Charlottesville

Dear Rebecca,

I assume by now you’ve heard the news:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — This picturesque college town devolved into a chaotic and violent state on Saturday as hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members — planning to stage what they described as their largest rally in decades to “take America back” — clashed with counterprotesters in the streets.

Despite the decision to quash the rally, clashes continued on side streets and throughout the downtown. In the early afternoon, three cars collided in a pedestrian mall packed with people, injuring at least 10 and sending bystanders running and screaming. It was unclear if it was accidental or intentional.

    There was at least one death,

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer indicated in a tweet. The Post could not confirm the death.

I have no wisdom to offer here.

I know that evil must be resisted. I know that racism is evil. And I know that overt David Duke-style racists feel suddenly empowered to parade their evil through American public life.

And so I know this, from President Trump, is insufficient: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he said.

Nope. Liberals have many, many flaws. And we aren’t always as right on race as we should be.

But this is not a “many sides” kind of issue. There is good and there is racism. There is good and there is bigotry. The two reside on opposite sides of the spectrum. President Trump’s equivocation is wrong.

This feels like a good moment for repentance. And that’s just to start.

Sincerely,
Joel

How Minorities Get Written Out of American History

Dear Rebecca:
Robert Curry, writing at The Claremont Review (a sort of righty version of the New York Review of Books) takes aim at those sad tropes of political correctness:

In his 2009 speech in Cairo, Barack Obama famously declared that “Islam has always been a part of America’s story.” Yet no Founder was a Muslim, and it is generally agreed that the first mosque in America was a tiny one in rural North Dakota, started in 1929. How then are we to understand Obama’s claim?

How indeed? Well, Curry says, Thomas Jefferson waged war against piracy, and many pirates were Muslim, thus: “In this sense, then, Islam can be said to have been a part of America’s story from the beginning: it defined an enemy of the new nation, forcing America to summon the capacity to govern and defend itself.”

(Mansplain voice.) Well, actually...

Muslims arrived here before the founding of the United States — not just a few, but thousands.

They have been largely overlooked because they were not free to practice their faith. They were not free themselves and so they were for the most part unable to leave records of their beliefs. They left just enough to confirm that Islam in America is not an immigrant religion lately making itself known, but a tradition with deep roots here, despite being among the most suppressed in the nation’s history.

The story of Islam in early America is not merely one of isolated individuals. An estimated 20 percent of enslaved Africans were Muslims, and many sought to recreate the communities they had known.

So. Do slaves count as part of the American story? I’l go ahead and say yes.

Know Who Likes Nazi-Punching? The Nazi.

Rebecca:

There’s been a bit of talk the last few months about “Nazi-punching,” whether there are forms of politics so evil that the correct response is not debate but, rather, pre-emptive violence. I’ve not been comfortable with that line of thought — I think as liberals we should lean to the “talk” side of politics than the war, and as folks with Mennonite leanings and heritages, we should be more cautious yet.

But there’s one person, it turns out, who really likes Nazi-punching: Richard Spencer.

You know, the Nazi-punchee*.

He’s profiled in the latest Atlantic by a former high school classmate. Toward the end of the article, he reflects on the punching incident.

He sounded vulnerable, for the first time since he’d said the St. Mark’s campaign had wounded him. “I have a right as a citizen to walk the streets and not be attacked, and I have the right to be protected,” he complained.

Spencer was obviously right when he said he should not be assaulted. But we both could taste the irony in the situation. If he hadn’t caught himself, he might have started talking about his “human right” not to be brutalized with impunity. Instead he recovered, and used the irony to his advantage. “The fact that they are excusing violence against Richard Spencer inherently means that they believe that there’s a state of exception, where we can use violence,” he said. “I think they’re actually kind of right.”

“War is politics by other means and politics is war by other means,” he said. “We don’t all want the same thing. And that’s why I think there is a kind of state of war going on.”

Not to put too fine a point on it: The Nazi-puncher accepts Spencer’s idea that liberalism has failed, and our politics is now eat-or-be-eaten. He makes this idea clear elsewhere in the article:

The other German forerunner Spencer claims is Carl Schmitt (1888–1985), who was, for a time, the court political philosopher of the Third Reich. Schmitt’s work has enjoyed a renaissance recently, and even liberals have found it useful, in part as a worthy oppositional philosophy that has forced them to improve their own. Spencer is hardly Schmitt’s heir. But his reading of Schmitt is fair and reasonably nuanced.

“There’s this notion of parliament as an ‘endless debate,’ ” Spencer explained over lunch. Liberalism accepts that disagreement is part of the political process, and that people who disagree profoundly can live together. [Emphasis added: Joel] But eventually, Schmitt argued, the parliamentary debate does end, and someone gets his way while someone else does not. The state’s job is to provide not the coffeehouse for the debate, but the threat of a beating to compel the loser to accept the result. “Politics is inherently brutal,” Spencer told me. “It’s nonconsensual by its very nature. The state is crystallized violence.”

If he’s right, if the Nazi-punchers who have accepted that logic is right, then we’ve already lost a great deal of what we’re supposedly trying to preserve in this country.

And listen: He might be right. We seem to have lost our ability to disagree profoundly and live together. Maybe that ability was an illusion that served the power and control of the people in charge. Probably.

If so, I can’t help but think it was a slightly useful illusion. Not always, and not for everybody, but we’ve survived some cataclysmic politics over the centuries and have only one Civil War to show for it. Me? I’d rather keep testing ideas and debating them than see which side has the best set of punchers. The best ideas don’t win that fight, just the best punchers.

We can’t let the Spencers of the world take charge. The danger – the danger I keep railing against – is that in resisting that prospect, we become the thing we said we hate. In this case, it couldn’t be more true: When you punch Richard Spencer, you’re acting in accordance with his philosophy. Not the race part, certainly, but the rest of it.

That would give me pause.

—Joel

* He doesn’t like to be called a Nazi, but as The Atlantic notes, his ideas are pretty Nazi-ish. And Jesus, that haircut.

Our Authoritarian America: A Dreamer is Deported

Rebecca:

My heart is heavy tonight. I am angry and I am sad and I am trying to address the ensuing issue in a civil way. But I’m finding it difficult.

Let USA Today explain:

Federal agents ignored President Trump’s pledge to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children by sending a young man back to his native Mexico, the first such documented case, a USA TODAY examination of the new administration’s immigration policies shows.

After spending an evening with his girlfriend in Calexico, Calif., on Feb. 17, Juan Manuel Montes, 23, who has lived in the U.S. since age 9, grabbed a bite and was waiting for a ride when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer approached and started asking questions.

Montes was twice granted deportation protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by President Barack Obama and left intact by President Trump.

Montes had left his wallet in a friend’s car, so he couldn’t produce his ID or proof of his DACA status and was told by agents he couldn’t retrieve them. Within three hours, he was back in Mexico, becoming the first undocumented immigrant with active DACA status deported by the Trump administration’s stepped-up deportation policy.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things: This event proves that the Trump Administration is both racist and authoritarian.

Why racist?

First, we don’t know why the Border Protection officer approached Montes in the first place, but on the face of it — and this could change with more information being made public — it appears that he was simply brown at the wrong place at the wrong time. If you’re a Latino citizen of America and you live in Calexico, your citizenship probably won’t prevent you from being approached, with suspicion, by federal agents. It is a layer of oppression only brown people will have to experience.

Second: Advocates of the “deport ’em all” stripe maintain, often, that race isn’t the reason they favor restrictive immigration, but culture. This was expressed most forthrightly in the now-infamous “The Flight 93 Election” essay by Michael Anton, now a Trump Administration official. He wrote:

“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.”

The “ceaseless importation” is a disturbing phrase in and of itself, reducing immigrants to subhuman widgets meant to be packed into a cargo hold for use later by Walmart shoppers. And let’s just forget that Anton believes “more Democratic” is equivalent with “less American.” (Note to Anton: (Bleep) you.)  But fine: The idea is that a free nation can only be preserved by people who have learned, love, and will work to preserve liberty.

So why deport Dreamers then? Yes, they came to the United States against our rules, but they did so when young and malleable — they’ve been immersed in our culture, in our schools, and consider themselves, for all intents and purposes, American.  If there’s a group of immigrants who can be considered to have a “tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty,” it’s the Dreamers.

Deporting them doesn’t get rid of people who share American values. It does reduce the number of brown people in America. Draw your own conclusions.

As for “authoritarian”: We now live in a country where, if you left your ID in the car, you can be swept off on the street — and deposited in another country three hours later. I’ve been around bureaucracies; you can barely get a driver’s license in three hours. The feds were able to establish Montes’ citizenship in that time? Or was his failure to prove himself immediately the fault line?

Note to Latino citizens of America: Keep ALL your papers and IDs handy at all times.

What this tells me: Manuel Montes probably has more of a “taste for liberty” than all the self-styled patriots who find his deportation a reason to cheer. “Liberty for me, but not for thee” isn’t liberty at all — it’s a caste system. It’s ugly and — I would’ve thought until now — un-American.

I guess I was wrong. A great evil is being done in our names.

Repenting.

— Joel

On the Usefulness of (Heather Mac Donald’s) Bad Ideas

Rebecca:

I went to a conservative Mennonite Brethren college where the dominant theology was — and officially remains — that homosexual activity is a sin. Despite the official view, a Bible professor of mine brought to campus a pair of gay men, Christians if I recall correctly, to talk about how they squared their lives with scripture.

It was an interesting hour, and in retrospect I admire those two men for braving what they knew would be a deeply hostile audience. (Particularly at the time, in the early 1990s, when the fear of AIDS added an additional layer of anger and terror to the topic.) I don’t remember specifics of the discussion that day, though I’m sure I can guess what the arguments were. I do remember, though, that it was a highly emotional day.

One more thing I remember: A sense that day that many of my classmates (and, to be honest, probably myself) regarded the encounter as a debate to be won, rather than contemplating this possibility: That beyond who could best cite and wield scriptures, there were actual, real lives to be contended with. It was one of a series of events in college that shaped me into who I am today: Quasi-agnostic, firmly liberal, and ardently gay-loving.

I don’t want to suggest that hearing gay men express the truth of their lives is the same as letting racists come to campus to spew ugly ideas. But I do want to suggest that a good education can and does occasionally include exposure to ideas that we regard as utterly incorrect. Not just because our minds will be changed, as happened in my case. There are several reasons.

Let me back up and preface those reasons with this: We agree that Heather Mac Donald is the purveyor of bad ideas that promote the glorification and empowerment of cops and often, nearly always, do so at the expense of minorities. We differ a little bit, though, in one aspect: I’m very frustrated with campus leftists who have tried to shut down her talks at colleges; you wonder why a college would invite Mac Donald to speak in the first place.

And I recognize that your objections are grounded in rigor, compassion, and a deadly low tolerance for bullshit. You ask: How many times do Black Lives Activists and their supporters have to say “Black Lives Matter… They matter here!”—as was chanted during the Q & A after MacDonald presented her thesis that the criminal justice system isn’t racist and that “America does not have an incarceration problem; it has a crime problem”—before Claremont McKenna decides that its students don’t have to put up with such stupidity on their campus?” I love the concern, the love for students, and the love of high academic standards that are all mixed up in that question.

And it’s a good question. Let me parse my answer carefully. I don’t think a good education requires a college to invite Heather Mac Donald to speak. But if a college — or a student-led club therein, which is often the case in these matters — chooses to bring her to campus, I believe it can be of some use.

Three reasons:

Even bad ideas are worthy of scrutiny. Here’s my best example of this, Rebecca: Your own career.

Your book, “God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right,” examines Westboro Baptist Church and its place in American theological traditions. Westboro’s ideas are awful and ugly and disreputable — even churches that can be honestly described as “anti-gay” want no part of the Phelps clan. You examined the ideas closely, and you spent a fair amount of time with the Phelpses to boot. That was painful, I’m guessing. But the work is valuable. It wasn’t accomplished by turning away.

So one way to respond to Heather Mac Donald is to protest. Another is to treat her as an opportunity to study. What does she believe? What are the antecedents for the belief? Put her in context. That context, I think, reveals how small and shallow her ideas are.

Because we too easily believe in our own righteousness. All of us are prone to confirmation bias, “the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.” Sometimes the best way to test our own ideas is to temper them against the hard edge of contrary belief, even beliefs that — at first blush — we might consider foolish. Where better to do such testing than in college?

Understand: I don’t think I’m suddenly going to find Heather Mac Donald persuasive. But the exercise of testing my beliefs against hers can be a valuable one. They can sharpen my ideas and arguments, or at least help me anticipate the objections to my own ideas and be ready with an answer.

The first two reasons are too light and ephemeral, admittedly. Mac Donald’s ideas have real-world consequences, cause real-world pain. Why burden our students with that pain? The real-world answer?

The spread of bad ideas doesn’t stop at campus borders. Heather Mac Donald earns a living doing what she does because A) there’s enough of an audience for it and B) a portion of that audience is willing to pay for it. And judging by the November 2016 voting results, there are plenty of Americans who believe the kinds of things she believes to shift the balance of power in this country. The ideas that count don’t always stand up to peer review, but they must be contended with nonetheless.

I’m sorry for students of color who have to put up with this bullshit. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to argue for your rights, your very being as a human. It’s unfair. And it’s easy for me, because I’m a white guy, to talk about good and bad ideas when mostly it’s theory to me — I’m unlikely to endure a stop-and-frisking anytime soon.

But the bullshit is out there. It is widespread. It is powerful. How many times do BLM supporters have to say “Black Lives Matter?” There’s no limit. There probably never will be. There will always be people who subscribe to notions we believe are mistaken, and so the work of pushing back never, ever ends. That’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. So our colleges and universities might as well equip students to do that work.

I wrote elsewhere recently: “Free speech requires forbearance from us, as well as persistence. It means we must counter bad speech with more speech, then do it again, then again and again, long after it seems to us the argument has been settled. And we do it because we want the same forbearance extended to us.”

Again, I don’t think it’s necessary that colleges and universities welcome bad ideas into their midst. But I can see the use of it. And in any case, I still think the proper response when Mac Donald ventures onto your campus is not to try and prevent her voice from being heard. Instead, make your own heard. And be ready to prove your ideas are better. Drowning out the voice of our opponents does not furnish such proof. It looks, in fact, like weakness.

I’ll let you have the last word in this thread. Thanks for hearing me out.

—Joel

 

Brandishing Black Bodies to Defend Against Racism

Rebecca:

I’ve used this space to occasionally praise unorthodox conservatives. So let me now mention a conservative whose ideas I really, really dislike.

Her name is Heather Mac Donald. She writes a lot for City Journal. And she writes, mostly, about how cops are awesome and how criticism of cops is bad. (Her recent book is called “The War on Cops.”)  I’m oversimplifying here, but not by much.

Anyway, I’m torn. I hate Heather Mac Donald’s ideas. But I think she has the right to express them. And last week, we watched as campus protesters at Claremont McKenna College tried to prevent her from being heard. Which forces me to … rush to Heather Mac Donald’s defense.

Here’s the short version, which I’ve expressed before: A mob can violate the right to speak just as surely as a government agent with a warrant. The best solution to bad speech is more speech, better speech. These are concepts that liberals have long defended, and should keep defending!

I suspect you and I have a bit to quibble with there, but trust me: You’ll like my defense of Mac Donald more than you’ll like Mac Donald’s defense of herself.

Which goes something like this:

I prefaced my speech by observing that I had heard chants for the last two hours that “black lives matter.” I therefore hoped that the protesters were equally fervent in expressing their outrage when five-year-old Aaron Shannon, Jr., was killed on Halloween 2010 in South-Central Los Angeles, while proudly showing off his Spiderman costume.  … And though it was doubtful that any of the protesters outside had ever lost a loved one to a drive-by shooting, if such a tragedy ever did happen, the first thing he or she would do is call the police.

Oh, for Pete’s sake. There’s few things I hate worse than the brandishing of black bodies as a defense against police brutality against blacks. And Mac Donald does it here expertly. So let’s make a few things clear

First: The existence of crime in no way mitigates the responsibility of police to act lawfully

Second: The existence of crime in no way mitigates the right of communities and individuals to petition their government for a redress of grievances.

Third: This “but what about black-on-black” murders is a typical, loathsome evasion of the issue of police brutality questions. It implies, in racist fashion, that black people don’t care about black lives unless there’s a white person to blame for the death. And that’s crap.

Let’s talk about the Aaron Shannon case, for example. In fact, there was a substantial community response to and outcry against his death. AP reported contemporaneously:

Immediately after the shooting, at least a half-dozen city-funded gang interventionists, experts who are often former gang members, and other volunteers hit the streets in a bid to prevent retaliation.

Residents incensed by the killing of a child were quick to provide details to police, who Friday announced the arrests of Marcus Denson, 18, and Leonard Hall, 21. Both are alleged members of the Kitchen Crips, which for years has been warring with a subset of the Bloods known as the Swans.

Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon estimated as many as 15 additional shootings were stopped.

This doesn’t even mention the $75,000 reward the community managed to put forth to get the killers arrested. All in all, a robust community response. One that Mac Donald surely would’ve known about if she’d done even middling research on her topic. (I found it with  a quick Google search.)

Maybe she did. But her use of Aaron Johnson indicates to me she’s mostly willing to brandish black bodies — not even as a defense against allegations of brutal, racist policing, but as a deflection against it. And it strikes me there’s something profane about using the dead body of a five-year-old black child as a bit of rhetorical jiu-jitsu.

Which is why it might be easy for me to throw in with the people who tried to prevent her from being heard, I guess. But I also believe free expression is made especially for expressions we find objectionable. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Heather Mac Donald’s right to express her views should be protected. But those views are still tripe. I can and do believe both things.

— Joel

 

Rape, race, and Rockland: Why you shouldn’t believe the hype

Rebecca:

The brown men are coming to take and rape our women. Did you hear?

Sorry if this opening is too snarky, but it’s difficult not to pour derision all over the age-old racist trope that we must protect white women from the dark hordes. This seems to be the most elemental of all the dumb racist fears, led to a fair number of lynchings back when lynchings were common, resulted in the murder of Emmett Till, and even formed the basis of one of America’s most-loved anti-racist novels.

Despite being thoroughly discredited, though, the trope — the fear by white men that somewhere, somehow, a brown man is having sex with a white woman — is durable. (We shouldn’t be surprised, I guess: Congress made clear in 1964 and 1965 that African Americans had the rights to vote and to public accommodations; it took a few more years after that for the Supreme Court to add that, yes, it was OK for men and women of different races to get married. That was years after Barack Obama, the product of a black-white relationship, had been born. We treat this like ancient history, but it just happened yesterday.)

I mention this because of James Jackson.

You’ve heard of him, right? He’s the racist who drove to New York last week and killed a black man … because he wanted to kill a black man. Any one would do.

And why did he desire this? The New York Daily News found out in a jailhouse interview.

Most chillingly, Jackson said he had traveled to New York from Baltimore intending to kill numerous black men, imagining that the bloodshed would deter white women from interracial relationships. “‘Well, if that guy feels so strongly about it, maybe I shouldn’t do it,’” he said, imagining how he wanted a white woman to think.

One almost has to admire the pathetic grandiosity of the candor here. Jackson wasn’t even trying to protect white women from the “dangers” of black men — he wanted to scare the white women away from even thinking about romance with a black man.

It’s only been two years since Dylan Roof massacred African American churchgoers for the same reason. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country — and you have to go,” he told victims as he mowed them down.

Maybe, Rebecca, some of our readers will suggest that these tropes are being revived only on the extremes, by the worst of the worst, by killers who might be too crazy to fairly count as being part of the discourse.

Except: The trope is working its way into our politics. It’s not totally explicit yet, but it’s getting there.

Remember, Donald Trump opened his campaign for the presidency with this jaw-dropper:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

It doesn’t matter that the numbers suggest immigrants have lower offense levels — Trump has kept this up through the first weeks of his presidency. The White House is creating an office specifically to deal with immigrant crime, specifically to hype and rile up the population against the brown hordes.

And just in case you didn’t get the clue, the Trumpist alt-right’s favored insult du jour is “cuck” — short for “cuckhold,” which is a term, that, well…

The cultural importance of the cuckold in America is rooted in racism: in pornography, the wife of the cuckolded (almost exclusively white) husband is most commonly sleeping with African-American men, meant to provide an additional layer of humiliation if the white husband sees that man as “inferior.” In the world of pornography meant to elicit humiliation as an erotic sentiment, cuckold porn takes advantage of its viewers’ racist perceptions.

All of which, unfortunately, brings us to this: A 14-year-old girl in Rockville, Maryland says two undocumented immigrants raped her earlier this month.

The story is horrifying.

Also horrifying: It’s become a national political football, a log thrown on the fire to help ensure  that we get our national blood good and boiling. It’s becoming a cause celebre in righty outposts like Fox News and Town Hall and Daily Caller and, of course, Breitbart.

My friends — yeah — at the Trumpista website American Greatness have published two posts about the matter in the last day. (Which is twice as much coverage as they gave to the failure of the GOP health bill.)

It’s hard to find a good way to respond to this. The public will hear RAPE!!!! and rational mewling responses of “that’s awful, but truly immigrants are convicted of crime less often than native-born whites” will go mostly unheard. Because this story is horrifying, and what? Do you care more about your precious “illegals” than the women in your life? Why don’t you hate rape enough? Guess you’re not an ally to feminists after all! It’s not, for the most part, a good-faith argument.

Me, I’m pretty sure can be a feminist ally and be cynical about the motives of people who otherwise don’t spend much time, interest or energy on rape prevention, except as a means of defending gun rights or criticizing campus feminists who rail against “rape culture.” The problem? Demagoguery has a better, easier, more enticing elevator pitch. It always does.

So. The Rockland story is awful. But the coverage appears to be attempting a narrative — THEY are coming for our women — that isn’t supported by the existence of one awful act. We should work to get the victim all the help and services she needs, all the community support that can be afforded her family. And we should still push back against people who cynically exploit her story to try to make the rest of us as afraid of brown men as they are.

— Joel