Saturday, July 29, 2023

White Republicans To Black Republicans: Stop Whining About Slavery

The fallout from Ron DeSantis' new "slavery: it wasn't all bad" educational standards continues, as most elected Black Republicans have now spoken out to condemn the framework and urge it be revised. Faced with this criticism from Black members of his own parties -- people who time and again have shown their commitment to conservative causes but nonetheless believe that here the state of Florida made a grave historical error -- DeSantis has responded exactly how you'd expect a White Republican to respond to challenges from Black people (whether in his party or not):

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appointed the board members responsible for the standards, did not take the measured disapproval well. On the contrary, the governor and his political operation seemed to go after [Florida GOP Rep. Byron] Donalds with a vengeance, accusing the GOP lawmaker of aligning himself with Vice President Kamala Harris and referring to Donalds — a member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus — as “a supposedly conservative congressman.”


Speaking with reporters in Albia, Iowa, on Friday, DeSantis responded to [South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim] Scott’s comments by criticizing “D.C. Republicans” for promoting a similar argument as Harris. “I think part of the reason our country has struggled is because D.C. Republicans all too often accept false narratives, accept lies that are perpetrated by the left and accept the lie that Kamala Harris has been perpetrating, even when that has been debunked,” he said. 

DeSantis was joined by, among others, Ben Shapiro ("Tim Scott ... promptly sided with Kamala Harris and he sided with the Congressional Black Caucus.... that's Scott being disingenuous") and Matt Walsh ("You are dead to us.... [B]ecome a Democrat. That's what you are."). The general response to Black Republicans expressing offense over a GOP politician soft-pedaling the wrong of slavery was not to think "huh, maybe there is something here," but to fulminate about how they're traitors to the cause.

I talked about these dynamics in "The Distinctive Political Status of Dissident Minorities". Dissident minorities such as Black Republicans are often "tokenized" -- held out as a means of discharging an obligation to consider the views of diverse communities but not valued beyond that transactional function. Hence, where Black Republicans cease, even temporarily, to offer this "value" to the broader GOP community (because in a specific case they do not agree with the particular goals or interests of the conservative movement), it won't be taken as a valid critique from insiders but rather proof that the Black Republicans are actually a fifth column reverting to their leftist roots.

Indeed, in that paper I actually specifically referenced a different instance where Senator Scott tried to diverge from his GOP colleagues on the matter of racism as a core illustration of the phenomenon. It is striking how everything I wrote there applies here as well with barely any need for revision:

[E]ven though tokenization might in some circumstances result in dissident minorities attaining political successes, the relationship forged through tokenization likely is not sufficiently robust so as to persevere in cases where the dissident minority does publicly diverge from the opinions of their majority allies. To the contrary, when they are tokenized, dissident minorities may find that their opinions are only valued transactionally—useful to the extent that they advance the goals of their non-group-member patrons and no further. Where the perspective isn’t what’s valued, dissident minorities will typically find that their “enhanced standing” falls apart the moment they express a view that diverges from their nominal allies.

Dissident minorities might contest this point. Specifically, they might suggest that their enhanced standing is not purely instrumental but rather reflects genuine respect by majority-group members regarding their substantive contributions—respect that will carry over to cases where they do find themselves forced to challenge the dominant group. By showing themselves to be “independent” or “exceptional,” the argument goes, dissident minorities earn credit with the majority that they then can redeem in cases where they do find it necessary to contest majority viewpoints....

Unfortunately, in a great many cases the cynical prediction wins out, and the dissident minority finds that the chips they thought they had amassed are unable to be cashed.... 


The “enhanced standing” Scott normally enjoyed by aligning with the Republican Party was a product of him being (per Arendt) an “exceptional” member of his minority group. But once he adopted (even temporarily) a critical posture towards his conservative allies, he ceased to be exceptional, and reverted to being just a regular member of the Black community. If the “earned credit” hypothesis held true, that shouldn’t have mattered—he should have been able to draw upon the well of credibility to attain a favorable reception upon raising a challenge. Yet this is not what happened: once Scott stopped being exceptional, he was treated the same as any other minority group member, and the way the GOP treats minority group members who challenge them is to dismiss them. While Scott’s patrons in the Republican Party had been happy to hold him up as proof that the GOP had Black supporters, they did not actually have any particular commitment to engaging with the Black community—even nominal “allies” in those communities—in any circumstance where it might generate challenge or change.

If Tim Scott keeps on wanting to hand me examples for my published work, who am I to argue? But this goes to show just how steady this practice of tokenization is. I'm not going to say that Tim Scott should "become a Democrat" (anymore than I think every person should!) -- his politics are his business. But surely he must realize that this will be the reality of his treatment as a Republican in perpetuity -- if he challenges the GOP on race, he will be slapped down and hard.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Fear of a Good Economy

The following is one of the posts where I don't actually know anything about the subject matter, but I'm going to exercise my God-given right as an internet-denizen to opine anyway.

The Fed raised interest rates again yesterday, putting rates at their highest level in decades. It also left the door open for yet another hike later in the year. The rationale is that there is a continued need to combat inflation. But inflation rates are down significantly. The Fed's stated inflation target of 2% would be quite low by historical standards -- not absurdly low, but well below average. And on the whole, it feels like we were already at mission accomplished.

So why did we need another rate hike? I can't help but feel as if the Fed's rate decisions aren't directly about inflation, but about fear that the economy is running better than expected. Now to be clear, I don't mean this in some sort of conspiratorial "the rabble are getting too much of the pie and as guardians of capital we can't have that" sort of way. Rather, it seems as if the Fed simply won't believe it's truly gotten inflation under control unless we see significant slackening of economic growth. Inflation has been lowered, but the Fed doesn't trust the resilience of that accomplishment unless and until there's an economic downturn to "confirm" the effect.

It doesn't strike me as a good thing that "the economy is still purring along" gets translated as "whelp, better crank those rates higher." Even if the Fed eventually starts believing its own lyin' eyes on inflation, the lagging effects of potentially gratuitous rate hates could end up doing significant unnecessary damage a year from now. That would be very much not good, for a host of reasons (not the least of which being "badly timed economic slide + likely fascist on the ballot" has not augured well for democracy, historically speaking).

But again -- I actually don't know anything about this, so this is me talking completely out of my own behind. Buyer beware.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Holocaust Was Not Summer School; Slavery Was Not Trade School.

Someone -- I can't find who -- once said, in relation to claims that Jews had "failed to the learn the lessons of Auschwitz", that "the Holocaust was not summer school."

The retort there was in relation to claims that Jews had not imbibed the correct moral sentiments following our genocide. But I was reminded of it upon hearing the recent defenses of Florida's "anti-woke" efforts to whitewash slavery by lauding the "skills" slaves allegedly acquired -- apologias which, unsurprisingly, have spilled over to Holocaust minimization as well.

Fox News star Greg Gutfeld, whose latest book debuted on Tuesday, is currently under fire over his recent observation that Jewish people “had to be useful” in order to survive concentration camps, prompting the Auschwitz Museum to rebuke his comments as an “oversimplification” of the Holocaust. 


During Monday’s broadcast of Fox News’ The Five, which both Watters and Gutfeld co-host, the panel raged against Vice President Kamala Harris’ condemnation of the Florida curriculum as racist. Watters, for instance, blasted the veep for not wanting “African-Americans and white Americans to know that Black Americans did learn skills despite being enslaved.”
The heated discussion, however, took an uncomfortable turn when lone liberal panelist Jessica Tarlov drew a parallel between slavery and the Holocaust, wondering if Florida schools would also teach that Jewish people received some benefits from the Nazis systematically murdering them in death camps.
Gutfeld, referencing a famous book by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, took Tarlov’s challenge and ran with it.
“Did you ever read Man’s Search for Meaning?” Gutfeld wondered. “Vik Frankl talks about how you had to survive in a concentration camp by having skills. You had to be useful. Utility! Utility kept you alive!”

The slide from "anti-CRT" to Holocaust trivialization is nothing new, of course. And here in particular we have one of those moments where an ounce of truth helps generate a ton of falsehood. It is true that, comparatively speaking, a Jewish inmate who had skills that happened to be useful for the Nazi war effort (or otherwise coveted by the local commander) was more likely to survive. Likewise, it's true that having enough wealth to pay for bribes actuarially increased one's life span compared to the destitute. It is not true that "utility kept you alive" (a phrase that is eerily adaptive of arbeit macht frei). Plenty of people with "utility" were murdered by the Nazis. It is not true that having money insulated Jews from the Nazis. Plenty of Jews with means were nonetheless rounded up and slaughtered. The relationship of "utility" to the Jewish experience in the camps was not one of moxie and grit overcoming incredible odds; anymore than the relationship of wealth was one of frugality and financial stewardship steering one to safety. There is no favor done to the oppressed that they can sometimes leverage opportunities to resist.

But again, this is the inevitable byproduct of the anti-woke panic. The obsession with never speaking forthrightly and honestly about oppression and discrimination -- always viewing it as a "both sides" initiative -- means one has to find ways to render Nazism, if not benign, then at least filed down. Others have written about the gentile obsession with telling feel-good Holocaust stories where plucky protagonists show their wiles and skills to secure a happy ending. This is a myth that non-Jews need to tell themselves to evade reckoning with the Holocaust in its full horror; the Holocaust did not come with happy endings.

And the same is true of slavery. Slavery was not a somewhat-unsavorily-run trade school. It was a form of White supremacist oppression. Trying to find the "happy endings" is an attempt to avoid reckoning with its horrors. And the thing is, if we actually took seriously the "nobody should be made to feel guilty based on the color of their skin" pablum, there'd be no quarrel with teaching the history in its full terrible glory. Learning of the horrors of slavery doesn't and shouldn't make White people feel guilty. The guilt comes from learning those facts and then wanting to carry on as before -- no change in affect, no change in politics, as if it never happened. The dissonance between the historical knowledge and the desire to pretend as if the history didn't happen or didn't matter -- that's what creates the guilt. But that's guilt based on one's own choices, and history class needn't and shouldn't have an interest in absolving you of that.