Friday, March 25, 2016

How the GOP Lost Jackie Robinson

The Atlantic has a very interesting short story on how the rise of the Goldwater movement in 1964 was the final nail in the coffin for Black Republicans (via). Though the African-American community had been moving towards the Democratic Party since the FDR administration, a pace that accelerated when Presidents Kennedy and Johnson enthusiastically supported sweeping civil rights legislation, through the 1960 election there were still plenty of Black GOP voters and prominent Black Republican supporters (including Robinson). Nixon had gotten over 30% of the Black vote in 1960 and Eisenhower received nearly 40% in 1956.

The Goldwater campaign was a choice for the GOP -- to honor the Democratic Party's embrace of civil rights and create a national front on the subject, or to embrace the fury of historically Democratic White southern voters and abandon the legacy of Lincoln outright. They chose the latter. It is often said that Senator Goldwater was not himself personally racist, but that made the choice even more stark -- it was a calculated decision to sacrifice the principle of racial equality (not to mention the equal standing of Black Republicans) for votes in the South. The Goldwater campaign openly appealed to racists in a way that made it impossible for even the most rock-ribbed Black Republicans to continue to support the Party. And compared to those relatively decent numbers in 1956 and 1960, since 1964 no Republican has ever received more than 15% of the Black vote.

There's an important lesson here. The overwhelming dominance the Democratic Party today enjoys among African Americans was not a historical inevitability It wasn't because Black citizens were inherently inhospitable to the Republican Party or its ideas. It was because the Party made a choice to embrace its most extreme elements and, in doing so, made continued Black support untenable. The great migration of Black voters to the Democratic Party was not a blind stampede. It was an advised decision, just as the GOP made its own calculated decision to effectively toss its remaining African-American contingent overboard.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

University of California Regents Approves Stellar "Principles Against Intolerance"

Today, the University of California Regents approved a document articulating its "Principles Against Intolerance." The proposal has had a winding road. It arose initially in response to reports of rising anti-Semitic sentiments at UC campuses. An early draft was widely panned for not mentioning anti-Semitism at all; critics have since complaining that the current draft focuses too much on anti-Semitism at the expense of other forms of discrimination.

Following public comment, the Regents adopted one amendment: In an introductory paragraph which had read "Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California," the Regents voted to instead say that "Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California." This language was suggested by the University of California Faculty Senate and approved by the Board unanimously. The full statement (minus the aforementioned amendment, which appears to be the only change) can be found here.

The document is clearly a product of its genealogy. The introductory segment focuses specifically on anti-Semitism -- this is where the controversial reference to "anti-Zionism" was; as the report makes clear, it was this controversy which was the original impetus to establish the working group in the first place. Following that introduction, the report branches out to encompass other forms of discrimination. A paragraph on concerns regarding anti-Semitism is followed by another paragraph devoted to Islamophobia, and then a subsequent paragraph considering issues of racism (with respect to the Black Lives Matter movement and immigration policy) and homophobia (on marriage equality). By the time one gets to the actual principles themselves, anti-Semitism is reduced to a single mention (in section c: "The Regents call on University leaders actively to challenge anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination when and wherever they emerge within the University community. ").

The principles themselves strike me as very solid. The most important element of its approach is centered around two essential distinctions. The first is between challenging speech versus censoring speech; the second is between speech and conduct.

On the first, the policy contains compelling arguments regarding the damage that biased or prejudiced views -- even when "merely" in the form of expression -- can take. But its remedy of choice is for that speech to be challenged, not banned (as Justice Brandeis might have put it: "More speech, not enforced silence."). The policy contains a strong affirmation of First Amendment values, and earlier in the document in contains a paragraph which should dispel any worries about the principles being used to effectuate censorial ends:
Punishing expressions of prejudice and intolerance will not prevent such expressions or change the minds of speakers. In confronting statements reflecting bias, prejudice or intolerance arise from ignorance of the histories and perspectives of others, the University is uniquely situated to respond with more speech – to educate members of our community about the different histories and perspectives from which we approach important issues. As a public university, First Amendment principles and academic freedom principles must be paramount in guiding the University’s response to instances of bias, prejudice and intolerance and its efforts to create and maintain an equal campus learning environment for all.
The back half of the principles, by contrast, focuses on the distinct case of discriminatory conduct -- for example, discrimination, vandalism, or obstruction of the speaking rights of others. And here the Univerrsity, quite rightly, preserves its ability to respond juridically. The principles are unyielding in stating that discrimination in selection for leadership position, vandalism or destruction of property, threats, or harassment all fall in the realm of conduct which can be prohibited. Likewise "Actions that physically or otherwise interfere with the ability of an individual or group to assemble, speak, and share or hear the opinions of others " This, too, seems precisely on target.

In sum, I feel like I can endorse these principles without reservation. And it seems hard for me to imagine any reasonable person or organization harboring objections -- particularly given the amendment to the "anti-Zionism" language which specifically restricts it to the "anti-Semitic forms". But of course, not everybody is reasonable, and the usual suspects, Jewish Voice for Peace for example, are pitching a tantrum that the Regents even acknowledged that anti-Zionism can ever be anti-Semitic. As per usual, their primary source of outrage seems to be that the Regents would consider the anti-Semitism issue at all (it contends that this somehow obscures forms of discrimination it deems more "urgent", like racism and Islamophobia. As noted above, this is spurious: the principles actually devote specific attention to both of these issues in their own right). If there's one thing you can count on in life, it's that if anyone, anywhere, dares call anything anti-Semitic, the JVP will be there to scream about how it is outrageous it is that anyone would even consider such a thing anti-Semitic (doing so, of course, diminishes the grandeur of that elusive but no doubt majestic beast, "the real anti-Semitism").

Then, though, we get this little doozy of a charge:

For those who can't see, the highlighted portion reads: "The Regents congratulated themselves on a process that heard from 'both sides,' despite the fact that the experts they consulted were four white men, three of whom are avowed Zionists." Ignore whether being an "avowed" (as opposed to?) Zionist is disqualifying of anything. The four advisers in question are UCLA Law Professor and Critical Race Theory scholar Jerry Kang, UCLA Law Professor and First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh, Brandeis Center chief Kenneth Marcus, and Simon Wiesenthal Center Dean Marvin Hier. Somehow in its outrage the JVP managed to "forget" that Professor Kang is not, in fact white. But -- putting aside the ongoing stickiness over whether Ashkenazi Jews are properly regarding as white -- there is something quite revealing over the JVP's new apparent position that even opposing anti-Semitism converts one into a white man. (Ironically, it was Prof. Volokh, one of the "avowed Zionists", who initially raised the alarm about the "anti-Zionism has no place on our campus" language. That's because  some people are not simply fair-weather friends to the First Amendment).

In any event, given the strong speech-protective elements of the principles, the concerns over "chilling" speech are spurious, except to the extent that the JVP considers (as we know it does) the counterspeech act of accusing someone of anti-Semitism to be a form of censorship (which it is not). The real issue here is no doubt JVP's generally favorable attitude to acts of disruption aimed at preventing other groups from speaking. Zachary Braiterman puts it well:
No doubt, even the revised statement will outrage anti-Zionist activists on campus. They will argue that the statement of principles chills their own free speech and right to protest. But the statement is very clear that even all speech, including prejudiced speech, is to be protected. Mostly, one suspects that activist groups like SJP and JVP and their on-campus advocates will object because of the strong statement against actions on campus that violate by shutting down the free speech of others.
 So again, my congratulations to Regents for passing an excellent set of principles which both are firm in their condemnation of intolerance, while being equally emphatic in their protection of free speech. These principles are written to encompass not just anti-Semitism but all forms of discrimination, and they are well tailored to that endeavor. This was a difficult process, but the resulting policy is an excellent model not just for California residents but all of academia. Kudos.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Two Tales of Free Speech at Emory

A few days ago, Eugene Volokh posted an opinion by Emory University's "Standing Committee for Open Expression" which gave a broad defense of open expression rights at the University (Volokh's brother, Sasha, serves on the committee). The opinion was in reference to an incident where Emory's Students for Justice in Palestine chapter put up a mock wall in front of a campus building as a means of protesting against Israeli policy. Two Emory community members proceeded to vandalize the wall.

The opinion concludes that such vandalism conflicted with the principles of open expression that govern an academic institution. It expressly rejected the notion that any subjective feeling of "offense" caused by the display, or its alleged "incivility", or the acknowledge commitment of Emory to creating a diverse and inclusive academic space, could justify the attempt to suppress the SJP's expressive activity. All of this seems exactly right in my view -- had I seen the display, I may well have been offended (the SJP hardly has a spotless track record), but that is simply no excuse for vandalism or other thuggery aimed at suppressing their speech. Free expression requires that we sometimes must endure even deeply offensive, uncivil, or anti-pluralistic speech.

Today, Emory is dealing with a new objection to allegedly threatening speech in its public forums. Overnight, several campus sidewalks were chalked with messages supporting Donald Trump. As one might expect, many students find (as I do) Trump to be a repulsive racist whose success in this election cycle is a disgrace to the nation. But some of them have initiated a protest at the President's office, demanding some form of official condemnation.

Assuming, as seems plausible, that Emory does not have a general (or at least generally-enforced) policy of prohibiting chalking in support of political or social causes, the pro-Trump messages are no different in form than the SJP wall display. In both cases, many will find one or both forms of expression threatening and emblematic of deeply hostile and oppressive social norms. It is absolutely reasonable to be upset that people hold such beliefs. But in an academic community, this cannot result in any official censorship -- as one would have hoped the Standing Committee's opinion would have made clear.

Unfortunately, this may not be the case. The President did flatly decline to issue a statement "decry[ing] the support for this fascist, racist candidate". But, according to campus reports:
The University will review footage “up by the hospital [from] security cameras” to identify those who made the chalkings, Wagner told the protesters. He also added that if they’re students, they will go through the conduct violation process, while if they are from outside of the University, trespassing charges will be pressed.
The "decrying" email would have been better -- at least that could be considered naught but counterspeech (the University expressing its opinion just as the chalkers expressed theirs). But the threat of disciplinary sanctions is entirely inappropriate and inconsistent with free expression values.

One other thing worth remarking on:
[President James Wagner] addressed several questions throughout the time in the board room, including “Why did the swastikas [on the AEPi house in Fall 2014] receive a quick response while these chalkings did not?” to which Wagner replied that they “represented an outside threat” and clarified that it was a second set of swastikas that received a swift response from the University. 
The comparison is obviously inapposite, as the swastika case was an act of vandalism, while the chalking was not (and, as Wagner indicates, the university response was not exactly "quick"). But more importantly, it brings to mind a theme I've remarked upon on several occasions -- the idea that Jews are anti-discrimination winners, and the way we get roped into controversies that we on face have nothing to do with. Hence why a protest against (non-Jews) allegedly insulting Muhammad can manifest as a cartoon mocking the Holocaust -- the grievance morphs from "I'm not getting the protection I deserve" to "Jews seem to be getting protections they don't deserve," even though one can fairly wonder why one's mind jumped to the Jews at all. And likewise here: frustration at perceived inadequate university response to Trump's racism (expressed through ordinary political activity) quickly converts into frustration that the administration "quickly" (sort of) responded to anti-Semitic vandalism as a Jewish fraternity. It is fair to be alarmed at the role the figure of the Jew is playing in these sorts of narratives, and to be skeptical of their capacity to encompass Jews as a protected group when they crest.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Could AIPAC Be Trump's Toughest Room Yet?

In a conference meant to convey unity in the pro-Israel community, nothing has been more divisive for AIPAC than Monday's scheduled speech by Republican front-runner Donald Trump. I don't necessarily fault AIPAC for extending the invitation (as it does to all significant presidential candidates), but I also agree that his speech cannot be an occasion for business as usual. And many in the Jewish community -- ranging from Jane Eisner to Liel Leibovitz to Todd Gitlin -- have been urging a forceful response by conference attendees to emphasize that Trump values are not Jewish values.

Which raises the question: Will AIPAC be the toughest venue Trump faces?

In a sense, it won't be simply because many AIPAC attendees will be walking out before or during his speech -- they won't be in the room at all.

But that reaction -- the breadth of it and the strength of it -- demonstrates the more general point. AIPAC is far less friendly terrain for someone like Trump than many imagine. Contrary to the tired stereotypes, AIPAC is not a particularly conservative organization -- liberal or liberal-leaning organizations are well represented among its membership and advisory council. What is fair to say is that these groups have often been too fragmented or passive to really make a mark; and more conservative voices have accordingly set the agenda with relative impunity. But Trump has, finally, unified progressive elements within the AIPAC tent and motivated them to plant their feet a bit. Among the groups that have directly or indirectly condemned Trump are the Reform Movement, the Reconstructionist Movement, the AJC, and the ADL. Together, those encompass a huge swath of the organized Jewish community. And if Donald Trump is what prompts these groups to finally unify and start insisting on a louder voice in determining what "pro-Israel" means, I'm all for it.

Much of these groups' antipathy stems from Trump's abhorrent rhetoric directed at Muslims, Latinos, and pretty much any other outgroup that he can blame for America's ills. But let's be clear --  Trump is not afraid to engage in Jew-baiting either (remember "You're Not Going To Support Me Because I Don't Want Your Money"?). In general, Donald Trump has been the best thing to happen to American anti-Semites in recent memory -- it's no accident they've rallied to his side.

Trump is used to friendly audiences who are there to go gaga over him, with a few protesters mixed in that he can bully out of the room. Whatever criticisms one has of AIPAC -- and there are plenty of grounds for criticism -- its conference is not on his home turf. And I both expect and hope that it is the Jewish community -- and the pro-Israel community no less -- that is the first to get the opportunity to show just how unwelcome he is up close and in person.