Thursday, June 17, 2021

Thom Tillis Promotes the White People's Party

 

No one ever accused Sen. Thom Tillis of thinking original thoughts. He's more of a bandwagon sort of guy, and he'll jump on a brightly lit one if it's moving slowly enough and if there's already plenty of other Republicans riding it. So on Monday this week, Senator Thom Tillis pledged his allegiance to the conservative panic about "critical race theory" (CRT), joining such Republican luminaries as Sen. Tom Cotton, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, and Sen. Mitch McConnell in PRing a bill that would somehow prohibit the use of any federal funds to teach the 1619 Project -- "by K-12 schools or school districts" -- an astonishing mandate since the 1619 Project is already free to everyone on-line

The Tillis announcement (CRT-bashing being catnip to rally-goers) signals to me that the senator is still trying to cement it with the Trump wing, which has never trusted him. CRT-fear is the perfect message for low-information rural people, partly because nobody knows what critical race theory is, but hey! anything going racial has usually proved dangerous. For Tillis, this is his own Trump-holding-the-Bible-in-front-of-the-church moment. Upholding the Gospel that "history" for American students should be reaffirmations of American white virtue, pious recitations of the democratic virtues contained in the preambles of certain sacred American documents, like the Declaration of Independence. Meanwhile, glide past the whole legacy of slavery as national policy. By signing on to the anti-CRT bill, Tillis is virtue-signaling to a crowd that wants to take no prisoners and has a Caesar in exile to whom they bow. Tillis is also and incidentally confirming the Republican Party's continued contraction into something small, "The White Peoples Party."

Tillis's constituents possibly don't even understand what "critical race theory" is. That becomes clear reading through some of the complaints that our Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson solicited from a kind of parent hot-line for reporting examples of liberal classroom indoctrination. The examples that Jeffrey Billman published (the product of a contentious public records request) show that "CRT" is a convenient portmanteau suitable for packing in everything that conservatives don't like about the contemporary world, like anything related to LGBTQ, like any mention of "Black Lives Matter," like any classroom example of liberalspeak that some kid exaggerates as he reports it to his shocked parents.

Where I grew up in Texas
I grew up in the thoroughly unwoke 1950s in a section of the Texas Panhandle that had been settled after 1890 by white refugees from the Kingdom of Cotton. Lot of struggling rural people moved to that section because the state of Texas was offering essentially free farmland -- amazingly deep and fertile dirt currently covered by grass -- free to anyone willing to take it up and make it productive and build a structure to signal permanence. Why, here's you a plot of land if you're tough enough to tame it, and tough people came from Alabama (especially Alabama) and from Mississippi and from Georgia and from North Carolina (where my own forebears joined the wave). The resulting culture was about as all-white as you ever get, or could get back then, and super sure of its own virtue.

The color crisis in my little rural county came with the arrival of Hispanic farm workers, starting in the 1950s and accelerating in the 1960s and keeping pace through to this very day. Subsistence whites, my people, resented the "Mess-kins." I know. I sat in rooms and heard the talk. And I remember fights in the schoolyard between tough white boys and tough Mexican kids, bloody-nose extravaganzas. Assumptions among those white-like-me hardened: the world was made by white people, for white people, and who the ever-living hell do you think you are challenging that? 

When I first came to Appalachian State University in 1970, there was actually a senior professor in the history department quite notorious for telling her students that really, slaves were better off before the Civil War, and basically they were relieved to be taken care of. That was not necessarily a shocking opinion at the time, at least in the South, and there was never an uprising among students about such talk. Now there would be. Now our understanding of history is capable of complex thinking.

Bottomline: Tillis is one of the genetic beads on our Southern double-helix, with his playing to the white conservative preference for shows of force, if triggered by violations of an iron racial hierarchy. Tillis stands for a power structure capable of many innovations. But the only question remains: Is that bead of Southern DNA always gonna be dominant or can we evolve?


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Surprise! Southern Baptists Reject a Trumpist Leader

 

Late yesterday news broke that the Southern Baptist "messengers" at their convention in Nashville had selected Ed Litton as their president, which is considered a defeat for the hard right within the denomination. Litton "narrowly defeated" Mike Stone, the favored candidate of the far right (Litton 52%, Stone 47.81%). Stone actually led Litton in the first round of voting, when there were three candidates.

The Trumpists focused much of their wrath on "critical race theory," an effort by American historians to examine "structural racism," which has been baked so thoroughly into both white civic structures and white habits of mind that it's become essentially invisible to white people conditioned to deny its existence. According to Sarah Pulliam Bailey, some of the far right wore red stickers on their convention badges that read “Stop CRT” and “Beat the Biden Baptists.”

Yes, apparently there are "Biden Baptists." They, and a bigger than usual attendance by young people, put Ed Litton into leadership.

Litton, pastor of First Baptist Church North Mobile in Alabama, pitched himself as someone who would lead the convention toward more racial reconciliation. According to Christianity Today, Litton "has led efforts for pastors in the Deep South to acknowledge and heal from their racist history and joined black pastors ... in opposing 'any movement in the SBC that seeks to distract from racial reconciliation through the gospel and that denies the reality of systemic injustice.' ”


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Southern Baptist Church Braces for a Trumpist Takeover

 

I used to be a Southern Baptist -- graduated from a Southern Baptist college in Texas -- so I paid sad attention when many of its most prominent leaders went ga-ga for Donald Trump, proclaiming that God Hisself sent Trump to save conservative Christianity from secularism and modernism and humanism and Democrats.

How odd for God to choose a lying, self-dealing, inheritor of Nebuchadnezzar's pride and arrogance to save Christianity, let alone the Southern Baptist Church. That would be kind of an impressive miracle in its own right, a twisted miracle.

Right now a rising tide of Trumpist pastors are intending a hostile takeover at the church's convention this coming week in Nashville. Ruth Graham reports: "Like the Trump movement within the Republican Party, a populist groundswell within the already conservative evangelical denomination is trying to install an anti-establishment leader who could wrench the church even further to the right, while opponents contend that the church must broaden its reach to preserve its strength. For three days, thousands of delegates known as 'messengers' — most of them white men — will fight over race, sex and ultimately the future of evangelical power in the United States."

Turns out the church hasn't been Trumpist enough? I'm stunned.

The Trumpist pastors are especially mad about the few -- the very few -- who dared proclaim to their congregations that Black lives matter, and it's like the whole pro-slavery, racist history of the church has been resurrected to do proxy battle for white supremacy. That's what it looks like to me. I have my own history with the church, and I know the lingo. The Trumpists have seized on "critical race theory" (like they seized on other handy words four years ago, like "socialist" and "Marxist") as the demon threatening their hegemony.

Understanding race in America exposes the foundational DNA of this particular brand of fundamentalism, and these Baptists don't relish looking at themselves critically, or honestly. They were a pro-slavery church when they split from Northern Baptists before the Civil War, and I can tell you that the impulse to separate people by race still runs deep among the brethren. Some have tried to repent those views, while some -- like the extremist preachers looking for a coup next week -- ain't repentin' nuttin.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Wrong Attorney General To Right the Ship

 

On the same day I'm reading "The Case for Prosecuting Donald Trump" in the Boston Globe, I'm reading how Biden's Attorney General Merrick Garland is actually earning himself the Wet Noodle Award -- in a piece of WashPost reporting today headlined "Garland defends recent Justice Department moves to back Trump-era legal positions."

Jeebus!

All this on the heels of watching a complete takedown of Garland by Rachel Maddow on Monday, who logically suggested that the failure to prosecute Trump's crimes committed while in office will surely lead to more presidential crimes in the future by another president who notices that Trump got away with it.

Well, just a taste of the Boston Globe editorial while I soak my brain in vinegar (and I'm beginning to understand why Merrick Garland was so acceptable to so many Republican senators -- he's inoffensive to the point of impersonating a doormat):

Norms in a democracy are only as good as our willingness to enforce them.

After the precedent-busting, lawbreaking presidency of Donald Trump, Congress needs to pass new laws to constrain future officeholders. That’s the case the Globe has made in this series: curbs on the pardon power, safeguards against nepotism, broadening the power of Congress to investigate the president, protections for whistle-blowers, requirements that presidents make financial disclosures to root out conflicts of interest.

All of that is crucial to protect Americans against a repeat of the last four years.

But imposing stricter rules on future presidents, by itself, is clearly insufficient. Those presidents also need a clear message, one that will echo through history, that breaking the law in the Oval Office will actually be punished — that ethics policies and legal requirements, both the existing ones and those Congress will hopefully enact in the future, are more than just words on paper.

Trump’s presidency didn’t just expose glaring legal weaknesses: It also made clear that our institutions are incapable of holding presidents accountable for breaking even our existing laws. If Congress had played the role the Founders envisioned, by removing Trump from the presidency after his criminality became clear in the Ukraine affair, that might have been enough of a deterrent to scare future presidents straight. But lawmakers didn’t.

 

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Surry County Rescinds Its Ban on Coke Machines

 

The Surry County commissioner whose abstention from a vote to ban Coke machines from Surry County properties, thus allowing the measure to pass 3-2, found his courage on Monday night and voted with the two "no" votes to rescind the measure that was meant to punish the Coca-Cola Corp. for its criticism of voter suppression in Georgia.

This came after a public hearing on the matter during which the actual owner of the vending machines -- which is mos def not the large corporation in Atlanta -- asked the commission to reconsider its original ban because it was hurting Surry County workers who keep the machines stocked.

Several residents also spoke out against the ban — including Julian Charles Robinson, who described the previous board meeting as “full of conspiracy, hate talk and far right-wing activism.”

“How much will it take for the far-right Republicans sitting here who spoke last week, how much evidence will it take for them to accept and go home having lost the election?” he said. “What’s it going to take?”

Commissioner Eddie Harris

West Caudle from Elkin said commissioners passed the vending machine ban against Coca-Cola Consolidated and “didn’t have a clue about what they did.”

He said he also heard commissioners talk about not wanting companies like Amazon to come to the county.

“Quite frankly, if you sit on the Board of Commissioners for Surry County and you would refuse any company to bring economic development to our county, you are a moron,” Caudle said.

At the end of the public forum, the commissioner who originally abstained moved to rescind the ban, but the two commissioners who originally grandstanded in favor continued to uphold the ban. Explicitly, they didn't care what harm came to local employees of the vending machine company: “I am holding my ground because I feel like that’s the right thing for me to do,” Commissioner Van Tucker said. “I was trying to send a message to the flagship Coca-Cola, and if there were some casualties beneath, sorry about that.”

Sorry 'bout that. Thoughts and prayers for "you beneath."

Commissioner Eddie Harris, who made the original motion to ban Coke, took his case directly to Fox and Friends, "where he said the vote stemmed from wanting to “push back against this woke cancel culture.”

“Our citizens support this,” he said. “They’re absolutely sick and tired of this outrageous left-wing mob that is attacking freedom of speech, that is attacking people’s jobs.”

Quoth the moron.


Virginia Democrats Dodge Progressives and Nominate Establishment Types for Statewide Offices

 

Yesterday in their primary election, Virginia Democrats eschewed the more progressive candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general and opted for "safe" establishment Democrats.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe easily won the primary for governor, besting not one but two Black women candidates. 

Although Hala Ayala, who won the race for lieutenant governor, is a multi-racial woman of color, she's somewhat notoriously backed by Virginia’s largest electric utility, Dominion Energy, which gave her $100,000 in the closing days of her campaign against the progressive candidate Sam Rasoul.

Incumbent Attorney General Mark R. Herring won his primary against Black challenger Jay Jones, who was interestingly endorsed by the sitting Virginia governor, Ralph Northam. Jones had criticized Herring for turning a blind eye on police misconduct.

That slate will be up against a Trump-endorsed Republican team in a test this fall of any lingering penumbra of power associated with the former president. Will progressives turn out?


Sunday, June 06, 2021

It's Wrong To Make Fun of People's Appearance

 

Last night in Greenville, NC:



Some commentary alleges he's got his pants on backwards.

Others are remembering the gone-girl, Hope Hicks, who used to carry a portable steamer for pressing Trump's clothes while he wore them. No, really. "Actually the most important member of Trump's team," tweeted Dan Moynihan.

Randy Rainbow: "Loving this vintage mermaid skirt by Halston"


Trump Poots in Pat McCrory's Face

 

Congressman Ted Budd    
See he has guns


So last night in Greenville, Donald Trump endorsed Congressman Ted Budd for Burr's open US Senate seat. Then he destroyed Pat McCrory. “You can’t pick people who have already lost two races.” Everybody in that room knew he was referring to former Guv Pat, who lost one statewide race for governor in 2010 and a second, his failure to win reelection in 2016. Guess who was sitting right there in that room and heard Trump trash him? McCrory may not have yelped out loud but he may have turned a bitter shade of Republican red.

After the event, McCrory tried to fight back in an impromptu press conference at the back of the convention hall. Quoting Brian Murphy and Will Doran (with impertinent notes added):

McCrory said he was “disappointed” in Trump’s endorsement of Budd, calling the congressman “a Washington insider who has done more to oppose the Trump agenda than anyone in the race”.... 

 [Really? McCrory wants to claim that Budd is some kind of McCain in the House? Get outta here!]

“The president got some bad advice and you could tell by the immediate reaction of the audience, which was no reaction to the individual he endorsed” ....

[McCrory was alluding to what was surely many startled faces in the audience, because just hours earlier, ex-Congressman Mark Walker had won the straw poll. Some 44% of the 1,200 delegates to the 2021 NC Republican Convention preferred Walker -- 29% for Budd, 18% for McCrory.]  

[McCrory said] “They selected a Washington insider and I assume a Washington insider around the president made this very poor decision.” ...

[Take that, Mark Meadows!"] 

McCrory, who met with Trump after his 2016 election about a job in the administration, said that he “never sought an endorsement from anyone.” ...

[Trump had said in his speech that someone he didn't endorse lobbied him for an endorsement. Trump also didn't give McCrory a job in his administration.] 

As for having lost elections, something he has in common with Trump, McCrory said, “We all live in glass houses.”

McCrory pointed to polls that show him with a large lead in the primary. He said North Carolina picks its own candidates.

“We’re going to win this election. We’re up 30 points,” McCrory said.

 

We all live in glass houses? The difference for you, Fella, is that Trump's glass is bulletproof while yours is like cellophane.

I think we just saw last night a potential political comeback go past its shelf-life.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Catawba County Government Will Keep Its Confederate Statue

 

Randy Isenhour, chair of the Catawba County Commission, published a letter in the Hickory Daily News yesterday that praised the UNC-CH Board of Trustees for denying tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, and he took the opportunity to blast her 1619 Project as "junk history." It's a remarkable display by an elected official in Catawba County, weighing in so ferociously on the hiring of a famous journalist at Chapel Hill and assessing the historical accuracy of a document I would bet he hasn't read. Not sure of Mr. Isenhour's qualifications for discerning good history from "junk."

He isn't qualified, so Isenhour turns to three authorities for calling the 1619 Project "junk history": the Rev. Corey Brooks, a Black pastor in Chicago trying to quell urban violence; Columbia University Prof John McWhorter, a prominent Black intellectual and contrarian; and Robert Woodson, a Black community organizer in DeeCee. Do you think the racial makeup of his authorities happened by chance?

Isenhour's three detractors of the 1619 Project all have their reasons (which I respect) for rejecting a new historical emphasis on slavery and racism. In Rev. Brooks' case (a view he published in The American Conservative), he worries that because both the 1619 Project and Black Lives Matter "emphasize that America is racist to its core, they both inadvertently make the American Dream inaccessible to non-whites. As a consequence of this viewpoint, blacks are doomed to view the American Dream as spectators rather than as full participants engaged in a wholehearted pursuit of their personal American Dream." 

Isn't that patronizing on its face?

The blisteringly smart John McWhorter has an actually similar reaction -- that even admitting that Black bondage shaped the nation becomes an original sin that cannot be expunged:

But now we have a true Genesis-style scenario under which, at the very outset, a ship brings Africans to this land in 1619 and everything that happens here afterward is rooted in the unjustifiable bondage of those human beings and what was connected to it. Now, not only does the American individual harbor the original sin of being born privileged, but America itself is a product of a grand original sin, permeating the entire physical, sociological, and psychological fabric of the nation, to an extent no one could ever hope to undo, and for which any apology would be insufficient to the point of irrelevance.

McWhorter may be the better writer, but his viewpoint seems as patronizing as Brooks's, that focusing on slavery and racism can discourage, even knee-cap change and keep Blacks in economic and political subservience. I can appreciate these viewpoints without agreeing that change is impossible when you accept unpleasant reality.

Now the reason the Catawba chair of the Board of Commissioners would trot out these guys as his authorities for declaring Hannah-Jones's work "junk history" may have more to do with the recent pressure he's been under to remove a Confederate monument from the courthouse square than it does with his devotion to good history.

Since last August members of a local Truth and Reconciliation Committee have been speaking regularly during public comment at commissioner meetings, requesting that the Confederate monument be removed to encourage at least an appearance of fairness in Catawba County government. The statue of a Confederate soldier was erected on the courthouse square in 1907 during that great reflowering of white supremacy across the South, at approximately the same time Silent Sam went up on the UNC-CH campus and hundreds of other monuments popped up all across the former Confederacy as a pugnacious reassertion of "state's rights" (the right to discriminate via Jim Crow laws against former slaves being primary). Through all that public comment, Chair Isenhour remained stony-faced, like granite.

That outward refusal to be moved changed suddenly last December when a 16-year-old boy, Colby Dagenhart, stood up during public comment and admitted that he had been raised a racist (from reporting in the Hickory Record):

“I believed those large Confederate statues needed to stay right where they were because it showed the power of us whites,” he said. “I believed that was our heritage.” ...

By eighth grade Dagenhart had made many Black friends, but still didn’t support the Black Lives Matter movement, he said.

“I continued to believe that the Confederate monuments were my heritage,” Dagenhart said. “Then, I had a discussion about race with them [my friends].”

Dagenhart said their perspective changed his mind. His friends detailed struggles they’d faced from childhood simply because of the color of their skin.

“To put it simply, I never knew. I [became] educated,” Dagenhart said. “I realized I had spent my childhood growing in a world where my skin color never put me at a natural disadvantage. I never had to avoid cops on the street because I didn’t have to worry if I would come back home to my mother that day alive. I never had to walk by statues honoring people that I knew fought against my freedom.” ...

“This statue needs to be removed,” Dagenhart said, addressing the commissioners. “History has its eyes on you. We are Gen Z and we are watching. We are rising faster than you think. Change is coming, and it’s going to come with our vote.”

Well, apparently young Colby Dagenhart shook Mr. Isenhour's granite facade, because for the first time in all the months of citizens' speaking out about the statue (according to the Daily Record reporter) Isenhour broke his silence and got defensive with the 16-year-old who had spoken from the heart. Isenhour started listing all the "accomplishments" that he and his fellow commissioners had achieved and said that “the reason we accomplish so much in this county is because the citizens, by and large, in this county don't sit around ruminating about wrongs, and how their ancestors were wronged … or what their grievances were.” (Never mind that Confederate statues on courthouse grounds were and still are expressions of grievance against the North, no?)

Then Mr. Isenhour cut to the chase, essentially daring Colby Dagenhart and his Gen Zers itching to vote to find three people who'll agree with them, who might run for county commissioner and win, and then there would be a voting majority on the board to get rid of that Confederate monument.

In other words, "We got the power, kid, and until we don't, you can shut the hell up."