No taxes and white supremacy — the GOP way

My daily reminder that Republicans are the party of white supremacy:

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a gubernatorial nominee who recently was accused of using racially tinged language, spoke four times at conferences organized by a conservative activist who has said that African Americans owe their freedom to white people and that the country’s “only serious race war” is against whites.

DeSantis, elected to represent north-central Florida in 2012, appeared at the David Horowitz Freedom Center conferences in Palm Beach, Fla., and Charleston, S.C., in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, said Michael Finch, president of the organization. At the group’s annual Restoration Weekend conferences, hundreds of people gather to hear right-wing provocateurs such as Stephen K. Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and Sebastian Gorka sound off on multiculturalism, radical Islam, free speech on college campuses and other issues.

“I just want to say what an honor it’s been to be here to speak,” DeSantis said in a ­27-minute speech at the 2015 event in Charleston, a video shows. “David has done such great work and I’ve been an admirer. I’ve been to these conferences in the past but I’ve been a big admirer of an organization that shoots straight, tells the American people the truth and is standing up for the right thing.”

To quote Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, DeSantis picked some nice playmates:

Guest speakers at its conferences over the past five years have included Republican members of Congress, former governors Rick Perry of Texas and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, young conservative activists James O’Keefe and Ben Shapiro, and right-wing European politicians Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders.

Although Andrew Gillum leads in the polls, it’s an insignificant lead statistically. Ron DeSantis needs to lose to show the world that Florida comprises more than white racists and their Hispanic quislings.

The racist smear campaign continues…

The Florida governor’s race will be fought on high ground:

An assertion by a white gubernatorial candidate that Florida voters can’t afford to “monkey this up” by voting for his black opponent was widely viewed as a “dog whistle” to rally racists.

If it were a dog whistle — and GOP candidate Ron DeSantis denies any racial intent against Democrat Andrew Gillum — then a jungle music-scored robo-call that has circulated in Florida is more akin to a bullhorn.

If nothing else, the minute-long audio clip is a clear sign of how quickly racism — subtle in some cases, overt in others — has entered the contest to determine who will lead Florida.

“Well, hello there,” the call begins as the sounds of drums and monkeys can be heard in the background, according to the New York Times. “I is Andrew Gillum.”

“We Negroes . . . done made mud huts while white folk waste a bunch of time making their home out of wood an’ stone.”

The speaker goes on to say he’ll pass a law letting African Americans evade arrest “if the Negro know fo’ sho’ he didn’t do nothin’.”

It is unclear how many people heard the call.

A white supremacist group in Idaho is responsible, according to the article. To those who looked at the gathering of well-connected war criminals and deregulators at John McCain’s funeral and sighed for what we’ve lost in America, remind yourselves that operatives associated with the George W. Bush campaign slimed McCain during the South Carolina primary in 2000 using similar racist tactics.

I must say, though, that Gillum’s interviews with national outlets have been pure class. I’ve got some mild optimism.

‘Mudbound’ trapped by structural conventions

Mudbound might have been a solid NBC Sunday movie back when such things existed, or, better, a cable show several episodes long. At just over two hours Mudbound has the problems common to such productions: a “Meanwhile, back at…” chronology, performances without arcs that come off wooden, a predictable rhythm. But it has virtues too, including a strong sense of place, the camera work by Rachel Morrison (the South shot as an endless bog), and Jason Mitchell as the young black draftee who after getting warped by service in World War II’s European theater returns to a South that pretends the service didn’t exist.

For no particular reason the film begins in flashback: Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) and his brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) struggling with burying their father’s coffin in torrential rain. Echoes of As I Lay Dying, of course, but about the only thing this adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s novel has in common with William Faulkner’s rumination on Southern guilt is point of view multiplicity. Closer in spirit is The Southerner, Jean Renoir’s great 1945 film about farmers having a go at it in hostile terrain. But that film succeeded because Renoir and screenwriter Faulkner treated its characters as types; they were alive like figures in a pop-up book. Mudbound, alas, treats itself as a Serious Movie following well-worn Oscar tropes. “He was my rescuer from my life on the margins,” Laura intones in voice-over. She marries Henry, and because Carey Mulligan plays Laura we know she’s in for trouble. From the start thy are sexually incompatible and she learns to recoil from his weakness – he’s too easily suckered by in-laws, shysters, and that horrible father, Pappy (Breaking Bad‘s Jonathan Banks), seen in that flashback. Incompetent or not, Henry at least is as racist as his neighbors in Marietta. On that farm live the Jacksons, sharecroppers led by Hap (Rob Morgan) and his wife Florence (Mary J. Blige, Oscar-nominated), miserably eking out an existence dependent on the mercies of the McAllens.

This is where the literalism of director Dee Rees’ approach sinks the material. By cutting frantically between the Jacksons and McAllens as if the families were equally important, Rees implies that a cycle of poverty dependent on the weather and exacerbated by the quotidian evil of Southern racism traps both families. I haven’t read Jordan’s novel, let me admit, but I call nonsense. The friendship between Ronsell Jackson and fellow PTSD survivor Jamie blooms as a kind of heterosexual Romeo and Juliet, making the town turn their heads everywhere they go, is the device by which the screenwriters connect the families in bonds of intimacy, but as charming as Hedlund is playing the rascal – he and Florence also engage in a movie-length flirtation – it’s unconvincing. Simply put, Ronsell would not have even dared to ride in the front seat with Jamie. In 1946, Sergeant Isaac Woodward, Jr. had his eyes gouged out by a white sheriff and his deputies days after receiving his discharge papers. While Mudbound acknowledges the routine violence perpetuated by Pappy and his type, the casual racism of a dull, stupid man like Henry, and the reality that a black man with ambition – James Baldwin, say – must leave his own country to find self-respect, its structural equivalences undermines the bleakness of its conclusions.

Yet I can’t disregard the details over which Dee Rees pauses with an attention that comes from lived or shared experience: Florence breaking the smallest piece from a chocolate bar Ronsel gives her as a gift, intending to make this gift as long as necessary; the casualness with which Jamie lets his arm rest on Ronsel’s shoulders. Mudbound disappoints because I wanted more from the material onscreen, not less.


Donald Trump, governing by narrowcasting

A few conclusions drawn from Trump’s Latest Remarks Pt. LVII:

1. Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Mexicans as rapists and murderers. Judge Curriel’s inability to render a fair decision. The good people on both sides of the Charlottesville protests. These are things he has said, irrespective of the presence of Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.

2. As an example of base narrowcasting, or directing (if we can call this “governing” in any normal sense of the word) remarks and policy to the thirty-five percent of the electorate that sticks with him, Donald Trump surpasses Richard Nixon.

3. Hours before Trump’s remarks leaked, POLITICO published another article explaining why rural whites are racists voting for Republicans who deny them health care yet Democrats need them because “big tent.” I wonder if the Democrats interviewed in Michael Kruse will stand by what they said on the record.

4. “In his usual blunt way,” Jeremy Carl writes in National Review, “Trump cut to the core of the debate. As he’s said time and time again, the correct gauge of our immigration policy is what is best for actual American citizens—we’re running the greatest nation in the world, not the greenroom for Oprah’s next sob-story special.” I’ve seen towns in Florida as or more squalid than what Donald Trump imagines these undesirable immigrants flee; likewise Norwegians aren’t exactly coming in droves (NBC 6 Miami claimed just over three hundred Norwegians lived in South Florida; I wish I could find a link). Finally, do your research on the Center for Immigration Studies.

5. Also present at the White House meeting where Trump demonstrated his charm and generosity: Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Representative Kevin McCarthy; Senator David Perdue of Georgia; Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas; and Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginian. Senator Dick Durbin, the only Democrat presented, is presumed to have leaked. The others have yet to comment.

6. “I want to be your greatest champion,” Donald Trump told Haitian Americans in September 2016.

The Obama presidency’s ‘profound psychological wound’ on white Americans

For the first time in my life, my family and I are leaving town for Thanksgiving (details of which will follow). Because it’s a smaller group, I predict no arguments about kneeling football players, Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton and uranium, or Roy Moore. Alas, I can’t say the same for the rest of you.

One of the paradoxes of Cuban experience is the vehemence with which we identify as white despite the U.S. Census declaring otherwise. I knew parents of friends who checked off “white” on the census or when forced to write “other” wrote “Cuban.” Essentialism also gets sprinkled in this broth. Woe be the relative or family friend whose eyes are almond-shaped: he is called, affectionately, el chino. You are what you look like. If you look white, you are white. Acting white matters too. To be white and Cuban is to reject behavior that would inspire a scowl from abuela. It isn’t that you have “class” — it’s that the non-whites lack it. It isn’t that you’re sophisticated — it’s that the non-whites, poor things, can’t help their vulgarity. Exceptions are common, especially if the non-whites were nannies, neighbors of your great grandmother’s in Olguin, or movie stars.

An continuation of fine work by The New Yorker‘s Peter Hessler’s fine work unearthing the unfettered racism animating Donald Trump overs, Adam Serwer’s Atlantic story contextualizes his reporting with history: the candidacies of David Duke and George Wallace, the birtherism phenomenon. This passage struck me:

Trump’s great political insight was that Obama’s time in office inflicted a profound psychological wound on many white Americans, one that he could remedy by adopting the false narrative that placed the first black president outside the bounds of American citizenship. He intuited that Obama’s presence in the White House decreased the value of what W. E. B. Du Bois described as the “psychological wage” of whiteness across all classes of white Americans, and that the path to their hearts lay in invoking a bygone past when this affront had not, and could not, take place.

Although Trump voters understand that “the president’s policies and rhetoric target religious and ethnic minorities, and behave accordingly,” Serwer writes, they stop short of calling these policies racist. Racism has nothing to do with endorsing Muslim bans or believing that statues of Confederate traitors should remain in place as a tribute to history. To be a racist is to endorse lynchings, use the n word, or never to invite a Mexican to your home — evils, radical and banal, unlikely to happen in a suburb. Violence, devoid of ambiguity, that offends liberty and affects property is the only racist act. Serwer even addresses an argument I’ve heard from Beltway hacks since last November: you can’t be racist and have voted for Barack Obama, the sort of balderdash peddled by the same voters who loved their black nannies and boast of their many black friends.

“For centuries, capital’s most potent wedge against labor in America has been the belief that it is better to be poor than to be equal to niggers,” Serwer writes. The rhetoric force of the sentence is attractive. Better to say that the blacks most attractive to the Duke or Trump voter are those who most fit expectations of white class and sophistication.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The odious familiarity of the Roy Moore candidacy

When I read about the Senate GOP’s public displays of agony over the mall shopping habits of Alabama’s Roy Moore, I have to remind them that they needn’t worry. History teaches us that senators can tolerate all manner of sedition and outright villainy. James Vardaman, “Cotton” Ed Smith, Theodore Bilbo, James Eastland, Jessie Helms, Harry Byrd, and Strom Thurmond served in the twentieth century. Many of them ascended to leadership positions (“Cotton” Ed Smith was dean of the Senate). Even by the standards of their eras, these men were noxious racists and mellifluent about it: on learning that Booker T. Washington had dined with Theodore Roosevelt, Vardaman said that the White House was “so saturated with the odor of the nigger that the rats have taken refuge in the stable.” Hell, I could add John C. Calhoun. Moore is in fine company.

Latino problem? What Latino problem?

This section of the following Washington Post article could’ve been published in spring 2013 when sage political elites thought the GOP had no choice, after Barack Obama convincingly beat Willard Romney, but to follow this “autopsy report”:

Trump’s hostile rhetoric and actions toward Latinos, Republican strategists say, could not only undercut candidates in competitive 2018 races and make the White House harder to retain in 2020 but also further tarnish a GOP brand that party leaders have struggled for years to sell to skeptical Latino voters.

“A whole generation of minority voters is essentially hearing the GOP tell them, ‘We don’t like you,’ ” said Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee. “That might not have sunk the GOP against a flawed candidate like Hillary Clinton, but the demographics are moving into a direction where this will be political suicide.”

A half dozen paragraphs later, I see this about the Virginia governor’s race:

In Virginia, which will elect a new governor next month, Trump waded into the campaign by endorsing GOP candidate Ed Gillespie in a tweet — which also charged that Democrat Ralph Northam supports the MS-13 street gang — all while Gillespie is airing TV ads that seek to tie Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, to the violent gang, whose membership is mostly Latino.

Claims in the ad have been labeled misleading by nonpartisan fact-checkers and racist by immigration advocates. At issue is a tiebreaking vote Northam cast in the state Senate against a bill that would have banned sanctuary cities. But Virginia does not have any such municipalities, a fact Gillespie has acknowledged.

Replace MS-13 with Willie Horton and you’ve got a reprise of the juvenile racism in which the GOP has trafficked since the Reagan-Bush era. Yet what’s remarkable about the WaPo article is how it doesn’t frames the Gillespie campaign and Trump’s grunting about DACA as symptoms of the same pathology. I’m convinced that my senator, the Plankton with a Hairpiece, would run an anti-Cuban ad if his handlers thought it would guarantee Panhandle votes.

Cubans and whiteness

Erik Loomis wrote about the elasticity of whiteness — how it came to encompass Jews and the Irish after WWII and now, I’m aware, certain Latinos.

The reason I feel that way is that the makeup of Latino immigrant communities largely includes people who are either Afro-Latino or heavily indigenous. If you look at Ted Cruz, sure, he’s a white guy. By and large, the upper class in most Latin American nations are light-skinned and while the U.S. is pretty unique in its one-drop rule of race (why wasn’t Barack Obama considered our 44th white president?), skin color absolutely matters in these nations, but it exists more on a continuum than an absolute divide. So if our view of Latinos is wealthy Cuban-Americans, yes, Latinos could easily be white. But that’s not who these large majority of these people are.

Denial and mild paranoia define Cuban attitudes toward race. While Jim Crow didn’t exist in cities, social racism applied in Cuba. Respectable families didn’t allow their sons and daughters to date, much less marry, those people with obviously black skin. When images of Havana popped up on TV in the eighties and nineties my grandmother would sigh, mourning what Fidel had wrought; those images had black Cubans, often badly or skimpily dressed. Thanks to its wars in Angola and elsewhere, the Castro regime allowed thousands of Africans to emigrate to the island. Although I have no statistics, I suspect the size of the Afro-Cuban population was perhaps a bit larger than in 1960, compensating for the immigrants of my grandmother’s generation. On arrival to South Florida, these Cubans dealt with separate water fountains and major department stores refusing to allow black men and women to try on clothes. A city as stratified on racial lines as Miami reinforces received ideas about class and protest. At the height of the Elian Gonzalez embarrassment in spring 2000, callers to Cuban radio and, I regret to write, a few relatives reminded anyone within earshot that “unlike blacks” Cubans “don’t break their own store windows” when “we don’t get our way.”

I’m careful about the quotation marks because I want to preserve exactly what was said. Put aside the incoherence of comparing a group of overwhelmingly white emigrants (or exiles) who despite a grim half decade received, as part of their status as Cold War victims, sufficient largesse from the federal government to recover quickly and rise through power structures in a Jim Crow town fast enough to become three of the five indicted Watergate burglars and dominate presidential politics for a half century (and if you want explanations behind the rise and concomitant fall of Cuban and black Miamians, respectively, read Marvin Dunn’s seminal book). Blacks were what the Cuban exile professional class were not. As the Civil Rights Act destroyed the old order, this same class took the lower management jobs that would’ve gone to these newly enfranchised blacks: janitors, superintendents, store managers, expediters in hotel kitchens. When they leapt from promotion to promotion through their industry, good humor, and the support of the federal government, it’s all too easy to point to the people whose place in the county power structure you have inadvertently usurped and call them shiftless. Whiteness implies industry, thrift, bootstrap pulling. When you have digested this theory, congratulating yourself for color blindness is the next step.

‘Race is the last issue where the devil would ever need an advocate’

Wading into a so-called free speech debate that has given National Review Online its only clicks since January, Maya Rupert questions the role of devil’s advocate when debating racial questions:

Armed with the cloak of dispassion, the devil’s advocate is free to proceed with much less tact and care than they otherwise would have to, and that transforms a conversation about race into a simulated verbal attack that can feel no different to a person of color than an actual verbal attack would. It requires that people of color first make a full-throated defense of their humanity and then grant an immediate and complete absolution to the person who just demanded such a thing.

Her essay contains much more than I can excerpt, but her premise fascinates me. I’m not sure what to think. The white person has no skin in this game; it isn’t his existence or the way in which courts have interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment at stake. For these people the mask of reason, however, requires a mere tug to expose the rot beneath. How this same person would respond to a devil’s advocate questioning the estate tax, the Iran deal, and the size of government is anyone’s guess, but I suspect Socrates would demur. Conservatives have treated these and other points as existential since Carter’s denimed ass sat in the Oval Office when the rest of us see few lives and no liberties in danger except to the coterie of the rich and connected stoked an easily spooked base.

But, again, the wrinkles in the ongoing free speech wars confuse me.

On Trump’s moral chaos

Five remarks, which I may expand on:

(1) To admit I’m not surprised by Donald J. Trump’s remarks is not to mitigate my own horror, or my assurance that the badly cropped dictator of the Necrocracy of North Korea heard them and giggled, relieved that the United States could not lecture him on morality.

(2) “Are we gonna take down Thomas Jefferson’s statue? Cuz he was a slave owner.” After the British were defeated in the Revolutionary War, George Washington made sure right quick that his slaves got no ideas about emancipation (he famously did manumitted those slaves in his will, however). Thomas Jefferson — well. The writer of the founding’s most stirring piece of prose situating equality as a natural right took full advantage of his slaves — sexual as well as economical. Because Jefferson was a beautiful writer, a sharp architect, and a man of genuine erudition, his reputation falls like a shroud over Southerners. When I visited Monticello in 2006, the sixtysomething guide, unprompted, remarked, “It is rumorahed that Mistah Jeffferson had…relations with one Sally Hemmings; but speaking for myself ah think he was too much of a gentleman to even consider it.” But Jefferson and Washington at least enshrined an idea of liberty over which Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, James Baldwin, and Martin Luther King, Jr. wrestled, often wielding the founders’ words as bludgeons against the hypocrisy of white hagiographers. We should continue to assess them. But it’s unusual to venerate architects of a failed rebellion like Roger Taney, Robert E. Lee, and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

(3) These remarks won’t Bring Donald Trump Down. To bring acts of impeachment requires a GOP base in the Senate so enervated that it will accept Robert Mueller’s findings and recommend, along with Democratic colleagues, charging the president for violating the Emoluments Clause. Moral chaos and abject public performances alone won’t do it.

(4) That said, there will be no “tax reform” or “infrastructure” bill in September. It would shock me. The GOP congressional base won’t abandon him yet if ever, but now most of its members see genuine danger in so much as Trump’s air.

(5) While commentators applauded (mildly, to be honest) Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for opening a civil rights investigation into suspect James A. Fields of federal civil rights, his Justice Department is doing the following: “trying to force an internet hosting company to turn over information about everyone who visited a website used to organize protests during President Trump’s inauguration, setting off a new fight over surveillance and privacy limits.”