Friday, May 31, 2019

Multicultural White Supremacy

Buzzfeed has an interesting piece up on the 4chan/ex-MAGA/reddit trolls who have been flocking to Andrew Yang's presidential campaign. Of course, being 4chan/MAGA/reddit trolls, they're also engaging in vicious harassment of a Yang staffer they've come to dislike.

But that's not what I want to talk about. Buzzfeed reports that Yang has gotten enthusiastic backing from some luminaries of the White supremacist right -- folks like Richard Spencer or the Daily Stormer. Despite, you know, clearly not being White.

And he's not the only one. Tulsi Gabbard already picked up an endorsement from none other than David Duke, who also infamously praised Ilhan Omar for supposedly being willing to tackle the "Israel lobby". Several far-right figures have reported being inspired by Ben Shapiro. The self-described "Imam of Peace" Mohammad Tawhidi garners endorsements from notorious Islamophobes like Tommy Robinson and Paul Joseph Watson. In his "Skin in the Game" article, Eric Ward recounted how he -- a Black man -- was able to be accepted in far-right White nationalist circles based on a presumed anti-Jewish alliance. And it cuts both ways: last year Arun Gupta had a fascinating article on young men of color outright joining far-right, White supremacist organizations.

I'm not saying in any of these cases that the White supremacist praise was invited by its recipients. There's no reason to think Yang or Gabbard or Omar or Shapiro are anything other than repelled by the prospect of being "endorsed" by White supremacists (Tawhidi is actually a potential exception). And often what one White supremacist hand giveth, another taketh away: the Yang story, after all, is about this same quadrant of "support" turning on his campaign with a misogynist vengeance. Omar is regularly targeted with death threats from the far-right, and Shapiro is the most harassed Jewish journalist online by some measures. So I'm also not saying that any of these figures are simply and without qualification beneficiaries of White supremacist grace.

But that's not the point. The point is that this sort of affinity -- in any form -- wasn't supposed to be even possible. White supremacists aren't supposed to be enthusiastic about non-White public figures. That's kind of their whole shtick. So what do we make of this seemingly bizarre phenomenon: multicultural White supremacy?

I am not the first to come up with that term -- as best I can tell, it was coined by Dylan Rodriguez at the cusp of the Obama presidency. But we are using it slightly differently. Rodriguez is speaking of how, in his view, the standard liberal multicultural political arrangement -- exemplified by someone like Obama -- nonetheless can uphold a broader structure of White supremacy. My focus, by contrast, is on "traditional" White supremacists who nonetheless come to praise and work with non-White public figures.

So what gives?

One answer is that it's all a form of trolling -- a way of leveraging their own toxicity against groups who they otherwise hate (think Richard Spencer calling his ideology "White Zionism"). There might be something to that -- I think something like that probably was in play when he "praised" Omar, for example -- but I don't think it's the whole story. The outright endorsement of Gabbard goes well beyond what can be explained by mere "trolling", for example. Likewise the favor with which many on the far-right hold Shapiro.

Another answer is that it falsifies the idea that the figures in question are truly "White supremacist".  Literally: how could they be White Supremacist if they're praising those whom are deemed non-White! Under this view, the fact that these supposed "White supremacists" sometimes praise and endorse non-Whites is a great big gotcha to the liberals tarring everyone they disagree with as bigots and cheapening the term "White supremacist" beyond recognition (hello, Laura Ingraham!). The problem here is that a good chunk of the figures I'm talking about describe themselves as "White supremacists" or use synonymous terms that are quite clear that they think specifically racial advocacy on behalf of Whites is an important part of their politics. If the Daily Stormer isn't "White supremacist", then nothing is.

My take is that this is best understood as a further disintegration of a Platonic Ideal of "White supremacy" which no longer (if it ever did) exists. The vision of the White supremacist as someone who simply, blindly, and uncritically hates all members of the racial outgroups, for no other reason than that they are members of that outgroup, is collapsing. In its place is someone who certainly sees inter-group conflict as central to their ideology, and views certain despised outgroups as avatars of that which they loathe in contemporary politics or society. But it's overlaid onto more complex set of political commitments (which could be anything, but often centers around a sort of paleo-conservative vision of isolationism and insularity), and so there's always the possibility that some individual member of the group will have (or be perceived as having) an aligned ideology. Such persons will be accepted as (literally) "exceptional" -- they may even be trotted out as proof that the supposedly blind hater are actually discerning and "meritocratic".

In reality, they prove the opposite: they demonstrate that occasional acceptance of certain "exceptional" outgroup members who meet highly specified criteria is perfectly compatible with even "traditional" White supremacy (let alone more subtle or ambivalent forms of racial inequity). If, as Bernard Williams reminded us, even the Nazis "pa[id], in very poor coin, the homage of irrationality to reason," this is the contemporary version of that. The Nazi anthropologists were speaking a particular language of an era that sought to warrant their hatred based on prevailing ideologies of the time. Today, the relevant ideologies have changed and thus so does the attempted payment.

There's something faintly inspiring about this -- that today even the most inveterate White supremacists nonetheless must concede some possibility of connection to or alliance with those they supposedly hate. Nonetheless, it hardly dissipates the danger. An antisemite who likes Ben Shapiro is still an antisemite. An Islamophobe who likes Mohammad Tawhidi is still an Islamophobe. A racist who likes Andrew Yang or Tulsi Gabbard is still a racist. It might be a little weird that White Supremacy could go multicultural. But such is the era we live in.

They Can't Be Trying, Because We Tried, and We're Amazing

There's a new women's organization out there -- Supermajority -- that's trying to succeed where the Women's March fragmented. And Linda Sarsour has some thoughts on them:
Sarsour says the Women’s March tried to be a space for all women, to be intersectional, but that “this never worked before” because when issues arose outside of gender equality, like racism or immigration, it made people uneasy.
“If another group wants to attempt it,” said Sarsour, “that must mean that they don’t want to have the hard conversations, because when we had the hard conversations, it was really uncomfortable and difficult for people.”
Is it just me, or does this come off as almost unbelievably petty?

Which isn't to say Sarsour doesn't feel good about her impact with the Women's March:
The formation of the Women’s March, said Sarsour, is a “very simple story.” After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, “white women started a Facebook page, and they called it the Million Women’s March.”
“These women started this Facebook page, but in order for this Facebook page to be translated into tangible, actual organizing, into actual marches, it required women of color leadership,” said Sarsour. “That’s when me, Carmen [Perez] and Tamika [Mallory] were called to come to the Women’s March. We were the only organizers, like actual seasoned organizers. Everyone else was a fashion entrepreneur. They worked in tech. They were yoga teachers. We had a woman who was a chef. Everyone had a different profession, and we were the ones that came in with the organizing background.”
The first Women’s March was a day after Trump’s inauguration. Sarsour and her co-chairs set out an agenda to harness the energy of the millions of women who took to the streets and turn it into political power. They, along with local, grassroots chapters, organized events to get women into office and voters to the polls.
“We watched the impact of activism of people who’ve never once went to a march, never called their member of Congress, all of a sudden engaging in activism at a level that we hadn’t seen in at least the last 20 years,” recounted Sarsour. “And then seeing in 2018 us winning back the House, putting over 110 women in Congress. I’m not saying that’s all Women’s March, but absolutely the Women’s March set the foundation for all of these things to happen.”
You know, I've long been content with my view on Sarsour, which is that while she doesn't deserve the frankly insane amount of attention and vitriol she receives from the American Jewish community, she's also just ... not that impressive. She's a decent rabble-rouser, but really more of a glory-hound -- everything is her her her. Thank goodness those fashion designers and yoga teachers had her to lead them! But there's not a lot going on past that.

The Washington Post just did a piece on the fractured friendship of Cory Booker and Shmuley Boteach and ... Boteach actually strikes me as a decent parallel to Sarsour. Boteach is a mediocrity who had his moment but now is seen mostly as a "he's still here?" sort of figure. He'll probably keep on getting media coverage because he has a natural knack for drawing attention to himself, but his time is past, and everyone knows it. And so too, I suspect, with Sarsour. She'll always have a cadre of folks who think she's the cat's meow, and her sheer status as a lightning rod will ensure that she can always get some amount of attention to herself (Sarsour exists in symbiotic relationship with her most inveterate haters, who also are marginal figures in the Jewish community that know the fastest way to get prime column placement if her name is in the title). But more and more, I think she'll be seen as of the past.

Who knows whether Supermajority will go anywhere. But I think Sarsour's star has faded, and she's going to be increasingly irrelevant from here on out. Just like Shmuley.

More Fun With Anti-Discrimination Rules!

Some Jewish women were kicked out of an Uber after their Palestinian driver found out they were coming from an Israel Independence Day celebration. Uber has since terminated the driver and insisted they don't tolerate "any form of discrimination."

I doubt this will become anyone's cause celebre. That's mostly because taxis (or their replacements) are an arena where norms about serving as a common carrier -- which include broad non-discrimination requirements, far beyond what we think of normally by "non-discrimination". There are excellent reasons why we have pretty sweeping requirements on airlines, taxis, buses, and so on that they can't pick and choose the customers they serve.

But one can certainly imagine how the case for the driver would go. The "speech" argument is already pretty familiar -- after all, he didn't object to "Jews", he objected to "people leaving an Israel Independence day celebration", which is not the same thing. Resurrect some gilded-age 19th century principles about free labor -- where the cab driver and the customer are just free contractors, both responsible for their own affairs and capable of entering into or cancelling a relationship at will --  and suddenly it sounds downright illiberal to "force" the Uber driver to transport customers when his conscience demands otherwise.

And remember: we have a judiciary that is probably more sympathetic to that outlook than at any point in the last century or so. These arguments are not as outlandish as one might think. The "New Lochnerism" already uses free speech as a wedge against huge swaths of the regulatory structure. And much of contemporary labor law -- discrimination or otherwise -- in particular involves not viewing employment as simply the atomistic interaction of free contractors who are at equal liberty to do or not do as they please. Pull that thread, and more might unravel than one intends.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Strange Flag-Bearers (and Burners) in Dayton

One thing that happened at the anti-KKK counterprotest in Dayton was that an Israeli flag was ripped to shreads and stomped on (after an unsuccessful attempt to burn it). How did this happen? Well, it's a weird story:
In an interview with The Observer, [Jen] Mendoza [of the Cincinnati Palestine Solidarity Coalition] said the incident occurred after she saw three young men with an Israeli flag and entered into what she described as a confusing discussion with them.
“And so recognizing the state of Israel as being of the same ideology (as) American capitalist imperialist settler colonialism, and seeing that flag on our side (counterprotesters area) was jolting,” Mendoza said of her reaction at the sight of the Israeli flag.
“One of them said that he was from Israel. And then the other two boys looked Arab,” she added. “The other kid, he was the one doing a lot of the talking, he made comments about God giving them the land, and at that point I was like, ‘Well, you’re on the wrong side of this fence if that’s what you believe.’”
Mendoza said that after the conversation went on and he said “some extremely Zionist, racist things,” he asked her if he should throw it on the ground and stomp on it.
She told him she’d be happy to burn it for him.
“And then he flipped and was like, ‘Yeah, let’s burn this flag right now,’” Mendoza added, “and he helped tear it apart — and then he told us that he was doing a social experiment to find out where people really stood on fascism. And then he began chanting ‘Free Palestine.’” 
So basically, somebody comes to an anti-KKK flag rally holding an Israeli flag and starts making racist comments wrapped in a Zionist guise. But wait: it turns out, he doesn't actually believe what he's saying -- he's impersonating an Israeli, enacting a stereotype designed to present Israelis as racist (though it's actually his words), in an effort to rile the crowd up and convince them to burn or mutilate the Israeli flag. Which the crowd then happily obliges. It's like a meat-world version of the Jewish impersonators Yair Rosenberg used to bust: "racists who pretend to be Jews—and other minorities—in order to defame them."

All at a rally that nominally was counterprotesting the KKK, which in turn was in large part targeting Dayton's Jewish community. Who then had to see a burning Israeli flag by people supposedly there to "protect" them; instigated by a person who (it seems falsely?) claimed to be Israeli in order to tar actual Israelis with his own racist performance. How lovely.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"Oh, We'd Fill It"

Of course, it surprises precisely zero people that Mitch McConnell has absolutely no problem confirming a Supreme Court nominee in an election year if the nominee is a Republican.

The only slightly interesting thing about him coming out and saying so is that he's willing to openly say so even before knowing if the situation would come up, which really hammers home just how little respect he has for even the pretense of principle. There's no tactical advantage to admitting this now, which makes it feel like he's almost playing a game to amuse himself. He's showing off how brazen and shameless he can be, knowing that not only can no one do anything to stop it, but that if push ever does comes to shove the media still almost certainly will credulously report whatever "principled" distinction GOP flacks come up with to explain why this is different from Garland, even though McConnell openly admitted there's nothing more complicated here than "because we can."

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Quote of the Day: Shklar Translating Montesquieu on the Cruelty of the Spainards

Judith Shklar is my great-grand advisor (that is, she was the Ph.D advisor of the Ph.D advisor of my Ph.D advisor). I just picked up a copy of her book Ordinary Vices, and am reading its opening chapter on cruelty. Referring to the abject cruelties the Spainards imposed upon the indigenous population of the "New World", she writes (quoting Montesquieu):
Once the Spainards had begun their cruelties, it became especially important to say that "it is impossible to suppose these creatures [the indigenous population] to be men, because allow them to be men a suspicion might arise that we were not Christian."
Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices (Harvard Belknap Press, 1984), 12. She's translating Montesquieu's De l'Espirit des lois (The Spirit of the Laws), but it's her own translation.

It has become a refrain of progressives commenting on the Trump era that "the cruelty is the point" -- especially towards migrants being kept in inhumane conditions along the border or immigrants who've been quietly living in America for years terrorized by immigration enforcement. The contention that this behavior is "un-Christian", as a searing critique of the hypocrisy of the Christian right, is a common one, albeit one whose merits I'm ill-equipped to judge.

But it strikes me that the dehumanizing rhetoric towards immigrants that emanates so regularly from the right -- or perhaps, more "generously", the failure of the right to take seriously the full human robustness of immigrants as the sorts of persons who can experience fear, panic, and terror that is a regular accompaniment to the immigration regime they endorse -- is necessary precisely because of what would be implied by the reckoning. For if they are acknowledged as human, a suspicion might arise that those who endorse such terrible terrors upon them are not Christian. Or -- from my distinctly non-Christian vantage -- that they remain Christians, but that this is what Christianity is, or can be.

On Conservative "Support" for Intersectionality

Vox has an interesting profile interview by Jane Coaston with law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, best known as the originator of the term "intersectionality", on the contemporary uses and misuses of her progeny. One of the most fascinating portions of it is when Coaston starts interviewing conservatives who have, over the past few years, treated intersectionality as their primary intellectual bogeyman. To a man, there response was basically identical: "intersectionality", as conceptualized by Crenshaw, is "relatively unobjectionable" (Ben Shapiro); even "indisputable" (David French).

What they say is that Crenshaw's ideas, themselves, as articulated in the late 1980s and early 90s, are unproblematic. Clearly, Black women experience forms of discrimination that differ in kind from those faced by White women or Black men. Who could argue? What's problematic is how intersectionality (is perceived to have been) extended in contemporary college debates, where it does allegedly stand in for some sort of inversion of hierarchy where White men are at the bottom of the pack.

This is something I've started to hear more and more frequently. In Gabriel Noah Brahm's essay on "Intersectionality" (in the infamous Israel Studies "Word Crimes" symposium), for example, Crenshaw's original 1989 essay is called a "modest, precise, and useful intervention in American jurisprudence." But things go quickly off the rails: "Over the last several years, it has become the watchword, shibboleth, and passkey to belonging on the "woke" left, among the "politically correct" who arrogate to themselves the duty of thought-policing the rest of us." Brahm contends that among intersectionality-skeptics, "A consensus that cuts across the liberal-conservative divide has emerged ... to the effect that the term's expanded uses as a metaphysical totem have outrun its otherwise valid, more limited definition." (the "liberal-conservative" is generous: Brahm lists nine critics he has in mind, of whom at most two -- Cary Nelson and, when he's in the right mood, Hen Mazzig -- can be described as "liberal").

Yet, like most conservative critics of intersectionality, Brahm's description of its contemporary effects is a self-contained system, remarkably insulated from the words or ideas of actual contemporary intersectionalists. Indeed, once he gets past the portion of the paper talking about Crenshaw's original essays, Brahm effectively ceases to cite any work on intersectionality by any self-described intersectional theorist.

Once or twice, an essay will be cited seemingly at random as offering "a representative piece of intersectional feminism", despite not meeting the seemingly minimum threshold of ever saying the words "intersectional" or "intersectionality" (this is especially hilarious given Brahm's insistence on the power of intersectionality the word as a "watchword, shibboleth, and passkey". Some passkey -- it needn't even be used to open the doors!). But for the most part, contemporary intersectionality is understood almost exclusively in terms of what it is stipulated to mean by popular conservative critics in outlets like Commentary and The Daily Caller. As we know, they hate it, even though they concede that the primary texts aren't actually problematic at all. In other words, conservatives are fine with what intersectionalists describe as intersectionality, but loathe what conservatives call intersectionality. So maybe the problem lies in the conservative descriptions?

And that raises the question: what do we make of the conservative contention that they are actually willing to endorse the "original", supposedly unproblematic intersectional claims? The basic form of the question is whether they think -- in harmony with Crenshaw's original argument -- that discrimination against "Black women", specifically, should be recognized as an independent basis for Title VII liability beyond "race" or "sex" discrimination. I've seen little evidence that they do back any legal or statutory reforms to provide clarity here, but perhaps I'm wrong.

More broadly, the question is whether conservatives object to research programs which seek to uncover the specified and particular modes of discrimination faced by, e.g., Black women, or other permutations of several marginalized identities. After all, to quote French, it's just "commonsense ... that different categories of people have different kinds of experience."

Yet in practice, I'm guessing the answer is no. The closest Brahm gets to citing a contemporary articulation of intersectionality by a backer rather than a critic is in the National Women's Studies Association declaration of what "Women's Studies" is:
Women's studies has its roots in the student, civil rights, and women's movements of the 1960s and 70s. In its early years the field's teachers and scholars principally asked, "Where are the women?" Today that question may seem an overly simple one, but at the time few scholars considered gender as a lens of analysis, and women's voices had little representation on campus or in the curriculum. Today the field's interrogation of identity, power, and privilege go far beyond the category "woman." Drawing on the feminist scholarship of U.S. and Third World women of color, women's studies has made the conceptual claims and theoretical practices of intersectionality, which examines how categories of identity (e.g., sexuality, race, class, gender, age, ability, etc.) and structures of inequality are mutually constituted and must continually be understood in relationship to one another, and transnationalism, which focuses on cultures, structures and relationships that are formed as a result of the flows of people and resources across geopolitical borders, foundations of the discipline.
This seems to be an articulation of intersectionality that is no more "problematic" than Crenshaw's original: "categories of identity" and "structures of inequality are mutually constituted  and must continually be understood in relation to one another." A little more jargon-y, perhaps, but not something that strays far from Crenshaw's original formulations. Yet Brahm cites this as his proof-text for the claim that "the majority of radical academic feminists today, in theory and in practice, hold to some version of this sort of 'post-essentialist' understanding of what it means to study gender" and therefore(?) the contemporary feminist project is irredeemably fascist, antisemitic, and racist. (Don't shed too many tears: feminism "achieved its proper goal long ago, when women gained equal rights under the law in the developed world"; now " we can all contribute toward restoring sanity in the academic arena by rejecting" contemporary feminism's "shrill, hectoring discourse").

So what we're really seeing is the classic historical pivot of contemporary conservatism: hating some feature of progressive discourse right up until it becomes too mainstream to effectively challenge, at which point critics say that the term they've just spent years assailing used to be valuable and important but only now has turned astray. The National Review did it with "civil rights", David French did it with "white privilege", and now they're all doing it with "intersectionality". It's bad scholarship and bad history, all wrapped together in a neat little bow.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Young Jews Might Really Be a Touch(!) More Conservative

I crowed a bit at the recent poll showing Donald Trump has an abysmal 29/71 approval among Jews, and a bit more at the effort by GOP Jewish groups to present this as good news.

But dig a little deeper into the data and you do find something more interesting: younger Jews are at least a little less anti-Trump than our older compatriots. Millennial Jews (35 and younger) give Trump his best net favorability rating -- and that's after Orthodox Jews are excluded (the pollsters actually don't give the breakout with Orthodox Jews included, but eyeballing it their inclusion would probably see Trump's favorables among Millennials rise to the mid-to-high 30s).

Now "best" is pretty relative -- it's still a wretched 33/67. But it beats Gen Xers (30/70), Boomers (25/75), and Greatest/Silent Generation (22/78). (The very youngest Jews -- just those under 30 -- are slightly more anti-Trump than "Millennials" writ large. So maybe it's my cohort -- the 30-to-35 year olds -- who are the problem, though more likely that's just a statistical blip).

I don't know exactly what to make of this. The narrative, of course, is that the youth are liberal and the elders are less so. Then again, maybe it's not surprising that the generation that lived through the Holocaust and its immediate aftermath would be even more aggressively anti-Trump than today's comparatively coddled kids.

The big question, for me, is the degree to which these opinions cut with or against other demographic correlations. For example, one possible explanation for more ambivalence among younger Jews is bad experiences with extreme left-wing politics in college. Yet this would cut against normal demographic findings where college education correlates to greater anti-Trump sentiment. Now, I'd be extremely surprised if Jews with college education were more pro-Trump than those without -- that would be stunning if it were true. But it's possible that the liberalizing effect of college education on young Jews is weaker than it is on non-Jews of the same generation -- and that would still be quite revealing.

Basically, it'd be interesting (it's always interesting, but unfortunately also expensive) to chop the sample up into finer bits. How do Jewish opinions on Trump compare when you start controlling for variables like college education (Jews are disproportionately well-educated, which in turn correlates to liberalism); race (Jews are disproportionately White -- yes, for this purpose we are -- which correlates to conservatism); wealth, urban residence, etc.? Such inquiries can overturn some considerable established wisdom (one recent study, for example, found that controlling for relevant social positionality American Jews are less politically-engaged than comparable non-Jews)

Indeed, similar questions can be asked about whether the "youth", generally, are actually more liberal, or just more diverse (a greater proportion of young people are non-White, but are White Millennials any less conservative than White people generally? What happens if we start controlling for urban residence, education, etc.?).

Anyway, it's easy to read too much into this -- especially since, again, we're talking about the difference between "overwhelmingly anti-Trump" and "really overwhelmingly anti-Trump". But it does present at least a slight corrective to the narrative that young Jews today are actually a vanguard of leftism compared to the staid centrism of their elders.