Civil Rights Progress Is Actually Harder Now

There’s a common misconception about Civil Rights in America, that we made more progress on the issue in the 1950’s and 60’s than we are now. The theory tends to take the position that Civil Rights progress then has made white America more conservative, and opposed, to more progress. There’s decent evidence to that end- Democrats saw their share of white voters begin falling considerably by 1968.

I think we’re missing a huge, key point there though- the perceived cost of Civil Rights to the majority has changed. For most of white America in the 1950’s and 60’s, Civil Rights was something happening elsewhere. It was mostly an issue of Jim Crow, Segregation, and “hillbilly” cops being violent in the South. African-Americans were merely asking for voting rights, physical safety, and access to public education, and mostly in just one region of the country. White people in other parts of the country found Bull Connor, George Wallace, and the Ku Klux Klan kind of embarrassing and hard to defend. It wasn’t hard to support Civil Rights against some other white people, in some other place. Besides, the South has always been rebellious and poorly behaved. The cost of supporting Civil Rights in the 1960’s, while historic, was relatively low for white people.

Beginning with the push to integrate busing in the 1970’s, the math began to change. Integrated busing meant an end to de facto segregation in schools nationally. Confronting policing issues was one thing when it was Rodney King in Los Angeles, or a celebrity trial like OJ Simpson- it’s totally different when the shooting is down the road in South Whitehall Township, or Pittsburgh. Confronting the lack of minority inclusion in the ranks of our CEO’s, Senators, and Hollywood producers is less convenient. Providing quality public education, through spending actual money in impoverished urban areas can pit African-Americans vs. wealthier white suburbanites quite often. Confronting implicit bias and systemic racism means confronting one’s own behavior, not some other white person in some other place. It also means accepting the premise that the LBJ signed, 1960’s Civil Rights legislation was a start, not a conclusion on the road to a more just, equal society, which can be hard for some to comprehend.

I understand that for many white people, Civil Rights progress just can’t be a priority for them. A lot of progressives mock this concept, but the truth is that life isn’t that great for white working class people in 2018. The factories with their unionized, family sustaining wage paying, unskilled labor jobs are gone. Opioid addiction, Wal-Mart jobs, ever rising local taxes, mounting personal debt, and home foreclosures are in their place. While they’re wrong, I understand why they are dismissive of the concept of white privilege. I’m not dismissing the racial bias and explicit racism that exists with a large chunk of these people. I’m simply acknowledging that we should have some sort of compassion for people who are frankly being defeated by life, are afraid of a changing world, and aren’t privileged enough to change their own lives, let alone the world. I’m obviously not too happy they decided to unleash the forces of Trump on America, but I do understand why it happened.

Civil Rights fights moving forward aren’t going to get easier. Progress in 2018 is harder, and requires actual changes to everyday society. Not everyone is going to find “the juice is worth the squeeze.” Voters have always voted self-interest, and probably will continue to, meaning there may not ever be a majority of voters casting their ballots for a pro-Civil Rights agenda. With more political polarization and scarcer resources available, the reality is that progress is only going to be harder, not easier.

The Schizophrenic American Soul

I’ve always tended to view America as an exceptional place. We’re a great nation. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution have inspired nations around the world. We put the first man on the moon. Our great cities lead the world in commerce, and in awe-inspiring skylines. We defeated The Nazis and communism in our world. Our national parks are beautiful. Our streets are safe, our economy booming, and our people are living in relative peace. We created suburbia and the Middle Class. The Interstate Highway system that President Eisenhower created was visionary. America is an incredible place. Millions of people want to come here. My ancestors picked up their lives and came here. I’m thankful every day that they did.

Every once in a while though, we’re reminded that there’s more to America, sadly. We enshrined slavery in that great Constitution. The brutality of the “Trail of Tears” is one of our worst offenses. While Ellis Island is a beautiful part of my American story, the racial quotas and crackdown on immigration that was enforced after Ellis Island closed is a black mark on our history. Jim Crow existed here, and with it segregation, for a century. The Japanese internment camps of World War II were real. Bull Connor and George Wallace are a part of our DNA.

The same country that elected JFK, also elected Richard Nixon. The same country that elected Barack Obama, then elected Donald Trump- in fact some of the same people actually voted for both. The same country that welcomed my Slovak great-grandmother and her family at Ellis Island would close their borders and enact racist immigration rules just months later. We can be great, and terrible, almost in the same breath. Our friends, our families, our neighbors can be the nicest people today, and rationalize unspeakable atrocities tomorrow.

I have tried to remind myself of this throughout the national debate over taking children from their parents at our border, but it’s not quite working. We are taking babies away from their mothers as a “bargaining chip” for the President to get his border wall. We are arresting people in violation of international treaties when they seek asylum at our border. What we are doing to these people, people who are not violating our laws by simply asking for asylum, is barbaric, inhuman, and unjust, even if they were violating our laws (to be clear, any asylum seeker is not). I’m struggling to remember the good things about our country right now, because we elected this barbaric regime.

I got into politics during the time of George W. Bush, and I thought the Iraq War was the atrocity of my time. That war pales as a wrong next to what we are doing right now. We are destroying the lives of children, damning refugees coming here seeking our mercy, and once and for all proving that our supposedly religious nation is very good at being soulless and heartless.

I think back on my great-grandmother often. She died when I was nine, and we were very close. Her English was broken until the day she died, she had no higher skill to offer her labor, and she certainly didn’t come here rich. How would Donald Trump’s America have treated her? Would my friends who voted for Trump have wanted to “send her back” in 1925? It took her almost 20 years to become a citizen then, but would she have ever now? I’m very afraid of these answers, and if these hypothetical questions bother me, surely the pictures of actual babies taken from their moms must bother me now.

In a strange twist of fate, I find myself in support of the voice of former First Lady Laura W. Bush right now. She is standing up as a moral leader in our time, challenging the Trump Administration on this moral question. If only more Republicans would follow her lead, and show as much fortitude in this moment of moral reckoning, maybe America could stand up and be a moral leader again.

Donald Trump Actually Shares Putin’s World View

In the midst of all the insane news that came out of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit, I think we all are missing the big point. Sure, Trump saluted a North Korean General and elevated a tin-pot dictator to his level in direct negotiations, but that is a blip on the overall radar. In the long run, bringing North Korea out of it’s pariah status is a good thing, if it’s possible. Having a poor, starved, nuclear state sitting next to South Korea and Japan isn’t beneficial to anyone.

The important thing is the suspension of “war games” with our allies in Asia, coupled with our refusal to join the rest of the G-7 in the joint statement of principles at the end of that conference, our threats to pull out of NAFTA and other trade agreements, and our willingness to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement and Paris Climate Change treaty. Donald Trump is moving the United States towards isolationism, out of our world leadership role. A United States that doesn’t counter-balance Chinese power in the Asian Pacific, doesn’t lead in negotiating Middle East Peace, doesn’t lead on international trade, and isn’t part of solving global problems is simply not a superpower anymore. Trump is creating a militant, inward looking, isolationist state, complete with fraying alliances abroad and a nativist, nationalist identity driven immigration policy at home.

There is someone happy about that, and that’s Vladimir Putin. His stated world view is that there should be no United States superpower, but instead a collection of regional powers. Russia should dominate the old Soviet-bloc, China should move into the void we leave behind in Asia, we should dominate our hemisphere, perhaps Germany controls Western Europe, and someone should emerge in the Middle East. Even if all of that doesn’t work out, he just wants the United States to stop leading a strong Western coalition. If he can get us to break our bonds with Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, he’s happy. If he can get us out of Asia, even better. If he can get us out of the Middle East too, he now can grow Russian influence in every direction. For Putin, that’s the goal.

Trump’s foreign policy and Putin’s long held aspirations seem to be perfectly aligned. It’s beginning to be a lot less shocking that Putin’s Russia was so solidly supportive of Donald Trump’s campaign. After all, this is the new alliance that matters.

How Strong Nations Fall

We all look for distractions from the news these days. For me, I’ve been reading a lot of history, particularly about the fall of great civilizations in the history of the world. How did the Romans fall? The Greeks? The Ottomans? As you read through them, you see some common traits that hold up in many cases. I came up with five that stand out to me, and the scary thing is, they all apply to the United States right now.

  • Over-aggressive militarism. A strong national defense, and willingness to act on the behalf of national values is central to building a great nation. Invading nations for the purpose of conquest, without facing any real threat, as we did in Iraq, doesn’t fit that bill. Filled prisons, police riding down the street in tanks, a domestic violence epidemic, and addicts going to jail, also is being overly militant. Responding to the epidemic of school shootings, a uniquely American event, by calling for the arming of teachers, is overly aggressive militarism. Our society has a violence issue. Our nation has codified much of it in law. This over-reaching militarism can be the death of nations. Hitler’s attempt to invade the Soviet Union, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the British Empire’s expansion to the entire globe, the Romans’ expansion across Europe- all eventually became their undoing.
  • The rise of inept leadership. George W. Bush was in over his head as President. Donald Trump went from bankrupting casinos to the White House. These men are imbeciles and should not have lead free nations. It goes beyond them though. Post-Watergate, and particularly post Cold War, Americans have valued experience less and less in picking their leaders. That’s not such a good thing when you make someone the Commander-in-Chief and Chief Executive Officer of a multi-trillion dollar government. Inept and incapable idiots lead Rome, Greece, Egypt to great falls after their great leaders built them up. It stopped making sense for capable leaders to seek leadership roles, and insecure, uninformed, incapable people sought power instead.
  • Great division over national identity. One of the most understated issues of post-1968 America is the division over who we are. The United States is a multicultural, melting pot nation of immigrants. It has always been so. We take in every religion, every race, every sexuality, every type of person. Unfortunately, the “majority,” or traditional cultural norm, has not handled that well since the great Civil Rights wins of the 1960’s. Even more unfortunately, politicians from Nixon to Trump have cynically embraced those fears and scapegoated the “other.” Hence, we’ve had to debate everything from gay marriage to building a wall on the Mexican Border. Ironically, all of these nonsensical, regressive debates is possible because we live in relative comfort, without current civil violence, starvation, or plague. It’s also possible because Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 Presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, to appeal to open racists, and got a pass for it. Fights over who was a citizen lead Rome to some of their most barbaric acts. Those acts lead to uprising against them.
  • They stop doing great things for their people. What was the greatest achievement of the 20th Century United States? It wasn’t winning the World Wars. Those were necessities, rather than achievements. The interstate highway system. Civil Rights. Putting a man on the Moon. Building suburbia. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These are achievements. Our current government doesn’t wish to do great public works- in fact our Speaker and President want to undo social welfare programs in order to transfer more wealth back to the wealthy. This is not a pathway to greatness. We remember the great works of the ancient world- pyramids, the Acropolis, the Colosseum- not the mediocrity that followed.
  • Stability fails. At the end of the Roman Empire, stability failed. They weren’t safe from outside invasion. Their institutions didn’t work. They had rampant public and private corruption. Watch the news tonight and see if you feel much different. Russia is hacking our election system, and power grid. Facebook is selling your data. Every institution from the church to the military has had an embarrassing scandal in recent times. Do you feel like our institutions are protecting you right now.

I’m not saying America will fall, or cease to exist in the near future. I’m saying the essence of our nation, our body politic, is ill. If we don’t make changes on these issues, I don’t think we’ll get better anytime soon.

Silly Season in the UK- What Color Passport?

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American politics has become a national embarrassment. Our President takes to Twitter and whips up fights over ridiculous issues like NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, issues that he shouldn’t really have time to be worrying about as President of the United States. He attacks FBI Agents and other federal employees, something that is beneath the office in which he resides. He posts videos of himself attacking “CNN” in a pro-wrestling skit, something that would be disturbing from an 8th grader. Donald Trump is a clown, and a clown that got almost 63 million votes. It can drive any sane American nuts.

If you need some relief from feeling terrible about Americans, look across the pond to our great allies, the United Kingdom. Sure, they can laugh at us for Trump, particularly while debating whether or not inviting President Obama to the upcoming Royal Wedding will trigger our “toddler-in-chief,” but their nativist crowd is triggering a new domestic politics debate of their own.

Passport colors.

You see, prior to joining the European Union, the United Kingdom had an “iconic blue” passport (as some of their folks have called it), which was replaced with a red one once they joined the EU. Thanks to their nationalists temper-tantrum known as “Brexit,” the United Kingdom is probably going to leave the EU, and return to the old blue passports. Is this a big deal? Of course not, the passports will work pretty much the same (except at EU borders, but I digress). Of course, Theresa May tried to make it a political issue:

Of course, this is a ridiculous issue. The color of a passport isn’t really emblematic of independence or national pride, it’s just a color. There’s also the fact that the EU wasn’t making the United Kingdom have any specific color. The UK could have kept their blue passports, all they had to do was say that’s what they wanted. It’s ridiculous. It’s silly. It’s Prime Minister May playing to the same hyper-nationalist faux-outrage that Donald Trump does every day. It’s sad, because she’s far more thoughtful than he is (which isn’t saying much), and should carry herself as such. Of course, it’s nice to know that we’re not alone in the world of the idiocracy.