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racism

Confronting an Icon’s Flaw

by D.J. McGuire

The day after the United Nations General Assembly voted to declare the Chinese Communist regime to be the rightful holder of the Chinese seat at the United Nations (removing the Chiang Kai-shek regime of Taiwan), President Richard Nixon took a call from Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California. Tim Naftali reported on a particularly odious piece of the call in The Atlantic.

The day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, then–California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Richard Nixon at the White House and vented his frustration at the delegates who had sided against the United States. “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “Yeah,” Nixon interjected. Reagan forged ahead with his complaint: “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Nixon gave a huge laugh.

The particular reference was aimed at a delegation from Tanzania which, according to Naftali, “started dancing in the General Assembly” when the body voted as it did.

When an icon is revealed to be flawed – and, being human, we’re all flawed – the first instinct is to ignore it, then to minimize it. For those of us who see Ronald Reagan as a successful president – and I still do – these are mistakes which would compound on Reagan’s 1971 error. There are three reasons in particular.

First, minimization makes no sense. Unless there is another recording somewhere in which Reagan called Pierre Trudeau a “frog” or aimed ethnic epithets at the European nations that also enabled the CCP to seize the seat (Naftali notes that Nixon’s own State Department pointed the finger at Britain and France), then this particular criticism was not only racist, but particularly racist toward Africans. It is an odious statement and should be called as such. It is a stain on Reagan’s legacy and a sign of his flaws.

Secondly, it can inform on Reagan’s foreign policy – and not in a good way. Reagan’s anti-Communism galvanized the democratic world and enabled the Cold War to be won with minimal actual conflict. That doesn’t mean it was mistake-free. The Reagan Administration badly underestimated Nelson Mandela – who, contrary to the panicked assertions of the apartheid regime in South Africa, marginalized and effectively froze out the South African Communists. Historians need to examine – if they haven’t already – how much of our Angola policy could have been different had we paid more attention on the ground, rather than look to the first anti-Communist with South African backing. Is it possible a different anti-Communist leader could have been more effective in transitioning to a political battle in the 1990s, rather than maintaining the civil war?

Such lack of attention is obvious in other Cold War flashpoints outside of Europe. In Afghanistan, the reliance on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia propped up unreliable faction leaders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar rather than Ahmed Shah Massoud. The former enabled the Taliban to take power and al-Qaeda to establish a presence there in the 1990s. The latter fought the Taliban-al Qaeda alliance until the day they killed him – September 9, 2001. Reagan was out of office when Nicaragua was able to vote out Manuel Ortega, but his successor largely abandoned Central America to its own devices, allowing Ortega to retake power in 2006. He is still there as Nicaragua slides into tyranny and destabilizes its neighbors again.

We now know that democracy and freedom were just as important to anti-Communists in Africa, in Asia, and in Latin America as in Europe. Many knew then, too – including folks in the Reagan Administration like Jeane Kirkpatrick and Elliot Abrams. This 1971 conversation should force us to ask how much that was reflected at the top.

Finally, it has vital importance to the arguments we have today. For nearly all Never Trump conservatives (including myself), Reagan is the political model of what Trump is not: optimistic rather than cynical, opposed to tyranny rather than admiring it, welcoming to immigrants rather than fearful of them. This incident, even from 48 years away, gives supporters of Trump the chance to claim a piece of Reagan’s mantle. The more conservatives outside of Trump’s orbit refuse to condemn the racist statement, the easier that claim will be.

For all of Ronald Reagan’s successes, whitewashing his mistakes is never worth it. That Trump backers could use his predecessor’s private racist statement to validate his own public racist statements and policies simply makes the price of ignoring the past all the more unacceptable.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Racism

Everyone in America has spent the past several days talking about racism. The word has been repeated so many times that it doesn’t even really sound like a word anymore. It almost sounds like what happens when you try to pronounce an acronym. Like we’re trying to say “RSZM” or something.

Everyone is all muddled up with the arguments too, because half the people talking think racism means individual acts of easily defined prejudice such as calling a person of color a racial epithet to their face. The other half are talking about institutional racism, which is when social and government systems are aligned in such a way as to give preferential treatment to people of some races above others.

If you are talking about the first thing, it is very easy to believe that you are not a participant in racism. If you are talking about the second thing, it is very hard to believe you aren’t a participant in racism.

Which feels shitty, by the way. It does not feel good to be a knowing beneficiary of generations of white supremacist doctrine that came at the expense of the lives and humanity of millions of people. Doing something about that shitty feeling is harder and we all have to grapple with that because NOT grappling with it will make us complicit in the harms of institutional racism going forward.

Anyway, I recalled that I wrote about racism in the wake of the Trayvon Martin murder and I wanted to share my thoughts from back in that day. I don’t have categorical answers for dealing with the institutional problems of racism but here, at least, I can offer insight into my own personal attempts to rewire my responses to my fellow human beings. Enjoy.

[The] idea that generalizations are never wholly accurate is one of the hardest lessons any of us learns. It is human nature to quantify our surroundings and draw universal conclusions based on limited information. It’s a hunter gatherer survival instinct. Those berries that look that way are poisonous. That creature who looks that way is dangerous. That terrain that looks that way is impassable. That weather pattern that looks that way means trouble, turn back, stay away.

We want to apply that same quantification to people. We want to be able to generalize. But we all have to remind ourselves that there is nothing about humans that is absolute. We, as a species, defy categorization. We embody chaos. You cannot judge people based on anything but individual merit.

And if you’re like me, you have to consciously remember that every single day. You have to struggle with the instinct to pre-judge based on skin color, or eye shape, or gender, or accent, or political affiliation, or job. You have to take a breath every time you meet a person and resist the urge to think you know them based on a flash of sensory input or a two-sentence background dossier.

But struggle we all must. We must. It is the failure to engage in that struggle that leads a man to pull a gun and shoot a boy because he thinks his looks mean something. It is failure to engage in that struggle that leads to raising children who will call their classmates foul epithets that they learned from you. It is failure to engage in that struggle that perpetuates racism, sexism, homophobia and all the other ills that befall society.

None of us will ever be color-blind. It won’t happen. It’s not how we’re wired. The best we can all do is to force ourselves to seek out knowledge about people that goes beyond color, or gender, or orientation. We need to remember, as the great Dr. King dreamed, to judge a person on the content of his character. It’s not easy to do that each and every time. But it’s what we must do, it’s what we must encourage others to do, it’s what we must teach our children to do.

Let’s go forward together with the struggle. It won’t feel good for us but maybe it will help us do good by others.

What on Earth Happened to the Republican Party?

by D.J. McGuire

I was away from home – at a science fiction convention in North Carolina, no less – when the President of the United States demanded four members of Congress leave America for “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” (CNN) – never mind that three of the members were born in the United States. It should surprise no one that all four of them are not white.

What did come as a surprise was the near complete silence of Republican elected officials on the matter. As far as I know, as of 4:30 PM on Monday (as I write this), one Congressman from Texas and a state legislative leader in Wisconsin make up the entire group of Republican “electeds” who have raised their voices in criticism. The rest are fully engaged in Operation Ostrich.

How on earth did it come to this?

Greg Weiner discusses cause and effect in The Bulwark. His thoughts are quite close to mine, especially here:

There should be lines that this or any president cannot cross without incurring criticism from his own side. That’s because the boundary between neutrality and tacit consent—between their failure to condemn and the suggestion that they condone—may be faint, but it exists. Enabling, like pornography, is difficult to define, but sensible observers generally know it when they see it. Among of its markers is the refusal to use one’s influence to improve a situation one purports, at least privately, to deplore.

How this can’t be a line for so many Republicans just utterly baffles me. These were people who spent no time at all howling rage at primary challengers, bloggers, and anyone else who critiqued their views on taxes … or spending … or even nomination methods. Yet the leader of the party engages in, as Weiner calls it, “bigotry—call it ‘racism,’ call it ‘xenophobia,’ or call it ‘the kind of behavior that forces conservatives into such distinctions,’ ” without nary a peep.

The closest thing we get – even on my other blog, Bearing Drift – is a pox on all houses post from my Bearing Drift colleague. Don’t get me wrong; he was at least willing to rule out voting for Trump in 2020 – a solid step above the deafening silence from Republicans as a group.

Still, the idea that “identity politics” was exclusively a Democratic invention simply does not stand up to historical review. No Democrat was behind the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Democrats opposed the WASPish nativism of the Whigs and Know Nothings of the antebellum era. The fellow who ran for President in 1884 opposing “rum, Romanism, and rebellion” was Republican James G. Blaine. Identity politics has been part of America – and a tool used by both Democrats and by their opponents – since the First Party System itself.

More to the point, there is a serious difference between members of an ethnic group using their political power at the polls to address majoritarian-imposed inequality and the outright racism in which the president indulged on Sunday. Again, back to Weiner:

…there is nothing inherently unwise in choosing to stay on the sidelines rather than be sucked into the unrelenting conflict between Trump and his critics. If anything, one of the president’s uglier influences has been to draw everyone into perpetual combat, and the Reluctant Trumpers’ refusal to rush the field for every play is often prudent.

But there are moments when their voices are needed and when their silence is consequently indistinguishable from acquiescence. If this is not one, it is difficult to conjure what might be. Xenophobia of the kind Trump expressed is a particular offense against American values. Moreover, its normalization is especially dangerous amid the creeping spread of ethno-nationalism.

Republicans need to ask themselves if they would be rationalizing their silence if they were not in the same party as Donald Trump.

If not, they need to get to the real question here: Should they really stay in that party?

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

White Supremacy and Vladimir Putin: They’re the same problem

by D.J. McGuire

The two issues regarding the Trump Administration that have frightened more Americans than anything else seem to be polar opposites: his fealty to Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia and an a blind spot (or even sympathy) to white supremacy in America. However, if one looks beyond the United States (especially to Europe), it becomes clear that the two matters are linked there – and, in all likelihood, here as well. That leads to some disturbing questions that we need to ask.

While most Americans pay little attention to the rest of the world (save the occasional social media meme where a European country appears to support a policy we like), the situation in Europe bears some problematic parallels to recent years in the United States. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been openly evangelizing for “illiberal democracy” (AEI) while taking aim at nearly every Republican’s favorite bedtime scary story – George Soros – with “posters that brought back memories of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s” (same link). Poland is suffering a similar slide toward authoritarianism, complete with an attempt to rewrite Holocaust history (Reuters). Both governments are also getting increasingly cozy with Putin (AEI, The New Republic).

That hasn’t stopped Putin from building ties to outright racist groups like Jobbik in Hungary (Reuters). He has recruited or accepted (depending upon how one sees it) similar far-right allies in France, even as the main center-right opposition also tacks his way (Foreign Policy).

What has enabled Putin – an old KGB bureaucrat – to stretch his regime’s tentacles into democratic Europe? John Henley provides the anodyne answer in a Guardian column from last year.

…variations on a theme of nation-first politics, support for economic protectionism and immigration controls, mistrust of international alliances and institutions such as Nato or the EU, and a rejection of globalism and the liberal consensus

To be fair, the “liberal consensus” has deserved more than a few of the dings its received recently, as any astute observer of the EU will tell you. However, the first three items on the list are part and parcel of a much deeper and sinister common facet among Jobbik, Le Pen, and Putin: white supremacy.

While most of the focus on Russia in the 20th Century centered on its Sovietization, leaders from Stalin on down also emphasize Russian “nationalism.” Terrell Jermaine Starr reveals how Putin inherited – and is using – those supremacist weapons (Washington Post). Others have noticed, including alt-right poster child Richard Spencer and his ideological grandfather David Duke (Newsweek). In fact, the Russian adviser behind Putin’s supremacist policies – Alexander Dugin – is already well-known in alt-right circles (same link), and while nearly everyone remembers the Charlottesville torch-bearers shouting, “You will not replace us,” far fewer also noted their insistence that “Russia is our friend” (same link again).

All of this comes amid mounting evidence that the Putin regime put a thumb on the scales during the campaign, and that the Trump campaign itself – whether or not it actually succeeded in linking up with Moscow’ efforts – certainly tried (Newsweek). Meanwhile, according to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacists murders “killed more than twice as many people in 2017 as they did the year before” (Huffington Post). Most would consider those two matters a coincidence at best, a sign of Trump’s worst two instincts at worse.

But what if the connection goes deeper than that? Have white supremacist groups become the American equivalent of Jobbik? Has the upswing in white supremacist terrorism been due to more than just the emboldening of these groups from Trump’s election?

In other words, have American white supremacist groups themselves become tools of the Putin regime?

To be clear, this is not a rhetorical question. I ask because I truly do not know. Sadly, I don’t expect this Administration to find out. I would like to see the opposition ask these questions, and if my worst fears are confirmed, present policies accordingly.

Even if my worst fears are disproven, we are facing an increasingly globalized supremacist movement (Franklin Foer has further details in The Atlantic). Russophilia and supremacism are in fact the same problem. Whether Putin is the diabolical leader or fortunate figurehead is an open question that needs answering to determine the best tactical response.

Hagiography vs. History (Why the Confederate Monuments Have To Go)

Defenders of Rebel monuments dotting public areas throughout the Old Confederacy like to insist that the history of our nation is complex, which is true. They like to forget, however, that the history of “the South” is equally complex – and that said complexity is, literally and figuratively, whitewashed by the very monuments they defend.

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