Monday, July 22, 2019


US President Donald Trump is not a racist. Or at least that’s not all that he is. His is, rather, a misanthrope, an equal-opportunity hater, who can always find something bad to say about just about anybody.
Well, no, not quite. Actually, he can find something awful to say about anyone decent and admirable (John McCain, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Meryl Streep spring to mind), or anyone who criticizes or disagrees with him (as long as they are allies or former allies of the United States), or anyone who is a Democrat (or a democrat), or anyone Muslim (other than Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman), or anyone Jewish (with the exception of Bibi Netanyahu and “short guys that wear yarmulkes” and count his money), or any foreign-born person (other than his wife and her parents) living in the US, or anyone gay, or anyone who doesn’t look like or sound like they just came from participating in a Ku Klu Klan rally.
Incited racism...The crowd chanted, "Send her back!"
But in all fairness, there are those about whom he seldom if ever has anything bad to say, people who, by his own admission, he really admires—read: Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte, even the late Benito Mussolini, authoritarians that he would like to be “when he grows up.”
If he weren’t the president of the United States, he could be as racist, bigoted and misanthropic as he liked in his speech (it would indeed be his right to free, if repugnant, expression), and it wouldn’t matter one iota. But he is. And it does.
During the Civil Rights Era of half a century ago, back when I was growing up in my small, all-white, Midwestern home town, it was not uncommon to witness how prominent members of our homogeneous community would blithely ignore the fact that most African American people’s roots in the US stretched back much further than their own Scots-Irish and German immigrant “pedigree” and would suggest that if blacks, who were demanding that their constitutional rights be respected, didn’t like it in America, they could “go back to Africa.”
Sound familiar? It should, because that’s precisely what the president suggested four congresswomen of color should do this past week. And until Trump took office and declared political correctness a thing of the past, this would have been discriminatory and an example of hate-speech.
Indeed, in most workplaces, it still would be considered discriminatory, and the perpetrator would be subject to reprimand, suspension or dismissal. In fact, it is a patent example of potentially unlawful language when it creates a threatening atmosphere in the workplace. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ethnic slurs and other verbal or physical abuse due to nationality are illegal if they are severe or pervasive and create an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment, interfere with work performance, or negatively affect job opportunities. Examples of potentially unlawful conduct include insults, taunting, or ethnic epithets, such as making fun of a person’s foreign accent or comments like, specifically, “Go back to where you came from,” whether made by supervisors or by co-workers.
The Squad
In clear reference to US-born citizens, women of color and Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and (especially) to Somali-born Ilhan Omar (D-MN) a naturalized citizen who has lived in the US since childhood, Trump attacked the four elected representatives for their critical views of US policies saying that if they didn’t like it in America, “Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” 
Some people have tried to argue that Trump isn’t really a racist. That he only uses racism to energize his base, since, he figures, most of his base is indeed racist. But I’m not very sure that the president isn’t a blatant racist, and if he isn’t, then saying something like this simply for effect is even more criminal, because, if that’s true, then his purpose in saying it is to incite hatred and violence. Indeed, Congresswoman Omar has been receiving death threats for some time, and they spiked following Trump’s latest racist tweet. As was amply covered by the media, at a rally that he held this past week in North Carolina, the president clearly mentioned Congresswoman Omar’s name as a crowd-teaser and a buzzword, and the response was immediate. Members of his base in the crowd started chanting “Send her back! Send her back!” As they did, Trump stood idly by and let the racist chants go on, while he postured like Mussolini on the podium.
Equality has never been a value for many of the people who make up Trump’s core base: nativists, tribalists, bigots, Christian fundamentalists, white supremacists, xenophobes and all others who are too ignorant, insecure and narrow-minded to accept diversity. His energizing of these people, his permission for them to give in to their worst instincts is dangerous and frightening. And energizing the rabble to get them to attack “the other” is the stuff that fascism and dictatorial rule are made of.
More terrifying still, however, is not Trump himself, but the GOP’s tolerance of him. The party of Lincoln and Eisenhower has been converted into the party of Trump and it is the Republican Party, in its vast majority, that is providing Trump with the power he needs to become a clear and present danger to democracy or the rule of law. The fact that only a tiny handful of Republican politicians were willing to come out this week and condemn racism and Trump’s use of it as a rallying cry is a clear indicator of the extent to which the current occupant of the White House has usurped the GOP and imbued it with his one-man authoritarian quest for unbridled power.
That racist, bigoted poison with which the 45th president of the US has been rallying his base has spread, obviously, beyond the stage of cutting off the hand to save the body when nearly no one in his party is willing to stand up and say, loudly and unequivocally, that racism is wrong and un-American, and that it won’t be tolerated. Not by anyone, including the president.
The Handmaid's Tale...the new normal?
We Americans tend to think that once historic social conquests like those won in the civil rights era are in place, they become self-maintaining and permanent fixtures. Trump and the hijacked GOP have demonstrated that we can take nothing for granted, that the threat of authoritarianism and a return to hatred of “the other” are only latent as long as the worst that the nation has to offer isn’t marshaled behind a would-be tyrant with the means necessary to inflame a following.
It is no coincidence that the TV miniseries of The Handmaid’s Tale, based on a book that Margaret Atwood wrote back in the mid-1980s, is so wildly popular among liberal democratic audiences today. It’s because, back then, Atwood’s premise was a prescient invention, while today, it’s becoming a burgeoning reality.

Saturday, July 6, 2019


Indeed he did, and set more than one American wondering whether the “leader of the free world” is suffering from dementia, or is just uniquely, unbelievably, incredibly, monumentally, “bigly” ignorant.

This is what he said verbatim:
 “The Continental Army suffered a bitter winter of Valley Forge, found glory across the waters of the Delaware, and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown. Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do. And at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their Star Spangled Banner waved defiant.”
People were still so busy scratching their heads and asking, “WTF did he just say?!” about Trump claiming that the Continental Army “took over the airports”, that they didn’t even notice when he re-wrote another chapter in history by claiming immediately afterward that the decisive War of 1812 Battle of Fort McHenry took place during the Revolutionary War three decades earlier.
Trump blamed the weather. The rain meant he couldn’t see the teleprompter and had to wing it. Hmmm, maybe he needs to work on his ad libbing by cracking a book now and then and learning something...anything!
This would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad—and frightening! Because, let’s face it, one of the world’s most irretrievably hopeless ignoramuses is commander of the most powerful military on earth, and has access to the nuclear codes.
Still, meme artists had a field day...

Thursday, July 4, 2019


Ever since last week’s Democratic debates, I’ve found myself arguing with other liberals—mostly Democrats, but also a few moderate Republicans and the occasional independent like myself—about what, if anything, former Vice President Joe Biden did wrong in answering California presidential hopeful Kamala Harris who took him to task for his stance on the issue of busing back in the 1970s. Let it be clear that, in common with unabashed segregationist politicians of the day, Joe Biden was a staunch opponent of busing, even if by association, and for clearly different reasons than those of racially prejudiced members of Congress. And, at the very least, when challenged in these first debates, he didn’t seem to have a considered and thoughtful response for those whose misgivings Senator Harris was voicing.
Busing sparked widespread protests on both sides of the issue.
Busing, for those too young to remember it, was a federal government attempt to forcibly integrate schools around the country but particularly in the Deep South, where, despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was designed to end the sad tradition of racial discrimination that had virtually assured African Americans of second-class citizenship since the end of the Civil War, the best that America had to offer continued to out of the black community’s reach. The policy consisted of federally imposed the busing of students—at first black students only, but later whites as well—from their natural school districts to other districts where schools were either all white or all black.
The idea of busing was to lower the social and cultural barricades that had, from time immemorial, divided the black and white communities. The creators of the policy clearly felt public schools were the place to do this first, bringing young people together, regardless of race, where they might learn to empathize with one another and to live, learn and work together in peace and harmony. More importantly, it was an attempt to ensure an equal education for all, since, frequently, black school districts didn’t get anywhere near their fair share of funding, their fair share of infrastructure or their fair share of educational resources.
But the busing policy was controversial. Although its intentions were noble, its effects were checkered. Yes, in many cases, like that of Senator Harris, apparently, it was a fine opportunity for a better education than she would have had in her own district. But in other cases, like those of a few people I communicated with on the social media this past week, it meant that certain middle-class white kids, who were in school districts that did indeed benefit from the best that America had to offer in public education, ended up being bused to formerly all black schools that were chronically strapped for resources of all kinds.
Furthermore, while the policy was meant to increase social harmony between the races, it often had the opposite effect, because blame for busing was laid at the door of the minorities who benefited from it rather than at those of the three branches of government that were implementing the policy. And this resentment included that arising from schoolchildren of both races having to spend an inordinate amount of time daily commuting by school bus from their home districts to other school districts simply in order to ensure that the schools they attended had “the right mix” of blacks and whites to appease the federal government.
Harris takes on Biden about busing during the debates.
As Senator Harris pointed out in the debates, however, when local communities—in this case, state and municipal boards of education—refuse to do what’s right and what the Constitution and the rule of law require, then it’s time for the federal government to step in and assure that no one’s civil rights are abused. And that was the purpose of busing, no matter how heavy-handed a policy it might have been.
In all fairness, Senator Harris has, since the first debates, said that, given the chance, she wouldn’t necessarily impose busing today. She told those questioning her on the topic that busing was “just one of the tools” in the array of possibilities for desegregation, implying that there were others that might be just as effective. But are there? The de facto re-segregation of public schools that we’re seeing today would tend to indicate the contrary.  
The crux of this matter lies in two responses from Facebook friends of mine this past week. One argued that “schools are all the same” in each state or municipal district, depending on who has authority over them from one area of the country to the next. Another argued that her white middle-class daughter had been bused to “a crappy school with broken windows” in a largely African American district. Although both of these responses were meant to be arguments against busing, they are both arguments that might just as easily have been employed to support busing. First, schools might all be the same on paper—in terms of curriculum, standardized testing, etc.—but in point of fact, they often are not, in either broad or specific practical terms. Second, the fact that a white mother’s child might have been bused to “a crappy school with broken windows” is clearly unfortunate for the child who was in a better school before, but it underscores the argument that all schools are not the same at all, no matter how they may look on paper.
An underlying idea of busing was, indeed, to equalize schools from one district to the next, with bused African Americans usually getting a better education and educational experience than they would have in their home districts, and with the presence of numerous members of the relatively privileged white majority in formerly all black school triggering a movement to bring the schools up to the same standards enjoyed in formerly all-white public schools. The main point of the busing policy was that there was a virtual Apartheid in US education. And something—anything necessary—had to be done to wipe out all vestiges of the country’s racist past, beginning with education.
But no one should get the idea that de facto segregation was only a problem in the South, where it was purposely and stringently maintained. Indeed, segregation was a fact of life in many major cities in the North as well. This was because the boundaries of many school districts were also those of all-black or all-white neighborhoods, which was why court orders backed the landmark Supreme Court decision known as Brown v Board of Education by imposing “forced busing” on such cities in the North as Boston, Columbus (Ohio), Detroit and Wilmington (Delaware), as well as on West Coast cities like San Francisco and Pasadena.
Racial segregationists James Eastland and Herman Talmadge
Recently, Joe Biden boasted about having sought the support of infamous and perennial southern Democrat segregationists James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia for the anti-busing bill that he co-authored back in the 1970s, when he was a junior senator from Delaware. He qualified his statements by making an argument for civility. More specifically, he told the audience at a New York fundraiser that, back then, “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything, (but) we got things done.” He then went on to talk about his once chummy relationship with the two segregationists.
This was like waving a red flag in the faces of many, particularly southern, African Americans. When challenged by Kamala Harris during last week’s debates, Biden backpedaled after the California senator asked him to admit he was wrong to have opposed busing, telling her that he hadn’t opposed busing, but rather, busing imposed on municipal and state authorities by the federal government. Neither Harris’s challenge nor Biden’s rebuttal got to the real crux of the issue, however. It was, perhaps, out of line for Harris to seek an apology from the former vice president for opposing busing, which he clearly saw as an erroneous policy. Rather, she might well have taken him to task for making a virtual pact with the devil (radical southern segregationists) to try and achieve his anti-busing goal. Conversely, Biden should have known better than to have qualified the kind of busing he was against when, in the age of Internet, it is so easy to review what his stance actually was. And the fact is that Biden was a staunch anti-busing advocate, who espoused, for whatever reason, an absolutist position that was in no way different from that of the segregationists whose support he eagerly sought and received.
In other words, back then, Senator Biden’s opposition to busing was in no way qualified. And the record shows that he was not merely “civil” toward Southern Democrat segregationists, but was in lockstep agreement with them on the issue of busing. In his own words during Senate debates at that time, “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather,” and he added that busing was, “a liberal train wreck.”
In 1977, Biden joined Senator William Roth in sponsoring the proposed “Biden-Roth” amendment, the purpose of which was to prevent judges from ordering wider busing to achieve integrated school districts. In arguing against busing in 1975, Biden said, “I oppose busing. It's an asinine concept, the utility of which has never been proven to me. I've gotten to the point where I think our only recourse to eliminate busing may be a constitutional amendment.” Clearly, back then, he wasn’t qualifying his opposition to busing as federally imposed versus voluntary busing. His campaign was against busing, period. And he unsuccessfully sought to impose a constitutional amendment to ban it. 
Biden used an argument that no white man ever should have uttered to justify his stance, arguing that “The new integration plans being offered are really just quota systems to assure a certain number of blacks, Chicanos, or whatever in each school. That, to me, is the most racist concept you can come up with. What it says is, ‘In order for your child with curly black hair, brown eyes, and dark skin to be able to learn anything, he needs to sit next to my blond-haired, blue-eyed son.’ That's racist! Who the hell do we think we are, that the only way a black man or woman can learn is if they rub shoulders with my white child?”
Junior Senator Joe Biden sought an anti-busing amendment
Had a black or Chicano politician said the same thing to argue for equal education, it might not raise an eyebrow. But coming from the then-young senator from Delaware, it smacked of hypocrisy since, clearly, the schools blacks and Chicanos were attending weren’t, in their majority, anywhere near equal to white schools. And because it came from the lips of a white politician it sounded more like advocating the “separate but equal” argument used in South Africa, for instance, to justify the nefarious Apartheid policy that sought to maintain white supremacy. Biden’s amendment bill lost by a small margin in Congress but the Delaware senator continued to be an outspoken opponent to busing as a desegregation policy.
Reverse discrimination suits by white victims of busing’s adverse effects were what eventually spelled the broad demise of the policy. But had Joe Biden thought out how he should respond if (or rather, clearly, when) the issue was broached in the debates, he might well have seen what happened to busing as similar to what happened to Obamacare following the administration in which he served in a key role for eight years. More to the point, busing (like Obamacare) was an imperfect policy. But it was a start, a first step in the right direction toward desegregation, but one that was struck down (also like Obamacare) with nothing viable to replace it.
This is verifiable by virtue of the fact that, even today, desegregation of American schools is on a sharp downturn, and has been ever since busing—which, again, was not replaced by any other viable policy—came to an end.  According to an article about the failure of desegregation by The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb, “To the extent that the word ‘desegregation’ remains in our vocabulary, it describes an antique principle, not a current priority. Today, we are more likely to talk of diversity—but diversification and desegregation are not the same undertaking. To speak of diversity, in light of this country’s history of racial recidivism, is to focus on bringing ethnic variety to largely white institutions, rather than dismantling the structures that made them so white to begin with.”
But that article was written in 2014, two years before the beginning of the Trump era, which has set civil rights back by decades, set political correctness aflame, promoted a far-right mentality fraught with nativism and tribalism and scared the president’s base with boogeyman stories about the rise of American minorities and the danger of disenfranchisement faced by the traditional white majority. We are again, in other words, faced with a resurgence of potential segregation and discrimination against people of color, whether African American or Hispanic. And despite the idea of diversity rather than integration, within a panorama of growing re-segregation, studies show that traditionally white schools continue to be the least culturally and racially diverse of all.   
I’ve heard both sides of a debate by Democrats and other liberals over the last week about whether or not Biden should apologize “for opposing busing.” Personally, I think that this argument seeks to answer the wrong question. The fact is that Biden, in his early senatorial days, was a staunch opponent to busing no matter how he tries to spin it now. But he felt that he had valid reasons for opposing it because, in his eyes, it was a policy that violated states’ rights and brought undo hardships to those affected by the policy.
To my mind, however, the stance for which he should offer a mea culpa is that of having enlisted the help of some of the most notorious racists in Congress to try and get an anti-busing bill that bore his name passed. And he might also want to admit that he was remiss in not helping find some way of promoting integration other than forced busing, if, as he says, he wasn’t for segregation, but merely against the negative effects of federally imposed busing.
This is an issue that won’t die. Mainly because Vice President Biden has failed to address it adequately when it came to the fore in the debates—as he should have expected it to. And this one issue has clearly hurt him badly in public opinion polls. If Biden hopes to take back the ample ground he lost to Kamala Harris in the first debates, he needs to own this issue and deal with it effectively. If not, he can expect his position to continue to deteriorate in the run-up to the 2020 elections.