Getting rid of racism is much harder with Trump as President
Is it even newsworthy that Trump’s press conference about Charlottesville was misleading and disingenuous? Probably not. Trump is so dishonest that it is no longer an interesting question that he mislead us but rather to ask how and to what end he lied. Sometimes, of course, the answer seems to be “because he felt like it” or “because he is so unconcerned with truth that he doesn’t even know he’s lying anymore.” I’m not even going to bother with the nonsense about “both sides do it,” I’ll leave that to Driftglass. I’m more interested in Trump’s challenge to a reporter who dared ask him a question:
When you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead. Define it for me, come on, let’s go.
Trump claims he “never spoke to Mr. Bannon about” Charlottesville. Maybe when he bothers to do so, he can ask him to define “alt right” since Bannon knows all about it. Heck, he even published a whole guide about defining the alt right. Maybe an aide can make a pretty picture book about it so President Pop-Up-Book can understand it.
In 1998, when he was 23 years old, John William King and two friends beat an African-American man, James Byrd, Jr., behind a convenience store. King was the one who used a baseball bat. They then chained Mr. Byrd behind their truck and dragged him for 3 miles. The pathologist report, once they had reassembled the 81 pieces of Mr. Byrd’s body, told the court that the evidence indicated Mr. Byrd was alive for most of the dragging since the remains indicated he tried desperately to protect himself. John William King, and his friends, were found guilty. At his sentencing, King issued a statement:
Though I remain adamant about my innocence, it’s been obvious from the beginning that this community would get what they desire; so I’ll close with the words of Francis Yockey: “The promise of success is with the man who is determined to die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.”
King is still on death row awaiting execution, forgotten by all. If he had done those actions even thirty years previously, he’s probably still be walking among us, a free man.
The New Atheists and the Alt-Right
I’ve never liked the so-called “New Atheists,” those inspired by the “Four Horsemen” of Atheism: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. When writing about atheism, those four have never impressed me as particularly deep thinkers. My co-author and I have a new book coming out soon that takes exception to the version of Darwinism put forth by Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. I lost a great deal of respect for the late Christopher Hitchens when he embraced Bush’s Iraq war. And Sam Harris is, in my opinion, a shallow and unimpressive thinker who feeds the bigotry of thinkers who are even shallower and unimpressiver then he is.
I mostly never liked them because of Jennifer Michael Hecht. I got to know Jennifer a bit when I reprinted an essay of her’s in a volume I edited. About the time those men in the previous paragraph started making waves, Jennifer published Doubt: A History a deeply-researched, wonderfully-written study of the history of those who have doubted the existence of God. While Hitchens and Harris were repackaging David Hume for the umpteenth time, and Dennett and Dawkins were offering their cramped understanding of Darwinism (as if it had anything to do with the existence of God), Jennifer’s wonderfully original contribution to atheism was swept aside, perhaps because she was a woman (which would not be surprising, given the misogyny in the movement), perhaps because she doesn’t call her intellectual opponents irrational or stupid. Whatever the reason, I always thought the movement chose third-rate thinkers when they could have chosen a first-rate one.
Phil Torres, in a recent post over at Salon, notes the unsettling similarities between the views of some of the so-called “New Atheists,” and the Alt-Right. His drophead nicely summarized the piece: “A movement supposedly committed to science and reason has decayed into racism, misogyny and intolerance.” Torres documents the increasing hostility the movement has towards feminism and the embrace of the “scientific” proof of an innate difference in intelligence between white and black people. All of this with a heaping dose of Islamaphobia that would make any alt-rightist happy.
Well, this has been exciting. My post on Nancy MacLean’s new book (Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America)—what a friend of mine has dubbed “the libertarian kerfuffle”—has brought new readers to this normally quiet space, for which I’m grateful. I’ve been dubbed “not particularly compelling” by Jonathan H. Adler at the Washington Post! As wonderful as that is (I’m thinking of making it the new tagline for my blog) I feel we ended up spinning our wheels in the comments. So, I’ll try again here and perhaps we can make better headway.
To defend Buchanan, and to defend themselves as inheritors of his intellectual program, many have reacted with accusations that MacLean is a bad scholar, that her citation practices are shoddy, and that she should be sued for libel. It is all very exciting. Well, as exciting as academic arguments get anyway. I’m not saying this is Game 7 of the World Series or anything.
Let’s pick up the argument with the accusation that MacLean imagined a link between southern writer Donald Davidson and James. N. Buchanan.
Note: if you are here because of my discussions of Nancy Maclean’s book, I have several follow-up posts to this one:
This is the cover a new book by Duke historian Nancy MacLean. I was dreading reading it because MacLean is a terrific historian; I’ve long admired her history of the twentieth-century Ku Klux Klan, Behind the Mask of Chivalry. This new book appeared to be the history I am working on: its thesis is that the white south’s program of Massive Resistance to Brown v. Board of Education was the start of the right wing’s current attempts to disenfranchise voters and to undermine democracy in order to let the free market operate.
MacLean’s book turns out to be much different from the one I hope to write; her focus is on economist James M. Buchanan who moved easily in the corridors of power in Virginia and beyond. The folks I’m interested in consider Buchanan a pseudo-libertarian for these very reasons. In many ways, MacLean’s book is a story of the straightforward successes of libertarians and I hope my work can complement her achievement.
Needless to say, the libertarians, particularly those of Buchanan’s “Public Choice” school, are not happy. Not at all. They feel MacLean has misrepresented Buchanan and public choice theory and, worse, committed historical malfeasance by altering quotations and quoting out of context. There is a lot of dust in the air right now, and a lot of charges being thrown around. Rather than trying to sort out everything going on, I’ll focus on one particular question:
Was James M. Buchanan a Racist?
This just in: the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of the Trump administration on the Muslim ban. Over at Breitbart, this news was greeted with the headline: “The Supreme Court Reinstates Trump Travel Ban from Muslim-Majority Countries!” Well, not quite. First, calling it a “travel ban” is what got Trump into trouble with the Courts in the first place and the Administration tries hard to reign in The Donald when he foolishly tells the truth about it. Second, the Court did not “reinstate” the entire ban, indeed, they upheld parts the stay.. Finally, by the time this gets sorted out, the ban will have expired, the Administration will have to start all over again with a new order without passing GO and without collecting their 200 refugees at the border. In summation: apart from being wrong in nearly every single particular, Breitbart nailed it.
Let’s think about the line of reasoning the makes the Muslim ban so popular among the Alt-Right. The basic argument looks pretty much like this:
Stop the illegal tide of immigration. Despite the secrecy of our Immigration Service and cooperating agencies on this subject—a secrecy utterly without justification and which could be desired only for concealing enormous irregularities—some of our Congressional spokesmen now claim that hundreds of thousands of immigrants, largely Muslim, are coming across our borders, legally and illegally. From my own studies of immigrants, I know that among them are many pro-Jihad. But all Muslim immigrants, Jihad and anti-Jihad, immediately after arrival are under strong pressure to side with the radical Muslim groups, and most of them will have to yield.
What can the history of the Alt-Right tell us about this line of reasoning?
Ok, my title isn’t precisely what it says on our license plates:
But until 1967, interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia, as it was in 24 other states. Fifty years ago today, on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Today is Loving Day!
The case was Loving v. Virginia. If you wrote a novel whose centerpiece was a court case on marriage named “Loving v. Virginia” the editor would send the manuscript back to you with a note reading, “Contrived. Change the name.” But that was the name of the couple who challenged Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage. As the kids say today, “For reals.” (The kids still say that, right?)
In the late 1950s, Richard, a white man, and Mildred, a black woman, fell in love and wanted to get married. Because it was illegal in Virginia for them to do so, they hopped on a train up to Washington, D.C. and got married there.
In Virginia, they were arrested. The case eventually reached U.S. Supreme Court which overturned Virginia’s miscegenation law in 1967.
There is a brand new Pew Poll out that indicates that interracial marriage has increased five-fold in the fifty years since the US Supreme Court found laws banning it unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia. Of course, almost half of Republican voters in Mississippi think interracial marriage should still be illegal. Over at the Alt-Right site, American Renaissance they disapprove of interracial marriage (surprise!).
The rise in interracial marriage seems to belie an old racist idea summarized by the old cliché, “Birds of a feather flock together.” This idea is that it is natural for people of one race to separate themselves from those of a different race. Even today, scientific racists try to offer all kinds of arguments about how natural race prejudice is. (I’ve published some criticisms of these kinds of arguments here and here.)
The right wing. Is there anything better than a visual pun?
The “Alt” in Alt-Right has a double meaning. On the one hand, “alt” is German for “old” and the Alt-Right claims to be the heirs to the isolationist right of pre-World War II America. On the other, “alt” is also short for “alternative” making the Alt-Right the alternative to the mainstream right wing of American politics. So, you might ask the Alt-Right: what is the “mainstream” right of American politics to which thou art alternative?
You could write a several terabytes on trying to define such a vexed question and people have. Let’s take this handy summary provided by a recent book on conservative politics by George Hawley:
- Conservatives call for limited, if any, government intervention in the economy.
- Conservatives hold that tradition, particularly religious tradition, should guide public policy.
- Conservatives are for a strong military and a strong American military presence in the world.
The Alt-Right holds itself as an alternative to these positions in various ways: Libertarians would claim that limited government might be an improvement over the status quo, but it is still inherently inferior to no government; Randians would claim that tradition, especially religious tradition, is no way to run society; isolationists would withdraw from the world rather than engage with it through our military.
Shifting our focus from the “alt” to the “right” we get a different question: what makes all these differing ideologies “right?” The answer is that both alt and mainstream right adhere to one common tenet: the rejection of “equality” as a supreme value. According to Hawley, the Left seeks equality as the highest value while the Right can and does hold other values as more important than equality. Political theorist Corey Robin argues that the mark of the Right is that it opposes the equal distribution of power. Only a certain kind of people should be making decisions in society; the rest are just not up to the task of governing. Hence, appeals to equality are suspect in all right wing discourse, whether alt or mainstream.