December 12, 2016 § 6 Comments
Way back in 2009, failed Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin took her feud with the media to a new level. She began referring to it as the ‘lamestream’ media, bitter as she was about the justifiable questioning of her qualifications for the position, amongst other things. Her nomenclature, though, became a crystalizing moment for many on the far right, as they now had a catchy and witty term to describe the media. The far right had long had a problem with the mainstream media, which tended to dismiss them as nut jobs or worse. Indeed, far right sites like Breitbart, which had already been in existence for two years by the time Palin came up with her term, had been critiquing the allegedly liberal media. Breitbart, though, was just the most successful of these far right sites, most of which, including Breitbart, descended into conspiracy theories, hate speech, and vague threats against minorities.
And then Donald Trump happened. Trump, a life-long moderate Democrat from New York City, saw an opportunity. Clearly he was a student of Joseph Goebbels’ theories of propaganda. Goebbels, who was the Nazis’ spin doctor, noted, most famously, that a lie repeated a thousand times becomes a truth. But Goebbels also opined that propaganda works best when the manipulated group believes it is acting of its own free will. This is not to say that Trump is a Nazi, of course (though some of his followers clearly are). It is to note that Trump is a master manipulator.
All throughout the primaries and into the main presidential election, he carried out a series of feuds with the media. He refers to the New York Times as ‘failing’ in nearly every tweet about it. He even carried out a feud with Megyn Kelly of FoxNews. In that, he seemed to break with every expectation of a conservative candidate, as Fox has long been the conspiracy-driven, nearly fake-news media darling of the right (lest you think I’m biased, liberals have MSNBC, and it’s not like the far left doesn’t have its own issues with the media). It probably helped that Fox was in a crisis of its own at the time, with head honcho Roger Ailes being forced to step down due to a sexual harassment scandal.
Trump, then, coalesced an already-extant movement that developed in the wake of the rise of Barack Obama, the first African American president, and his candidacy for the presidency. Trump’s candidacy, though, took this until-now fringe movement into the mainstream, most notably through Breitbart and the appointment of its CEO, Steve Bannon, as his campaign CEO before appointing him as the Chief Strategist of the nascent Trump administration.
Trump’s media campaign and discourse has been nothing short of brilliant, even if it is nefarious and repulsive.
August 25, 2015 § Leave a comment
My department is co-sponsoring an exhibit on the murder of Emmett Till at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library. The exhibit itself opened Monday, 17 August, and will end on 17 September. Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the events that led to Till’s murder at the hands of Roy Bryant and JM Milam. In conjunction with the exhibit, our department is sponsoring a speaker’s series. The first was last night, by my colleague, Ansley Quiros. She talked about Till’s murder in the context of the long struggle for African-American freedom.
By coincidence, I was talking about slavery in my US history class today. In particular, we were looking at the Fugitive Slave Laws of 1793 and 1850 and the fallout of Prigg v. Pennsylvania, an 1842 Supreme Court decision. The case arose several years earlier when Prigg, a bounty hunter from Maryland, crossed into Pennsylvania to capture an alleged slave, Margaret Morgan. Morgan had lived as a free-woman in Maryland (a slave state) before moving with her family (which included her husband, John, and at least three children) to Pennsylvania (a free state). Prigg attempted to remove Margaret and her children to Maryland and into slavery. When a Pennsylvania magistrate refused to grant Prigg a Certificate of Removal, due to her free status (John Morgan had been born free in Pennsylvania, as had at least one of their children), he and his partners kidnapped Margaret and her children. They were indicted for kidnapping. After a stand-off between Maryland and Pennsylvania, Prigg and his men were convicted. Their conviction was upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in DC, however, overturned their conviction. (All of this was too late for Margaret Morgan and her children, who were sold into slavery and never heard from again).
The Supreme Court found that the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, which had been passed by Congress, was problematic in that it guaranteed due process for the alleged fugitive slave, which was part of the problem for Prigg in the Morgan case. Due process had worked in favour of Margaret Morgan and her kids. The Supreme Court, though, found that any state laws that impeded the right of slave owners were de facto unconstitutional. And more than that, alleged escape slaves were not entitled to due process by dint of the fact that they were not citizens of the United States.
In practical terms, Prigg nationalized the racial basis of slavery. Any African American in a slave state could be presumed to be a slave. With Prigg, however, this was nationalized: any African American in a non-slave state could now be presumed to be a fugitive slave . And this is exactly what happened to Solomon Northrup, the man whose story was dramatized in the 2013 film, Twelve Years a Slave. In short, the 175,000 free African Americans in the non-slave states were in danger of being kidnapped and sold into slavery due to Prigg.
Emmett Till, a fourteen-year old boy was killed a century after Solomon’s ordeal, for the crime of making a comment of an undetermined nature to Carolyn Bryant. She testified at Till’s murderers’ trial (one of the accused was her husband) that Till had made lewd comments to her. It is pretty obvious she perjured herself. Till’s case sparked a national furore and helped to spark the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.
But in the past several years, mass indignation has emerged again, as a series of unarmed black men have been murdered at the hands of the police and private citizens, with next to no impunity, as was the case with Till’s murderers (Bryant and Milam confessed to the crime in Look magazine in 1956, as they could not be re-tried for the crime they were acquitted for the year earlier). When Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman, a trigger-happy neighbourhood watch captain (who has since been in trouble with the law for a series of violent incidents), indignation erupted, made all the more intense when Zimmerman was acquitted.
President Obama was particularly struck by Martin’s murder, noting that if he had had a son, he might have looked like Martin. But this was just the first case of unarmed black men being murdered, the catalyst, so to speak of the #blacklivesmatter campaign.
After Ansley’s talk tonight, there were very few actual questions. Instead, some older African Americans in the audience talked about their experiences growing up in the Jim Crow South. It was powerful. One man talked of growing up in DC, but whenever he went to Virginia, his mother reminded him to behave himself and to defer to white people. One woman talked movingly of her own experiences, including her mother being poisoned in a Mississippi restaurant after she attempted to take advantage of her civil rights in the 1960s. This woman expressed fear for her grandchildren, about their security.
I couldn’t help thinking about what I was talking about in class today. One of my students was incredulous about the Prigg decision and the consequences of it: she noted that African Americans were forced to live in fear. There wasn’t much I could say in response to that. She also drew on our previous class, noting that slavery was a system based on mutual terror. The slaves were terrorized into compliance and the slave owners were terrified of a slave revolt. Another student then noted that African Americans have never had much cause to feel much freedom. Listening to these elders speak tonight after Ansley’s talk brought it home very powerfully for me.
June 23, 2015 § 7 Comments
Sometime last week, someone in my Facebook world posted a Morrissey video. I haven’t thought about Morrissey in a long time, other than when he says something profoundly stupid and embarrassing in public. And then I think, “Oh yeah, there was a time when Mozzer was my favourite pop star.” And then I feel slightly embarrassed. But. This video was “The Last of the International Playboys,” from Mozza’s 1990 classic, Bona Drag.
In our lifetime,
Those who kill,
The newsworld hands them stardom
have really caught my attention in the past few days.
Last week, something horrible and heinous happened in Charleston, South Carolina. If you live under a rock and don’t know what happened, follow this link. This act of domestic terrorism appalled, sickened, and depressed me. This was just one more example of why #blacklivesmatter. I felt hopeless, powerless, and lost. It doesn’t matter if you’re American or not (I’m not, I just live here). And the tut-tutting from Canadians, Brits, and others about American violence is equally pointless. On the other hand, President Obama is right: this doesn’t happen in other advanced nations.
And now, I am completely inundated with images of the racist jackass who committed this terrorist act in Charleston. I can’t escape it. I can’t escape him (I will not name him, I refuse. Why? Read this about the Montréal Massacre of 1989). My Facebook feed, Twitter, the basic internet: All I see is this terrorist’s stupid, smirking face. I don’t want to. I don’t want to see him, I don’t want to hear from him, I don’t care. Others can care, they can worry why he committed an act of terror in African Methodist Episcopal Church (a Church! A place of sanctuary!) in Charleston.
This terrorist is being given a form of stardom for his heinous acts. What should matter is the victims. They are:
- Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, 54. She was a manager of the Charleston County Public Library system; her brother is Malcolm Graham, a member of the South Carolina Senate.
- Susie Jackson, 87. A member of the church choir and a veteran of the civil rights movement.
- Ethel Lee Lance, 70. She was the church sexton.
- Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 59. A school administrator and admissions co-ordinate at Southern Wesleyan University.
- Clementa Pinckney, 41. She was the church pastor and a South Carolina State Senator.
- Tywanza Sanders, 26. He was Susie Jackson’s nephew.
- Daniel Simmons, 74. He was a pastor at the Greater Zion African Methodist Episcopalian Church in Awendaw, South Carolina.
- Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45. Also a pastor, she was a speech therapist and track and field coach at Goose Creek High School.
- Myra Thompston, 59. She was a Bible studies teacher.
That’s nine people. Think of the constellations of their relationships, partners, aunts, uncles, parents, kids, nieces, nephews, co-workers, students, friends, etc. Think of all the people who are grieving. That is more important than the terrorist who killed them.
February 26, 2015 § 15 Comments
Jeff Jacoby is the resident conservative columnist at the liberal Boston Globe, the main Boston newspaper. Jacoby is a very intelligent man and while I rarely agree with anything he writes, his column is usually well worth the read (as long as it’s not about climate change; he is delusional on this matter). But yesterday, Jacoby set a new low.
In yesterday’s column, Jacoby ponders President Obama’s religion. He takes to task reporters who asked Wisconsin Governor (and Republican presidential hopeful) Scott Walker about whether or not he thought the president was a Christian. I agree with Jacoby thus far. I don’t see the relevance of any of this to either Obama as President or to Walker as a prospective candidate.
Walker, of course, couldn’t resist. He said he didn’t know if the president is a Christian. This is a disingenuous response if there ever was one. Jacoby then notes that Americans as a whole seem confused on the matter:
[Walker] has plenty of company.
During the president’s reelection campaign in the summer of 2012, the Pew Research Center polled a national sample of registered voters: “Do you happen to know what Barack Obama’s religion is?” More than one-third of the respondents — 36 percent — said they didn’t know. Only 45 percent identified the president as a Christian; 16 percent said he’s a Muslim.
That was the seventh time in a little over four years that Pew had measured public awareness of Obama’s religion. The first poll, back in March 2008, had yielded almost identical results — 36 percent couldn’t name then-Senator Obama’s religion, while 47 percent said he was Christian and 12 percent answered Muslim.
Indeed. But this is where Jacoby goes right off the rails:
Over the years, the president has made numerous comments on religious topics, and his messages haven’t always been consistent. It isn’t hard to understand why a sizable minority of Americans, to the extent that they think about Obama’s religion at all, might be genuinely puzzled to put a label to it. Honest confusion isn’t scandalous.
This is NOT honest confusion. Obama’s religious beliefs aren’t that complicated, he’s a Christian who doesn’t go to mass often, like most Christians. What this is is racism. This is the same racism that drove the Birther movement. I severely doubt if John McCain had won in 2008, or if Mitt Romney had won in 2012, their religious beliefs would ever be a topic of discussion. I seriously doubt that 36% of Americans would have no clue about the president’s religious beliefs. As for the discussion that Obama is a Muslim:
public opinion polls show that despite liberal denial, at least one in five or 17% of Americans recognize that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim.
This is the first sentence of an entry on Conservapedia on “Obama’s Religion” (the bold is in the original). Note the “is” after the word “Obama” and before the word “a.” Jacoby is dead wrong to go down this road, because this is exactly where he is going.
Agnotology is the study of deliberate ignorance. Deliberate ignorance is easy to spot in our culture. Examples include the insistence that Hitler was a communist because he led the National Socialist party. Or that because Lincoln was a Republican and he freed the slaves Republicans cannot be racist. These are both fallacies. Clearly. Yet, there are people in the United States who will argue to their death that these are truths. These kinds of beliefs are easily perpetuated in the so-called Information Age. Scrolling through my Twitter feed on any given day, I can find any number of un-truths passed off as truths (especially by “facts” accounts, that claim to only tweet fact). These un-truths get re-tweeted for all sorts of reasons, of course, but an un-truth repeated often enough eventually becomes believed as truth. Thus, the editors of Conservapedia can, with a straight face, claim that “17% of Americans recognize that Barrack Hussein Obama is a Muslim.” And how did 17% of Americans come to believe that Obama is a Muslim? Because this lie has been repeated often enough that some people have come to believe it.
Jacoby disingenuously opens this can of worms in yesterday’s column. Jacoby is smart enough to know that the “confusion” over Obama’s religious beliefs is irrelevant. He is also smart enough to know that this confusion is a fine study in agnotology. But, instead he appeals to the lowest common denominator and uses his column to perpetuate ignorance.
August 25, 2010 § 2 Comments
One thing that is driving me nuts these days is the extreme right wing in the United States. In particular, the morons who consistently assert that 1) Barack Obama was not born in the United States and 2) Barack Obama is a Muslim. This on-going idiocy exists for one simple reason: racism. The only reason why people question whether Obama was born in the United States is because he’s got an ‘unusual’ name, that includes the name “Hussein” as his middle name. If his name was Joe Smith, this debate wouldn’t exist. And this leads to why these eejits are accusing him of being a Muslim: he’s black and his middle name is Hussein. The fact that these morons continue this assault on Obama leaves me feeling, one the one hand, depressed at the state of humanity today. On the other hand, though, it occasionally occurs to me that if this is the best these feeble-minded folk can come up with, maybe Obama’s not doing such a bad job after all?
Seriously, what I do wonder is why no one on Obama’s side (i.e.: the Democrats) actually fights back and calls these idiots what they are: racist, moronic idiots.
Because they need to, they should. Because the idiocy of these racists leads to events like this, where a cabbie in NYC was asked if he was a Muslim before he was stabbed. There are consequences of the hatemongering begun by these morons, by playing on and exploiting the fears of people. As far as I’m concerned, the racists who attack Obama in this way are responsible for idiots like this guy who stabbed the cabbie in New York because he is a Muslim.