Who the hell is supporting Donald Trump?

March 10, 2016

When I first started writing about the Trump candidacy last summer it was because his hateful rhetoric reminded of what I had heard in my many years of studying racist groups like the Nazi skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan. I feared for the brown members of my family but hoped that, like so many Trump products, the marketplace of ideas would send the Orange Aristocrat to the dustbin of history; that this “Ivy League” braggart with his horribly misspelled tweets and his potty mouth would be given a permanent time-out by sane political voices.

Well, we were all wrong. Somehow the Trump shell game has only gained followers. So the question is now, who the hell are these people voting for Trump? It’s easy enough to blanket characterize them of as idiotic racists flocking to the game show host’s cult of personality like good little Germans, but that angle is horribly problematic. It denies the fact that these are real people responding to problems that they believe to be real. Their numbers include some of my own friends and family members whom I’d never describe as knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers.

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So pollsters and pundsters are wringing their hands trying to figure out who this mob is that might be driving the United States towards fascism while the rest of the world watches in horror and humor. “Donald Trump? Really? Sacré bleu!” YouTube is full of videos of Trumpists saying stupid, racist, and completely wrong things giving credence to the popular belief that they’re an army sub-moronic cretins who have fallen for Trump’s fact-free medicine show. But those folks giving the Donald their stiff-armed pledge don’t tell the whole story.

While ranking Republicans are freaking out, trying to unmask the Trump con (even Glenn Beck has compared him to Hitler) there’s something happening in the country.  And that something is same phenomenon that is also driving people to support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

It’s no longer a blue collar world

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My master’s research was a thirteen-month study of a group of white supremacist skinheads in Orlando, Florida in 1989 and 1990. I was trying to figure where these little Nazis came from. Were they crazy? Did they have abusive parents? Did black guys steal their girlfriends?  What I found was they were responding to the very real phenomenon of deindustrialization. The economic policies of Ronald Reagan opened the door for manufacturing industries to close up shop and head across the border and overseas in search of cheap labor.

If I work in a factory, I probably belong to a union and that union has used collective bargaining to secure a decent wage, paths to promotion, health care benefits, and maybe even a pension. I can work in an auto plant or a textile mill and still buy a (small) house and send my kid to (state) college. That’s the American Dream right there and it evaporated under Reagan. Of the people to move out of the middle class in the 1980s, two-thirds moved downward, not up. And it got worse when Bill Clinton signed NAFTA in 1993, accelerating manufacturing job loss and replacing them with shitty, low-wage, no benefit service sector jobs. Fifty years ago the number one employer in America was General Motors. Now it’s Wal-Mart.

These skinheads knew lots of people who had been laid off or downsized (including their parents). What was happening to America? they’d ask. The answer came from neo-Nazis like John Metzger (son of White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger) who would tell them exactly why. It was immigration, Affirmative Action and a “Jew-controlled” economy conspiring to take away “their” country. A very real problem (deindustrialization) was given a bogus explanation (Jews) and followed up with a very old-fashioned solution (violence). A recipe that has driven the  racist skinhead movement ever since.

In much of America, this problem persists. Wages are down and benefits are few and far between. The factory is gone and in its place is a Wal-Mart selling American flags made in Vietnam. There must be somebody to blame for this.

Donald Trump as a Strongman

Donald Trump is a hyper-masculine cartoon character. He wants to torture terrorists and kill their children. That is until one of his seemingly slow advisors hands a note saying that’s illegal. He wants to “bomb the crap” out of ISIS, unaware that Obama has been quietly doing just that. He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., “until we know what the hell is going on,” except for the fact that we do know what the hell is going on. And he goes on and on about how “they” are chopping off our heads (in New Jersey?). Most famously he wants to “build a wall” to magically keep illegal aliens out, seemingly oblivious to the fact that illegal immigration has decreased and deportations have increased under Obama. All that might not play well on college campuses where kids actually keep up on the news, but it’s a huge hit with the white boys in South Carolina and Mississippi.

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My Orlando skinheads were little authoritarians who were frightened by the changes in the world and wanted someone to come along and give them a path out of the chaos to order. Unfortunately, it was older Neo-Nazis who gave them that very ordered worldview and action plan. There’s a real parallel with the Trumpists who are scared shitless of Muslims, Mexican immigrants and Black Lives Matters protesters who are upsetting their world. It’s hard enough to keep up with cell phone technology, let alone these non-WASPS who might push terrified whites off the privilege throne. So here comes Trump, railing against “political correctness,” and the “God-given-right” to push back against these darkies. “All lives matter,” he bleats. “I’ve got a big dick!” he promises us. “Believe me.”

Recent research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found support for this idea. A doctoral student named Matthew MacWilliams found that Trump supporters, unlike the general population, demonstrated authoritarian personalities (just like my skinheads). Trumpists felt threatened by outsiders and were more likely to flock to a strongman who, they believed, would stop the changes that they feared the most. So Donald Trump says he’s going to build a wall on our southern border and suddenly he’s their savior. It might be too obvious to draw the parallels with Hitler here but the xenophobia of Trump and his core following is not exactly new. We can talk about how fear-mongering moves us toward another F word, fascism.

Fear is the Path to the Darkside

We’ve got plenty of evidence about the frightening views Trump supporters hold. A recent YouGov poll found that a third of Trumpists thought placing Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II was a good idea and one in five Trumpists thought freeing the slaves was a bad idea. No wonder Trump has been slow to disavow support from white supremacists. (He’ll disavow it with a hrumpf that says stop making me do this.) And disavowing someone like Klansman David Duke is much different than making a heartfelt statement about the evils of white supremacy. The bottom line is these are Trump’s people!

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Trump’s support has been less in whiter states, like Oklahoma, where Ted Cruz has been winning. Researchers have shown that you find higher rates of racism among people who believe they are directly competing with minorities for the same jobs. Data has shows that Trump supporters overwhelming believe (wrongly) that Affirmative Action takes jobs away from whites and hands them to blacks. They also have the incorrect idea that their taxes go to welfare for lazy (minority) adults who refuse to work. This was a lie Ronald Reagan pioneered in 1980 to move working class whites away from the Democratic Party. Driving this trend are southern evangelicals who have little to do with Jesus and lot to do with racial resentment, according to recent research done at Vanderbilt University.

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Trump has tempered is huge support from white supremacists by pushing a more politically correct version of racism that makes brown the new black. He’ll find a small number of African-Americans who are ginned up on the competition with Latinos for crappy jobs and place them in front of the camera at his rallies. They are victims of the same economic policies that he’s profited from but he tells us that he has a “great relationship with the blacks.” “No on has done more for equality than I have,” he recently proclaimed. So fuck you, MLK.

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Earlier this week I was on The Gavin McInnes Show, the right-wing internet show that’s popular with anti-feminists and “angry white men,” having a surprisingly good discussion about racism and Trump with guest host Jim Goad, author of The Redneck Manifesto. I think we both clearly stated our points and I was glad to participate. Afterwards I got a tweet from a fan of the show that said, “ if u dont believe blacks have a problem with violence why do u live in a white city? Move to black Chicago and test your bullshit.” I’m trying not to engage these folks on Twitter but I wanted to explain to him all the years I joyfully lived in downtown Atlanta and that I purposely moved to historically black part of Portland. But he lives in fear and the fear drives his political choices.

The year of the “I’m not a racist, but…” voter

Of course Trump’s coded racism is clearly understood by his followers. The endless data is telling us who his supporters are. They are older, whiter and angrier. They’re angry at the how the country has changed in the last fifty years with all the feminists, homosexuals, non-English speakers, and most symbolically of all, Barack Hussein Obama, their black president. Like the white supremacists I studied, they want somebody to “make America great again,” when a white man could beat up a black protestor and not get labeled as a “hate criminal.”

The anger is also targeted at the “disastrous trade policies” of the “stupid leaders” in Washington (who are mostly Republican) who have been unable to stop the the “Obama agenda” from driving the country off a cliff (or to renewed prosperity, if you look at the actual economic measures). With merely the power of his awesome personality, they believe that Trump will transform the complex workings of all three branches of the federal government. (“Meat Loaf for the Supreme Court!”) Just like Mussolini, who Trump is fond of quoting.

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The great irony is that the Trumpists are motivated by a very real problem, the erosion of the middle class rooted in the very policies that Trump has benefited from to make his money. Trump’s lovely ties are made in China where the cheap labor is. And it’s a problem that impacts EVERYBODY in the working class, not just whites. These policies, including the Clinton-signed NAFTA, are also motivating many Sanders supporters, but instead of blaming the people at the bottom (who are often not white), Sanders and his voters are more likely to understand the problem is systemic magnified by the influence of corporate lobbyists in politics. But that’s a more complex issue. Scapegoating Mexicans is easier for Trumpists.

Bernie Sanders might be able to reach out to these economically dislocated Trump supporters in a way that Hillary Clinton can’t. But they have to be willing to abandon their authoritarian need to bash outsiders and insiders who don’t look (or pray) like them. They will have to let go of their fear. That’s a big “If” and points to the sad reality that after Trump goes back to his golden palace, another strongman will likely arise with the promise of making America great (white) again.

Post-script (Aug. 3, 2016): Warning: This Trump rally video includes vulgarities and racial and ethnic slurs.

 

Violence is the answer: I’m over football.

February 2, 2016

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I give up. I was ready to give up on American football before Concussion, the recent Will Smith movie that focuses on the NFL hiding the issue of the staggering number of serious head injuries among players. I was ready to give up before the endless stories of boys in high school who have died while playing football. I was ready to give up before the continuous stream of stories about college and professional football players beating the women in their lives. I was even ready to give up before Justin Timberlake ripped Janet Jackson’s bra off at Superbowl 38 and the controversy was more about almost seeing her nipple than it was about the implied sexual aggression against women. You can have it, but I’m giving up.

I was ready in 1978, the day I sat on the bus after a B-team football game with the rest of the members of my team at Redan High School. We had lost the game and I took it in stride. But I questioned another player who was in tears. He said, “If you don’t care about this team to cry when we lose then you don’t belong on the team.” And then he beat me up. I quit the next day and joined the punk rocker team.

It might surprise some folks that I was a huge football fan as a kid. I was obsessed with the Miami Dolphins in the early 1970’s and can still name the starting offensive team (including kicker Garo Yepremiam). In 4th grade I wrote a letter to coach Don Shula asking him why the Dolphins never played my hometown Atlanta Falcons. After that the O.J. Simpson poster was on the wall right next to Farrah. There was nothing more blissful than a Sunday watching the NFL highlight reel and all the great tackles shown in slow motion.

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In my podunk Georgia county (Dekalb in the 1970s), there were no middle schools. So 8th grade was the first year of high school. You want to feel small? And I skipped 5th grade so I was essentially a 7th grade kid in high school. The only way for a 12-year-old boy (or any boy) to stake his claim for Southern masculinity was to join the football team. No cuts. You show up to practice in the sweltering Georgia sun and you are on the team. You might be tenth string but you get to wear the jacket and be in the team picture and sit in the front at pep rallies. Oh, and you get cheerleaders cheering for you. And the only people that get to beat you up are your teammates.

So I rode the bench as an outside linebacker (#53) for three years. I was skinny but fast so when I did get to play I channeled those NFL films and did recover a fumble in one big game against Cross Keys High School. At most of the games me and the other sideline jockeys would smack our helmets against the bleachers to make it look like we got in some good hits. When I left in 10th grade I was happy to let the jocks have their game and get out without a serious injury. (The first year I broke my tailbone. The second year I broke my thumb. The third year I ripped a muscle in my back and got to sit in the hottub during afternoon practices.)

But it’s hard not to be a casual football fan with all the billions spent on hyping college and pro football. Even last year I wondered if feminism and Super Bowls could exist side-by-side. Football is the only major sport where there is not some reasonable equivalent for females. (And don’t you dare say, “Lingerie Bowl.”) At least Major League Baseball has women’s softball to narrow the gap. If my daughter wants to become a part of the NFL, her best option is to become the wife of a player and risk abuse that comes from a guy who is being exploited and has been hit in the head too many times. Or she can be a cheerleader, cheering on the guys and getting paid minimum wage. But who cheers for the cheerleader? Even management in the NFL is an old boys club. What’s a female football lover to do?

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The abuse of women by players (and fans) is an old sad story. The new wrinkle to that story is the growing understanding of the cumulative effect of countless head blows that players get as part of their job description. And this starts when they are unpaid players in school. Yet people are still making millions off these young men killing themselves for our entertainment. A few will make it to retirement with a nest egg but more are just chewed up by the machine. There is even a Wikipedia page for NFL players who died while still playing and you have to stop wondering when you see all the suicides. But go team!

There is, of course, a racial and class element to this as poor boys from inner cities and rural communities are told their one way to the American Dream is through professional sports, especially the hyper-masculine world of football. They can have everything they see dangled in front of them on ESPN, including super-model wives. All they have to do is sell their soul (or brains, ACLs, and spines) to the game and hope they are one of the few that has a post-career life worth living.

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This issue is finally getting some attention. The NFL reports that this season there were 317 reported concussions of NFL players. (Who knows how many are unreported?) And that number may be down because of better helmets for teams that can afford the latest, most expensive protective gear. I doubt the inner city high school team is in line for the new top-of-the-line Xenith helmets any time soon. And there is a new effort to decouple the violence on the grid iron from the violence in the home front that is encouraging. You just wonder if the neurology of football can counter a few well-meaning PSAs. But I have to say I have a big ol’ man-crush on former LA Ram Terry Crews and his efforts to bring these issues to the audience that needs to hear it the most. There are feminist football players, y’all.

In a society that claims to preach, “Violence is not the answer,” why do we still obsess over the macho violence of football? In football, violence IS the answer, and the harder the better. I’m not immune to this. As a kid in Georgia I would go to stock car races and PRAY to see a big crash. The game itself can be fascinating and artful and (in those slow-motion NFL films) can look more like ballet, than war. But there is a growing body count that is part of the cost. And that includes battered women who are beaten by brain-damaged players and former players.

I’m just not sure it’s worth all the hype. Sure it’s fun to meet friends to watch a big college bowl together. Maybe you even went to that school 100 years ago. And I know some people want to watch the Super Bowl “for the commercials,” but your are going to see every single one of those commercials a thousand times over the next three months (including whatever sexist crap GoDaddy and Carl’s Jr will throw at us). There certainly is a thrill to watching a live sporting event as it happens, and not TIVO’d (or like with the last Olympics, on a 3-day tape delay). To share in a global experience can be unifying and exhilarating. (Just witness my freak out for the World Cup every four years.) It crosses political, racial, class and even gender lines. I bet even Bernie Sanders has a pick for the big game. (I can hear him say, “I’m quite impressed the the Carolina Panthers ability to reduce the inequity between the salaries for its support staff and its management.”)

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I won’t hold it against you if you are all in for the sport and Sunday’s Super Bowl. I’m out. I’ve devoted enough time watching reruns of players getting folded, spindled and mutilated and just thinking, “That’s awesome!” This year, out of respect for the dozen boys who died playing high school football in 2015, like 17-year-olds Luke Schemm and Andre Smith, I’m going to spend Sunday hanging out with my daughter. Maybe we’ll go to the duckpond or go shopping. And I’m trying to teach her to play catch so she can play softball someday.

Edit: I’m supposed to watch this Frontline story: League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.

A Star Wars for Our Daughters

December 19, 2015

There are no major spoilers in this post about The Force Awakens, including anything about the Wookie-Ewok wedding at the end of the film.

Now that the long wait is over, I can reveal what makes The Force Awakens perhaps the best Star Wars film of the series. This opinion is greatly influenced by the fact that I am now the father of a little girl and have a vested interest in the world being a fairer and kinder place for females.

When the first Star Wars film came out in 1977 I was a 13-year-old boy waiting in line for the first screening at the Lefont Tara theater in Atlanta. The word was out among comic book and sci-fi fans that this was a different kind of space movie. I bought a program that listed all the actors who would soon be icons. When that giant Empire ship moved across the opening scene, all our jaws dropped. I don’t remember any girls in the audience but there must have been a few.

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Later that year, at the Atlanta Comicon, I entered a costume contest. We didn’t call it “cosplay” yet. In honor of the Marvel Kiss comic book, I went as Paul Stanley. I was beat out by a Jawa and a Sand Person. Star Wars had taken hold of the universe.

 

hqdefaultWhen the third Star Wars film, The Return of the Jedi, came out in 1983 I was a 19-year-old college boy (I saw it opening day at Phipps Plaza in Atlanta). This is the film where Princess Leia (Carrie Fischer) is enslaved by the grotesque Jaba the Hut and forced to wear a bikini with a chain around her neck. The image was featured prominently in the movie posters and promotional materials and is the only thing a lot of fanboys remember about that film. I should point out that badass Leia ends up strangling Jaba with that chain in what could be viewed the greatest feminist metaphor in all film history. (Similarly, I’m sure some claim Game of Thrones is feminist because a few of the many rapists on the show get beheaded. Um, no.)

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But that image has remained iconic among the sci fi boy world. Not the killing of the slaver but the eroticizing of the slave. Carrie Fischer has said how much she resented director Richard Marquand putting her body on display in that scene. But how many boys wanted a slave Leia of their own? I’m willing to bet that 99% of comic conventions have at least one “Slave Leia” cosplayer in attendance with Jaba the Hut-like boys getting wood right and left. Even Kim Kardashian has worn the outfit. So there’s that.

I try not get sucked into the pop culture hype machine (Adele, meh.), but I would be lying if I didn’t say my 13-year-old self was reawakened by the fact that J.J. Abrams was doing the next chapter of Star Wars, the follow up to The Revenge of the Jedi. Besides the cool Star Trek/Star Wars link, Abrams is just two years younger than me and has the same reverence for the Skywalker mythology.

And a mythology it is, deeply rooted in the most ancient heroic tales. If you’ve never heard religion scholar Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth) discuss the links between Star Wars and the ancient myth of the reluctant hero, you should. It’s a life-changing analysis. These are old tales. But they are typically stories about boys and men.

That’s why The Force Awakens is such an absolute joy. Yeah, it’s great to see our old heroes rolled out of the prop closet. (Harrison Ford looks only a bit more rusted than C-3P0.) But our reluctant Skywalker hero is now a female named Rey, played genderlessly by newcomer Daisy Ridley. The nearly all-male cast of the original has been expanded to include plenty of amazing female actors, including Fischer, Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie, and Oscar award winner Lupita Nyong’o.

The cast is also much more ethnically diverse, including Finn, the other reluctant-hero, played by black Brit John Moyega, and a Latino X-wing fighter named Poe (Oscar Isaac). This made my Mexican wife very happy but of course it infuriated racist trolls and Donald Trump supporters who lamented the “political correctness” of the casting and mounted a pointless #BoycottStarWarsVII campaign on Twitter.

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Having a female hero like Rey surely means a lot to the scores of female fans. When Finn tries to hold her hand during an attack by the bad guys, she rips her hand away and assures him that she can take care of herself. And that’s the sub-plot of the film. What at first appears to be a “damsel in distress” scenario gets turned on its head and here comes our girl to the rescue. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler.) Even Han Solo recognizes her badassness. She’s ultimately a Skywalker-Solo hybrid who drives a giant movie on her never uncovered shoulders.

There’s sort of a sad test to measure the “feministness” of a film called the Bechdel Test. Do two women in a movie have a conversation about something other than a man? Lots of  “chick-flicks” have a female heavy cast but the dialogue is often about their men (i.e. every Jennifer Lopez movie ever made). The Force Awakens has several scenes that pass including one with (now) General Leia Organa and Rey.

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J. J. Abrams has a teenage daughter so I have to think he thought of her and how her experience sitting in a theater would be different than a girl sitting in the theater in 1977. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy have given us an epic tale that puts a female protagonist at the center for at least three films (Star Wars 8 and 9 are scheduled for 2017 and 2019). Along with this year’s successful Mad Max film, it serves to rewrite the narrative that boys like action and girls like romance. (The other side of ledger would be films that deal with the romantic emotional lives of boys and men. Where is this generation’s Woody Allen?)

When we think about movies and video games that are targeted at boys and boyish men, there are usually lots of explosions, chases, shooting, and scantily clad women who need to be rescued. It’s a male-driven narrative. The Force Awakens has plenty of those tropes but seriously tweaks the primary one and that may be a game changer for a generation of fanboys and their sisters.

Like 1977 (and 1980 and 1983), I was in the theater Thursday for the opening night of The Force Awakens. I had our tickets months in advance. I could barely contain myself with excitement as I fell through a time hole to my adolescent self.  And like 1977, the theater audience was 90% male. (Do these guys have wives or girlfriends? Some brought Star Wars toys, though. That may be part of the puzzle of patriarchal pop culture.) When the John Williams score started and the Star Wars logo appeared on the screen, we all screamed with approval (as we did whenever any of the original cast of characters and spaceships appeared). The film was wonderfully loyal to the original trilogy in all the important ways, but was a huge departure in one very significant way. Hopefully that evolution continues. Carrie Fischer made it clear to her young female cast mates, “Avoid the slave girl costume.

Andrea and I always have a good conversation after a film and it was immediately clear how important it was to her to have a female protagonist in such a massively hyped film. She loved having a hero that looked like her. It was a subtle message buried inside an epic tale that all those boys in the audience will hopefully digest without even thinking, Oh, the main hero was a girl! That’s how change happens. After our post-film analysis, Andrea excitedly said, “I can’t wait until our daughter is old enough to show her this movie.” Me either.

 

I told you Donald Trump was a fascist!

December 9, 2015

Well, I hate to be the one who said I told you so, but even mainstream Republicans are using the “F word” to describe Donald Trump. After his ridiculous fantasy about banning Muslims from America, I felt I should chime in, even though I’d rather write about Cozy’s first poop in her IKEA baby toilet. His use of the these emotional hot-button issues certainly is good at keeping this billionaire “man of the people” candidate in the headlines, but there is a frighteningly ugly side to his appeal.

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It’s clear that a lot of people don’t understand the basic political spectrum with fascism on the right side of the continuum and communism on the left. (Hint: We’re pretty much in the middle.) I’ve given up on explaining to people that Hitler’s “National socialism” is not actually socialism but a violently anti-socialist form of fascism. The right is characterized by the rule of the one and the left is characterized by the rule of the many, with lots of gradations between the extremes. (Bernie Sanders is to the left of Hillary Clinton and to the right of Fidel Castro. Similarly, Donald Trump is to the right of Marco Rubio and to the left of Benito Mussolini.)

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So the memes comparing Trump to Hitler have been coming fast and furious. Godwin’s Law aside, I’m sure Trump is flattered by the comparison with a former Time Magazine Person of the Year. They do have much in common. But let’s stick to four hallmarks of fascism.

Conspiracy Theories: Trump is the king of the “Birther” movement. The theory is that Obama was born in Kenya instead of America and his college transcripts were forged. It’s all part of an elaborate conspiracy by foreign Muslims to instal a jihadist in the White House and institute Sharia Law in the United States. Since Obama will be leaving the office in January 2017, he better get his Jihadi ass in gear.

Then there is the fun one about the Mexican government is “sending its worst” to the U.S. (Remember, all those rapists and murderers?). They’re destroying us, he will tell you. “Believe me!”

Obviously, all these guys harp on the “liberal media” conspiracy that is out to get them.  (Hint: The media is only as liberal as the corporations that own it.)

The fact that these juvenile theories are disproven on a daily basis doesn’t really matter. Facts don’t matter to Trump and his minions. Conspiracy theories offer simplistic world views and explanations. Everything is very black and white. And the left has a few conspiracy theories of their own (9/11 was an inside job, Monsanto runs the world, etc.). But Trump’s are rooted in xenophobia and blaming “outsiders” for our problems and that puts him firmly on Adolf’s team.

Racism: I think Trumpies believe that you have to parade around in a Klan robe to be a racist. Trump does have a few black supporters and Hitler had a few Jewish supporters (before he gassed them). But let’s be clear, Trump is either a seething racist or he is an opportunist who uses racism to rally his sub-moronic drones.

A) He’s anti-black. Whether encouraging the man-handling of “disgusting” Black Lives Matters protesters or crowing that “All lives matter,” it’s clear that he has no interest in addressing the institutional racism that plagues the lives of millions of Americans. He’s tweeted “facts” from a white supremacist websites to reinforce his position that black people are a violent threat to his white followers.

B) He’s anti-Latino. His asinine comments about immigrants (he never mentions white immigrants) is based on the most extremist narrative and denies the reality of actual Latino immigrants, including members of my family.

C) He’s anti-Muslim. I know Islam is a religion and not a race, but it comes from the same dark place. He’s denied the role of Muslim Americans in the war on terrorism, in the armed forces, in government, in eduction, in science and even in sports (while  bragging about his “good friend” Muhammad Ali).

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Trump is not the traditional racist but brown is the new black so he can hope for a handful of black supporters by going after Latinos (“Mexicans”) and Arabs (“Muslims”) and his loyal flock is A-Okay with it. The assumption is that all non-whites are voting Democratic anyway so why not just recruit the highly motivated whites and make America great again, “again,” meaning back to early 1954 before America went all to shit.

Of course Trump’s plan to ban all Muslims from America is idiotic. According to what he told ABC’s George Stephanapoulos , customs agents would just ask people if they were Muslim and if they said “yes,” they wouldn’t be allowed into the country. You know, because actual terrorists are so honest. And would they be allowed into the country if they converted to Christianity? It seemed to work for the Spanish Inquisition.

In that interview he likened his plan to FDR’s WWII internment of American citizens of Japanese descent, one of the great American human rights abuses of the twentieth century and a massive violation of the due process constitutional rights of 110,000 Americans and thousands of Japanese immigrants whose only crime was being Japanese. In 1988, President Reagan apologized for the atrocity but here is Trump using it as his model. Even Jeb Bush described Trump as “unhinged.” He may be nuts or he may be secretly trying to help ISIS make the case that Americans hate all Muslims, but most likely he is  just be rallying his rabid jingoist base.

Aggressive Nationalism: All this is wrapped up in a flag and rhetoric about “making America great again,” taking us back to a time when straight white Christian males didn’t have to be bothered with the “politically correct” language that addressed all the others who thought they deserved a bit of equality at the American table. Trump hates political correctness. He doesn’t want to have to be sensitive to the issues of the needs of Americans other than his brat pack. “Believe me, they are doing horrible things.” He wants to kill the families of ISIS members, including their children. (“Pro-life!”) He wants to be a bigger terrorist than the terrorists. He wants to save America. He says, “We’re at war. We don’t have a choice.”

Donny, you always have a choice.

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Fearmongering: This is what Trump does best. The Mexicans are going to rape you, the Muslims hate you and are going to kill you, and anyone who disagrees is second rate and is a less valid human because they don’t get the ratings he does. He demagogues until his voice goes out. “Believe me, I saw thousands and thousands of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after 9/11.” No you didn’t. Maybe you saw Muslims helping people and got confused.

“Believe me, there will be lots more 9/11’s if we don’t do something.” Remember when Rudy Giuliani tried this scare tactic in his 2008 presidential campaign? It’s only slightly historically removed from Father Coughlin who, in the 1930s, told his radio listeners that Jews were coming to kill Americans.

Trump is using the fear of terrorism and the general ignorance about Islam to whip his followers into a nationalist lynch mob. Listen to them carefully and then listen to people at a Klan rally and tell me how they differ. Scapegoating is an old tool but it is very effective.

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I’ve gotten some flack for referring to Trump’s followers as “sub-moronic” and it’s a fair criticism. It is not my intent to dehumanize them. I’ve been studying right-wing extremists and white supremacists for thirty years now. I know what connects them and the Trumpies is a desire for  simplified world view provided by a charismatic leader who can explain how to solve their problems, whether they be real or imagined. It’s how cults work and it’s how fascism works. But I also know many intelligent, compassionate, and progressive people who once subscribed to those ideologies and then walked away from them toward the light. There are plenty of former neo-Nazis and former jihadists who can testify that it’s entirely possible. And soon we will have some former Trumpies to add to the list.

This piece could be about the list of hate groups that have endorsed Trump or hate crimes that have been committed by his “very passionate” followers. It could be about how the Tea Party has dragged to the GOP into the ditch and how we should celebrate the death throws of an increasingly irrelevant political party that now only appeals to rednecks and fascists. But I just want to remind people, that America has been here before, in the 1930s. The specter of fascism was growing in America and the exact same bogus claims that Trump is now making were made by little Hitlers here. But America was better than them and America is better than Trump. We reminded ourselves of our core values and turned away from the fascist tide. It’s refreshing to hear this message from traditional Republicans, like Paul Ryan. We are so much better than Trump.

But for those who continue to follow this megalomaniac, here is a picture of my daughter’s first toilet turd. I’ll look forward to your brilliant comments.

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Explaining the world one tragedy at a time.

November 30, 2015

The world can seem so chaotic. Does it ever take a break?

Sometimes, in my line of work, things get a little busy. I’ve been getting a lot of media time lately. From local hate crimes to the global terror alert, from suspected Klan activity in Oregon to responses to the Black Lives Matter movement. Throw Paris into it and a few other issues in the news flow and I’ve been in overdrive lately. I’ve written about playing the role of “expert” in the media and hopefully I mentioned that I never get paid for any of it. But there’s a reason I’m on your TV.

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The world can seem so chaotic. But a lot of it is our media-saturated culture. Sociologist (and now Lewis & Clark University president) Barry Glassner wrote about this in his 1999 book, The Culture of Fear. Just think about the local news. When I was a kid it was on for a half-hour at 6 and 11 pm. The local news in Portland starts at 4 am and then occupies at least 8 hours of daily broadcasting on each channel until 11:35 pm. That’s a lot of space to fill. And “if it bleeds it leads” can drive each one of those hours. Terrorism abroad, mass shootings at home, and a story about packages being stolen off porches for good measure. It’s enough to keep a person inside their house and watching TV. Suffice it to stay, research shows that the more TV people watch, the more fearful they are of the world.

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I can either try to ignore it or subvert it from the inside. So the reason I say yes to most local, national, and international media requests is that it provides an opportunity to slip a critical perspective into the shockingly uncritical news paradigm. And this is usually a feminist perspective. For example, the numerous mass shootings I’m called to comment on must include an analysis that this is male violence in a culture that promotes violence as an acceptable means for men to express themselves. Can you imagine if all these shootings were by females?

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So we hop from crisis to crisis trying to patiently explain things to people who are often resistant to anything other than the explanation that fits their picture of the world. A perfect example is the folks who blurt “All lives matter” in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement. These people are either ignorant (which is something we all share about different things) or they are straight up racists. So here is the simplest explanation I can offer these folks: “Black lives matter,” means all lives matter, including black lives that have been devalued by the criminal justice system and racism in general. Got it? It does not mean your white life doesn’t matter. Now shut the fuck up.

Often I offer an analysis to try to explain a very complex social problem and what gets on the air is a three second sound byte that really doesn’t explain much. That’s why I prefer live TV and radio because you can go for the one point that really want to make. I learned this the hard way when I appeared on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. Bill O’Reilly just talked over me the whole time. One of my conservative friends emailed me and said, “You just should have yelled over him.” I guess that’s how Fox rolls. Lesson learned.

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There is a root cause that links most of this together and it’s patriarchy. Friday’s shooting at the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic is an obvious example. Conservatives wage a war on women’s advancement and rights. A Trump follower commented on this blog recently, “Does your wife bring home the bacon while you blog and change diapers or take of your children? Very manly there. Get a real life fool.” Trump, Fiorina and others spread lies about Planned Parenthood to their war-loving moronic minions who just want to bomb SOMETHING. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this week’s domestic terrorist (aka, right-wing white male) attacks a women’s health center with an AK while ranting about Obama and “baby parts.” This is what patriarchy looks like.

There is also feminist perspective on the racial issue. The dehumanization of other people, including African Americans and Syrian refugees (who my cousin compared to snakes and Ben Carson likened to rabid dogs) starts with the dehumanization of women. Religions with male gods do this especially well. It’s easy to claim power over someone who you think is a child or an animal or a thing. Or a terrorist.

There’s just not a lot of places to get the macro analysis in the mainstream media. We just get little corners of the real issues that are at the core of the nightly news stories. Where is bell hooks or Noam Chomsky being interviewed on the news? Lord knows, there’s enough time to fit them in. But instead we get sound byte analysis for the short-attention span masses. Here’s a clip of Trump mocking a disabled person. Here’s a talking head saying his followers could care less and on to the next non-story.

I became a feminist in my head a long time ago because it helped to explain the big picture throughout human history. I became a feminist in my heart with the arrival of my daughter and the hope the world could finally make a great leap forward for her generation. That the trifles of Trump and travails of war would become artifacts of the past. (This optimism may come from watching too much Star Trek.)

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And I’m happy to take my show on the road. Last week I was in Washington, D.C., making a case for the re-evaluation of hate crime laws at a meeting of criminologists from around the world. This week I’m off to New York City where I’ll be discussing how plea bargains institutionalize racism at a university in Manhattan. You can’t shut me up. These issues are too important. And yeah, I’m going to continue to be pissed off at the people who choose not to get it. Their world is changing and they are becoming an obnoxious minority (not a “silent majority”). But that keeps me going and at some point we can talk about the big picture.

See ya in the funny papers.

NBC’s The Island – The Myth of Punch-You-In-The-Face Manhood

May 26, 2015

Well, I was working on a blogpost on baby brain development last night when, for some reason, I started watching this new NBC show, The Island, and my own brain exploded. What is this shit? asked my baby brain. Oh, it’s the latest backlash programming, said my feminist brain.

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If you haven’t seen the set up, apparently “manhood is in crisis” (Here we go again) and the solution is for survivalist Bear Gryllis to take 14 “American men” to a deserted island in the Pacific with cameras and not much else and say “Good luck, boys.” The lead-up shows how unmanly American society as made these once proud Ninja warriors. Technology and women have stolen their “survival instinct.” One is a 28-year-old attorney who sheepishly admits that his survival tool is Google. In the bunch is a 43-year-old stay-at-home dad who worries he’s “gotten soft.” What a bunch of wussies! Welcome to the jungle, baby. You’re gonna die.

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If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the basis of Robert Bly’s 1991 book, Iron John, and the subsequent “Men’s Movement” that followed. Supposedly, modern society has turned once mighty men into a race of simpering mama’s boys who need to reclaim their “inner king” by finding their “deep masculinity.” In the 1990s, feminists like Susan Faludi and Michael Kimmel observed how this was just a lot of hooey in the service of restoring patriarchy after modern feminists put tiny ding in its door. The rise of the pink collar workforce and sexual harassment suits could be countered “real men” running through the woods with mud on their faces, rescuing their warrior within.

I remember the appeal of this thinking when I was young. In 1980, I was 16-years-old and, according to the TV, America was being held hostage. Actually, it was just 52 Americans who were being held hostage by some radical Iranian students. One of those hostages, Col. Charles Scott, was from my hometown. President Carter sent in a Delta Force rescue team on April 24th on a mission called Operation Eagle Claw, but sand got into the rotor blades and the helicopters crashed in the Iranian desert. Eight servicemen were killed. You would have thought that Jimmy Carter, a liberal Democrat, had caused the crash himself.

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Into this void stepped Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. While not a military veteran (unlike Carter), he had played a war hero in movies and that was good enough for us. Reagan the Cowboy promised to “reclaim American greatness” (like back when we slaughtered the Indians) and knock the shit out of anybody who pushed us around, unlike that pansy peanut farmer. I was in the bag. Bye-bye Jimmy. Reagan got America’s dick hard and he won in a landslide. On his inauguration day, the hostages were released, as if just the presence of Reagan near the Oval Office made those nasty Iranians back down. (I should point out that by 1982 I was regularly wearing a “Reagan Hates Me” T-shirt and now have pissing on his grave on my bucket list.)

So we’re seeing this reactionary impulse all over again. In a world of gay marriage and metrosexual body waxing, comes another fake “crisis of manhood.” And shows like The Island are meant to “fix” men by turning them loose in the wilderness. But these people don’t know much about gender. They reduce it to biology and cherry pick cartoonish moments from history to back up their claim of the essentialness of a masculinity that is (somehow) differentiated from femininity. Kimmel and Michael Kaufman commented on it in 1995 by writing:

Bly and others wander through anthropological literature like post-modern tourists, as if the world’s cultures were an enormous shopping mall filled with ritual boutiques. After trying them on, they take several home to make an interesting outfit – part Asian, part African, part Native American… All totally decontextualized.

Men don’t need to separate from the feminine to become better men. Evidence shows that way leads to war and suffering. The men in prison that I study do that. We call it toxic masculinity and it ain’t good. I don’t want my daughter living in a world where this mythology of warrior men still is embraced. Recent evidence has revealed that half the Viking warriors were female. This silly cartoon of “cavemen” clubbing their cavewomen over the head to have cave sex (now, rebranded as “rape” by those ball-busting feminists) is a grand lie men tell each other and women. Hunting and gathering societies were a lot more gathering than hunting and evidence shows us that both tasks were split evenly among gender lines.

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So what is the value of The Island? There’s a 25-year old radio producer who screams at everyone to “Man up!” or he will punch them in the face (that’s his cool picture to the left). There’s a 50-year-old military guy who wants to name the band of brothers, “The Conquistadors” (a group that knew something about rape, murder, and slavery), and a variety of others who are struggling to hold on to their masculinity while their  women receive marching orders from Hilary Clinton’s underground lair. It would be almost comical if it didn’t reinforce the single biggest piece of human bullshit ever told, that men and women are “opposite” sexes.

But maybe we’ll find these guys rejecting the refuge of this bogus idea of masculinity. Mr. I’m Going To Punch You In The Face was taken off the island after the first episode when his little tantrum bit him on the ass and his male body shut down. Maybe for every snake they kill, they’ll have two conversations about their true emotional selves. Maybe one, instead of saying he was wounded by his father leaving the nest (as Bly contends), will say he was saved from being raised by an asshole. And maybe, when they are on their last drop of fresh water and crying out their children’s names, they’ll be rescued by some badass Amazon women who live on the next isla.

I’m just tired of the notion that there is a singular definition of masculinity and a set of rules for “real” men. That’s not an idea of gender that helps my daughter succeed. If you want to be a real man, put down your machete and your war paint and listen to a woman. For a change. You can’t “survive” without women. Monday nights are “Reclaim the Phony Masculine” on NBC, I guess. American Ninja Warriors (Don’t get me started on that one) and The Island. Where are Cagney & Lacy when you need them?

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