Wednesday, April 18, 2018

White Supremacy Is America's Achilles Heel

Many of those who have remained in the Republican party in the past have used their supposed support for "fiscal conservatism" as the fig leaf for explaining their continued ties to a political party that now is defined by right wing Christian extremists and white supremacists.  With the passage of the federal budget busting GOP/Trump tax bill last December, the fig leaf of alleged GOP fiscal conservatism has been utterly disintegrate as if it had been tossed into a raging fire or crematorium. Thus, the question that needs to be asked of these Republicans of what their real motivations are going forward for remaining in a party that has exhibited budgetary recklessness and total disregard for fiscal responsibility.  As I have noted in previous posts, in my view, many are motivated by racism even thought they would vehemently deny it if directly asked whether or not they are racists.  As a fairly lengthy piece in the Atlantic  points out, racism has a long history in American politics and Trump and today's GOP - with the help of Russian efforts - are 100% on board for using race to stir hatred and appeal to white voters.  Here are article highlights:
There are a million and one threads to the chaos currently unspooling about the Trump administration and the 2016 election. One might be forgiven for giving up on trying to navigate the intricacies of congressional Russia inquiries, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ever-widening probe, news about foreign intrusions into voting systems, investigations about Twitter bots, and the developing story about the manipulation of Facebook data.
But there’s one main thread running through all of these stories, one that should orient readers to the things that truly matter, whether the news is about Cambridge Analytica or the Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency. It’s the fact that the human brain is eminently exploitable—as are, by extension, the civic and democratic institutions the human brain has built.  And in America, a country built from its foundations on white supremacy, where identity is forged in the crucible of a centuries-old “race question,” one of the easiest and most effective ways to “hack” those institutions is the use of racism in disinformation and propaganda campaigns. Almost every single American era of widespread racial friction was buttressed by sophisticated psychological manipulation, data gathering, and propaganda, a concoction that when taken together, often helped push whites to the extremes of anti-democratic oppression and violence. It’s the oldest American trick in the book.
[O]ne vital detail is the seemingly critical role of racial foment in Cambridge Analytica’s electoral work. . . . Cambridge Analytica, owned by conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer and linked heavily to former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, began embarking on research to figure out how to mobilize white conservatives:
In focus groups arranged to test messages for the 2014 midterms, these voters responded to calls for building a new wall to block the entry of illegal immigrants, to reforms intended to ‘drain the swamp’ of Washington’s entrenched political community and to thinly veiled forms of racism toward African Americans called ‘race realism,’ [Wylie] recounted.
“Race realism” is a new-ish term describing an old intellectual—or anti-intellectual—tradition using pseudoscience in the pursuit of racial dominance. It’s a new label for what’s now referred to as “scientific racism,” or research in social science, biology, and philosophy dedicated to proving the scientific inferiority of black people and other minorities, and thus validating white racial hegemony.
Scientific racism—from the earliest anthropology to the quackery of phrenology to the ongoing appeal of eugenics—became the justification for white-supremacist and herrenvolk governments the world over, including Jim Crow America, the Third Reich, and South African apartheid.
[T]he Internet Research Agency’s alleged actions were part of a set of schemes designed to leverage both the wealth of data in social media, and to use that data to exploit and manipulate people via the lever of racism.
The extent of the usefulness to the Trump campaign of these specific initiatives is still in question, but the strength of racist appeals should not be discounted out of hand. Propaganda and fear-mongering can be catalysts for underlying racist sentiment, either by confirming deeply held suspicions or encouraging others to edge past rhetorical boundaries—such as, say, prohibitions against violence, or the defense of American democracy. Such catalysts lower the activation energy for extremism.
. . . . “race realism” is a clever term designed to provide an intellectual sheen to the most base racist instincts. As such, it has a critical importance in the alt-right movement’s search for mainstream validation.
The very fact that Cambridge Analytica’s researchers stumbled upon and tested the effectiveness of “race realism” in Facebook campaigns is alarming, but it doesn’t stand alone. The president’s campaign also employed race-baiting rhetoric. Until recently, Breitbart—a site formerly run by Trump’s one-time campaign CEO and chief strategist—maintained a “Black Crime” story category. The use of racist propaganda is a startling echo of the past and could be a blueprint for the future. Such propaganda has been used before to radicalize and mobilize Americans, in opposition to the rule of law, and even in opposition to democracy.
[A]s Terry Ann Knopf argues in Rumors, Race, and Riots, fake stories about slave rebellions inflamed pro-secessionist thought in the South. The common theme is one that newspaper editors and demagogues alike used repeatedly to their advantage: White citizens were uniquely susceptible to perceived threats to their power, both nonviolent and violent, and often responded by further suspending democracy.
[B]ut it’s the specific ways in which white supremacists engaged in widespread radicalization of poor whites that seems particularly relevant today. . . . Scientific racism was critical in establishing the pretext for barring black people from democratic participation, and for inspiring them to ever more violent methods.
The indictment filed in February by special counsel Robert Mueller against 13 Russian nationals working for the Internet Research Agency illustrates how the Kremlin was interested in exploiting racial tensions on Trump’s behalf. . . . One central tactic appeared to be cribbed directly from the Jim Crow playbook: using both racist messaging against black people and fake black activism to amplify polarization and the likelihood of political violence. . . . The second prong in the racial strategy was disseminating false information about voter fraud or the potential of voter fraud, delivered by fake conservative accounts to conservative users. The third was racist fear-mongering, sometimes using the fake tweets from the first prong and reaction to them as fodder.
[I]f there’s anything to be learned from the politics of the past few decades, it’s that the margins of American democracy are often razor thin. And racism is a tried and true way to work those margins to political advantage.
Take, for example, the Internet Research Agency’s strategy involving using imposter accounts designed to look like real black, Latino, and Muslim activists.
There's much more in the article, including a review of how appeals to racism have been utilized in the past and the eagerness some white Americans have exhibited in jumping on the racist bandwagon.  Personally, I continue to believe that appeals to racism - with a dash of religious extremism - is what garnered Trump the roughly 70,000 votes need to flip three states to Trump's electoral column. Do I feel any need to be polite or sensitive to those who bought into this poison?  Definitely not. 

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