Trump said an awful thing. Although he denies it, several sources have confirmed that, in a closed-door meeting about immigration policy, he asked, “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” People went nuts, with good reason, but I think the focus has been wrong. This is cross-posted from my FaceBook, word for word (except this paragraph of introduction).
I have conflicting views, and I find that troubling. It’s not the first time it’s happened, and it certainly won’t be the last time it happens. My conflict has to do with crime rates and mass incarceration. I am against mass incarceration, but I like low crime rates, and, because the two are correlated, it makes me worry about a cause and effect relationship. Let’s delve deeper.
People aren’t perfect. We’re relatively safe when we idolize fictional characters, because they’re less likely to let us down, but when we idolize real people, we run the risk of being let down by their inevitable imperfection. From Bill O’Reilly to Christopher Columbus to Thomas Jefferson, people do unforgivable things, and we’re stuck trying to balance the good with the bad. What interests me is how people react when it happens.
The culture war has gotten plenty of new kindling to burn in the form of a protest by a black man. In a totally non-violent, passive way, Kaepernick kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem. It went unnoticed for a while, but eventually got picked up and became a huge controversy. Things got even more heated this weekend after President Trump tweeted things about the kneeling (note, well after Kaepernick stopped playing), and players and owners responded. Even those who supported Trump in the past were bothered by his tweets, and stood with kneeling players to show their support for their players. Of all the things that are fascinating (and deeply troubling) about the whole thing, what I find most telling might be the deep importance of a symbol from the self-declared patriots. It’s a flag, it’s a song. And it’s not like he’s burning the flag (which itself shouldn’t be all that upsetting; the consequences for burning a flag aren’t like burning a building, right?). It’s not like he’s pissing on it, or spitting on it. He’s simply kneeling, quietly. But some are outraged (not hyperbole) by this disrespect for a symbol of America. This got me thinking if there was some symbol that I felt so strongly about, seemingly more so than the thing the symbol represents.
None of us has the ability to perfectly predict what current event will be meaningful one hundred years from now. Some things are easy (the attacks on 9/11 for instance), but others are much harder to predict. It’s starting to feel possible, maybe not yet likely though, that we’re witnessing a real split in the republican party. In a simplified version of reality, the party has two groups. It has the classic republicans who feel strongly about free-markets, deregulation, private solutions over government involvement, individual responsibility, low taxes, and those kinds of things. These are the fiscal conservatives who are more likely to be socially liberal, or at least agnostic on social issues. The party also has the social conservatives. This group is where the white nationalists thrive. This is the group that is anti-immigration, feels the “fabric of America” is slipping away (which I can’t explain other than America becoming a more diverse pool of ethnicities), they have, or at least had, strong opinions about morality and decency, and this helps fuel their dislike of “gay culture” that they see as flamboyant, gratuitous, and indecent. At the same time, they balked at the way the government made them be fair to minorities. They way the government had anything to say about the way of life (that was great for them, even if less so for others). People who felt that we were once the base of the democratic party, but found themselves without a satisfying political home when the democrats became the party of civil rights, and stopped being the party of the KKK. That’s when the adoption of the southern strategy and the inclusion of the Reagan Democrats paid off, and brought a big win for Reagan. His characterization of government as something to be feared hit home, and his attacks on the welfare queen driving a Cadillac fit well with their feeling that they were being pushed out of the society they once dominated. And the party has balanced these two groups ever since, and somehow managed them well. The fiscal conservatives seemed to become more socially conservative and the social conservatives became more fiscally conservative. They had a comfortable balance. Trump is disrupting that.
The past day (or so) has been hard for me. The events in Charlottesville have taken an emotional toll, and it’s been almost nonstop fighting on FaceBook since then. I’m so saddened that anybody would turn a blind eye to the President’s reluctance to take sides against Nazis, but my FaceBook threads, and those of others, are full of horrible defenses of what President Trump said and failed to say in response to the events. The last post came before the President’s first statement, and that was when my disgust really started.
There is a lot happening in Charlottesville today and yesterday. A group of white nationalists has come to town to protest. I hope it’s obvious to anybody who knows me that this upsets me. But I’m missing some key data. These are things that might be known to somebody, but not me. Forgive the stream of consciousness, but here goes nothing.