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Words Matter – Especially in Political Discourse

It seems clear to almost any un-biased observer that Donald Trump is a racist. He is trying to foment a climate of hate and distrust of the “other” amongst his (mostly) white following. This is plainly understood when you read his speeches and see some of the racist code words he has used: Traitors, Animals, Thugs, Pigs, Un-American…

While you can argue that traitor, pigs, and un-American aren’t racist words, their intent is to create an us-them binary that seeks to create a picture of anyone who opposed him as being unworthy of the same rights as his followers – especially when they follow any roughing up of protesters with the chant, “USA, USA…”

Words like thug and animal ARE racist code words. A person can argue until they are black and blue that they aren’t, but volumes of empirical and anecdotal evidence shows that they are.

Thug, while originating as a word for a 19th century Hindu cult, has had various uses over the past century, but most recently it was popularized by “rap culture” to describe someone who came from the streets, grew up poor, and scrapped their way to the top. Now, as recently seen in many high-profile news stories, the word “thug” is used as a coded substitute for the N-word to denigrate black people who act out of the arbitrary line of social behavior set by White America.

So a word once used by a sub-set of a minority community to describe itself, is now popularly used by those who wish to tar the entirety of a minority community while remaining blameless. The dismissive use of this word has become a buzzword to describe young, black people — especially black men — implying that they’re violent, irrational and shouldn’t be taken seriously, or that they are inherently criminal and dangerous.

You can argue until you are blue in your face that it really isn’t used that way, but everyone understands that it really is.

So, what do we make of Trump’s use of the word thug here, when he says: “The [protesters are an] organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago”? Who are the “many of them thugs” that he speaks of? Are they similar to the Mexican immigrants of which “many are rapists”? A person not blinded by denial knows exactly who he means: the hundreds of young, black protesters who showed up to protest his rally.

Even today, Trump surrogate Sarah Palin, used this racist code word quite directly and quite blatantly, when she said of protesters: “What we don’t have time for is all that petty, punk-ass little thuggery stuff that’s been going on…” When has “punk ass” ever been used by a 50-something Caucasian politician in everyday speech? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that she is co-opting “rap-speak” when she says “punk-ass” as a qualifier for the standard issue racist code word, thug/thuggery.

This sort of racist code speak is unacceptable in political discourse – especially for someone who wants to be the President of the United States.

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Donald Trump: The Psychology of Making America Great Again

The election of Barack Obama, our first black president, was an amazing thing to have happen in a nation founded on segregation, slavery, and the marginalization of people of color. Unfortunately, it created a never before seen level of resentment and social strife that is currently playing out in our political arena, where he is accused by some mainstream Republicans of dividing society with his brand of ‘racialized’ politics, while others beat the drum and scream about having to “Make America Great Again” after eight years of Obama policies.

So, what is this “Great America” that Trump and his followers want to make again?

When Obama was elected President, it served as evidence to many Americans that we have broken through a barrier—that our society had moved past its racist past, and any past (or present) racial differences were wiped clean from our collective slate. By this measure, any new instances of institutional or implicit racism must be unwarranted. You see, White Americans tend to judge racial progress by comparing the present to the past. How can society be racist against blacks and other minorities when we elected a black president?

This bizarre factoid was recently examined by psychologists Clara Wilkins and Cheryl Kaiser in 2014. They found that some people view racial progress—such as the election of President Obama—as a sign of significant binary change that has suddenly turned the world on its head. Because America suddenly elected a black President, it must mean that whites must now be a minority themselves. Further, because whites are (as they feel) a minority, they are more inclined to believe that their own racial group is the marginalized one. As new “minorities”, whites believe that their put upon status negates and cancels out any claims of discrimination made by actual minorities. After all, Obama is President, so…

Even worse in this equation is the understanding that demographics are rapidly shifting in America. Knowing that America’s Latino/Hispanic population is growing, and that within 30 (or so) years, whites will no longer be the majority in America, has had a serious psychological effect. Merely thinking about this impending ethnic demographic shift has important emotional consequences for whites. Some see this impending change and growing ethnic diversity as a threat to the world they know, and this heightened sense of threat is expressed in increased negative feelings toward ethnic minorities and an increase in feelings of victimization and a threat to what it means to be America. It’s easy for people feeling threatened to grab hold of platitudes like Trump’s “Make America great again” and to cheer when he talks about building a wall to keep Mexicans out—after all, something needs to be done to stop this inevitable change from happening and to reinstitute the America they once knew.

Unfortunately, no matter how bigoted Trump gets in the campaign—silently accepting white supremacist robocalls or tiptoeing around the direct endorsement of Klansman David Duke—the psychological barriers created by the fear of demographic change serves as a buffer to his supporters who would previously have been horrified that their candidate of choice is backed by white supremacists. After all, if black people and other minorities can support a candidate like President Obama, who represents the gain of minority America at the expense of white America, they should be able to support a candidate who promises to change this back… to make America great again (for them), even if he is the worst candidate for America itself.

Photo by Tim Mak on Twitter - https://twitter.com/timkmak/status/701952858221105152

The White-Right Endorsement for Trump

Today, Donald Trump picked up a key endorsement from Chris Christie; an endorsement that Trump was very proud of: “Generally speaking, I’m not big on endorsements,” Trump said, adding, “This was an endorsement that really meant a lot.”

As he rolls forward in the primaries, let’s take a look at some of the other key endorsements Trump has secured.

Recently, Donald Trump received the much sought after KKK endorsement. David Duke, former Imperial grand wizard and current white nationalist formally endorsed Trump on his ‘David Duke Radio Program’ when he told his listeners that they must support him because “…voting against Donald Trump [at this point], is treason to your white heritage.”

Trump also has enjoyed the support and endorsement of the American Freedom Party, a white nationalist group that has been making robocalls on his behalf in each state days before their primary/caucuses. Their most recent calls in Minnesota make the claim, “The white race is dying out in America and Europe because we are afraid to be called ‘racist.’ Donald Trump is not afraid….Don’t vote for a Cuban. Vote for Donald Trump”.

He even received the endorsement of failed net-Nazi, white supremacist Craig Cobb, who posts videos and internet rants about his ‘crush’ on Trump. In 2015, Cobb once again attempted to get into the headlines by trying to buy condemned buildings in another small town, declaring his intention is to take over and change the town’s name to “Trump Creativity,” or “Creativity Trump,” in honor of Donald Trump.

At the Nevada caucus, at least a few Klansmen showed up, and a few other White Supremacists did too. One supporter, a young woman posed for a reporter’s camera and made the Nazi salute while saying, “Heil Trump”, then explained to the reporter why she felt Cubans are liars.

Even run of the mill Trump supporters seem to be drawn from the rank and file of the most racist elements of America. One poll, conducted prior to the South Carolina Primary found that Overall, 10% of Republican voters agreed with the statement that “whites are a superior race.” Additionally, 38% of Trump supporters polled wish the South had won the Civil War, while at the same time 70% of Trump’s were upset that the Confederate battle flag was removed from the state capital, and over 80% support Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States. These supporters, mostly ignorant of their own racism, are a small subsection of Americans who fear the reality that America is getting less white (and more brown). They see the privilege of their white authority undermined in the media, their schools, and every time they move about in public and see signs in English and Spanish, or notice that the world around them is more diverse than ever before. These are the people who say, “I’m not a racist, but…”, yet feel that Trump is their last hope to return to some mythical antebellum America where they were in charge and “those people” knew their place.

In general, Trump has used some of the racist myths commonly spread on websites such as Stormfront to gain attention. When he (famously) claimed early in the primary cycle that illegal immigrants are ‘killers and rapists’, he was parroting the popular white supremacist theme that minorities and immigrants are violent criminals bent on defiling white women, a tried and true storyline used by White Supremacists to recruit angry young men who fancy themselves as knights in shining armor out to protect the fairer sex from miscegenation.

Sadly, the media has remained mostly silent on Trump’s white supremacist appeal, or if they do address it they do so from the standpoint that he’s unaware of the impact of his words on the racists of America. Even his rivals for the Presidential nomination have stayed mostly silent. Although Trump (and active tweeter) has been re-tweeting racist and white supremacist posts – some from the @whitegenocideTM (and others) – none of the major news outlets have made more than a passing mention of this fact. Some estimates found that over 60 percent of the accounts Trump has retweeted recently have white-supremacist connections.

This racist/white supremacist link would appear to be a wedge issue for one of his rivals to opportunistically exploit, unfortunately they seem to be too afraid to alienate the base that feeds off of Trump’s outlandish brand of bile. Marco Rubio came closest to making a statement about racism, but he pulled his punches at the last minute. He said, “Whether you agree with them or not, if a significant percentage of the American family feels that they are being treated differently than anyone else, we have a problem then we have to address that as a society and as a country. I do not believe we can fulfill our potential as a nation unless we address that”. Sadly, he ended this bold statement with a feeble disclaimer, “I’m not sure there is a political solution to that [race/racism] problem, but there are things we can do.”

If Trump does manage to sweep Super Tuesday and clear a path to the nomination, it seems probable that one of his opponents on the Democrat side will quickly make his white supremacist support and dealings a major issue. It remains to be seen if this will be the case, but one can guess that the neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and other abrasive racists will become more vocal as the election season progresses. The media will probably take a closer look if this happens and it could become a major point in driving some Republicans away from the party and to the Democrat alternative.

Racism hasn’t won an election for anyone yet. Let’s hope it doesn’t in 2016.

Donald Trump at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Make America Great Again – By Fighting Trump Values

No matter where you turn lately—talk radio, TV, the internet, or politics— there is a seemingly sustained and concerted attack on the nebulous concept of “political correctness” as something that must be abolished in our society, in the most offensive manner possible, regardless of its effect on our social fabric.

This offensive against PC is oftentimes undertaken by pundits and politicos through the most ham-handed and blatantly belligerent means possible. Turn on your radio and you run the risk of hearing ‘El Rushbo’ running down women; check your Facebook feed and you are almost certain to see a meme posted by someone you know, criticizing Beyoncé’s Superbowl performance or parroting the us/them trope of black lives matters as an attack on the police. Every night we are assaulted with the latest Trumpism that includes something bigoted followed by the caveat that he is just “telling it like it is” and anyone who thinks otherwise is being PC and overly sensitive.

The constant attacking of taboos against being purposefully offensive, or bigoted, in polite society is fast leading to a climate that prevents any real discussions that can help move our country forward into the 21st century. The belittlement of those who demand civility as a social value is not going to make America great again. When people celebrate vulgarity and crass prejudice because it appeals to that small spark of evil within them that’s screaming to be released, it hurts America.

Ever since the “Great Society” movement of the 1960s, America has striven to be better. We worked hard to integrate our schools, struggled to create educational opportunities for everyone, and told our children that everyone should be equal because that is what American values demand of us as a pluralistic society. However, since the election of President Obama—a watershed moment in American history—there has been a concerted effort by certain elements of the media and by some malignant politicians who have found that they can gain attention and aspire to power by demonizing entire segments of our society and threatening the core values of America. They have found a way to channel the resentment of those stung by the end of Jim Crow and their desire to abandon civility. When people like Donald Trump shoot from the cuff and say hateful things, it’s liberating for them. It frees them from the burden of carefully deciding what they should and shouldn’t say; what social taboos they might break if they spout something racist or sexist.

When Trump rants and rails against immigrants or marginalizes entire segments of society, he’s not just speaking his mind—he’s helping some Americans lose theirs. When he gets into a game of one-upsmanship with Cruz and Rubio over who would be more effective in torturing people, and by what devious means they would use, a rational person would (and should) be horrorstruck. While people like Martin Luther King fought for decades to create society that strives for mutual respect, Trump’s supporters are excited by each and every hate-filled utterance as an undifferentiated instance of fighting back against political correctness—as if the ability to freely hate and spout xenophobia and bigotry is all that’s at stake this election cycle.

If Donald Trump wins the nomination for the Republican Party, it won’t be because voters are blind and deaf to his intolerance and bias politics, but rather because they understand it all too well and are desperate for it. Trump’s brand of politics cannot prevail in a contest of reason and rationality. They can only exist when we allow our national discussion to devolve into a contest of emotion where we abandon our civility. Political correctness serves to correct efforts like Trump’s. We must continue to expose him for what he is despite the best efforts of those who seek to abolish the values that actually make us great.

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Zero-Sum is Bad Math in the Land of E Pluribus Unum

Emblazoned on the Great Seal of the United States: E pluribus unum—out of many, one.

This concept has been the ‘mythical’ driving force behind our patriotic and social fabric in America, or at least that is what we tell ourselves when we bang the drum of our nation as a beacon of hope for everyone. In the sense of how it is intended, it means that our country is not an all or nothing experiment in democracy, but rather is the result of complex social mathematics that adds people of different races, religions, languages, ethnicities, and ideologies, and when the computations are done we arrive at a ‘solution’ that is a single people and nation—all parts equaling a whole.

However, recently it seems that the math has gotten screwed up. Instead of striving for a system that is driven by a unifying doctrine whereby the whole is greater than the parts, we have devolved into a muddled arithmetic that works to divide our society to arrive at a solution that negates—eventually arriving at a zero-sum.

While a mathematical theory—as it is increasingly applied to American society—‘zero-sum’ is a process that seeks to measure gain against loss so that total gains are added up against the total losses, arriving at a sum of zero.

There seems to be no end to the zero-sum calculations in our society as of late. You see it in economics, whereby any push for income equality is forcefully opposed, because a gain for the poor would necessitate a loss for the wealthy. In politics we witness endless gridlock, in that any proposal presented by the President must be instantly blocked by Congress no matter what the benefits might be for society, because acceptance of such a proposal would be gain for the Democrats and a loss for the GOP. Currently, we see this zero-sum game being played out in the bald-faced kicking and screaming over the possibility that Obama will exercise his Constitutional duty to nominate a replacement for recently deceased Justice Scalia. We even see this game play out in race relations in America. Gains by minorities are viewed as a loss to white Americans, such as the recent focus on unfair policing and violence against black citizens and the objection to this unfortunate truth (expressed as black lives matter) being met with an equal and opposing proposal that seeks negates it (all lives matter!).

The truth of the matter is that if we ever hope to live up to our motto of E pluribus unum, we must collectively overcome our obsession with zero-sum politics. We cannot do the hard work of advancing our nation if we block every step forward with a step back. We cannot hope for our economic system to improve if every proposal to help struggling families is countered with tax breaks for the 1-percent. We will never overcome racism, bigotry, and gender inequalities if we each demand for justice and equality is viewed as a threat to white Americans. Such thinking tests the limits of our own empathy and the structures of our institutions. Society will certainly break if we continue to buy into the illogic of the zero-sum game.

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Legitimation of White Supremacist views

There is a process by which people come to understand that their belief systems are
acceptable to themselves and the society in which they live. This process is generally referred to
as legitimation.  This paper explores ways in which White Supremacists come to justify their anti-social beliefs.

Read the paper here:  legitimation_patterns