Broken Glass

On November 9, 2016, America woke up to the startling news that Donald Trump would be the president. The race was called long after midnight. Only political junkies stayed up for that – it could wait – Hillary would pull off a win, somehow. She didn’t. Surprise! And then no one knew what to make of this, but alarmed history buffs pointed out that on November 9, 1938, Jewish shops and synagogues were smashed throughout Germany in what became known as Kristallnacht. That was ominous, or that was nonsense. This wasn’t the start of a Nazi regime. This is America. This was a curious coincidence.

That was good for some snide laughs on the left, and a bit of smug eye-rolling on the right, but then, within a day, that didn’t seem so farfetched:

Hate crimes and other racially tinged incidents, ranging from vandalism to threats to beatings, are being reported across the country in the aftermath of the presidential election.

Some of the incidents were reported by police, though many more appeared on social media as anecdotes and not all have been verified.

Most of the recent cases appear to involve graffiti or violence directed at racial or ethnic minorities and in some reports the perpetrators indicated support for Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, detectives in Chicago are investigating one video that appears to show a man being beaten for voting for Trump.

No one was smashing the glass store windows of Jewish shops, but something was up:

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, is “seeing a rash of hate crimes, of hate rhetoric, racist graffiti in campuses around the country,” said Mark Potok, an SPLC senior fellow, who called the uptick extraordinary.

“We have seen [Ku Klux] Klan literature drops, we have seen that suicide hotlines are ringing off the hook, and we are hearing of very extensive bullying in and around schools,” he added.

These things were adding up:

A San Diego State University student walking to her vehicle had her purse, backpack and car keys taken by two men making comments about the president-elect and the Muslim community, university police said. She walked away to report the incident, and then returned to discover her vehicle was missing. Police are investigating the attack as a hate crime.

A short video posted Wednesday and viewed at least 250,000 times on Facebook showed students at a school carrying a Trump sign while someone can be heard saying “white power.” Two students at York County School of Technology in Pennsylvania walked with a sign into the lobby and chanted “white power” twice before the director “squelched it,” said communication outreach coordinator Renie Mezzanotte, who added that “the administration has been absorbed by” the incident for two days, the outcry has become disruptive to instruction, and that instruction and student and staff safety are always the school’s priorities. An officer at the York Area Regional Police Department confirmed that they investigated the incident.

Police were investigating the appearance of a swastika, the word “Trump” with a swastika replacing the T and the words “Seig Heil 2016,” on a store front in South Philadelphia hours after the election was called. The Anti-Defamation League said it was disgusted to learn of the graffiti.

A representative of NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering confirmed that someone had wrote the word “Trump!” in graffiti on a door at the school’s Muslim prayer room. It has since been removed and Dean K. R. Sreenivasan said in an email to students that any violation of civility and mutual respect in the community “is an offense against us all.”

History does repeat itself, but there were incidents the other way:

The Times-Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia, reported that the words, “Your vote was a hate crime” were spray-painted on several monuments to figures from the U.S. Confederacy.

And there was at least one hoax:

An 18-year-old woman of Middle Eastern descent in Louisiana said she made up a story that she was beaten by two white men who were yelling racial obscenities, according to the Acadania Advocate. She had told city police, according to a statement, that she was repeatedly struck in the back near the University of Louisiana Lafayette by the males, who she said also took her hijab and wallet and fled. Lafayette police confirmed the woman retracted her story to NBC.

Maybe all the incidents were hoaxes, but no, everything else was verified, and the Raleigh News and Observer reported this:

While one report of Ku Klux Klan activity in North Carolina following Donald Trump’s election as president was debunked, the real KKK has announced a rally in the state.

Trump, a Republican, was officially endorsed by the KKK during his campaign against Hillary Clinton, a Democrat. Trump won North Carolina on his way to winning the presidency, defeating Clinton here by nearly 5 percentage points.

Details on the rally celebrating Trump’s victory are scarce. It’s being held by The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which is based in Pelham – a small, unincorporated community about 45 minutes north of Burlington, near the Virginia border.

The group was behind a rally in South Carolina last year protesting the removal of the Confederate flag from the state Capitol building.

According to the group’s website, a North Carolina rally will be held Dec. 3. However, the KKK has not yet publicly announced a location or time for the rally.

The website refers to it as a “Victory Klavalkade Klan Parade” and announces in all-caps that “Trump’s race united my people.”

Maybe no one visits that website and no one will show up, but don’t count on it. Even if the Klan now decides to say they were just kidding, someone will show up. This was a good election for the white-power crowd, and they know it.

The Trump transition team is saying nothing about any of this. Ignore it all and none of it ever happened. The press has covered all this, but Trump has been saying for a year and a half that the press is just a bunch of disgusting liars. That’s worked so far. Why shouldn’t it work now? This will pass. This will be forgotten. It will be as if it never happened. And then it never will have happened.

That happens to a lot of news stories, but that may not happen to this:

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren vowed that the Democratic Party would “stand up to bigotry” in the wake of the election of Donald Trump and said the president-elect “encouraged a toxic stew of hatred and fear” during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We will stand up to bigotry. No compromises ever on this one. Bigotry in all its forms,” Warren said in a speech Thursday to the AFLO-CIO labor federation. “We will fight back against attacks on Latinos, on African Americans, on women’s, on Muslims, on immigrants, on disabled Americans, on anyone.”

“Whether Donald Trump sits in a glass tower or sits in the White House, we will not give an inch on this, not now, not ever,” Warren added.

And she wasn’t finished:

Later Thursday, in an exclusive interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Warren said “this is painful, this really and truly hurts and we have to remember how Donald Trump started this campaign … his entire campaign was fueled on racism and bigotry.”

“He won, and now Latinos and Muslim-American children are worried about what will happen to their families,” she said in the earlier speech. “LGBT couples are worried that their marriages could be dissolved by a Trump-Pence Supreme Court. Women are worried that their access to desperately needed health services will disappear.”

Warren said that while many Americans have a right to be worried about a Trump presidency as president-elect, Trump “has an opportunity to chart a different course: to govern for all Americans and to respect our institutions.”

Citing Trump’s victory speech early Wednesday, Warren said Trump then “pledged that he would be ‘president for all'” of the American people.

“And when he takes the oath of office as the leader of our democracy and the leader of all Americans, I sincerely hope that he will fulfill that pledge with respect and concern for every single human being in this country,” she said. “No matter who they are, no matter where they come from, no matter what they believe, no matter whom they love.”

That’s a stupid hope. Every time she has raised an issue that has people asking him how he explains his odd views on this or that, he has a one word answer – Pocahontas! She’s claimed to be part Native American. Pocahontas! Pocahontas! Pocahontas! That’s all he’ll say. That’s his devastating counterargument. Who the hell cares what Pocahontas thinks?

Maybe he won’t do that this time, now that he’s actually going to be president, but don’t count on that either. As a nation, we’ve put ourselves in an almost unthinkable fix, which Matt Taibbi describes this way:

There’s no way to overstate the horror of what just went down. Sure, we’ve had some unstable characters enter the White House. JFK had health problems that led him to take amphetamine shots during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Reagan’s attention span was so short that the CIA had to make mini-movies to brief him on foreign leaders. George W. Bush not only didn’t read the news, he wasn’t interested in it (“What’s in the newspapers worth worrying about?” he once asked, without irony).

But all of these men were just fronts for one or the other half of the familiar alternating power structure, surrounded by predictable, relatively sober confederates who managed the day-to-day. Trump enters the White House as a lone wrecking ball of conspiratorial ideas, a one-man movement unto himself who owes almost nothing to traditional Republicans and can be expected to be anything but a figurehead. He takes office at a time when the chief executive is vastly more powerful than ever before, with nearly unlimited authority to investigate, surveil, torture and assassinate foreigners and even U.S. citizens – powers that didn’t seem to trouble people much when they were granted to Barack Obama.

This is a bit of a crisis, but we have only ourselves to blame:

From the end of primary season onward, I felt sure Trump was en route to ruining, perhaps forever, the Republican Party as a force in modern American life. Now the Republicans are more dominant than ever, and it is the Democratic Party that is shattered and faces an uncertain future.

And they deserve it. The Democratic Party’s failure to keep Donald Trump out of the White House in 2016 will go down as one of the all-time examples of insular arrogance. The party not only spent most of the past two years ignoring the warning signs of the Trump rebellion, but vilifying anyone who tried to point them out. It denounced all rumors of its creeping unpopularity as vulgar lies and bullied anyone who dared question its campaign strategy by calling them racists, sexists and agents of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But the party’s willful blindness symbolized a similar arrogance across the American intellectual elite. Trump’s election was a true rebellion, directed at anyone perceived to be part of “the establishment.” The target group included political leaders, bankers, industrialists, academics, Hollywood actors, and, of course, the media. And we all closed our eyes to what we didn’t want to see.

In fact, the press didn’t want to see how this could unleash chaos:

The almost universal failure among political pros to predict Trump’s victory – the few exceptions, conspicuously, were people who hailed from rust-belt states, like Michael Moore – spoke to an astonishing cultural blindness. Those of us whose job it is to cover campaigns long ago grew accustomed to treating The People as a kind of dumb animal, whose behavior could sometimes be unpredictable but, in the end, almost always did what it was told.

Whenever we sought insight into the motives and tendencies of this elusive creature, our first calls were always to other eggheads like ourselves. We talked to pollsters, think-tankers, academics, former campaign strategists, party spokes-hacks, even other journalists. Day after day, our political talk shows consisted of one geek in a suit interviewing another geek in a suit about the behaviors of pipe fitters and store clerks and cops in Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio and West Virginia. We’d stand over glitzy video maps and discuss demographic data points like we were trying to determine the location of a downed jetliner.

And the whole time, The People, whose intentions we were wondering so hard about, were all around us, listening to themselves being talked about like some wild, illiterate beast.

This was a conceptual failure:

Nobody in this country knows how to talk about class. America is like a giant manor estate where the aristocrats don’t know they’re aristocrats and the peasants imagine themselves undiscovered millionaires. And America’s cultural elite, trained for so long to think in terms of artificial distinctions like Republicans and Democrats instead of more natural divisions like haves and have-nots, refused until it was too late to grasp the meaning of the rage-storm headed over the wall.

Just like the leaders of the Republican Party, who simply never believed its electorate wouldn’t drop and roll over on command when the time came, we media types never believed all that anger out there was real – or at least gathered in enough force to matter.

Most of us smarty-pants analysts never thought Trump could win because we saw his run as a half-baked white-supremacist movement fueled by last-gasp, racist frustrations of America’s shrinking silent majority. Sure, Trump had enough jackbooted nut-jobs and conspiracist stragglers under his wing to ruin the Republican Party. But surely there was no way he could topple America’s reigning multicultural consensus. How could he? After all, the country had already twice voted in an African-American Democrat to the White House.

Yes, Trump’s win was a triumph of the hideous racism, sexism and xenophobia that has always run through American society. But his coalition also took aim at the neoliberal gentry’s pathetic reliance on proxies to communicate with flyover America. They fed on the widespread visceral disdain red-staters felt toward the very people Hillary Clinton’s campaign enlisted all year to speak on its behalf: Hollywood actors, big-ticket musicians, Beltway activists, academics, and especially media figures.

In short, both sides missed the main point:

Trump’s rebellion was born at the intersection of two toxic American myths, the post-racial society and the classless society.

Candidate Trump told a story about a conspiracy of cultural and financial elites bent on finishing off a vanishing white middle-class nirvana, first by shipping jobs overseas and then by waving hordes of crime-prone, bomb-tossing immigrants over the border.

These elites lived in both parties, Trump warned. The Republicans were tools of job-exporting fat cats who only pretended to be tough on immigration and trade in order to win votes, when all they really cared about were profits. The Democrats were tools of the same interests, who subsisted politically on the captured votes of hoodwinked minorities, preaching multiculturalism while practicing globalism. Both groups, Trump insisted, were out of touch with the real American voter. Neither party saw the awesome potential of this story to upend our political system.

And both parties were blindsided:

Republicans had flirted with racist (and sexist) rhetoric for decades, refusing to the last to understand how dangerous this behavior was. They never imagined their voters would one day demand that they act on all this race-baiting talk. They believed their own Pablum about racism being a thing of the past and reverse discrimination being the true threat to the American polity.

Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership, even as it was increasingly indebted to banks and corporations, never imagined that it could be the target of a class uprising. How could we be seen as aristocrats? We get union endorsements! We’re the party of FDR! We’re pro-civil rights! And so on.

Trump saw that and Trump pounced:

He called the Republicans’ bluff on race almost from the start with his crazy Mexican wall idea, which instantly positioned the rest of the party field as nationalist pretenders. As for the Democrats, he lucked into a race against a politician he would portray as a 30-year symbol of a Beltway-insider consensus, one he said had left Middle America behind through trade deals like NAFTA.

That seems about right, and Amanda Taub offers academic support for that idea:

I have spent the past year investigating the rise of that new kind of populism – a majoritarian backlash – including speaking to dozens of social scientists and gathering original data. And while their research varies, their conclusions all converged on three key factors that explain what is taking place: fear of social change; fear of terrorist attacks and other physical threats; and the crisis of identity that many whites are experiencing as they struggle to maintain their position.

As for fear of social change, there’s this:

Marc Hetherington, a Vanderbilt University political scientist who focuses on polarization and authoritarianism in American politics, explained to me earlier this year that it’s important to remember that recent decades in the United States and Europe have been tumultuous.

The women’s rights movement changed gender norms; anti-racism and civil rights movements chipped away at old racial hierarchies; gay rights have led to a redefinition of marriage. More recently, immigration has dramatically reshaped demographics in cities across the United States and set the nation on a path in which whites, while still the dominant group, will no longer be a majority within a few decades.

As Eric Kaufmann, a political scientist at London’s Birkbeck University told me for a previous story, rapid increases in ethnic diversity trigger corresponding rises in support for anti-immigrant politics.

In recent years, immigrant communities in the United States have moved beyond their traditional enclaves near borders and in large cities, reaching many states at the center of the country. Just as Mr. Kaufmann’s research suggests, those places turned out to be strongholds of support for Mr. Trump, who has promised to build a wall along the border with Mexico and to begin mass deportations of undocumented immigrants.

But there’s more:

Some people are especially sensitive to social change. Mr. Hetherington and other social scientists have identified a group they call “authoritarian voters”: people who have a strong desire to maintain order and hierarchies, along with a powerful fear of outsiders.

Research shows that authoritarians find social change very threatening. When they are scared, they seek out strongman leaders and support harsh, punitive policies against immigrants and other outsiders – much as Mr. Trump has done.

That seems obvious now, now that it’s too late, but the visceral threat of physical attacks plays a part here too:

Research by Mr. Hetherington and Elizabeth Suhay, a political scientist at American University, shows that fear of physical threats, like terrorist attacks or violent crime, can compel people to desire leaders who will prioritize security above all else, including, if necessary, civil liberties and democratic institutions.

That kind of fear is widespread: For the past two decades, most Americans have believed that crime is rising, even though crime rates have fallen dramatically during that period.

More recently, the threat of terrorist attacks has added a new layer, even though terrorist assaults on American soil remain very rare.

Mr. Trump has played on those fears, declaring falsely during his campaign that America’s homicide rate was at its highest level in 45 years. He also asserted that Muslim immigration needed to be halted in order to prevent terrorist attacks.

He described the Black Lives Matter movement as a “fuse-lighter” for assassinations of police officers, further stoking a sense of looming chaos.

In doing so, he has followed a playbook that is commonly used on the other side of the Atlantic, where populist politicians have accused immigrants and Muslims of bringing crime and violence.

There’s a lot of that going around, but there’s the collapse of white identity.

White, in this context, does not merely mean those with white skin. Rather, it means the majority group that has traditionally enjoyed the privilege of being considered “us” rather than “them,” both culturally and politically.

Although the boundaries of whiteness have always been blurry, they have traditionally excluded many who had white skin, including Jews, who were the targets of anti-Semitic attacks from many of Mr. Trump’s supporters during the campaign.

Demographics and longstanding elevated status once ensured that white Americans were socially dominant and had numbers on their side. That began to change decades ago, thanks to the civil rights movement and a more diverse immigration policy. But for a long time, economic progress meant that many working-class whites, not just in the United States but across the West, could still feel secure and successful, and be confident that their children would do even better. 

That matters, because a sense of progress and achievement can, in itself, underpin a kind of identity.

That’s an even bigger problem:

As industry and manufacturing in the West have declined and blue-collar jobs have disappeared, hitting many small cities and towns hard, that identity has been lost. People who live in such places can no longer feel confident in their future, and they see younger generations struggling or moving elsewhere in search of better opportunities.

People, who lack opportunities for achievement-based identity, experts say, tend to become more attached to identities based on innate characteristics like race. But those who turn to white identity now are finding that it no longer offers the status it once did.

That can feel like a deeply painful loss, which perhaps explains why Mr. Trump has enjoyed consistently strong support in heavily white areas where children are likely to be less well off than their parents. It is in such places that those lost identities would be felt most keenly.

That’s a toxic stew, and all rather obvious, now – but it’s nice to have academic confirmation, if that matters to anyone at this point.

In the Guardian, Hadley Freeman isn’t buying it:

We’ve heard enough of white rage now. Oh sure, listen to the grievances of enraged voters. But understanding them is different from indulging them, and the media and politicians – in the US and UK – have for too long conflated the two, encouraging the white victim narrative and stoking precisely the kind of nasty, race-baiting campaigns that led to Brexit and Trump (as the voter demographics have proved, the linking factor in Trump voters is not class but race).

Both campaigns promised to turn the clock back to a time when white men were in the ascendance, and both were fronted by privately educated false prophets such as Nigel Farage and Trump, absurdly privileged buccaneers who style themselves as friends of the working classes while pushing policies that work against them. They have bleached language of meaning, boasting that they aren’t “career politicians” (now a negative thing as opposed to someone who has devoted their life to public service), and they scorn “experts” (who are now apparently the biggest threat to democracy).

This is, after all, fairly simple:

Whereas those who voted for Trump and Brexit did so to turn time back for their personal benefit, those who voted for remain or Hillary Clinton did so because they know time only moves forward, and this benefits society. To try to force it back hurts everyone.

That’s easy to say, but leads to some odd places:

To call out voters for falling for such damagingly racist and sexist messages is viewed by politicians as a vote-killer and dangerously snobby by the media, as though working-class people are precious toddlers who must be humored and can’t possibly be held responsible for any flawed thinking. There is no doubt the white working classes in the west have suffered in recent decades, yet no other demographic that has endured similarly straitened circumstances is indulged in this way. For decades, American politicians have demonized the black working classes who suffered far worse structural inequalities and for far longer – and Trump continues to do so today…

Only the white working classes are accorded this handwringing and insistent media empathy. No one is telling these voters to pull up their boot straps. The much-discussed American Dream is only considered “broken” when it’s the white working classes who are suffering. When it’s African-Americans, they are simply lazy and morally flawed.

There really is something wrong with that picture. The perpetually left behind work quietly for change – they’re used to the insults – they shrug them off. There’s work to do. The newly left behind voted Trump into office and paint swastikas and white-power stuff on walls, and blame the perpetually left behind for their lot in life, because Donald Trump spent a year and a half telling them to do just that.

No good will come of this, only broken glass. And then even worse things happen.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Broken Glass

  1. Nov. 8, 2016, is 9-11-01 revisited. I think that, as a nation, we totally blew the positive possibilities of 9-11-01 to grow and change by our collective response. I attempt to start the thought process in my tiny, tiny niche in my Nov. 10 post at http://www.outsidethewalls.org/blog/dick-bernard-after-the-shock-moving-forward-after-november-8-2016/.
    Alan, you do a masterful job with your blog. It is my first stop every morning. Thank you.

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