Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Villainy Of Them

By itself, the tiff between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj over alleged bias in MTV's Video Music Awards is sound and fury signifying nothing; two young, immature individuals for whom youth should be no excuse.  However, the article by Ann Friedman of New York Magazine diving into the issue of whether this segment of the entertainment industry disproportionately favors one group of wealthy artists over another group of wealthy artists is emblematic of a larger dispute in society.

Friedman applauds the documentary "White People," which "did make some of its subjects uncomfortable," which she finds very gratifying.  Plumbing the depths of her self-satisfaction, she argued they "struggled to understand that white privilege is something that is both bigger than they are and also something they are actively involved in."  Born white, they are not only responsible for oppression and racial injustice; they also are simultaneously small people, insignificant to the point that their privilege is "bigger than they are." Keep quiet, racist children.

After Minaj tweeted her dissatisfaction with the VMA awards, Swift responded in kind, which led Minaj to place on her Instagram account “We are huge trendsetters, not second class citizens that get thrown crumbs. This isn't anger. This is #information.”  A pleased Friedman wrote

This, as the reaction to both her tweet and the White People documentary shows, is a tough lesson for white people to learn. It’s not about how hard you’ve worked for what you have, how you personally feel about people of other races, or how good your intentions are. It is about the fact that you benefit from white privilege...

If you want the children "to learn a lesson," you might begin with not telling a couple it is "privileged" when underwater with their mortgage, with the husband laid off and unable to find a new job because he has reached the ripe old age of 40 and the wife working three jobs almost to make ends meet. That might not go over so well, whether racial justice, racial comity, or mere persuasion is your objective. You also might want to avoid telling those folks that how hard they've worked doesn't matter, and shouldn't.

Minaj entered on her Instagram later “We are huge trendsetters, not second class citizens that get thrown crumbs. This isn't anger. This is #information.”   Aroused, Friedman writes

This, as the reaction to both her tweet and the White People documentary shows, is a tough lesson for white people to learn. It’s not about how hard you’ve worked for what you have, how you personally feel about people of other races, or how good your intentions are. It is about the fact that you benefit from white privilege (and, in this case, from a culture that privileges skinny white women’s bodies). So it is about you — just not in the way you thought it was....

Much can be made of a culture which prefers "skinny white women's bodies," which is that it prefers skinny women's bodies generally, and tall, skinny women's bodies more specifically. But never mind. If Friedman had stuck to this cultural analysis, she might have a point. Instead, she wants to make sure people realize (as she would have it) that hard work and good intentions are far less important than the race of a person's parents, which the person has no control over: a triumph of nature over nurture, to be welcomed.

The primary myth undergirding Friedman's twisted view is the idea of "them," that all members of an ethnic group are, at base, one.  In the white community of the 1960s, dismissal of blacks as "them" was disturbingly common. They were not individuals, only indistinguishable members of a group. And so it is that Salon's leading trafficker in racial hatred (also a professor at Rutgers University), Brittney Cooper, can charge

There is a way that white people in particular treat Black people, as though we should be grateful to them — grateful for jobs in their institutions, grateful to live in their neighborhoods, grateful that they aren’t as racist as their parents and grandparents, grateful that they pay us any attention, grateful that they acknowledge our humanity (on the rare occasions when they do), grateful that they don’t use their formidable power to take our lives.

This would not be some white people, or white politicians, or white chief economic officers, or specific white people she might mention.  It is "white people in particular."   It would be useless to inform Cooper that whites usually acknowledge the humanity of black people- or at least as much as they do white people.  Nor do they act as though blacks should be "grateful" to them

Cooper appears to be hanging around the wrong white people, and should get out more. If she did, she would recognize that most do not deceive themselves into thinking they have "formidable power." Whether seeing their adversary as government, corporations, some other faceless institution, or the inevitable passage of time, they realize they are largely powerless to effect change, and often to hold onto what they have. Some of them are even poor (chart below from The American Prospect). The (realistic) sense of powerlessness over their lives or the country is one reason so few people bother to vote, which should not be necessary to point out.

In a manner similar to that of Friedman, Cooper flogs the theme of "white supremacy, in a culture of White Supremacy."  But if she believes the rules of the nation unfairly target blacks, she ought to name institutions, and even names, instead of taking pot shots at average people who may be similar to one another only in racial makeup.  Otherwise, she is merely serving the interests of a ruling class she ignorantly believes is bound together by race, and only by race.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

A New Kind Of Feel-Good Candidate

If we didn't know any better, we would have thought, having read this in The Washington Post three weeks ago, that Donald Trump is a hypocrite because

Despite his recent statements about the types of undocumented Mexicans who come over the border, and his stubborn refusal to walk those statements back as he’s seen business deals crumble, a Washington Post article on Tuesday revealed that Donald Trump may be reliant upon undocumented-immigrant labor to construct his latest real-estate development.

The Post interviewed several construction workers and day laborers working on Trump’s new $200 million Washington, D.C., hotel, and discovered that some were undocumented immigrants, afraid for their jobs in light of Trump’s announcement. Others, who agreed to be interviewed on the record, said they were once undocumented immigrants who obtained legal status, and expressed “disgust” at Trump’s disparaging comments.

“The majority of us are Hispanics, many who came illegally,” Ivan Arellano, a mason who originally came from Mexico and eventually gained his legal status through marriage, told the Post. “And we’re all here working very hard to build a better life for our families.”

Inadvertently, one interviewee explained why the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests are so accepting of illegal immigration.  A naive "Daniel Gonzalez, an El Salvadorian who was granted asylum, worried that Trump’s anti-Hispanic sentiment would jeopardize their jobs: 'He might come one day and pretty much tell us to get the heck out of here.'"

Not a chance, Trump, his contractor and that company's subcontractor has Daniel right where they want him: working cheaply and scared of losing his job.

Another fellow, Ramon Alvarez, reportedly asked rhetorically “Do you think that when we’re hanging out there from the eighth floor that we’re raping or selling drugs?”  Of course not, but neither does Trump or either of the others, who wouldn't care if he were raping or selling drugs, as long as he keeps quiet and adds to the bottom line.

The likes of Gonzalez and Alvarez are not working for Mr. Trump, but for a subcontractor.  The contractor is Lend Lease, which agreed in 2012 to pay $56 million to settle a huge fraud scheme in a case handled by then-Brooklyn District Attorney Loretta Lynch, who might otherwise actually have prosecuted the company for having carried on the practice for decades. That was fortunate for both Lend Lease and Ms. Lynch, the latter of whom went on to be rewarded by President Obama by a nomination for Attorney General.

Revelations in the article didn't hurt Trump at all, and neither will he be hurt now that

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Friday, host Joe Scarborough asked Trump what he would do about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country once America secured its southern border. After arguing the real number of illegal immigrants is much higher and saying the first thing America needs to do is “take the bad” illegal immigrants and “get them the hell out,” Trump sounded like he was open to providing some type of pathway to legalization for the remainder.

“And then the other ones — and I’m a very big believer in merit system, I have to tell you,” Trump said. “Because some of these people have been here, they’ve done a good job, you know, in some cases sadly they’ve been living under the shadows.”

“We have to do something,” he continued. “So whether it’s merit or whether it’s whatever, but I’m a believer in the merit system. If somebody’s been outstanding, we try and work something out.”

Because it appears he was talking about legalization rather than citizenship, a President Trump wouldn't have to worry about those pesky employees from South America or Latin America voting or raising a stink about their working conditions.

However, even if the candidate actually had broached the possibility of citizenship, he probably wouldn't have been hurt much.  Steve M. asks

Can it be that Trump's fans don't really care whether he's an actual immigration hard-liner, just so long as he says racist things about Mexicans and threatens to make the Mexican government pay for a border fence? Do the Trumpites care less about implementing hard-line immigration policies than they do about hating brown people?

I think Trump could possibly be damaged if someone in the first debate goes after him from the right on immigration, throwing these statements back in his face. But it might not matter. Trump might just start trash-talking Mexico again, and the Trump believers will respond more to the nastiness than to the actual policy.

Most conservatives usually react less to actual policy than to how something feels, thus being freed from the responsibility of acquiring, and analyzing, facts.   It feels great when he boasts "I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me."  When he adds "I'll build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall," nobody asks why Mexico would pay for  a wall to keep the people they now are (allegedly) pushing out to the USA.

It wouldn't matter, however. Trump will  have Mexico pay for that wall- and not only will he kick them in the rear, he'll make them love it. And ask for more.   When Donald Trump concludes "mark my words," it feels like a 2015 version of  "read my lips- no new taxes," which helped get GHWB elected president. In the video below, Trump cab be seen vowing "I will find... the guy who will take that military and really make it work. Nobody will be pushing us around." Even knocking the military- an institution sacred to many conservative Republicans- is acceptable as long as "nobody will be pushing us around."

"Thanks to his machismo and his wealth," Elias Isquith finds, "Trump becomes, at least in the eyes of many of his backers, a symbol of the kind of individualism they see as integral to their identity as conservatives."  He comes across as a tough guy and in the short term, that works just fine.


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Sunday, July 26, 2015

No Johnnie, Or Donald, Come Lately

Perhaps Rick Perry deserves a little grudging respect, given that he is the Repub presidential candidate who has most vehemently attacked Donald Trump. On Wednesday the former Texas governor stated

He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.  Let no one be mistaken: Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.

But then on Sunday's Face the Nation, Perry claimed "We’ve had a divider in the White House for the last six and a half years in Barack Obama. We don’t need that out of the Republican nominee.”

Call President Obama what you wish. I often have, and presumably Republicans would if they ever would figure him out. Obama, however, is as much a "divider" as Perry is an expert on the federal bureaucracy (a reminder, below).

In his CBS appearance, Perry remarked also "I want to be very clear that I'm not going to go quietly as any individual, whether it's Donald Trump or anyone else, that lays out concepts that frankly are out of line with the old historical conservatism."  Trump's accurate representation of conservatism, however, was on display when he criticized John McCain as "not a war hero. He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."

Averse to false humility, Trump brags (below) "I'm really rich," as we all were aware; The message, though, is clear: " I'm a winner, unlike the guy who was captured, who is a loser," a succinct expression of the timeless Republican credo.

It's not surprising, then, that noting efforts in the past by such GOP notables as Perry, Lindsay Graham, and Mitt Romney to sidle up to Trump, that E.J. Dionne recognizes

.... the real Donald Trump has been in full view for a long time, and Perry's new glasses can't explain his newfound clarity. I don't credit Trump with much. But he deserves an award for exposing the double-standards of Republican politicians. They put their outrage in a blind trust as long as Trump was, in Perry's words, "throwing invectives in this hyperbolic rhetoric out there" against Obama and the GOP's other enemies.

Almost to a man, the Repub candidates act as if Donald Trump is a newbie, just recently burst onto the scene, or an altruistic guy who suddenly has lost his mind. But Alex Mierjeski of ATTN: explains

Trump brings to his candidacy an extensive backlog of business ventures, some of which are troubling. In August, 2013, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the he was filing a lawsuit against Trump for the dubious promises of his higher education endeavor, Trump University. Schneiderman’s lawsuit alleged that the school’s real estate program, which was unlicensed as an actual university, was complicit in “persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct” towards its students, who were often saddled with debt from expensive seminars in lieu of brimming with the promised insider secrets from “Donald Trump’s handpicked instructor[s],” most of whom turned out to have emerged from real estate-derived bankruptcy, or have little background in real estate at all.

Schneiderman claimed that more than 5,000 people paid around $40 million to Trump U, a quarter of which was funneled directly into Trump’s pockets, going against claims that Trump U was founded “solely for philanthropic purposes“––Trump netted around $5 million in profit, according to the suit. Many of the allegations read like a pyramid scheme pamphlet, such as the multiple claims that Trump himself would make an appearance (“‘he is going to be in town’ or ‘often drops by’ and ‘might show up’ or had just left,” the suit reads), and student evaluations required for getting a certificate that “‘pleaded for a favorable rating so that ‘Mr. Trump would invite [them] back to do other retreats.” On top of Schneiderman’s case, a class-action lawsuit in California was filed against the university, which now lists itself as the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.

Whatever Donald Trump is- right-wing crank (not likely), huckster, windbag, rapacious capitalist- he is what the Republican Party has wrought.  Enjoy, fellas.

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