comey’s a bad guy. When I wake up, everybody’s outraged that he’s been fired.

It was a little disorienting.

Here’s the dumb thing I did: I started commenting on Twitter, assuming the last bad thing Comey did — the incorrect testimony — was the cause for his firing. Turned out I was wrong! The president says he fired Comey because … Comey handled the Hillary email situation badly. Like liberals have been complaining about for months.

Which, basically, no one believes. And with good reason.

So my own initial reactions were wrong. And it got me thinking: I love Twitter and I hate Twitter.

Good Twitter: Brings me new facts just as quickly as they’re created.

Bad Twitter: Requires the creation of analysis and commentary on that same now-now-now timeline. Which means a lot of us — including me! — make stupid comments until we get properly oriented. (This assumes, of course, that my considered commentary isn’t also stupid. I know, I know.)

Anyway, I was reading Alan Jacobs this morning:

Russell Berman tweets: “15 hours later, not one of the top 4 House Republican leaders have issued a statement on the president’s firing of the FBI director.” This expresses a commonly-held view — just as I write these words I see a post by Pete Wehner asking “Where is the Republican Leadership?” — but I wonder: When did we get on this schedule? That is, when did an overnight wait before commenting on a political decision become an unconscionable delay? I’m old enough to remember when people used to counsel their agitated friends to “sleep on it,” and maybe even seek the opinions of others, before making public statements or highly consequential decisions. Now anything but instantaneous response is morally suspect — at best.

We talk about “resistance” a lot these days. Among the things I feel a need to resist: The speed of the commentary cycle. The group rush to judgment — even when it’s “my” group. The writing off of our political opponents as bad people.

Oh yeah, and Trump.

I feel increasingly lonely in my desire to resist those first three things, though. And I suspect it means I’ll make an occasional error. I might even embarrass myself from time to time! But slowing down, not following the jerk of my knee — hard as it is to resist, it feels necessary.

Restricting Immigration: The Not-So-Secret Political Reason Republicans Want a Wall

Rebecca:

We’ve talked a few times about the problems with Trump Era immigration policy. I’d like to talk just briefly about the political problems — wholly intended — of that policy.

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From an anti-immigration protest in Rockville, MD. Yikes.

Bottom line: Republicans intend that restrictive immigration policies will result in fewer Democratic voters.

No really. It’s right there in “The Flight 93 Election,” the ur-text of Intellectual Trumpism. I’ve quoted some of the following few sentences over and over, because I’ve found something new to think about — and object to — every time. I’m not sure this passage is key to understanding Trumpism as a project, but it probably comes as close as any.

In it, the author — then writing under a pseudonym, now known to be Michael Anton, a Trump advisor — complains that the deck is stacked against Constitution-loving limited government Republicans. One of the reasons, naturally: Immigrants.

It needs to be quoted at length:

The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle. As does, of course, the U.S. population, which only serves to reinforce the two other causes outlined above. This is the core reason why the Left, the Democrats, and the bipartisan junta (categories distinct but very much overlapping) think they are on the cusp of a permanent victory that will forever obviate the need to pretend to respect democratic and constitutional niceties. Because they are.

It’s also why they treat open borders as the “absolute value,” the one “principle” that—when their “principles” collide—they prioritize above all the others. If that fact is insufficiently clear, consider this. Trump is the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey. He departs from conservative orthodoxy in so many ways that National Review still hasn’t stopped counting. But let’s stick to just the core issues animating his campaign. On trade, globalization, and war, Trump is to the left (conventionally understood) not only of his own party, but of his Democratic opponent. And yet the Left and the junta are at one with the house-broken conservatives in their determination—desperation—not merely to defeat Trump but to destroy him. What gives?

Oh, right—there’s that other issue. The sacredness of mass immigration is the mystic chord that unites America’s ruling and intellectual classes. Their reasons vary somewhat. The Left and the Democrats seek ringers to form a permanent electoral majority.

Some of this is misleading. If Donald Trump is so leftist — and this is written during the election — why is Michael Anton, longtime conservative Republican man about town, advocating for him?

Put aside that bit of disingenuousness, though, and the thought process is clear:

  1. Immigrants vote for Democrats.
  2. If enough immigrants vote for Democrats, Republicans won’t have a chance to win elections.
  3. So, it’s time to restrict immigration.

There’s plenty that’s offensive here — the idea that voting Democratic makes you opposed to liberty, or that brown people somehow are predisposed against liberty, and I dislike ideas that describe ideology as a near-inborn fact of demographics — but Anton isn’t alone in thinking that immigration will help Democrats. Here’s Ian Smith writing in National Review in 2015:

The Census Bureau includes aliens (both legal and illegal) in the statistics used to apportion our 435 congressional districts. This has the perverse effect of helping states with bigger immigrant populations to inflate both their representation in Congress and the number of Electoral College votes they are allotted (the latter is a function of the former). Just through their illegal-alien numbers, the states of New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, and Illinois, which all went for Obama in 2012, received eight additional congressional seats in the last reapportionment, with over half of those gains coming from their sanctuary cities and counties. It’s clear, then, why Democrats resist enforcing our immigration laws: More bodies mean more power.

Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies told me the same thing in an interview I did with him before the election last year: “”The broader issue is that mass immigration is a boon for Democratic candidates. It moves politics to the left, always, not just here but in Western democracies.”

There’s some good thinking to be done about why that’s the case, but let’s focus on the politics of this: Simply put, the anti-immigration movement is an anti-Democratic movement. And an anti-democratic movement; Republicans must restrict voting to white people as much as possible to hang on to power.

And if Dems favor immigration because it empowers them — I have no doubt there are more than a few — it means that Republicans dislike it because it disempowers them. When they talk about immigrants coming to take good jobs away from good Americans, they’re talking about jobs in Congress, and in the legislatures, and on county commissions, and so forth.

This, of course, continues a grand tradition: Republicans believe that disenfranchising brown people is their best path to electoral success. On one level, you can’t blame them. On the other hand, one shouldn’t mistake Republican nativism for populism. It’s not about helping poor people fed for themselves. It’s about holding and keeping power.

Twas ever thus, right?

— Joel

Who Do Church Police Protect?

Briarwood Presbyterian church, an Alabama megachurch, has recently been granted permission by the state to create its own police force. The church, which maintains a child care center, a private k-12 school, and a seminary, made the request because, it says, out of concerns for public safety at churches, citing shootings at other churches, including one at a carnival at another church in the area recently. Currently the church, like many other houses of worship, hires off duty officers to provide security at events, but these officers serve on an as-needed basis and do not report to the church itself. In the new model, police would be associated with the actual church, giving the church “the authority of state government,” as Randall Marshall, with Alabama’s ACLU, observes.

Regardless of the constitutionality of the arrangement, the thousands of (mostly white, because this is a church that was founded in objection to desegregation and as religious enclave for whites fleeing an integrated Birmingham) people who participate in life at Briarwood each day might want to think carefully about installing a church-supported police force. Crime within the congregation—rather than crimes against the congregation—seem to me to be far more likely. When a congregational leader commits fraud or a brother in the faith sexually assaults a minor, it’s far healthier for outside investigators to lead the effort to find the truth, protect victims, and insure safety, as we know from horror stories across lines of faith—Catholic, Jewish, Amish and Mennonite, and more.

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Above, the compound at Briarwood Presbyterian church, in a suburb of Birmingham. If people within the congregation are being abused, they could tell a teacher within the Briarwood Presbyterian educational system or a police officer who reports to the church. This is a set-up for abuse. 

Moreover, a church-related police force gives considerable control to the church, control that congregants might not like if it turned against them, as members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints community in the Hildale, Utah/Colorado City, Arizona, have learned. There, the police force was a defacto arm of the church, leading to corruption and the harassment of those who spoke against it.

If Briarwood does form its own police force, congregants may find that, rather than making them safer, it makes them more likely to be victimized.

Can You Be a Pacifist Without Religion? (Maybe.)

Rebecca:

Great post. You’ve touched on an area where my agnostic side and my Mennonite side clash in a fairly thorough way.

While I was still (for lack of a better word) churched, I found Mennonite pacifism relatively easy to adopt. My logic went something like this.

  • God is the God of eternity.
  • Any losses you suffer in this life are thus short-term in nature.
  • Ultimately, through faith in God, Good wins out over Evil.
  • Taking up arms, then, would have a couple of effects: It would hurt our witness — hard to convert the mind and soul of somebody you are killing — and it betrayed a lack of faith in God to win the ultimate victory.

Now? I really don’t know if there is God, or if it’s in the nature of God to win out over evil as I define and perceive it. Which leads me to wonder if it’s not the right thing now and again to pick up a gun and kill a bad guy — for the greater good.

But that withdrawal from total pacifism is kind of theoretical. In practice — and as in many other things — you can take the boy out of the church, but it’s not easy to take the church out of the buy. In practice, I’m pretty dovish.

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Some of that’s a result of being American, I guess, where we tend to exalt violence as a solution to many of our problems. Our popular entertainment is soaked in blood, our president wants to gut the State Department while putting even more money into a cash-rich defense department, and we no longer talk about the use of nuclear weapons as an event to be ardently avoided. Any small pacifism is an important counterweight in a society where violence seems to be the only hammer and every problem — no matter its nature — looks like a nail.

I’m also dovish because as a practical matter, war doesn’t seem to work that often. I thought we were justified, for example, going to war against the Taliban back after 9/11. But we’re still in Afghanistan. I’m not certain the country isn’t worse for it, or that we’re safer from terrorism as a result.

Really, there aren’t many wars — the ones fought in my lifetime — that didn’t seem to cause as much trouble as they mitigated. Afghanistan is a tar pit. Iraq is beset with terrorists. Libya, where we “led from behind” still ended up a mess. War rarely fixes problems and often expands the suffering that was already present.

So even though I’m not strictly pacifist these days, pacifism still informs my outlook.

Violence is easier than pacifism, because pacifism requires patience. Violence provides immediate feedback: Pull a trigger, watch a body drop. Push a button, watch the explosion. But those bodies, those explosions, aren’t necessarily solutions — though they’re often mistaken for such. Pacifism doesn’t provide that kind of immediate gratification, and never will, which is one reason it’s doomed to forever be a minority position.

In our private talk, you said you thought there was an atheist defense of pacifism. I think that’s right. If you’re an atheist and you snuff out a life — even if there’s a good reason — that’s a life forever ended: No chance to change, no chance at redemption. Even the least spiritual among us recognize an elemental difference between “alive” and “not.” There are few good reasons for erasing that distinction.

On the other hand, I can’t swear that there are no good reasons for it, either.

Back to your initial question though: Is self-defense a “sacred” right for Christians?

I keep coming back to this:

51At this, one of Jesus’ companions drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52“Put your sword back in its place, Jesus said to him. “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.53Are you not aware that I can call on My Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?…

If Jesus is God, and we’re not allowed to use violence to defend God — nevermind the fact that we actually do — then what excuse do we have? It’s the Mennonite in me speaking, but gun-toting Christians confuse me.

— Joel

Is self-defense a “sacred right” for Christians?

Joel:

Did you listen to Donald Trump’s speech to the NRA in Atlanta on Friday? It was the first time since Reagan that a president addressed this powerful lobby group, and Trump was in his element, firing up the crowd’s fear of immigrants and contrasting his own strongman tactics with the Obama administration’s failure, in the right’s imagination, to support police or veterans. And, yes, he reminded the crowd that he won in November, to the surprise of the media, and, just 100 days into the worst first 100 we’ve seen in modern history, he spoke about his plan to run in 2020.

So, there was a lot to unpack, but it doesn’t take much nuanced thinking to do it: more bluster, more opportunistic promises (Trump’s inconsistencies on gun control has garnered him derision among many gun rights advocates–but not enough to make him lose their vote.), more racism, and, always, always, always, the fearmongering.  Though the Obama administration did virtually nothing–even in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings of a room of kindergartners–to address gun control, Trump said that an “eight year assault on gun rights was ending and that the government would no longer be “coming after” law-abiding gun owners. Sure, that never happened, but whatever. The point is that Americans need to be afraid! “These are horrible times for certain, obvious reasons,” Trump told the crowd, who were able to fill in those “obvious reasons” themselves (immigrants, black people).

In some ways, I feel quite sorry for Trump supporters, who must be the most afraid people in America. For the Christians among them, this is an even more pitiful state, for they’ve chosen to exchange the confidence their faith promises for fear.  That’s an act of disobedience, and the consequence is a life of constant suspicion, susceptibility to savior figures, a surrender of joy, and a failure to be spiritually prepared for suffering.

For Mennonites and other people of faiths that reject violence, one particular moment in Trump’s NRA speech reminds us that our religion is a currency, not a real consideration, in how politicians treat us. Trump promised to protect the “sacred right of self-defense for all of our citizens.”

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Above, a close up of “the Crusader,” a tactical rifle with Psalm 144:1 (“Blessed by the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle”) etched on one side; on the other is the Knights Templar Long Cross, a symbol of the Crusaders during their attempt to take the Holy Land from Muslim control. The gun was specifically designed with “Christian values” in mind, according to the Florida manufacturer. 

For Mennonites, the “sacred right of self-defense” is an oxymoron. We might disagree about whether we ought to engage in self-defense at all and if, so, in under which circumstances and in which ways. We might disagree about whether guns can be used for that purpose and whether a gun itself invites such violence. We can argue about whether the Constitution gives us an individual right to handgun ownership or if it reserves the use of weapons for well-regulated militias.

But what we can’t disagree on, I think, is the idea that our right to kill another person, for any reason, is a “sacred right.” We have no models of “sacred self-defense” in the teaching of Jesus, and we have the most important model–of Jesus’ death–that counters this. Unlike most white Americans, early Christians had reason to be afraid, for their lives were in constant danger. And, yet, still, they are told over and over not to live in fear but in joy. Our “sacred right” isn’t an uninformed optimism that we will always be safe; it’s that we will always be loved–and that we experience that love more fully (and share it more generously) when we surrender our fear.

What are we consenting to when we consent to sex?

Hi Joel:

I’m sharing this post, which I recently posted on my personal blog, here. It’s a tough one, fed by recent conversations with my own students (who have agreed to have their ideas shared here) in a Sociology of Sex class.

Readers should be warned that this addresses sexual violence and reproductive coercion.

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By now you may have seen news coverage of stealthing, the practice of man removing  or damaging his condom without the consent of their partner during intercourse. Yale Law professor Alexandra Brodsky wrote about the phenomenon in the most recent Columbia Journal of Gender and Law (The full text is available for free here.), and CNN, CBS, and Huffington Post have been running stories on it.

Much of the conversation is about how to categorize this kind of activity so that we can better care for those who have been victims of it. One of Brodsky’s informants call is “rape-adjacent.” When the victim who believes that the condom is being used to prevent pregnancy, the act is one of reproductive abuse–sabotaging birth control.

Is it also rape?

(If you can’t wait to the end to find out my answer, it is: Yes.)

The FBI’s definition of rape, new since July 2103, is:

“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

That’s much clearer than the old definition (“carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will”), because it recognizes that people of all genders can be victimized and names specific acts. But the idea of consent–central to sexual assault prevention trainings on college campuses right now–remains unclear.  It must be verbal and “enthusiastic,” which means that it’s got to be explicit: Yes, I want to have sex. But, though we now have a law in California mandating enthusiastic consent prior to sex and enthusiastic consent is the go-to concept in teaching rape prevention on campuses, many people still don’t really understand it, and we do a lousy job of teaching it. It’s easy to get dismiss the conversation about consent by saying “Just don’t rape!” and while most people have no obligation to explain how not to rape to a potential sexual assailant, some of us (parents of teens and young adults, social workers and educators who work with teens and young adults) probably do.

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Above, a display of condoms.

Having taught, at this point, about 750 students in Sociology of Sex, I can say that many students are asking great questions about what consent means. Here are some of them:

Do you have to ask for and receive consent for every part of every sex act? (“May I nibble your left ear lobe? And the right?” If not for every act, which acts? And how do you ask without sounding “like a pervert or physician?”)

We have to have consent before contact between sex organs and any part of another person’s body, but what are “sex organs”? Penises and vaginas are obvious, and the law is explicit about anal contact. We’d probably easily put rear ends and probably but not as obviously women’s breasts in there, but what about men’s nipples? These narrow definitions seem to ignore the biggest sex organ of all (skin!). Sexual pleasure isn’t limited to sex organs (Yes, I’m linking to Cosmo, but readers can fill in the blanks however they like.), and we might be losing something when we keep the focus on penetration of/by “sex organs.”

How far from those consented-for acts can you stray without having to ask for consent anew? (“If she consents to a finger, can I use a thumb? Do I need to ask her again? Is a finger close enough to a thumb not to matter? But a toe–that would be too far off, even though it’s still technically a ‘digit’?” “If I ask if we can kiss, how specific do I need to be on details? And what if I don’t know what I want until we start?”)

Are other kinds of reproductive abuse also inherently acts of sexual violence? Lying about having an IUD or other form of long-acting birth control or deliberately misusing your or destroying your partner’s oral contraceptive are forms of reproductive abuse. Because they are non-consensual, are they also forms of sexual violence? (Answer: Yes.) If a cis man ejaculates into the vagina of a cis woman who claims to be using oral contraceptives but isn’t, he’s now having sex with a body (one without contraceptives in it) that he didn’t consent to have sex with, risking consequences he didn’t agree to risk. Is that sexual assault? If it’s not criminal, is there a civil case to be made?

What rights do we have to know accurate information about the bodies we have sex with?

We lie all the time in the pursuit of sex–about our height, our weight, our income, our sexual histories, our real hair color, the length and girth of our penises. Some of us lie about our HIV status, with legal punishments for lies or nondisclosure that vary widely and are often used to punish men of color in particular. If a woman consents to sex with a man who says he’s the real life inspiration for Christian Grey or the secret love child of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed or Idris Elba’s body double and it turns out he’s not, is that rape since the penis involved is not the one the person it is attached to said it was? After all, she consented to a far more prestigious penis than the one she got. If those examples seem far fetched, what about a man who claims to be single but is really married? If I wouldn’t consent to sex with a married man, but I might to a man who is single, if a married man lies to me about this marital status, is a penetrative act now rape because I didn’t consent to sex with a married man? Or what if I consented to sex with a with a man I understand to be white (as I am) but find that he’s biracial? If he lies about his ethnicity or religion?

What deceptions constitute “rape by deception”?

And finally, what are the implications for trans people here? If a trans man presents as traditionally masculine or a trans woman as traditionally feminine, do they have to out themselves as trans prior to a sex act? Here I’m thinking specifically of the ways that trans panic has been invoked as a defense of violence against trans people. (In the “classic” version, a cis man consents to sex with a person he believes is a cis woman. When, during intercourse, he finds that she has a penis, he responds to what he sees as a breach of trust with violence, including murder.) A common thread in this defense is that the cis man “felt like he was being raped”–not because he was having sex against his will but because he didn’t consent to sex with a trans person’s body. “Trans panic” defenses have been successfully used in many cases in which a trans person–particularly trans women–have been killed. They are based on the idea that someone was lying about their body–and that lie somehow produced enough fear to warrant homicide.

In short, if we argue that all penetrative acts must be “consensual,” what information do we have to disclose to be consented to? “My penis has a funky curve in it” doesn’t seem to be a big deal. “My penis isn’t going to wear a condom” is. But how do we figure this all out?

And how do we teach this so that people can enjoy honest, great sex?

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So, is stealthing rape? Yes. Like other forms of rape, it is about power and control, rooted in misogyny (whether it is aimed at women or at men who have sex with men).