Archive for March, 2018

The Children’s Crusade

March 30, 2018

The recent student marches about guns spotlight how America’s civic culture has gone off the rails. It’s not the marches — it’s the reaction to them.

There’s long been a tendency to demonize and delegitimize those we disagree with. It was pioneered by the left. But today’s Republican right outdoes them.

Typical was a radio commentary by Herb London, the once-weekly “conservative” pundit on our local NPR station (a slot I once filled myself). London has intellectual chops and used to be a responsible, articulate conservative voice. But like so many on the right, he’s drunk the Trump Kool-Aid, been blinded by it, and has lost all objectivity and decency. His diatribe against the students was nasty, brutish, and ridiculous. He called them symptoms of an “ideological crack-up;” decried educators and politicians “who should know better” encouraging and supposedly manipulating them. They’re too ignorant and naive to know what’s what. “Guns can kill,” he said, but “so can knives. A gun in the hands of St. Francis is not a weapon.” And he spoke of “hardening ideological positions” undermining “civil discourse.”

Look in the mirror, Herb!

Others have accused the students of being paid shills, or even actors. Anything to deny the reality of what they represent and the plain reasonableness of their pleas. They want to outlaw mass killing weapons. Nikolas Cruz could not have killed 17 people with a knife. The Las Vegas shooter could not have killed 58 and injured 851 with a knife. Nor even with ordinary guns.

This Republican denialism about assault weapons is of a piece with all the other right-wing Trumpian assaults on reality — from evolution to climate science to imaginary voter fraud to every idiotic conspiracy theory, condemning the Mueller investigation as a partisan witch-hunt, and believing the most stupendous liar in political history while calling the truth “fake news.”

And like so much else in today’s Republican discourse, their gun-rights absolutism is marked by disingenuousness. Saying anything to cloud the waters. After every mass shooting they splutter about mental health (which they never act upon either). Other recent diversionary nostrums include redesigning schools to eliminate winding corridors; installing metal detectors (with armies of operators, making schools like airports — great idea); even equipping classrooms with buckets of rocks for kids to hurl at shooters.

And of course arming teachers. This crackbrained idea is so obviously problem-fraught that nobody (except perhaps the fool in the White House) takes it seriously. It’s a sham, cooked up to distract us from the real issue: the insanity of allowing anyone to obtain military-style assault weapons whose only raison d’etre is killing a lot of people fast.

Yet this insanity has actually become part of the GOP’s own raison d’etre. Partly it’s because of the NRA, once a responsible gun hobbyist group, now transmogrified into a fire breathing fetishizer of The Gun as holy object. But why so many Americans buy into this extremist craziness is hard to understand. There is the notion of guns defending against government tyranny. (Good luck, the government controls vastly more firepower.) And fear of government “taking guns away.” Oddly enough, it was Trump — not Obama or Hillary — who actually said, “I like taking guns away early. Take the guns first, go through the process second.” Why didn’t this make his gun-loving supporters’ brains explode? (Because they have none?)

The students were not proposing to take away anyone’s guns; yet still they were declared the enemy. Here we have high-schoolers, for a change, stepping up to the plate and making their voices heard on a momentous public issue, of great personal concern to them. To quote what has become a ubiquitous chant, “This is what democracy looks like.” Such civic engagement by young people is a wonderful thing. And most Americans agree with them; after all, they’re marching against a policy that is literally insane.

Nevertheless the Trumpian NRA Republican right insults, demonizes, and delegitimizes them. What a disgrace that is. By smearing the students’ honest nobility, Republicans cover themselves with shame. Yet again.

My criticism of Republicans may sound partisan. I would remind readers that I was a committed Republican, a conservative Republican, for 53 years until 2017 — when I could no longer bear to be associated with what the party has become. It breaks my heart.

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Stephen Hawking

March 28, 2018

Stephen Hawking had a horrible illness, given only a few years to live.

He lived them, and then fifty more. He had ALS (motor neuron disease) which destroys muscle control. There is no cure or treatment.

You know that sci-fi trope of the disembodied brain in a vat? That was Stephen Hawking, more or less, because his body was so ruined he might as well have had none. All he had was his brain. But what a brain.

So despite losing virtually everything else, against all odds his brain kept him going for over half a century. To me, this is the Stephen Hawking story. I’m unable to appreciate fully his scientific achievement. But I’m awed by its being achieved in the face of adversity that also defies my comprehension. Stephen Hawking represents the godlikeness of the human mind.

Another awesome thing about humanity is the ability to adapt. That’s why our species thrives from the Gobi Desert to the Arctic tundra. And as individuals we often make truly heroic adaptations to what life throws at us. Viktor Frankl wrote (in Man’s Search for Meaning) about accommodating oneself psychologically to surviving in a concentration camp. Stephen Hawking too adapted to horrible circumstances. Perhaps he did not curse the fates for that, instead thanking them for vouchsafing his mind. Which, undaunted, he employed to get on with his life and his calling.

That included authoring the least read best-selling book ever, A Brief History of Time. I actually did read it, and was on board till the last chapter, which kind of baffled me.

A character conspicuous by his absence in that book was God. We have trouble wrapping our heads around how the cosmos can have come into existence without him. Of course, that merely begs the question of where he came from. But Hawking’s scientific work (as partly embodied in his book), while not dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” in explaining the existence of existence, did carry us closer to that ultimate understanding. He didn’t conclusively disprove God — but did make that superstition harder to sustain. (And why would God create ALS?)

Hawking was a scientist, but not a “hands-on” scientist, because he soon lost use of his hands, could not even write. Communicating became increasingly difficult. Only thanks to advanced computer technology was he able to produce that familiar mechanized voice — in the end, only by twitching a muscle on his cheek. This too a triumph of mind over matter.

And so it was literally only within the confines of his brain that he worked, probing at the profoundest mysteries of the Universe by pure thought alone. (That was true of Einstein as well.) Of course, lots of other people do likewise and produce moonshine. Hawking (like Einstein) produced deep wisdom, expanding our understanding of the reality we inhabit. An existence upon which his own frail purchase was so tenuous.

An existence that’s poorer without him.

It’s your economy, stupid

March 25, 2018

Presidents are usually judged mainly on the economy, which most voters care most about. (“It’s the Economy, stupid.”) Yet in truth a president’s economic performance is mainly just luck. He doesn’t run the economy; his actions normally have very little impact on it.

The start of Obama’s term was a rare exception, an economic crisis where he was looked to for leadership. Influencing the economy more than the actual measures he took was their psychological effect. You can argue all day about those measures, but they did combat pessimism, which shaped people’s behavior, and thus boosted the economy. So it’s fair to give Obama some credit.

Trump came into office lucky on the economy. It was doing great. And the prospect of tax cuts and deregulation added to the fizz. All Trump had to do, really, was not screw things up. Which — given a president’s limited ability to actually impact the economy — should have been a piece of cake.

But Trump is a poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger effect I’ve written about: the dumber people are, the less they recognize their dumbness. Trump understands nothing about the global economy while feeling certain he understands everything. A deadly combination.

And he managed to find the one thing within his power to screw up the economy. He can’t set interest rates, regulate the money supply, or by himself make tax and spending policy. But he could start a trade war.

I’ve explained before why this is so dumb. It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to understand that import tariffs — virtually always — hurt more people than they help and weaken the overall economy in multiple ways. U.S. businesses mostly become less competitive, consumers pay higher prices, jobs are lost not gained, interest rates rise, our exports become costlier and hence fall, so our trade deficit is more likely worsened than improved.

And that’s even without other countries retaliating. When they do, as China and others are, that hurts U.S. businesses, jobs, consumers, and our trade position even more.

But do those other countries also take a hit? Oh yes. Tariffs make the whole world poorer. It is a “beggar thy neighbor” policy. An overall poorer world is not good for America — not for our economy, nor our national security.

It’s true that China is guilty of bad things in the realm of trade and commerce (like stealing intellectual property, to name just one). But the self-inflicted wounds of tariffs are surely not the right answer. A far better one would have been the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which America had negotiated with 11 other Asian nations, precisely to combat China on trade. Trump pulled out of TPP on his first day.

His tariffs make Trump like the character in “Blazing Saddles” who took himself hostage by pointing a gun at his own head. Trump has pulled the trigger.

Dow down another 1150 points.

My humanist collage

March 24, 2018

My local humanist group recently had an arts-and-crafts afternoon. It was actually fun, a chance to be kids again. There was a pile of magazines, so I decided upon a collage; started with no concept in mind, just added things as they caught my eye. Here it is:

America Trumped (my “Trolley” article)

March 21, 2018

The wonderful New York State Writers Institute (founded by William Kennedy; headed by Paul Grondahl) has published a very interesting online magazine, The Trolley. (Click here.) I was asked to contribute an article, a follow-up to my blog review of their October symposium on post-truth politics.* The magazine’s inaugural issue focuses mainly on the same general topic.

Since the last election, I’ve been grappling with the really dramatic lurch our civic life has taken into uncharted territory. It has a lot of aspects, and I’ve written a lot trying to unravel them. For this Trolley article, I aimed to draw all these strands together into one big picture, titled America Trumped.

I consider myself a student of history. And we are at an historical hinge point, with huge implications for the future of this country and, indeed, the world. I am not one of those fatalists who believes human beings are at the mercy of forces beyond our control; it’s why I continue to call myself a rational optimist. It is by using our rationality that we can master our situation. That’s how we’ve progressed so enormously since the Stone Age. And in order to master our situation, we must first understand what it is. Such understanding is a key quest in my own life; after half a century at it, I feel I’ve made progress. That’s what I’m trying to share on this blog, and in my Trolley article.

* Find it here; scroll down past a few later posts.

Trump ascends to meta-lying: making stuff up about making stuff up

March 19, 2018

Trump now feels he’s hit his stride as president. Now he’s really strutting his stuff, feeling his oats, his instincts comfortably in the driver’s seat. It’s clear from his latest farrago of actions, lashing out unrestrainedly in every direction. The one thing he’s learned — the only thing — is that however he behaves, there are no bad consequences. So it seems to him, and so far it actually seems basically true. His “shooting-someone-on-Fifth-Avenue” line grows more apt by the day.

Republicans, at least, are so strapped in to this roller coaster ride that they can’t get off no matter what stomach-churning twists and turns it takes. So now there are no checks — internal or external — on Trump’s id-based impulses. He’s broken out of his crib; his baby-sitters are powerless.

Last week there was consternation over a Trump speech at a Missouri fund-raiser, talking about his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Here are Trump’s actual words (my emphasis): “Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said, ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please.'” (Trump mimicked Trudeau’s voice.) “Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in — ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit’ . . . I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know . . . . I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid . . . . And I thought they were smart. I said, ‘You’re wrong, Justin.'”

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, in 2017 we had a $2.8 billion trade surplus, in goods and services, with Canada.

Many observers were shocked, shocked, that a president would meet with a foreign leader, discussing our trade relations, without even being prepped with the most basic fact about it. Even more shocking was Trump’s just making it up, asserting something he knew might well be false (which it was). And more shocking still that he’d publicly brag about behaving so irresponsibly. As though his tale might somehow be endearing — like a child giggling about his cute mischief.

This is the guy who’s rushing to negotiate with Kim Jong-un about nuclear weapons. (Who couldn’t even successfully negotiate a hush deal with a porn actress.)

But wait. It actually gets worse. How could it possibly be any worse? It turns out the Canadian government doesn’t know what meeting Trump was talking about. Apparently, it never happened — fake news. He lied about lying to Trudeau. As columnist Kathleen Parker commented, “Not only do weary researchers have to check Trump’s ‘facts,’ but now they also have to check his facts about fictions.”

Call it meta-lying.

Andrew Cuomo and corruption

March 17, 2018

Cuomo

When first running for governor, Andrew Cuomo actually made tackling Albany corruption a campaign theme — pointedly declaring his candidacy in front of the Tweed courthouse — a literal monument to political corruption. He pledged his administration would be the “most transparent” in state history.

As Times-Union columnist Chris Churchill put it, “Cuomo didn’t just break the promise that helped him get elected. He smashed it like a plate at a Greek wedding and danced on its pieces.”

Percoco

Joseph Percoco was Cuomo’s longtime right-hand man, and ran his election campaign; Cuomo even likened him to a third brother. Percoco has now been convicted in Federal Court of soliciting and receiving $300,000 in bribes from businessmen, to buy his influence to get them cushy deals with the state.

Throughout, Cuomo’s refrain has been that he had nothing to do with this. So — whose influence was really being bought? Percoco had no direct power over state business. But he could get things done through Cuomo. And Cuomo (famous for micro-managing) says he didn’t know? He’s either lying or stupid. Take your pick.

Also revealed at the trial was Percoco’s breaking the law by continuing to use his government office, even after he’d formally left state employment, to run Cuomo’s political campaign. Right under the Governor’s nose. Cuomo tries to avoid legal complicity by saying he believed Percoco was just doing “transition” work. Which apparently included some 68 days in the office and over 800 phone calls. Cuomo also believes in the Easter Bunny.

Howe

The prosecution of Percoco was almost derailed by their star witness, Todd Howe, another Cuomo goon and Percoco’s partner in crime, who’d pled guilty and agreed to testify against him. Copying The Sopranos, Howe and Percoco referred in e-mails to their bribe money as “ziti.” But anything Howe said lacked credibility because of his huge record of lies and frauds.

Ziti

Highlighting that, while testifying, Howe was actually arrested and jailed for trying to defraud a hotel on its bill by denying he’d ever stayed there. In fact, he’d stayed there while negotiating his plea deal with prosecutors — a deal in which Howe pledged to commit no further crimes.

These two slimeball creeps, Howe and Percoco, were both top henchmen for Andrew Cuomo for many years. What does that tell us about Cuomo?

Kaloyeros

Coming soon is another Cuomo corruption trial, relating to his “Buffalo Billion,” an economic development program that was a honey pot for his donors. And the trial of former Nanotech Czar Alain Kaloyeros, who’d been the second most powerful figure in New York, working hand-in-glove with Cuomo, also charged with abusing his position to extort bribes from businessmen seeking state contracts. And the re-trials of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, former heads of the State Assembly and Senate, likewise charged with what amounts to extortion and bribery.*

Meantime, the bribes Percoco extorted for himself are only the tip of the iceberg. The real scandal is the legal bribery: Cuomo now has over $30 million in his campaign war-chest, mostly contributed by business people not for civic altruism but because they are buying favorable treatment, tax breaks, subsidies, state contracts, etc. It’s called pay-to-play. They’re able to buy politicians like Cuomo with large sums, getting around contribution limits, through the infamous LLC ( limited liability corporation) loophole — which furthermore allows the bribes — er, “donations” — to be hidden from public scrutiny.

Cuomo will likely coast to re-election, using his ill-gotten $30 million kitty to crush any opponent with a barrage of sleazy, smearing TV ads.

Asked to comment after Percoco’s conviction, Cuomo continued insisting, “There was absolutely no suggestion ever made that I had anything to do with anything. Right?”

Wrong. He also said Percoco’s crimes were “a violation of everything my administration stands for.”

Wrong again. They reflect exactly what his administration stands for.

*Their first convictions were reversed based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s egregious ruling in the case of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, defining bribery so narrowly that it’s almost impossible to prove. Yet New York’s finest were so flagrant their corruption may well pass even the McDonnell test.

The Great Deal-Maker tackles North Korea

March 14, 2018

The Great Deal-Maker, Making America Great Again. First day in office, he hands China — for nothing in return — a gigantic geopolitical boost. The TPP deal we’d painstakingly negotiated with key Asian nations, to set the regional terms of trade to our advantage and stymie China, Trump cancels. China’s rulers high-five each other and chortle.

Then on to the Middle East. Actually bragging that he’s removed an obstacle to peace by taking Jerusalem off the table. What The Great Deal-Maker took off the table was one of our own biggest bargaining chips. Making a peace deal virtually impossible.

All leaders face the problem of residing in a bubble insulated from reality. Trump’s never had much grip on it, and now everyone — his flunkeys, GOP politicians, foreign leaders — see this fool can be played by means of fawning flattery, the more cringeworthy the better. Feeding his delusion that he and all his doings are the greatest. Don’t need no stinkin’ policy briefings, etc. Gets all he needs from his instincts. And Fox Fake News.

So on to North Korea.

I’ll say this much: negotiating is better than a military strike that could well bring about the very thing we should ultimately be aiming to prevent. Not North Korea having nukes, but using them.

Normally, a summit meeting between leaders is preceded by substantive negotiations, adumbrating a deal, to ensure a successful outcome. Then the leader is thoroughly briefed with a clear grasp of all the ramifications and well thought-out responses to whatever the adversary might say. But this isn’t Trump’s style. Don’t need no stinkin’ policy briefings. The Great Deal-Maker will just trust his great instincts and wing it. Greatly.*

Meantime, The Great Deal-Maker has (yet again) already given away — for nothing — one of our biggest bargaining chips. A sit-down with the president of the United States is a huge coup for Kim Jong-un, legitimizing and exalting his status. That might have been dangled to Kim as an inducement to make a deal. Instead, he’ll come to the table having already gained a key objective.

The idea of Trump, unprepared, comprehensively ignorant of world affairs and realities, with his unmediated rat’s-nest of wrong instincts, negotiating directly with Kim Jong-un, is frightening. What else will he give away (removing sanctions — and our troops from South Korea?) in order to brag again about a supposed great triumph? The fool will be played, and rolled.

Trump will come out saying he and Kim got along great. And why not? Birds of a feather. North Korea will be our new friend.

Sure, Kim will agree to give up his nukes. Praise The Great Deal-Maker! Raise the champagne glasses! Kim will pocket all concessions and agree to ditch his nukes — but won’t do it. We’ve seen exactly that movie before with duplicitous North Korea. And Trump won’t nail down the nitty-gritty verification safeguards any North Korea deal should require. Rolled.

The sensible policy toward North Korea would have been to ignore it. It was insane to draw a line in the sand, declaring we won’t allow it having nukes, when it does have them and we have no plausible way to alter that. And the saber-rattling was pointlessly juvenile. Kim surely knows we have the capability to obliterate him. Deterrence was always our implicit policy and nothing more was needed.

Teddy Roosevelt had it right: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Trump speaks loudly and gives away our sticks.

*Crudely firing Secretary of State Tillerson, ostensibly over North Korea policy, was always on the cards since Tillerson called Trump a “moron” (actually “fucking moron”). Everybody sucked into Trump’s orbit gets chewed up and spit out.

Democratic presidential prospects

March 11, 2018

I enrolled Democrat to have a presidential primary vote — for a candidate who can beat Trump, and make America great again. Maybe after four years we can still climb out of this stinkhole. But after eight . . . .

Berlusconi — Italy’s Trump

In a recent column, David Brooks worries that we’ll follow Italy’s path. They too had previously elected a businessman-outsider promising to drain their swamp. Instead Berlusconi deepened it, ignoring Italy’s real problems, and degrading its politics with his corruption and shameless lack of decency. In Italy’s latest election, the responsible center was swamped by nutsy parties. Trumpism could similarly spin future American politics into a race to the bottom.

Several factors push that way. We’ve become poisonously, tribalistically partisan. It’s aggravated by the internet. We once thought the greater access to information would be elevating. Instead it’s a flaming cesspool of confirmation bias, falsehood, and incitement. Russia hardly even needs to lift a finger, we’re doing it to ourselves. For all our education (which rarely includes any civics now), voters are ill-equipped to perspicaciously evaluate what they see and hear. Thus we have the political equivalent of Gresham’s Law — “Bad money drives good money out of circulation.”

Trump exacerbates all this. We won’t wake up suddenly with our democracy dead. Instead, it will be the death of a thousand cuts.

You might think it easy to beat the worst president ever. But think again. Around 38% of voters stick with him no matter what. And the electoral college still works in his favor, enabling him to win last time with only 46% of the popular vote. To repeat that in 2020 he only needs to add around one in eight other voters to his 38% base.

Most of those others are solid Democrats, so actually, of the ones truly up for grabs he needs maybe a third. But that’s still a fairly low hurdle, hence Democrats cannot afford to lose many of those swing voters.

This means playing it safe. Democrats can easily blow this by nominating someone who will turn off enough swing voters; a sitting duck for the dirty campaign of lies, insults, and demonization Trump is sure to mount again.

So: no woman. No ethnic. No ideologue. Sorry, this is pragmatic reality. True, we elected a black president, but a lot of whites Democrats need in 2020 will not vote for another one. And while misogyny is not a big factor, it still does exist, and Hillary would have won if she’d had a penis.* We will have a woman president in due course. But achieving that is far less urgent than ridding ourselves of Trump.

Unfortunately, while Republicans have plunged to the dark side, Democrats — instead of grabbing the vacated center ground — have veered sharply left. The activist base was all gaga for Sanders, and still is.

Will he run again? Well, if you were him, why wouldn’t you? Hillary did beat him in the primaries (by getting more votes, not some sort of conspiracy), but with difficulty, and within the Democratic party she was actually a very strong candidate. Who could beat Bernie in primaries next time? Free college, free healthcare, punish Wall Street — the party’s left-wing base eats this stuff up.

Winning the nomination is one thing; winning the country quite another. It’s a ridiculous delusion that if only Bernie had been the nominee in 2016, he’d have defeated Trump. A grumpy overaged Brooklyn Jew who calls himself a socialist? Please.

Trump would not even need any of his moronic insults, with the word “socialist” a monster albatross hanging around Bernie’s neck. Efforts by lefties to sugar-coat it, as if it merely means government doing stuff like road building and fire-fighting, are dishonest and won’t fly. Call it “democratic socialism,” or “apple pie socialism,” but America won’t buy it.

What America might buy — hopefully, after four years of Trump, will be begging for — is a normal president. A sane, decent, avuncular white male with experience, competence, and understanding of the world, who tells the truth, is not a racist, fraudster or buffoon, and might help unite the country more than divide it. Who reflects America’s foundational principles, values, and ideals.

I have high regard for Kirsten Gillibrand; Kamala Harris is also impressive. But both are penisless. Elizabeth Warren is too, and too far left besides. Oprah lacks a penis and white skin. Cory Booker and Deval Patrick — great guys — have one but not the other. Andrew Cuomo has both and fancies himself presidential timber, but no one else does. (Almost as repellent a character as Trump.) Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy I don’t know much about, but he seems like the kind of plain vanilla candidate needed. And Joe Biden ticks all the boxes. Yes, he’s old. But old beats crazy. I’d be pretty confident of Biden defeatingTrump.

Will Democrats be able to resist the allure of shiny objects, and pragmatic enough to nominate a Murphy or Biden? Or will we follow Italy down the rabbit hole?

*Not one surgically added, of course.

White Rage

March 7, 2018

Alice Green

Carol Anderson’s book White Rage was discussed recently at the Albany Library by Alice Green, Director of the Center for Law and Justice and a longtime activist.

Anderson is a historian and her book takes a historical view. In Green’s telling, the basic theme is that whenever black Americans achieve some advancement, there’s white pushback. And while “black rage” has been very visible, with obvious sources in what they’ve suffered (beginning with slavery, and subsequent discrimination; yet most blacks are patriotic), white rage is a more elusive phenomenon, mostly hidden for a long time until recently.

The story begins with Reconstruction, after the Civil War. The federal government did much to assimilate the freed slaves as citizens, with the 14th Amendment enshrining equality before the law, and the 15th giving black men the vote. Really extraordinarily progressive (in the true sense). Not only did former slaves vote, many were elected to high office in the South (including two U.S. Senators).

But, as Green noted, slaves had been extremely valuable property, and taking it away left some angry people. When federal troops departed the South in 1877, the pushback came, with whites using violence to terrorize and subjugate blacks. Black voting largely ended.

And when the Supreme Court endorsed segregation in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, it put Jim Crow race-based oppression into high gear. While the Court okayed “separate but equal,” the reality was very unequal.

In 1954, Plessy was reversed in Brown v. Board of Education. A genuine advance, Green acknowledged. And of course there was pushback. Public school integration was violently resisted (Little Rock, etc.), and many Southern communities tried to evade it by recourse to non-public schooling. (Schools today continue very segregated.)

This febrile atmosphere engendered the 1960s civil rights movement, with some dramatic results, the passage of civil rights and voting rights legislation. There was again pushback; but enough acquiescence that the face of American society was altered. In particular, unfettered voting by Southern blacks empowered them and made a big difference.

In Green’s view, though, pushback now took the form of heightened emphasis on policing and criminal justice (Nixon’s “law and order” theme), with the war on drugs ramped up. In practice it was a war on black communities, disproportionally affected, and devastated by the mass incarceration of their inhabitants.

When a black man became president, many of us felt we’d finally overcome the demon of racism, entering a post-racial Eden. Of course, it turned out a lot of whites just couldn’t stand seeing a black man in the White House. Indeed, can’t stand whites on track to becoming a minority in America.

Electing Trump was certainly a manifestation of their pushback. His slogan really meant make America white again. He’s brought white rage out of the closet, legitimizing it. Meantime, Republicans have undertaken voter suppression efforts targeted particularly at blacks, to prevent another Obama being elected.

I used to reject claims that America is fundamentally racist, contending instead that while racism obviously persists, it is confined to dark corners of our society, and to benighted people who really don’t matter. Of course, being seen as people who don’t matter is part of their grievance, aggravating their white rage. And we’ve learned that it’s more intense and more widespread than it had seemed before Trump came along.

Last May I wrote a blog post, “Why so many blacks in ads?” (suggesting it’s because they convey a positive vibe of hipness). That post continues to attract a far higher rate of hits and comments than any other. Take a glance at those comments. I’ve frankly been shocked at the crude, unabashed racism most of them express. And a friend pointed me to this article, with a brutally candid portrayal of the mindset of white rural Christian Americans (no small part of the country) — which includes a big dose of racial attitude. The article’s author, coming from this community, thinks nothing can change their minds.

There is the idea that blacks are racially inferior, with a sense of grievance against them, that somehow their inferior character and behavior is being unjustly rewarded (a prominent theme in comments to my mentioned “blacks in ads” post). These ideas behind white rage are not reality-based — much unlike the all too factual sources of black rage. But that doesn’t seem to matter.

Yet my optimism endures. Green seemed to imply the historical trajectory is from bad to worse. But bad as things may seem now, we tend to forget how really awful they were in the past. And in the question period, I said, “If I were a Martian hearing your talk, I’d be very puzzled by something: the fact that Obama was elected, even though, as he himself said, he was actually black before the election.” (He was re-elected, too, while black.)

We’re still a very divided society, with most blacks experiencing life very differently from most whites. These divisions are very visible in the news and public discourse. And as noted, the Trump era has brought racism out of the closet and in our faces. But is America actually growing more racist? No. To the contrary, the trend of public attitudes over time is progressively ever less racist and more tolerant. And at the nitty gritty ground level of routine day-to-day social interaction, what strikes me is how well we actually get along with each other. This is still a very positive contrast against an awful lot of places in the world.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nor will a paradise of racial amity be built in a day, or even a century. But again: it is not getting worse. While the white Christian rural Americans in that cited article lash out against ethnic minorities as scapegoats for their own failing dysfunctionality, it will catch up with them. Racism is not winning, but inexorably losing. That’s why we see so much pushback; it is the desperation of losers. It can do much harm in the process, but won’t change the ultimate outcome.

Every day more racists die than are born.