Annals of white privilege

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Here’s a new entry:

McAndrew, who voted for Obama in the two previous races, was intrigued by Trump, but decided eventually that “all he does is insult everybody … women, black people, white people, rich, poor. He’s an idiot.” He considered Clinton, but was concerned by the scandal over her handling of classified material on a private email server as secretary of state.

“I hated both of them, so I just said, ‘the hell with it,’” McAndrew said. His wife, also a life-long Democrat, went to the polls without him – and voted Republican.

“First time ever,” he said.

Meanwhile, over on Twitter, Shaun King, a reporter with the New York Daily News, has been collecting first-hand reports from people of color and other vulnerable members of society of life under the new regime. Things like this:

King’s timeline, only one day into the new reality of an America where people feel liberated from “political correctness” and empowered to harass, threaten, and abuse is sobering and heartbreaking.

Back in August of 2015 I tried to illustrate what white privilege means. My original list appears below.

But now add to that list the privilege of being able to stay home from the polls when you won’t be the one to suffer the worst consequences of that choice.

White privilege is …

That’s white privilege.

 

Some afternoon reading on America’s ‘patriot’ right

Members of a "Three Percenter" militia on winter maneuvers.
Members of a “Three Percenter” militia on winter maneuvers.

 

You may have noticed a theme here at the blog over the last couple of weeks. I have become particularly interested of late in America’s armed, anti-government far right. You can read some of my recent thoughts on the matter here, here, and here.

In part this is because I’m currently teaching my course on terrorism, and we explore some of the ideologies that motivate such groups both here in the United States and their counterparts abroad. Some of these groups are the focus of a couple of my students’ case study research projects.

But I’ve also become interested as a consequence of the toxic rhetoric that has emanated from Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House and the way that parts of his message are being embraced by some individuals and groups that make up the armed anti-government far right.

With that in mind, here are links to and short excerpts from two articles that I’ve run across in the last couple of days. The first is an excellent, and disturbing, inside look at a border operation mounted by militia groups loosely affiliated under the Three Percent United Patriots banner.

The piece, by Shane Bauer, appears in the November/December issue of Mother Jones. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Bauer’s report:

Members of 3UP view their border operations as an opportunity to serve the nation while putting their training to the test and honing their skills for the battle to come. Like most militiamen, they believe societal collapse is imminent. There are many theories about what will make the “Shit Hit The Fan.” Some believe it will be economic collapse. It could be civil unrest provoked by Black Lives Matter. It could be a natural disaster. It could be a government attempt to disarm gun owners and impose martial law. While many in the broader “patriot” movement prepare for that day to arrive, members of 3UP see themselves as men of action, sheepdogs in a nation of blind, ignorant sheep.

For more on the Three Percenter movement go to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s profile of one of its founders here. You should also check out the SPLC’s state-by-state breakdown of active anti-government groups, including more than 200 militia groups, here. For the record, SPLC identifies 32 anti-government groups in my home state of Michigan, including seven militias.

The second article that’s worth a little bit of your time is by Zack Beauchamp at Vox. He lays out an unlikely but all-too-plausible scenario whereby armed Trump supporters engage in election day intimidation and post-election violence. Here’s a taste:

Indeed, some of Trump’s supporters — especially from the loose-knit network of far-right political groups and militias — are now openly talking about post-election bloodshed. According to a January count by the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 276 such militias operating in the United States. A review of 240 militia group Facebook pages by researcher Jonathon Morgan found a spike in their online activity in recent months — with some members openly warning of the need for violence if Clinton wins.

“If she wins … it’s over, time for a revolution,” one militia member writes, according to Morgan. “Enough of being tough on the blogs, be tough in real life.”

Trump and his aides consistently and angrily deny using irresponsible language that raises the risk of civil unrest. The problem is that violence could erupt all the same because of the atmosphere of paranoia that Trump has helped create.

I have argued for a long time on this site that the greatest terrorism threat America faces comes from within, not from newly arrived immigrants nor from refugees acting as an ISIS Trojan horse.

I sincerely hope that in two weeks time, and in the days that follow, we don’t see that point driven home again, and in horrifying fashion.

Trump is how democracies die

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III% United Patriots is an umbrella organization for militia groups nationwide.

 

When I started drafting this post yesterday I didn’t think things could get worse. And then, in Wednesday night’s debate, Donald Trump refused to say that he would accept the outcome of the election should he lose.

What I’m saying now is I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, okay?

There is no precedent for this in American democracy. None. Never in our history has a major party candidate, when asked directly, refused to honor the peaceful transfer of political power.

And no, Trump’s stand is not the same as what Al Gore did in 2000. Gore had in fact conceded the election to Bush. Then, when informed that under Florida election law a recount was mandatory, he rescinded that concession to allow the process to play out as required under the law. And when the Supreme Court ended the recount before it was completed, ensuring Bush’s election, Gore accepted that outcome, and did so graciously.

In fact, Trump’s position is sinister. As Peter Beinart put it at The Atlantic:

For months now, Hillary Clinton has been arguing that Trump represents a threat to American democracy. Tonight he made her point more effectively than she could ever have dreamed.

Frankly, I’ve lost track of all of the things that have alternately mystified, infuriated, and terrified me about this election cycle. But this one is different. Consider me legitimately terrified.

For some time now Donald Trump has been claiming that the presidential election is rigged against him. Warning that the election might be stolen, Trump has called on his supporters to turn out on Election Day not just to vote, but to watch the polls for signs of vote fraud or cheating.

As Vox points out, there is some actual history behind Trump’s charge. American elections have, in the past, really been rigged. But:

They’re incredibly rare, and in fact near impossible, in 2016, which makes bringing up fears of a “rigged election” this year a boogeyman at best and dangerous at worst. But at times in America, they’ve been quite common.

But the people who’ve most often rigged elections aren’t liberal elites acting in cahoots with nonwhite shock troops — they’re white supremacists trying to maintain white power in the face of a diverse electorate.

Trump has been weaving this dangerous narrative for months, which has left election workers across the country on edge:

Poll workers across the country are on high alert after the recent firebombing of a Republican Party headquarters in North Carolina and reports that two armed men lingered for hours outside a Democratic campaign office in Virginia. Some feel that Donald Trump’s claim that the election is rigged, and his suggestion that supporters and their friends go to polling places to “watch,” are rhetorical time bombs.

Over at the Washington Post, though, fellow academic and noted blogger Dan Drezner has taken comfort in the fact that there’s little evidence that anyone’s rushing to heed Trump’s call to arms. Of course this was before Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.

Others, however, have been far less convinced. Count me among them.

Because this is how democracies fall. Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election is legitimately horrifying. It opens the door to serious post-election violence by his most radicalized supporters.

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Graphic by J. Morgan. Click to enlarge.

Make no mistake, those supporters are out there. In an analysis of Trump’s Facebook posts about election rigging, data scientist Jonathan Morgan found hundreds of individuals involved in armed anti-government militia groups across the country who engaged with the candidate’s message. Morgan writes:

A closer look at militia activity across Facebook reveals that, while many restrict their activity to closed, private communities, over 240 militia groups keep active, public Facebook pages.

It’s on these public pages that supporters who have commented or reacted to Trump’s Facebook posts about rigged elections discuss how they view the upcoming election, the US government, and rebellion. …

When Donald Trump tells people the election is rigged, they believe him. Some of those people already believe it’s their duty to take up arms against a tyrannical government.

Back in June, before he was the Republican nominee, I wrote about how Trump has been embraced by European far-right political parties and movements and endorsed by America’s racist white-nationalist fringe. Given his rejection of the most basic principles and norms of democracy, is it any wonder?

Should the uninformed be encouraged to vote? That’s the wrong question

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Earlier today, a friend from the days when we lived back in Connecticut posted something on social media and asked me what I thought about it.

It was a link to a story about Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, who takes issue with his fellow celebrities for encouraging everyone to vote, regardless of how informed or uninformed those voters happen to be. Here’s part of Rowe’s argument:

Regardless of their political agenda, my celebrity pals are fundamentally mistaken about our ‘civic duty’ to vote. There is simply no such thing. Voting is a right, not a duty, and not a moral obligation. Like all rights, the right to vote comes with some responsibilities, but let’s face it – the bar is not set very high. If you believe aliens from another planet walk among us, you are welcome at the polls. If you believe the world is flat, and the moon landing was completely staged, you are invited to cast a ballot. Astrologists, racists, ghost-hunters, sexists, and people who rely upon a Magic 8 Ball to determine their daily wardrobe are all allowed to participate. In fact … they’re encouraged.

I fundamentally disagree with Rowe’s initial point. I believe that voting is not just a right, but in fact is a responsibility that we have as citizens of a democratic society. And while I would argue that a  principled non-vote is in fact a valid form of democratic participation, that’s not what Rowe’s driving at.

Read the quote again. His objection is that the bar to participation is set too low. Too many of the people who are being encouraged to vote are, in his estimate, so fundamentally uninformed or deluded that they shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the ballot box:

The undeniable reality is this: our right to vote does not require any understanding of current events, or any awareness of how our government works. So, when a celebrity reminds the country that ‘everybody’s vote counts,’ they are absolutely correct. But when they tell us that ‘everybody in the country should get out there and vote,’ regardless of what they think or believe, I gotta wonder what they’re smoking.

It’s not that I don’t get his point. He’s right when he argues that the two presidential nominees we have to choose from this year are both incredibly unpopular. He has a point when he says that these are our nominees because too many people have decided to tolerate the intolerable. And he has a point when he says that this results from too many voters treating the electoral process like the final episode of American Idol. And thus:

I can’t personally encourage everyone in the country to run out and vote. I wouldn’t do it, even if I thought it would benefit my personal choice. Because the truth is, the country doesn’t need voters who have to be cajoled, enticed, or persuaded to cast a ballot. We need voters who wish to participate in the process.

For Mike Rowe, that seems to equate with wanting to be informed. But not just informed, informed the right way. That’s where my real problem with his perspective lies.

So if you really want me to say something political, how about this – read more. Spend a few hours every week studying American history, human nature, and economic theory. … Develop a worldview that you can articulate as well as defend. Test your theory with people who disagree with you. Debate. Argue. Adjust your philosophy as necessary. Then, when the next election comes around, cast a vote for the candidate whose worldview seems most in line with your own.

Or, don’t. None of the freedoms spelled out in our Constitution were put there so people could cast uninformed ballots out of some misplaced sense of civic duty brought on by a celebrity guilt-trip. … Remember – there’s nothing virtuous or patriotic about voting just for the sake of voting.

There’s a slippery slope in Rowe’s argument that has to be acknowledged. Requiring that voters be informed enough to participate in the electoral process smacks of competency tests. It brings up the ugly history of “literacy tests” like this one, that for generations were used to bar blacks and some poor whites from voting.

But wait a minute, you say (as another friend did in the comment thread on the original post), where is Mike Rowe calling for an explicit competency test? He doesn’t.

He doesn’t explicitly call for a competency test. But it is implicit in his argument. It is not a big leap to go from arguing that uninformed people should not be encouraged to vote to requiring that people demonstrate that they are informed so that they can vote. Mike Rowe did not go there. But others surely would. Our own recent history shows us this is true. That’s the slippery slope we have to avoid.

Another friend agreed. Both with Mike Rowe and with me:

Our politics, our campaigns, our election, has become about optics, emotions, and almost anything BUT the issues, because it seems like either people don’t care, or people are easily distracted by the sideshows. But immediately after thinking that we need to make sure voters are more informed, I cringed at myself because I thought of the same slippery slope that could lead to. It doesn’t sound like a far leap between encouraging people to read up on the issues to making sure they CAN read, or making sure they can pass an IQ test in order to understand issues, right?

And then she took the conversation an important step further:

Here’s my question that I keep coming back to in this election: what do we DO about it??? So many problems, but what do we DO?

I’ve found that a lot of my peers that ARE knowledgeable about candidates and the issues impacting this election are either the MOST die hard extremists because they see what’s at stake or they are the ones that are the most apathetic because they’re frustrated with the current state of things. In all honesty, how do we encourage more knowledgeable voters when people get so discouraged by the whole process!?

If you post too many things on Facebook about the election, people cut you out of your newsfeed. Friends take politics off the table. It takes a certain type of person to be able to discuss politics, either in person or on the Internet without devolving into emotional arguments and name calling and we all know, no one is going to be learning anything in that environment. So, seriously… How can someone my age, who either has friends that agree with me politically, or have probably already hidden me or blocked me on FB, talk about the process and spread knowledge, when people don’t want to receive it?

Here’s what I told her: I’d say that what we need is real engagement and real involvement. Posting crap on Facebook or Twitter or some other social networking platform is none of those things.

Participation requires real time and effort. Meeting with and speaking with others. Engaging in actual debate and discussion with those with whom you disagree. Especially with those with whom you disagree. Participating in the political process. Voting. Attending meetings. Joining community organizations that are trying to make positive change.

It is easy to sit home and bitch and complain. It is harder to work with others to make our communities and society a better place for everyone.

And so our job is not to discourage the uninformed from participating, but to encourage the uninformed to become better informed. And then to encourage more of us to participate in a truly meaningful way.

I think Mike Rowe might agree with me on that.