Racism caused a coup. So where do we go from here?

  • America's expanding political divide can be described with much plainer language, if we all start being honest about it.
  • Racism is surging as a primary tool of both parties, each applying it differently. Racism was the tool tapped to create the lie about "fraud" and a "stolen" 2020 election.
  • As it happens, lost faith in our own elections is the absolute dream scenario for several of our adversaries, especially Russia. It's troubling that so much of our government — and our populace — appears completely ignorant of this fact.
  • But alas, despite dozens of posts like this on your feed and a sea of white guilt, nothing will happen. That is, America seems unlikely to deal with her race problem in earnest until she is forced to do so to stay competitive with other large economies like China. That's a shame and an immeasurable lost opportunity for all of us.

In John Updike's classic Rabbit Redux, there's a scene where the 1960s version of a Trump supporter participates in something all white people should experience, but most never will: a candid conversation with a black person.

Here's the white man's view on things:

Trouble with your line, it's pure self-pity. The real question is, Where do we go from here? We all got there on a bad boat. You talk as the whole purpose of this country since the start has been to frustrate Negroes... This is the freest country around, make it if you can, if you can't, die gracefully. But Jesus, stop begging for a free ride.

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom in Rabbit Redux

In watching videos of January 6, I was taken by the colorful disparate group of folks around the Capitol, from cheery Grandmas and jet-hopping Realtors, to sort of "ordinary" white dudes like me, to folks like the guy with his feet on Pelosi's desk, Richard Barnett, who clearly missed his calling as the creepy man with a cabin in the Bayou who will murder you.

Or did he miss it? Richard Barnett, the patriot future generations will remember.

One would have to imagine that if he or she were to visit the Capitol steps on January 6, Rabbit's sentiment and all its freest-country-around glory would flow from Grandma's or Richard Barnett's lips as effortlessly as "Stop the Steal."

And I suspect if you surveyed Republicans around the US who couldn't make it to D.C., and asked them what it meant to be a conservative, that many may struggle to identify which first principles they can safely say out loud without sounding just like 'ol Rabbit.

Many would surely say it's anxiety about taxes that makes them conservative, but they'll be using this age-old "woe is me" as a cover for their real feelings: that the reason they feel they are Taxed Enough Already is because the liberals want to take their money so that black people don't have to work. If we're really being honest with each other and with ourselves, we know that it's these feelings — Rabbit's feelings — that are the thread tying this diverse odd group of "Republicans" together.

Likewise, when we think about our politics and our government, the so-called conservatives seem to be a real mixed bag. You've got a sort of ragtag bunch of small-government liberatarians, mixed with big-government defense patrons, mixed with bible belt folks, etc. So what is it that ties all these people together other than their distain for liberals?

George Lipsitz picks up the thread here in his essay The Possessive Investment in Whiteness:

The neoracism of contemporary conservatism functions as an important unifying symbol for a disparate and sometimes antagonistic coalition that includes Hamiltonian big-government conservatives as well as anti-state libertarians and that incorporates born-again Christians into an alliance with "objectivist" free market thinkers who celebrate selfishness and view the love of gain as the engine of human progress. This coalition often has trouble agreeing on the things it favors, but it has no difficulty agreeing about the alleged bad behavior and inferior morality of minority individuals and communities.

Read It
Moral Authority

And so it seems there is evidence to support one hypothesis strongly: as America's hue changes, racial anxiety — and for some, animus — appears to be the almost universal motivation for identifying with the Republican party in 2021. Putting things plainly: having trouble reconciling racism in America is the common denominator among these people.

But what about the liberals? Are those white people and their policies automatically okie dokie? If I'm a liberal does that mean I get to save all the black people?

Like this one.

I, for one, know plenty of black people who will tell you that 2021 means we've all got to play the hand we're dealt now; that anyone can become rich in this country; and that many who are poor are simply Passing Over Opportunities Regularly.

You see, I come from a place where black folks are doing just fine, thank you very much. My frame of reference is not the beaten black boy, but the black teacher, administrator, and coach. Realer role models than you will find in most places.

So when Biden got a little too comfortable on a black radio show during the campaign and said "if you're voting for Trump, then you ain't black," he revealed a key problem with the liberal mindset.

What Biden failed to realize in that moment is that if you are a black person of voting age, you know that both candidates are racists, just different breeds: one who responds to his guilt in a patronizing fashion, and one who responds to his guilt in an angry fashion.

If you are black, you have likely faced this kind of choice between one type of racist and another before. As John McWhorter pointed out in his The Black People Who Voted for Trump Know He’s Racist, it shouldn't surprise anyone when racism is just one of many considerations on both sides for a black voter.

Black people have opinions, too. Who knew?
Spike Lee's Get On The Bus

After all, 1960s or not, in Redux my white brethren Rabbit is pointing out the fundamental issue with the modern Democratic platform to this day: victimhood is too good for business not to use as a weapon.

So despite the lefty outrage, we all know inherently that what Rabbit is saying is partially true. If we go around thinking we are victims, we risk setting ourselves up for exploitation. In the case of black victimhood, we all recognize that it has been a useful tool of the liberal elite to make sure they get themselves enough votes.

James Baldwin even went as far as to describe white liberals as "our affliction," adding:

[it's] a certain missionary complex on the part of white liberals, whose assumption basically seems to be that I am much worse off than they are and they must show me into the light.

As Cornell West posits in Democracy Matters, liberals are "burdened with a simplistic faith in the ability of the government to solve our racial problems."

And as we see with the populist wing of the left raising its voice in response to Trump and his own red populists, it seems a lot of liberals think the government can solve all the problems.

West adds that the conservatives, for their part, tend to blame our country's problems on blacks and ignore "public responsibility for the immoral circumstances that haunt our fellow citizens." Both liberals and conservatives, he says, treat blacks as "a problem people."

Read It

Well golly. Liberals, it turns out, are as patronizing as the so-called conservatives and their "hard work and personality responsibility" crap. To put things plainly, it seems all the white people have the problem of thinking they know what's best for everybody.

It's called Paternalism, and it's not cute.

And when we tug at this paternalistic thread between both parties — the Doting Dad on the left vs the Rough Dad on the right — we reveal the essence of white identity in American culture. White people actually think everyone is trying to someday be... more like them.

Surely you've heard a dressed-up version of it all, but the essence is usually pretty clear.

What we are seeing here on both sides is that for today's white man, it's his inherent sense of his own value relative to black and brown people which becomes his first stumbling block toward true progress in politics and in everyday life. As James Baldwin explains:

White Americans find it as difficult as white people elsewhere do to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that black people need, or want. And this assumption — which, for example, makes the solution to the Negro problem depend on the speed with which Negroes accept and adopt white standards — is revealed in all sorts of striking ways, from Bobby Kennedy's assurance that a Negro can become President in forty years to the unfortunate tone of warm congratulation with which so many liberals address their Negro equals. It is the Negro, of course, who is presumed to have become equal — an achievement that not only proves the comforting fact that perseverance has no color but also overwhelming corroborates the white man's sense of his own value.

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Heavy stuff. A blind spot for us white people, for sure. But as awkward around black people as we may be, as a white person you also know that there's a reason white Americans have this sense of value, right? There's a reason why we stake claim to our Moral Authority.

After all, my great-grandparents came here with nothing. Absolutely nothing. And look at all we have today.

And although it is unlikely my great-grandparents checked the status of immigration reform in the Congress to make sure they were "legal" before they got on the boat, they worked so very hard for what we have. I'm talking coal mines, sweatshops, probably worse stuff I don't know about. They suffered violent crime and even murder at the hands of thieves who were black. And my Father is the hardest working man I have ever known. I come from solid people and I'm not ashamed or guilty about any of that.

This sense of pride that I feel is quite common among white people, and it's what they call "The Immigrant Argument." It is a major part of white identity.

And it's because it is such a big and largely truthful part of the white identity that it is regularly exploited by the elite. It's used to trick the white conscience and pursue the self-serving policies of the supremely wealthy; the method, as we will see, is to invert the victim narrative and paint the white man as the victim, so he too can be corralled and exploited for votes.

In effect, what this means is that because the elite have always made sure that our country's racial history is treated as "Black History" instead of as "American History" in our schools and media, white Americans now routinely fail to realize how closely their fate and the fate of their black brothers and sisters are intertwined: how sometimes our "come up" is their misfortune; how sometimes their misfortune can quickly become our misfortune, too.

For the case of divergent fortunes — success at someone else's expense — consider for example that The Immigrant Argument we've been taught rests on the assumption that it was superior morals alone which catapulted these downtrodden European boat people and their kin into American exceptionalism. That "Nobody ever gave me nothin."

Dr. King pointed out this false narrative about who exactly has been living off the teet of government when he alluded to the American worldview called Manifest Destiny, and its associated government programs like the Homestead Act, which by virtue of inheritance would ultimately give millions of white Americans the leg up they needed to establish themselves and get ahead.

From his last Sunday Sermon at the National Cathedral on March 31, 1968, he delivered his Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution:

...the irony of it all is that at the same time the nation failed to do anything for the black man, though an act of Congress was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest. Which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor.

But not only did it give the land, it built land-grant colleges to teach them how to farm. Not only that, it provided county agents to further their expertise in farming; not only that, as the years unfolded it provided low interest rates so that they could mechanize their farms. And to this day thousands of these very persons are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies every year not to farm. And these are so often the very people who tell Negroes that they must lift themselves by their own bootstraps. It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.

We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice.

Homestead Act? Is that that Obamacare?
Photo by @lauraseaman

The root of the problem, the problem in our hearts, starts to come into focus here. We were made to believe that the power dynamic in America, and the state of our cities, is exclusively the result of some folks having the right morals and other folks not so much — that morals alone are the way everyone got their American Dream, and they're all you'll need to get yours. Just the individual and his bootstraps.

While it is first of all true, and also certainly noble to teach our children that everything they need is already within them, Buyer Beware: there is a subtle trick being played on our hearts by this Moral Authority. He's trying to tell us in advance how outcomes become outcomes, but based on his own version of events. "Just follow what I say are my morals and you'll be fine," they said.

In our heart of hearts, since everyone who has anything must have gotten it with their good morals, logically it would follow that if I see someone with less, then they must have inferior morals. That is, if you've had fewer apparent "successes" with things in our beautiful freest-country-around, then clearly you haven't "figured it out" like some black people have; and if you don't like it here, leave. This is where and how white people derive and metastasize their Moral Authority.

White people think just because we have a few affirmative laws, or that some blacks "ascended," that our Moral Society is already complete. White people are taught that the American Dream is as widely available as ever — so anyone who is looking for "Change," or who still thinks America needs improving, either hasn't figured it out, or is just looking for handouts.

What they don't teach you in school is the real story of what happened as our fortunes diverged in this country, what really caused our cities to crack. What they don't teach you is that it was linked directly to the white man's fate in his cozy, racially-exclusive suburb.

When we learn about Dr. King, for example, we are often presented with his successes in the South. We are comforted by the fact that he was able to break old bonds and lift his people up "to our level." Now onward and upward, we suppose. You've got your equality in the name of the law. Go get 'em, Tiger.

What no one tells us about is how Dr. King's work was cut so dramatically short. How that single murder helped some white people in the short term, but ending up causing huge problems for all white people in the long term, via the failure of our cities.

Dr. King, you see, understood that the overt racism of the South was just the beginning. The next issue was the more nuanced racism of the North. Blacks, like Europeans, had migrated in large numbers to our northern cities for jobs in industry. They all worked very hard, often hand-in-hand, during our war efforts and in the government spending boom that followed.

But then another one of those big government programs for white people took shape. The government stepped in with a massive infrastructure investment in the early 50s to build highways literally everywhere. To where did the highways lead? The better question is from where. "White flight" from our cities, as it has come to be known, was instigated and encouraged by our government's policy of investing in white success.

The suburbs helped turn Euro-Americans into "whites" who could live near each other and intermarry with relatively little difficulty. But this "white unity" rested on residential segregation, on shared access to housing and life chances largely unavailable to communities of color...

The Federal Housing Act of 1934 brought home ownership within reach of millions of citizens by placing the credit of the federal government behind private lending and home buyers, but overtly racist categories in the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) "confidential" city surveys and appraiser's manuals channeled almost all of the money toward whites... By channeling loans away from older inner-city neighborhoods and toward white home buyers moving into segregated suburbs, the FHA and private lenders after WWII aided and abetted segregation in US residential neighborhoods.

Mostly white St. Louis County secured five times as many FHA mortgages as the more racially mixed city of St. Louis between 1943 and 1960. Home buyers in the county received six times as much loan money... From 1960 to 1977... the number of whites living in the suburbs increased by 22 million... but the number of blacks living in the suburbs increased by only 500,000.

By 1993, 86 percent of suburban whites still lived in places with a black population below 1 percent.

Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness

Government-sponsored housing discrimination is the real reason one's life chances in America are so closely tied to where he or she is born and raised. And its compounding effect over generations is why our problems can feel so insurmountable at times.

There is no more critical problem facing our nation than the housing problem... There is no more dangerous trend than the constant building up of predominantly Negro central cities ringed by white suburbs. This is only inviting social disaster. And, so, the housing problem is a serious one and nowhere in this nation must we again tolerate housing discrimination...

MLK, Monmouth College, October 6, 1966

Today, all of our cities confront huge problems. All of our cities are potentially powder kegs, as a result of the continued existence of these conditions...

In this America, people are poor by the millions. And they find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty, in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

MLK, Stanford The Other America speech, April 14, 1967

This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.

James Baldwin

Cruising Past

But I know, I know. It's 2021 now. "We need to move on."

So to move on from the past, we can focus on something more current. Like the fact that, because of his sense of his own value and supposed Moral Authority, the white man still cannot see the black man as a man like himself. Today.

For hard example, we've been made to believe that a 17-year-old white child named Kyle is both a man and an American hero, no less.

For background, consider that on a Monday night in the summer of 2020, the Republican National Convention featured an interesting middle-aged couple as special guests: It was the "big-gun" McCloskeys, from not-racist-at-all St. Louis, the couple who had famously come out of their home barefoot and business casual to confront peaceful protesters with their guns.

The wife had went with her shiny silver pistol, aggressively aiming at folks passing by; the husband chose his military-looking "AR" rifle, pointing fingers and angrily trotting around with a tough guy glare.

The McCloskeys, it turns out, were just the type of real American Heroes of the Suburbs that the RNC wanted us thinking about that evening — and then, magically, on Tuesday morning our young Kyle packed his exactly-the-same-looking-AR-fucking-rifle in the trunk, drove from Illinois to a racial justice protest in Wisconsin, slithered around in tactical gear, and shot 3 people. Two were unarmed, with one unarmed person dead.

For contrast: 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was out buying candy.

Trayvon was unarmed and accosted by an overzealous adult with a gun. But Trayvon's not a man like you, or like Kyle Rittenhouse, with a life to live and liberty to defend. Certainly not a hero. No, he gets to be a boy. Another "aggressive" colored boy who didn't listen to an authority figure. Just don't resist when the armed police academy flunkies stalk you in the night and come after you. When will they learn.

I know in my heart that one of these boys had a right to defend himself. And America's confusion at which one is all you need to know about America right now, and where she's struggling. This confusion is all that our elites — and all that our enemies — need to know to exploit our weaknesses.

Folks, let's be real with each other, and with ourselves. Black people said they'd prefer if it weren't so easy to get shot by police, and our response was to create a national movement of police pride. We even oddly desecrated our flag design to support these government employees, many of whom are guys with huge pensions who in some states will take your possessions without you being convicted or even charged. Then we tuned into Fox to rage about the size and reach of government, and capped it off with a podcast about how Breonna Taylor was really a drug dealer so it's cool.

All of this is borne from the Moral Authority which white people assume they wield over others. The police are their police. The thin blue line is to protect them from the black people. Duh.

James Baldwin was keenly aware of the problem of white Moral Authority. He called the Immigrant Argument the European Error, and urged us not to suppose that because so many outcomes have proved different, that the morals of the people involved are so much different. And although the words were written in Baldwin's Letter to My Nephew, this message of course isn't really for black people. It's most important for white people to understand.

The apprehension of life here so briefly and inadequately sketched has been the experience of generations of Negroes, and it helps to explain how they have endured and how they have been able to produce children of kindergarten age who can walk through mobs to get to school. It demands great force and great cunning continually to assault the mighty and indifferent fortress of white supremacy, as Negroes in this country have done so long. It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate. The Negro boys and girls who are facing mobs today come out of a long line of improbable aristocrats -- the only genuine aristocrats this country has produced. I say "this country" because their frame of reference was totally American. They were hewing out of the mountain of white supremacy the stone of their individuality. I have great respect for that unsung army of black men and women who trudged down back lanes and entered back doors, saying "Yes, sir" and "No, Ma'am" in order to acquire a new roof for the schoolhouse, new books, a new chemistry lab, more beds for the dormitories, more dormitories. They did not like saying "Yes, sir" and "No Ma'am," but the country was in no hurry to educate Negroes, these black men and women knew that the job had to be done, and they put their pride in their pockets in order to do it. It is very hard to believe that they were in any way inferior to the white men and women who opened those back doors. It is very hard to believe that those men and women, raising their children, eating their greens, crying their curses, weeping their tears, singing their songs, making their love, as the sun rose, as the sun set, were in any way inferior to the white men and women who crept over to share these splendors after the sun went down.

But we must avoid the European error; we must not suppose that, because the situation, the ways, the perceptions of black people so radically differed from those of whites, they were racially superior. I am proud of these people not because of their color but because of their intelligence and their spiritual force and their beauty. The country should be proud of them, too, but, alas, not many people in the country even know of their existence. And the reason for this ignorance is that a knowledge of the role these people played -- and play -- in American life would reveal more about America to Americans than Americans wish to know.

The Fire Next Time

Getting to know ourselves means understanding that our Moral Society is not complete. Getting to know ourselves means to challenge ourselves to understand America's moral contradictions, and how they lead to our own misunderstanding of society and of people. It isn't about guilt, and it isn't about the past. It's about our shared future.

When you steadfastly deny that the government has clearly given out fishing poles to your people, taught them to how to fish, and threw in a boatload of free fish to get you started; when you dismiss that the government promised slaves 40 acres but instead gave white people 160 acres; when your denial of this legacy and your response to this guilt is anger and intransigence... well, then, you're a racist.

But we're all racist in some ways, if we are being honest with ourselves. What's more important is that the so-called conservative is conserving an agreeably broken system. They are being counterproductive to the way we should be looking at investing in our shared challenges today, like equitable housing and access to education, and the jobs and healthcare which follow.

So-called conservatives will be quick to refer to even basic needs which they have always had themselves as "freebies," and fail to realize that things like fair housing aren't fish — they're fishing poles. They're poles like the ones white families got from the government in the Homestead Act, or similar legislation. Conservatives fail to realize that when we ignore such favoritism we end up leaving behind chunks of our economy, our talent, and that this is bad for everybody and not just bad for black people.

As Lipsitz points out:

Because they are ignorant of even the recent history of the [US Government's] investment in whiteness... American's produce largely cultural explanations for structural social problems. The increased [Government] investment in whiteness generated by disinvestment in US cities, factories and schools since the 1970s disguises as racial problems the general social problems posed by deindustrialization, economic restructuring, and neoconservative attacks on the welfare state.

It fuels a discourse that demonizes people of color for being victimized by these changes, while hiding the privileges of whiteness by attributing the economic advantages enjoyed by whites to their family values, faith in fatherhood, and foresight — rather than to the favoritism they enjoy through the [Government's] investment in whiteness.

The Possessive Investment in Whiteness
It turns out, Tom Cruise didn't have to outrun any black guys when he raced for his free land from the government in Far and Away.
Rabid Republicans

Now the trouble with the white privilege / black victimhood line, of course, is that not all white people are particularly privileged today.

Despite a long history of favoritism (and all that "merit"), most white people still face the challenges of everyday people, many starting from zero, many getting nowhere, and most just being good people and truly working very hard for what they have. And despite the ongoing privileges they carry with them every day because of their color, it's true that the playing field has been leveled in many ways. You know, two-term black President and all that.

And so it leaves us all — those with empathy and those without — wondering what really the point is in continually talking about this crap. Kumbaya My Lord and hold hands and cry? Let people get steak and lobster on their EBT cards from here on out? I mean, let's be real with each other, what's really the goal here, anyway?

We may have well established that racism and victimhood are primary tools of the left to garner votes, and that Doting Dad Democrat may have even screwed things up worse than Rough Dad Republican — but as the Republicans love to remind us, "we need to move on."

So, Where do we go from here?

As Lipsitz explains, "Young people associate black grievances solely with slavery, and they express irritation at what they perceive as efforts to make them feel guilty or unduly privileged because of things that happened in the past."

As we have seen in public and in private, attacking the problem starts right there, with our guilt. Guilt in one form or another becomes the key hangup for folks on both sides of the aisle. Old and young, men and women — it's guilt that makes white people feel awkward about the black thing.

It's from this emotional dynamic where the Rough Dad and the Doting Dad are forced to search for their footing, a proper way to deal with the guilt they are feeling. What we observe is that the Rough Dad's gut reaction to the guilt is anger and defensiveness, where the Doting Dad tends to respond with well-meaning but still condescending gestures.

In order for all of us to deal with our misplaced guilt more constructively, it can be helpful to add more current context to issues that are holding both black people and white people back. In other words, don't fix racism out of the kindness of your heart, that's not your burden. Fix it because you want the country to stay ahead.

A key suggestion would be rather than focus on those divergent fortunes from the horrors of the 1860s or 1960s, let's talk about times when black and white fortunes were more directly linked — when their downfall meant our downfall, too. Let's try and understand how we white people are shooting ourselves in the foot if we don't try to actually deal with this racial stuff.

Let's understand where we keep screwing things up — not to spread more guilt (we have plenty of that), but to make sure we are maximizing the potential of our children and of our workforce. For this is the only way we can stay competitive with other countries in the long run.

Nobody seems to realize it, but racism is really bad for white people, too.

For a great modern example of how our fates are linked, and how racism can bring us all down spectacularly, we can look no further than the financial crisis of 2008.

Rush to Judgement

The crash of 2008
and the associated Great Recession was a defining period in all of our lives. All was not lost, but the abrupt feeling that all could be lost was an eye-opener for us. A bank with a name like Lehman Brothers can collapse? The government has the money to rescue these banks, you say? But only the banks with the right political connections? What about everybody else? Can the government really rescue the auto industry, too? Should they?

These were scary and precarious times. They also made for great debate about the role of government, and specifically the role of the government balance sheet to prop things up. Should the taxpayers be on the hook for bankers with mega bonuses and houses in the Hamptons? Worse, could the taxpayer be stuck supporting those pension funds in Michigan that sell cars in order to make contributions every now and then?

As we searched for answers, we were reminded that when shit hits the fan, we can trust that there will be Rabid Republicans on hand to blame the whole mess on black people.

According to closet genius Rush Limbaugh, it was primarily black people not being responsible enough to pay their mortgages that precipated the crisis. Rush then went on to offer a root cause other than just the moral inferiority of blacks: it was those guilty bleeding-heart liberals from the 1970s that all the conservatives despise. The mortgage crisis is their legacy coming back to screw you once again, he said.

You see, the liberals in the 70s wrote regulations on the banks, specifically the Community Reinvestment Act, which was designed to combat rampant and overt racism in the residential real estate market (literally "don't write loans in black or mixed areas, they're not considered safe investments"). The practice was called Redlining, in reference to the big red lines underwriters, appraisers and realtors would use to avoid black neighborhoods on their maps.

As Rush posits, what was intended to minimize Redlining and increase investment in black communities, instead forced banks to give black people loans they didn't "deserve." If you let Rush tell it, the entire crisis could be blamed on liberal white guilt and black people who don't pay their debts. We're talking government overreach in private markets forcing us to help black people when they don't deserve it.

Then bust.

So convenient was this narrative to ignore the fact that the mortgage boom — and its associated predatory lending and price bubble — started about 25 years after the CRA came into effect. If it was the CRA and underwriters suffering from the tyranny of white guilt to blame, why didn't we have a problem much sooner, Rush?

The CRA, of course, was not the issue at all. As we have seen across the country, mortgages and other loans never really started flowing to these communities in spite of the CRA. Redlining never went away for realtors and other players, and it therefore continued in a de facto fashion for the banks for over two decades.

That is, until one special Presidency.

Though born and bred of the would-be Neoconersvative Movement, George Bush Junior's Moral Authority came from a slightly different place. There was a bit of humility there, shame even. Bush Junior talked of how hard our latino immigrants work, and how they are earning their place. This was his Compassionate Conservatism.

It even turned out, despite the racist labels that would come with his failures with Hurricane Katrina and other blunders, 'ol Georgie had a soft spot in his heart for the blacks, too.

And as luck would have it, Bush Junior's white hero moment would come soon enough: banks had now developed complex products to spread out the risk of mortgage lending. By pooling the mortgages together into these mortgage-backed securities and fancy new hedges for insurance, we could productize and spread the risk of US mortgage debt so elaborately that money would flow from all corners of the world into George Bush's American Dream: homeownership.

And who bets against US homeownership, right? What with Bush's commitment to government-backed mortgages from FannieMae and FreddieMac, the government was finding all types of ways to keep the gravy train rolling and the Dream realized.

Bush knew homeownership still wasn't really available to a lot of black people the way it should be, and that this was the key reason — not life choices, but the chance to have a Homestead — that black and white fortunes had diverged so sharply for the soldiers and working people of WWII and the 40s.

So to really make Bush the man who got every Negro a home, naturally we figured we'd need to dig deep into our conservative first principles, those ideas that made us great: while we supercharge Fannie and Freddie so the government ends up backing more than half of this shit, let's go ahead and simultaneously deregulate banks and underwriting so they can run it up.

What could go wrong?

As the insatiable demand for mortgage investments indeed spread the world over, the folks on the ground in the US had a challenge: they were running out of mortgages to package up and sell off. At the same time, these securities were being deemed so safe that the returns weren't juicy enough. They would need more mortgages with higher rates to include in these pools to make them more lucrative.

But where on earth do we get lots of mortgages with higher rates?

The "Sub-Prime" mortgage was the name given to these more expensive loans, which also tended to be quite tricky and easy to get crushed under. These riskier loans and borrowers were newly attractive to banks not because the liberal boogeyman and the CRA made the banks take on risk, but thanks to the working class borrower's ability to feed investor demand for mortgages. Often, the Sub-Prime borrowers were black people; sometimes, even when a black household would qualify for a traditional mortgage, they'd still end up with one of these firecrackers.

And to satisfy all that demand from investors, the banks would need a ton of these Sub-Prime mortgages. Luckily, since regulations were slim and consumer protections slimmer, the banks were free to sic the hounds all over the country and engage in predatory lending, with particularly egregious tactics and effects in black neighborhoods.

Unlike the old days when you shook your local banker's hand and he shit the bed if you defaulted, none of the originators during this time even cared about the propriety of these loans, or about the fate of the borrowers. Everybody just tossed the loans up the food chain like a hot potato, until they all came crashing down on us at once.

To understand the scale of this problem for all of us, not just black people, consider that The Economist estimated that from 2008 through October 2013 alone, U.S. banks had agreed to $95 billion in mortgage-related penalties due to this behavior.

Or just visit Cleveland.

If we can somehow pry open our thick skulls and realize that completely "free markets" bit us in the ass on this one, then we are finally taking some baby steps toward understanding the link between past racism and current whataboutism.

If decent consumer protections weren't one of the 100% of liberal policies which Republicans assume to be socialist conspiracies, maybe we could have seen this coming a little better and made some adjustments to avert full-on disaster.

And please, miss me with the importance of The Individual crap, and the fact that a lot of people took out loans they knew (or should have known) they couldn't afford. You don't get to Personal Responsibility the mortgage crisis.

What's interesting is that it is precisely in the right's argument about the borrower's Personal Responsibility, across millions of preyed-upon working people, where we find the typical conservative's fatal flaw. In projecting his Moral Authority so surely, conservatives often lose track of the important distinction between the micro and the macro in real life America.

Systems, it turns out, don't behave exactly the same as smaller simulations in the nuclear family. When 1 person takes out a tricky loan, it's perfectly fair to argue it's the borrower's fault. When 1 million people do it, there's something systematic happening here to screw the little guy, which means systemic issues in the country like racism will be exacerbated and could capsize our entire boat.

It's obvious from the history of the last 20 years that the regulators never understood that protecting consumers is also a way of ensuring the safety and soundness of financial institutions.

John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition

Conservatives can in fact understand this if they choose to, but they have difficulty conceding things until they are personally affected. In the white world, when 1 of us takes opioids they're a loser, but when 1 million take them that must be big pharma's fault. Remember, the issue is they can't see black people as people like us.

By generating an ever repeating cycle of "moral panics" about the family, crime, welfare, race and terrorism, neoconservatives produce a perpetual state of anxiety that obscures the actual failures of conservatism as economic and social policy, while promoting demands for even more draconian measures of a similar nature in the future. The neoracism of contemporary conservatism plays a vital role in building a counter-subversive consensus because it disguises the social disintegration brought about by neoconservatism itself as the fault of "inferior" social groups, and because it builds a sense of righteous indignation among its constituents that enables them to believe the selfish and self-interested politics they pursue are actually part of a moral crusade.

Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness

We see the bitterness and the righteous indignation of the Moral Crusade all over Fox News and other conservative media. Ironically enough, it's from these moral panics where the least-moral ugliness and savagery of the Republican Party, the Rabid Republicans, form their base.

In just a six-week span of 2019, for example, Media Matters identified a disturbing pattern: Fox News was creating new hit pieces on congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez literally every single day. The sexist latina-haters over at Fox went on a 42-day streak, mentioning Ocasio-Cortez 3,181 times in total. This is not only sad and shameful, this is outright disgusting. And yet somehow the disgust at the media is quickly eclipsed by the fact that the moral souls of our moral nation literally eat this shit up.

If Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson want you to hate someone, the 74 million not-so-silent majority we keep hearing about have proven themselves the willful drunkards of such one-sidedness, their well of venom and distain almost bottomless.

An actual open-minded person (or an actual black person) need look no further than the peculiar hairlines of these men and they will see that something is amiss. But no, white folks happen to fool each other quite easily once they find some commonality. Sometimes it's fishing, or golf. Often, even when unspoken, it's Rabid Republicanism.

But I get it. Lefty media may not be quite as obviously false, misleading, and racist, but those of us who consume a lot of news know anecdotally that CNN is pretty terrible, too. This is a network that ran some version of "Trump is Scared" or "Trump's Inner Circle Crumbling" literally every day of his entire presidency.

Plus, AOC's a socialist, right?

As much as I must hold my nose as I join the rhythmless chorus of people saying Ms. Ocasio-Cortez doesn't "understand" something (I would wager the lady understands more than virtually every other member of congress), I do think our young left is being a bit cavalier with this word.

American Millennials certainly got a raw economic deal. They were severely victimized by the student loan issue, and they will inherit huge national and global problems — but so far they have never had to ration gasoline. They have never been called in a draft. Young liberals talk a lot about how our nation's atrocities weren't that long ago — but neither was the Cold War, or high inflation, or the actual conspiracies of the 60s which gave us all these miserable conspiracy theorists.

It seems those who would champion socialism have lost the healthy sense of fear those in the business world have that other economies will not just outgrow ours (which is inevitable), but will dominate ours.

The topic of supporting our great businesses brings my challenge with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to the fore. The issue — other than her socialist banner — is merely that her politics so far appear to be somewhat cliché. This Westchester-bred intellect is not only the sharpest legislative interrogator we have ever seen, but her brand also seems to pivot around showing she is still Jenny from the Block in the name of her constituents. Of their ilk.

Ocasio-Cortez should not be condemned for code switching by any means. What's troubling is the sort of predictable, patronizing, guilt-ridden hero complex feel of her politics. That is, the kinds of things we ought to check when we see them in our white politicians.

In all her abilities at connecting with her district, it's a shame we didn't hear about any of the families of the proletariat who would have loved for their kids to learn how to code over at the new Amazon HQ. That would be the one that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez proudly quashed, in true Doting Dad fashion, to protect the dear helpless children of her district from gentrification (but mostly really to look tough for the cameras).

Because I suspect Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is highly intelligent, I also suspect that she understands that Amazon is the leader in cloud computing, the greatest revolution in computing we have seen since the microchip. I think she understands that investments from a technology company like the one Amazon proposed are massive opportunities for everyone near that thing, and likely for the entire city over time. Playing tough guy in the name of being sufficiently "anti-big-business" cost her district scholarships, free learning, job programs, and so much more. You can do the deal with Amazon without trying to get them to do all the work on those programs up front and make a million commitments, but she refused. Her pandering in this instance deprived her district and her city of an investment so substantial the city may never see one like it again in her lifetime, and for that she should be ashamed of her shortsighted decision to score political points instead.

Months after NYC's debacle losing Amazon HQ at Ocasio-Cortez's behest, the company announced that it would be opening a smaller satellite office in Manhattan (not in Ms. Ocasio-Cortez's district) representing a fraction of the proposed HQ investment. In true form, her response was a smug claim of victory about how "they still came" to NYC even though she had refused to give away the farm. Somehow large tax credits that won't have to be given to Amazon because NYC will no longer get the associated revenue and jobs is a good thing. That Ms. Ocasio-Cortez would seek to deceive her constituents into thinking they "still won" in this thing is all you need to know about her, and all you need to know about most or all of these politicians. She won the same way Trump won in 2020: by pretending to win.

Chinese Medicine

Blatantly lying, it seems, is now on trend. Now that Trump has taught everyone how to stick to a radical left bullet point, the media has helped legitimize the increasingly dumbed-down populist rallying cries of both parties.

If you think the deep state is coming for your suburb and your 401k and your guns and Christmas because Hillary, you should probably chill out and take a little time for introspection. Hillary created a slush fund wrapped as a charity, no doubt; but perhaps you should consider it a Personal Responsibility and do the Hard Work required to understand how that leads to your conviction that scientists and respected institutions and reason are worthless, and the man with multiple fake charities and illegal hush money payments to porn stars is your only beacon of truth.

Can you just imagine if it was the black guy with the fake charities and the pimping and the necktie phalluses?

The truth is, as an open-minded person, I can tell you that Donald Trump made one of the most important and pro-American policy decisions of my lifetime: he stepped up and became the president who would finally take on China. And while I am not a trade negotiation expert and therefore cannot comment on the wisdom or effectiveness of his particular strategy (especially given that China plays a much longer game than 4-and-out US politicians), I can still be grateful that somebody did something.

The playing field with China on trade is not level at all. We run a very open economy and encourage foreign investment by treating most foreign investors just like American investors; China, on the other hand, has not only restricted their markets significantly, but has used their restrictions as a way to force the transfer of money and Intellectual Property from American companies. Where Russia's small oligarchy is concerned primarily with diminishing America's standing and increasing the wealth of a handful of its most powerful, China's ambitions are much more "world domination" in nature, and stealing our technology in various ways is one of their primary methods.

Donald Trump therefore took on a really big current and long-term problem that no other president had the political will or ability to get done. It turns out, having a win-at-all-costs raging narcissist on your side of the table can sometimes be a good thing. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, go figure.

A reasonable person — someone who is not a partisan hack or a misguided populist — can admit that it's a good thing when somebody does something about a big problem, even if what they did may not have played out to be perfect on the first swing. By that logic, we should all also be grateful for one other monumental policy of my lifetime: Obamacare.

A reasonable person should be able to see that if 40 million people don't have access to medicine today, there's no fucking way we will be able to control costs 30 years from now as those people age. While Obamacare is clearly a flawed law and — like with the Chinese tariffs — some temporary pain is being caused, somebody finally did something to "shake things up" and put us on a different trajectory.

'Cause you said shaking things up is good, right guys?

The Fox-tuned masses can continue to eat dog shit all they want about a government takeover of healthcare — helping people get access to medicine is as America-first and pro-business as a policy can get. When a policy change means a young man can take entrepreneurial risks instead of having to work at the supermarket because his Mom has diabetes, you're giving people fishing poles, not fish.

Debating whether or not healthcare is a right is super stupid, and also completely misses the point, since having lots of sick people without good access to medicine is a problem for everybody, not just the "lazy" folks. But since the Republican elite is comprised of people who have never been personally affected by a lack of healthcare, it is difficult for them to see that such basic needs are the real rising tide that lifts all boats.

I'm not sure how any person who is actually thinking clearly can't see that the government giving greedy insurance companies 40 million new customers will ultimately boost the industry, and is the epitome of trickle-down economics, not trickle-up.

In any case, while there may be confusion on both sides about the extent to which America already borrows from socialist ideas (again, adding millions of customers to the health insurers' rolls is not socialism), we should still make no mistake that actual socialism is pre-communism. And in the ultimate political cliché, while she espouses the virtues of pre-communism, know that, just like the Chinese, our very capable collectivist Ocasio-Cortez will become rich some day herself -- possibly while still holding office. She's a politician, after all. And as normal humans we know that the special kind of ambition all politicians harbor is a bit perverted, a bit narcissistic. Virtue, for politicians, is but one of many affectations worn for donations and for votes.

But that the Democratic party is suffering from some populist indigestion should surprise no one, given the populist "conservative" virtue that has been shoved down their throats for so many years.

In fact, thanks to how well Fox has recreated 1984 for the silent-but-deadly majority, we can see pretty clearly that it's the Republican coalition that's having the real problem with a surging populist crazyfest, not the Dems.

You see, normally for our elites (those who would seek to maintain their power and influence), populism would instinctively be considered a threat and categorically avoided. Whether you are a Rough Dad or a Doting Dad this holds true: we can't have the children running the household, this isn't a democracy ("it's a Republic!"). This of course is the reason we never saw a Bernie primary victory for the Democrats.

A wise nation knows that populism is a scourge not just because it sounds weird on paper, but because in practice it always starts with lies and always ends with authoritarianism.

It's not that a centrist two-party system is so brilliant so much as a one-party system is not; we need a healthy suspicion of government, and we need a healthy opposition within government. And in the case of populism in a multi-party state, we can easily see today where that is leading us, as the populist wings of both parties cause fissurres in their own coalitions and polarize us all even more.

We saw perhaps the most stunning example of how quickly Trump's brand of populism can devolve into authoritarianism not on the 6th of January, but on the 1st of June: when Trump had his badgeless government commandos tear gas demonstrators in Lafayette Square so he could walk over to St. John's Church with military brass in tow, and take a photo of himself holding up a bible out front.

A highly-intelligent master manipulator of people and the media, Trump was killing two birds with one stone, a sort of fascist double entendre.

On the surface, to much of the willfully-ignorant Fox audience, the photo would seem to be Trump simply making another nod to how important religion is to many of his followers. Previously, for example, some of his followers were very pleased when Trump decided that state's rights weren't always super important to conservatives, and declared that Churches were allowed to open during the pandemic since liquor stores were allowed to open. Never mind that the man with known salacious infidelity and documented (and admitted!) questionable sexual behavior is using the bible as his prop.

The deeper purpose of the photo opp, we've learned, was the march over there with military leadership, while who-the-hell-knows terrorized the peaceful demonstrators and pushed them out. Trump wasn't just showing us that he could employ some thugs in the Capitol who would be out sick the day of the Steal rally, he was showing us that the military was lock-step with him.

The optics were so bad — and so obviously designed to advance the cult of Trump and his consolidation of power — that Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who attended the march of shame, was forced to backpedal profusely and answer questions about whether or not our non-partisan military was currently massaging President Trump's balls.

It was a horrible image, folks.

It shouldn't surprise us, though, that the Republicans allowed populism to creep up on them. The demographics are shifting against them. They have openly admitted that if Democrats could all vote by mail (that is, vote without suppression), even in absence of fraud it would be impossible for Republicans to maintain power. Gerrymandering is their last real hope, as their strategists go so far as to look to create mini-electoral colleges in states with Republican governors, rather than continue to let a state's popular vote decide its electors.

So, what began as the Republican elite turning a blind eye to avoid alienating would-be voters, spiraled rather quickly into a populist orgy of red-tipped dildos. The polarization we endure in politics and society as a result is very sad. Even what used to be pretty bi-partisan issues like infrastructure or disaster relief are now obstructed at every turn out of spite and point-scoring. This is what happens when populism is allowed to fester in either of our two parties. One party's descent to taking the low road begets a fiercer reaction from the other. Negativity wins.

In March 2021, we've picked our sides. And as much as we want to talk about swing states and swing voters, I don't get the sense personally that there is much swinging — or "unity" — going on until this weird two-party populism we have is in retreat. That 45th presidency was the ultimate litmus test. Masks off.

So now what we are left with is this strange and mask-less not-majority totaling at least 74 million people, most of whom seem very sure of what they don't stand for but rather confused and disjointed about what they do stand for, and who truly believe everyone who isn't a member of the Trump cult must be a radical left socialist who hates capitalism and hates America.

On the contrary, many of us Americans, the real core of us, still understand that capitalism is Prometheus's fire — that it has lifted billions out of poverty and led to technological advances we had never even imagined.

But fire burns. It needs to be contained, its power harnessed.

As we saw ever so clearly on January 6th, Republicans, and the the Rabid Rabbits among them, can't contain themselves.

Fox News and Facebook have created an echo chamber "the likes of which this country has never seen." The irony that the populism they have embraced is antithetical to American capitalism, and that it has already led to kleptocratic authoritarianism, is completely lost on these people.

Populism is not the American Dream, no matter which party brings it about. When we allow populism like the kind Rabid Republicans have created, we may be enabling some form of an American Dream for some folks temporarily, but such negativity and moral steamrolling has the power to bring us all down eventually.

Let me say another thing that's more in the realm of the spirit I guess, that is that if we are to go on in the days ahead and make true brotherhood a reality, it is necessary for us to realize more than ever before, that the destinies of the Negro and the white man are tied together. Now there are still a lot of people who don't realize this. The racists still don't realize this. But it is a fact now that Negroes and whites are tied together, and we need each other. The Negro needs the white man to save him from his fear. The white man needs the Negro to save him from his guilt. We are tied together in so many ways...

And so there can be no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white groups. There can be no separate white path to power and fulfillment short of social disaster. It does not recognize the need of sharing that power with black aspirations for freedom and justice. We must come to see now that integration is not merely a romantic or aesthetic something where you merely add color to a still predominately white power structure. Integration must be seen also in political terms where there is shared power, where black men and white men share power together to build a new and a great nation.

MLK, Stanford The Other America speech, April 14, 1967

Folks, I implore you to digest this fact: when we talk about the race problem in America, it's not about slave ships and marches and gripes — it's about their connection to what happened in Cleveland. How our fates are linked and we don't even realize it.

It's about how our failure to face this problem may mean that, as Baldwin warned-

The Negroes of this country may never be able to rise to power, but they are very well placed indeed to precipitate chaos and ring down the curtain on the American dream.

Everybody's Dream.

A Dream Deferred

In the spirit of our American Dream and what it actually means, naturally I'm transported right back to the steps of the Capitol.

What's their dream?

How about Lauren Boebert, the freshman congresswoman who makes a show of bringing her gun to work in the Chamber? Ms. Boebert is the one who tweeted the mob during the siege to let them know that Nancy Pelosi had been moved from where they expected to find her. What's Boebert's dream? Or Hawley, Cruz, and the creepy QAnon lady from Georgia? What's their dream?

In my quest to understand the moral potpourri that is the Republican Party, I've found few who have described the split we are witnessing in the coalition as well as Timothy Snyder did in The Times:

"...the responsibility for Trump’s push to overturn an election must be shared by a very large number of Republican members of Congress. Rather than contradict Trump from the beginning, they allowed his electoral fiction to flourish. They had different reasons for doing so. One group of Republicans is concerned above all with gaming the system to maintain power, taking full advantage of constitutional obscurities, gerrymandering and dark money to win elections with a minority of motivated voters. They have no interest in the collapse of the peculiar form of representation that allows their minority party disproportionate control of government. The most important among them, Mitch McConnell, indulged Trump’s lie while making no comment on its consequences.

Yet other Republicans saw the situation differently: They might actually break the system and have power without democracy. The split between these two groups, the gamers and the breakers, became sharply visible on Dec. 30, when Senator Josh Hawley announced that he would support Trump’s challenge by questioning the validity of the electoral votes on Jan. 6. Ted Cruz then promised his own support... joined by about 10 other senators... [and] more than a hundred Republican representatives...

For many, this seemed like nothing more than a show... Yet for Congress to traduce its basic functions had a price. An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Members of Congress who sustained the president’s lie, despite the available and unambiguous evidence, betrayed their constitutional mission...

For some Republicans, the invasion of the Capitol must have been a shock, or even a lesson. For the breakers, however, it may have been a taste of the future.

The American Abyss

Follow the Money

What do you want America's future to hold? And what do you want your own future to hold, and that of your children and grandchildren?

I, for one, hope that the future is different for all of us, because I have hope that things only get better. But better according to whom? If I say I want human progress, does that make me a progressive, and therefore worthy of righty vitriol because I'm not satisfied with the way things are in our great country today?

Anyone who considers themselves to be even remotely progressive would have noticed a telling contradiction among conservatives in 2015, as Donald Trump's presidential campaign heated up: it was the MAGA slogan itself.

You see, in order to Make America Great Again, it would require the acknowledgement that America is not currently so great. So did someone not get the memo? Because I thought anybody who doesn't think America is great should get the hell out of here with Colin Kaepernick?

When Obama ran on Change We Can Believe In, it was borderline treasonous, the gall of him and the ungratefulness. So for our so-called conservatives, who somehow changed their mind and actually want to change America now, what happened? Was America only great when we didn't have a black President?

If the idea is that we're "conserving" something from the past, and most of these people are out here agreeing that they want to go back in time, to which point in time are they actually hoping to go?

Karen's fable.

To try and understand a little about each other's version of the American Dream, it is helpful to consider the call to MAGA in the context of a typical Republican's frame of reference, specifically in the period when Donald Trump was becoming an ever-more plausible candidate.

Importantly, we first need to understand that the 1980s were pretty good to white people. Anyone who's old enough to remember the 80s knows that a lot of people got money in the 80s. The real estate laws changed and the concept of tax shelters was born. Inflation was a challenge, but things were going up for a lot of people. A rising tide, as it were. And President Ronald Reagan was not just a former Hollywood star and idolized, he was also one of us: he was tough on crime and he told us about how welfare queens were taking money from the taxpayer, for example.

Anytime I have spoken to a white Trump supporter over 40, I am struck by how obvious their affinity to Reagan is, and to that time in their life. Everybody gets nostalgic, and those tend to be viewed as the glory days. So we can see how a promise like MAGA, from a famous person sort of like Reagan — plus those guilt-absolving "dog whistles" that came with it — might cause a lot of folks to quickly accept Trump as a sort of Reagan Redux: a slightly-demented sequel that at the very least would be entertaining and "shake things up."

Typified of course by the silly red hats, it seemed MAGA was just a way for folks who felt on top in the 80s to pine for their dear Reagan, and for his renowned and sufficiently-paternalistic brand of Rough Dad conservatism. For it was Reagan conservatism, literally Reaganism, that made the good old days Great.

If you can walk you can dance, my boy.
Watch it

The 80s, friends, were also racist AF.

If we try a little, we can all understand why a return to any time in history represents a dangerous regression for black folks, and not exactly American Dream kind of material. But rather than expect so-called conservatives to have any empathy for this victimhood, it is more useful to entertain the other facet of their "we should go back to" argument: what if Reaganism actually works? In other words, maybe, since we are less racist now, Reaganism can even come back stronger and better if some people would just stop thinking they are victims all the time?

Like Trump on China or on bringing price transparency to hospitals, the right has some good ideas. Reagan had some good ideas. And although their good ideas can be hard to sift out since virtually all of their time is spent talking about liberals and liberal ideas, there is an important pro-business spirit on the right from which all liberals can learn and benefit.

And we can argue for days about whether or not it was pro-business Reaganomics, or other cyclical and circumstantial factors, which created wealth in the 80s. These discussions are always nuanced, since steering the US economy is like steering a very large ship, and adjustments we make today may not be felt until down the line; that is, for every argument that Reaganism created wealth in the 80s, there is an argument that it created the recession in the early 90s.

Democrats have this challenge of optics, too. This is why Bill Clinton can't claim much credit for his roaring economy, since his presidency happened to coincide with the dot-com boom. Any argument that does give Clinton credit can easily be met with a counterargument about his inability to prevent the dot-com bust.

It can reasonably be argued, for example, that the Savings & Loan crisis was set in motion by a Democratic Carter signature to deregulate S&Ls and let them sell off their loans; and it can also be reasonably argued that when the baton was passed to Republican Reagan, it was his enthusiasm for allowing the government to get involved in bundling and backing this debt with Fannie, Freddie and Ginnie that turned these fancily-securitized loans into one big oversized financial position ready to implode. Sound familiar?

That supposedly "small government" Republicans routinely use the government and its balance sheet to enrich bankers and others is news only to those who watch Fox. Government assistance, as we know, is just one of those things that's trashy if you're poor but classy if you're rich.

In any case, as Presidents know all too well, they are but a cog in the wheel of a complex system, and the true merits of most of their policies will always be lost in the fog of war with the media, becoming merely something for historians to debate. What really matters is their legacy in the minds of the people: we don't so much remember what someone said or did, we remember how they made us feel.

So in reality, it doesn't matter if Reaganism actually "worked" or didn't work for you or for some people you know, or that perhaps white people's wealth only increased under Reagan because they held assets during an extended inflationary period. What matters is his legacy in people's minds. And to Republicans, Reagan made them feel on top of the world.

It doesn't matter that Carter was actually the one who approved the S&L deregulation the way conservatives say they love, and that Reagan was the one who got the government involved the way conservatives say they hate — at the end of the day Reagan was one of us, and he wasn't having any of that liberal guilt bull shit.

It's in contemplating Reagan's strong legacy where we start to understand a little bit more about the "Great Again" version of the American Dream. Trump wasn't just someone who benefitted personally (and enormously) from Reagan's real estate tax shelter laws, he was also someone who found commonality in Reagan's racialized messaging. A president that helps me directly and tells me I don't have to feel guilty about it because blacks need to step it up? Now that's what I'm talking about.

Trump was inspired by Reagan the same way every other person who directly benefitted from Reagan felt inspired; but what's most impressive about Reagan wasn't his ability to inspire the people he helped, it was his ability to inspire the people he didn't really help so much.

Reagan, it turns out, was our first modern example of how someone from the Republican elite can expand the party by making an emotional connection with the Republican "base." The second example of course would not arrive until 2015, when Trump — the man living in a gold-plated penthouse in Manhattan — convinced every Mountain Dew drinker that New York elites were their enemies, and that Donald Trump was their savior.

As we have seen, the magic of this Republican duplicity boils down to the ability these men had to flirt with populism on TV, while remaining (we thought) sufficiently loyal to the Gamers' game in private. Barack Obama may have been the butt of jokes for his history as a community organizer, but it is the Reaganesque who really understand how to leverage the unifying principle of a community: to belong must necessarily mean to exclude others. In the case of Reaganism, the otherness was handed to them on a silver platter.

The political identity of the “taxpayer” was born in reaction to black freedom and working-class political power, and it has existed ever since to oppose the specter of a multiracial working-class alliance...

It is no coincidence that when the Jim Crow laws were finally dismantled, the reaction to the civil rights movement once again featured paeans to “the taxpayer” and a new wave of tax limitations. The rhetoric of the taxpayer is readymade to call into question the right of black and poor Americans to participate in or benefit from their government. The taxpayer was the foil to Reagan’s welfare queen, who he claimed had a “tax-free cash income” of $150,000 a year. Reagan’s story was a fiction—he’d change the numbers from speech to speech—but that hardly mattered. Talking about taxes allowed voters to put a dollar figure on their resentments, and to experience the poverty of others as persecution.

Vanessa Williamson in Dissent Magazine,
The Austerity Politics of White Supremacy

The "taxpayer" community was designed to create a sense of belonging for white people that would highlight their better morals and harder work without sounding overtly racist.

To experience the persecution of whiteness in this way is not to relieve the guilt of others' poverty, but to shroud the guilt with resentment and redirect it someplace more useful to the party; Reagan wasn't playing this trick because he cared about our guilt, he was doing it because he cared about making sure the Republican elite were safe. That is, pretend-populism on TV is one thing: the real strategy is to make sure the working class doesn't come together across racial lines and gain enough power to see what's actually happening here behind the scenes — that it's the elite who are milking the government each day at the expense of the working class, not the other way around.

These taxpayer politics may be a Jim Crow relic, but their usefulness in protecting the Republican elite, our friends the Gamers, has only increased over time.

[Modern] GOP presidential candidates were still singing the same tune. Mitt Romney interpreted federal income tax data as evidence that 47 percent of Americans “are dependent upon government” and “believe that they are victims.” The state, local, and payroll taxes that fall heavily on lower-income people did not, for Romney, qualify as contributions to government. “My job is not to worry about those people.”


To be clear, it's not that we shouldn't keep our companies competitive with aggressive tax rates, and its not that we shouldn't be suspicious of big government programs and expenditures: it's that the Gamers are pulling this dirty black wool over our eyes with one hand, while they have their other hand in the cookie jar they say they're protecting.

Stopping the Steal
credit unknown

Every human society will have freeloaders, more so as technology advances, and every human society must carefully weigh its incentives and disincentives for work. But to lump together and demonize entire sections of our economy, claiming that 47% do not contribute, is as ignorant as saying Donald Trump paid no taxes. The Trump Organization paid lots of taxes and contributed lots of economic activity, the optics of his aggressive accounting and misuse of non-profits notwithstanding. Likewise, lower-income people often work extremely hard and contribute greatly to economic activity and to government, while bringing much more to the soul of our country than can be said for the idle rich.

What we really see in Trump's taxes, or in Romney famously getting his firm millions in FDIC debt forgiven, is how important government truly is for all of us, like it or not. Our economy needs people like Trump to invest in real estate around the world, and to entertain people around the world. His gaming of the tax code is merely proof that even our meritorious "job creators" can rarely succeed without a little love from the government.

Our Republican elite happen to know quite well that they need the government's help. This is why their entire strategy centers around convincing people that others don't deserve the government's help.

When Republicans are in control of government, they go on offense and talk a lot about Personal Responsibility as justification for the savagery and greed of their policies. They use their Moral Authority to tell us we need to cut programs so as not to enable the lazy people.

When Republicans lose control of government to the Democrats, they are forced to switch to defense. They talk a lot about Fiscal Responsibility to block the ideas brought forth by the left, using their Moral Authority to tell us we can't "borrow from our grandkids" to invest in people today.

In both cases, the Gamers are relying on a populist trick they picked up from Reagan: to convince you that your American Dream will be taxed away from you and given to black people if you don't vote for them.

At the steps of the Capitol, where white grievances are aired.

Like the abolitionist movement validated white guilt for liberals and gave them their resultant bleeding hearts, the cult of the taxpayer had been handed down through generations to redirect white guilt and steal the hearts of our more conservative Americans.

By the time the cult — the dirty, racist lie uniting these people — met Reagan and his demented disciple, it had served the Gamers so well that it was bringing us unelected near-billionaire Senators like Kelly Loeffler, whose assigned bullet point for every public appearance was that she was "the firewall between you and radical left socialism." Ms. Loeffler is of course the same Senator who conveniently sold stock after a classified security briefing as the pandemic hit our shores, and didn't forget to add shares of telework plays like Citrix while she told us everything was peachy.

To Gamers like Loeffler, it matters not that disinvestment in our infrastructure and our cities will ultimately hamper our country and hurt white incomes too, since they will have sheltered themselves from taxes and consolidated power enough to weather any storm.

To our heartless Gamers, it matters not that Reagan and Trump raised the federal deficit, since their real strategy is not to protect their grandchildren from public debt, but from competition for their seats at private Universities.

Indeed, the Gamers have preyed on our more conservative friends and family for as long as the game has existed. That's how Reaganism really "worked."

And as the Gamers' American Dream of eternal dominance comes into focus, we can start to peel back some of the layers of deceit they have wrapped us all in to keep the lower classes from embracing each other. The lies.

If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you.

President Lyndon B. Johnson

In the case of working class whites, there is perhaps no greater irony than their allegiance to Trump, an elitist who despises them. For all of Steve Bannon and the clan's talk of dislodging the permanent political class in Washington and "draining the swamp," it is remarkable how little scrutiny they faced from their followers for pretending to be the hero Swamp Thing while actually being a transparent bag of leeches.

Examples like Bannon's fake border wall charity and Trump's mysterious use of his inaugural donations are but the tip of a monstrous iceberg of stolen hearts, so cold it can freeze the waters around Qatar and blockade the country as punishment for not rescuing Jared Kushner from his devil's bargain at 666 Fifth Avenue. You really can't make this shit up.

Do we really think the president's son-in-law was hopping around the Middle East doing arms deals in the final days of the administration for the sake of Farmer John and his daughter? Or for any of us?

These people are in love with money and power, not with middle America, and certainly not with democracy.

And naturally this all goes back to the gullibility of white folks when you lend them a hand in assuaging their guilt. Guilt is a most powerful and frequent human emotion. Every day of our lives is an obstacle course in guilt avoidance — from our mothers, or from our spouses and children. In this context it's no wonder that even decent people would fold at the prospect of allowing the wokeness of societal guilt to drown them even further into their unfulfilled lives; better to pretend that our lives are something others desire, something others would steal from us.

There is certainly little enough in the white man’s public or private life that one should desire to imitate. White men, at the bottom of their hearts, know this. Therefore, a vast amount of the energy that goes into what we call the Negro problem is produced by the white man’s profound desire not to be judged by those who are not white, not to be seen as he is, and at the same time a vast amount of the white anguish is rooted in the white man’s equally profound need to be seen as he is, to be released from the tyranny of his mirror. All of us know, whether or not we are able to admit it, that mirrors can only lie, that death by drowning is all that awaits one there. It is for this reason that love is so desperately sought and so cunningly avoided. Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within... The white man’s unadmitted—and apparently, to him, unspeakable—private fears and longings are projected onto the Negro. The only way he can be released from the Negro’s tyrannical power over him is... to become a part of that suffering and dancing country that he now watches wistfully from the heights of his lonely power and, armed with spiritual traveller’s checks, visits surreptitiously after dark...

In short, we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation—if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity, as men and women.

Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

If you have even the slightest hope to advance your understanding of our country in an effort to keep it strong, you must first advance your understanding of yourself and what constitutes your identity within our country. To understand yourself is to relieve yourself of the guilt you carry, so it can no longer be used by either party to manipulate and exploit you.

There is no reason for you to feel guilty about the power structures in our country. Guilt gets us nowhere, only understanding and love does. It is a great irony indeed that our avoidance of basic facts about our power structure is what keeps us from truly relieving our guilt about our power structure in the first place. Instead, we get angry when a black man gets elected and calls a spade a spade:

They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

While we should always be suspicious of what politicians say, in this case Obama, like Baldwin and like every other black person in America, has a much clearer view of what goes on in our country — and in our hearts — than white people do. We should consider listening a little more.

To my white brothers and sisters, know that you can enrich your lives and have so much more than you have today if you embrace diversity and the value it brings to our country and to our souls. With the lead we already have, our nation can be eternally great if our Dream of freedom is truly realized and maintained.

And this doesn't mean freedom in comparison to other places, those places you might tell me to go if I say I don't like it here. I'm talking real freedom, which white people have never enjoyed because they have never been relieved of their guilt and all of the confusion and resentment that is associated with it. Ignoring the problem and telling us we should never talk about it makes it fester, not go away. We aren't yet free from the guilt of our history in the way most of us aren't yet free from the guilt of our parents.

The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed that collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world’s most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents—or, anyway, mothers—know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.

Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Honestly challenging our long-held beliefs, and challenging the lies we are told, is our only path to maturity and salvation personally, and our only path to keeping America on top globally. Baldwin has a way of always cutting to the heart of it, and in this case it's the V-word that really jumps out at me.

White people actually think they are victims.

In trying to wrap my head around the utter mind fuck that is happening here to these people — victims of their own brainwashing so washed that they think they are victims of government or of societal racism — I found solace once again in Snyder's piece, in articulating white grievance politics through the lens of the Gamers' and the Breakers' mastery of myth.

On the surface, a conspiracy theory makes its victim look strong: It sees Trump as resisting the Democrats, the Republicans, the Deep State, the pedophiles, the Satanists. More profoundly, however, it inverts the position of the strong and the weak. Trump’s focus on alleged “irregularities” and “contested states” comes down to cities where Black people live and vote. At bottom, the fantasy of fraud is that of a crime committed by Black people against white people.

It’s not just that electoral fraud by African-Americans against Donald Trump never happened. It is that it is the very opposite of what happened, in 2020 and in every American election. As always, Black people waited longer than others to vote and were more likely to have their votes challenged. They were more likely to be suffering or dying from Covid-19, and less likely to be able to take time away from work. The historical protection of their right to vote has been removed by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, and states have rushed to pass measures of a kind that historically reduce voting by the poor and communities of color.

The claim that Trump was denied a win by fraud is a big lie not just because it mauls logic, misdescribes the present and demands belief in a conspiracy. It is a big lie, fundamentally, because it reverses the moral field of American politics and the basic structure of American history.

The American Abyss

Our misunderstanding of history, in this case as it relates to voting, meant that Trump could boil his loss down to a single racist bullet point for his already-seething audience: too many black people were counting the votes in Detroit, Philly and Atlanta, so naturally the count must have been fraudulent. And his moral "least-racist" followers ate it all up, despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, including the fact that Pennsylvania and Georgia's elections were run by Republican governors and that other Republicans did quite well across the board.

Personally, the outrage I felt on the 6th wasn't really directed at the dummies and creepos I saw charging for the electoral votes. The people in that crowd represent the brainwashed masses, folks who truly believe they have something of value and that this something was being stolen from them. They think they are the ones being patriotic.

My disappointment and sadness was instead directed at the people who know better and still enabled all of this. The people who have used these lies for generations and now see (but will hardly admit) where it leads us. The Gamers, dear friends, are the real enemy of the people. For generations they traded actual justice and equity for the appearance of a Moral Society, fooling just enough white people to stay in power, and their reward is the emergence of the Breakers in their own party who now threaten their dominance and threaten our democracy. The richest of ironies.

Those who would seek to minimize the intent or the effect of the riot are apt to dissuade us of the notion that it was a coup. Even if the Trumpettes had intercepted the votes on the 6th, they tell us, it's not like Trump would have automatically controlled America forever.

But what happened on the 6th was a coup, not a coup attempt or anything shorter. In his months-long preparation and pep-rallying leading up to the 6th, Trump understood that the certification of the votes was akin to an execution. And any stay of an execution is just that, no matter if it lasts an hour or a year or a decade. Trump bought himself time that day during which he continued to maneuver, which is always his singular goal. It wasn't about whether he could remain president for 4 years or longer, or for only as long as the courts considered disenfranchising millions of voters. He won that day, and we all lost.

In fact, it was only because powerful Gamers like Mitch McConnell finally realized the existential threat they had created that the vote even continued into the morning of January 7th. Had Trump — the first Gamer to go through metamorphosis and become a Breaker — been able to outmaneuver Mitch and the Gamers that afternoon, as he worked the phones to get his cohort to raise objections and swell the ranks of the Breakers... well, we would be living in an entirely different country today.

It's in contemplating what America could easily have looked like for Black History Month this year where the real sourness of our national discourse hits us in the mouth. We may have averted a constitutional disaster and prevented a few more Rush Limbaughs from getting the Medal of Freedom, but few people's minds — or hearts — have really changed.

With Trump now out of their way, the Gamers have gone right back to their old tricks: the cyclical nature of Republican moral outrage was on full display less than 2 weeks after the coup, when more than 4 years of dog whistles and more than 8 Trillion dollars in unopposed deficit increases were met with this gem on the front page of the WSJ the day before Joe Biden's inauguration.

You see, over the years, the racist "Taxpayer" lie has become so reliably useful to the Gamers' agenda that it has grown ugly appendages, which the Gamers will shamelessly flash at us when they want us to cover our eyes.

"But the deficit" is not a new refrain by any means. Whenever it rears its ugly little head, we all ought to be making sure we are thinking with our big head and ask ourselves: Why do Republicans get away with debt scaries when Democrats have control, but when Republicans take control they routinely raise deficits?

To understand the great big lie that is the "public debt," we first must accept a very basic and fundamental fact about the way the world works in 2021, a year when we can all still shop at dollar stores: 21 Trillion sounds like a lot of fucking money, but none of us actually knows how much that is intuitively when we first hear it. Numbers always require context. We have to use our heads, do a little homework, and see what the number even means before we determine if we should be morally outraged by it.

To give us some quick context, it can be helpful to approach the question of whether or not we should be worried about our debts from the stalwart Republican's frame of reference.

Remember, these are a people whose greatest strength, their emphasis on the individual, has also become their greatest weakness at the hands of the Gamers. The Gamers trick these folks into projecting their micro household principles, like debt avoidance, onto much larger and more complex macro systems — in this case just the entire global economy.

Sorry, conservative friends, the US Government's finances don't look anything like those of your household. We aren't "living on our credit cards." And it shouldn't be "run like a business," either.

To be conservative necessarily means to preserve first principles, those values which made us successful. And these are men whose greatest fear other than darkie stealing their free lunch is that their children (or wives) will not understand the value of a dollar, and will run debts and squander wealth. The aggrieved tax-payer, combined with the worried debt-servicer, really is the perfect foil.

But I'll tell you what: if conservatives would tune away from Fox for a moment and actually think about what's good for our shared future, maybe they will find out that they were right all along, that they just needed to look on more than one channel to understand how their family values actually do apply to our opportunities as a young country.

Consider, for example, if you had a daughter in her thirties with great income and great prospects, the whole world ahead of her: would you tell her a mortgage is a bad idea? It is a lot of debt, after all. So would you categorize making an investment like that in her future as borrowing from her grandkids? Or would this type of investment instead be setting her kids and grandkids up for success?

If your thirty-something daughter makes $150,000 and has over $100,000 in cash saved, she can go get herself a $500,000 house with a $400,000 mortgage. Based on current rates she will pay around $200,000 in interest over the life of the loan, and if rates are higher she could end up paying for the house twice or more than twice; but mortgage money is some of the cheapest money you can get, and this debt will pay untold dividends to her future family — so she certainly is not "borrowing from her grandkids."

To keep it simple, we'll note that her first-year "deficit," the amount she owes after making this leveraged investment, is the $400,000 mortgage. The economic output of her household for the year, her "GDP," is her smaller $150,000 income.

Now, $21.6 Trillion is a lot of money, and I'm not saying we should be all willy nilly with government spending. But in order to not get taken for a ride by the Gamers, we should understand the true context of the $21.6 Trillion figure before we freak out about it.

Toward that end, note that the economic output of "household America" in 2019 was $21.4 Trillion, according to the CBO.

What we can see pretty plainly is that $21 Trillion isn't that big of a mortgage for our nation to carry, when compared to her economic output.

Now, like most of the principles of our staid individualists, this comparison is of course an oversimplification. On the one hand we must remember that US GDP is not the same as actual revenue to the Treasury ($3.7T in fiscal 2020), and that the deficit is growing not staying the same; on the other hand we must also remember that an opportunity like the one facing America should not be reduced to the metrics of a 30-year residential mortgage, and that with good investments we can grow our economy much faster than we grow our debts, rendering the debts negligible. But the example is still useful to understand orders of magnitude, to give us an idea of how much $21 Trillion really is, or isn't.

Another way we might add some basic context to the $21 Trillion figure is to think about our opportunity for wealth creation when we do what we did in 2020, taking advantage of low rates to invest in our high earners via tax cuts and invest in the consumer via stimulus.

Forbes reported that, in 2020, in part thanks to government action, the cumulative net worth of America's 400 richest individuals had grown by $240 billion, to a total of $3.2 Trillion. So in a nation of 330 million people, if just 400 were feeling generous, they could reduce the total US deficit by about 15%.

Sources: CBO, Forbes, and a shitty article in the WSJ

So if just 400 people are holding $3.2 Trillion, is $21 Trillion still super scary?

Understand first that this isn't billionaire-bashing. What many of our socialist friends seem to forget when they rage at someone having $100B is that these people bring more economic activity and wealth to our country than you can even imagine. We need to keep our companies competitive with aggressive tax rates, because our companies invest the money well. We need American microchips and software and the like exported to other countries, just like we needed our beef or our Coke and cigarettes exported in the past. And there shouldn't be a cap on the amount of value a person can produce, a disincentive for them to keep building. We have inheritance taxes and anti-monopoly laws to protect us from true oligarchy.

It is also important to be clear about the trend, the trajectory, that we put ourselves on. Note that a deficit representing 100% of GDP is a high deficit by historical standards; and the government does waste a shit ton of money if we leave them to spend it all with government-run programs. In this context, it actually does makes sense to consider the lessons of our household or our business in relation to government: we need to carefully weigh the decision between growing revenue and cutting expense. We can't stop investing (spending), that would be counterproductive, but we should be investing in the right things. We need to make sure our expenses are investments in our future, and not just wasted: fishing poles, not fish.

We should endeavor to use the government to help stabilize the demand our companies need (support the consumer), and get out of the way of the supply our companies produce (avoid burdensome corporate taxes and regulations where feasible).

So once again, it's not that all of the Republicans' ideals are so wrong, so much as their selective moral outrage and their pearl-clutching theater is wrong. Their games. They claim Moral Authority and then take their ideas to the extreme, ignoring nuance and helping them justify the greed of their policies as part of their fake crusade against socialism, or communism, or whatever.

Government can get in the way if we're not careful, sure — but there is an important role for government as the bumper lanes of the free market. So-called conservatives know quite well there is a role for government, because they routinely benefit from government; but the Gamers' manipulative framing of our circumstances is a far more convenient narrative, because it helps them stoke white victimhood and get votes.

In 2010, eight years into my time as an economic policy wonk at Demos, a progressive policy research group, budget deficits were on the rise. The Great Recession had decimated tax revenue, requiring more public spending to restart the economy.

But both the Tea Party and many in President Barack Obama’s inner circle were calling for a “grand bargain” to shrink the size of government by capping future public outlays and slashing Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Despite the still-fragile recovery and evidence that corporations were already paring back retirement benefits and ratcheting down real wages, the idea gained steam.

On a call with a group of all-white economist colleagues, we discussed how to advise leaders in Washington against this disastrous retrenchment. I cleared my throat and asked: “So where should we make the point that all these programs were created without concern for their cost when the goal was to build a white middle class, and they paid for themselves in economic growth? Now these guys are trying to fundamentally renege on the deal for a future middle class that would be majority people of color?”

... Soon, the Tea Party movement, harnessing the language of fiscal responsibility and the subtext of white grievance, would shut down the federal government, win across-the-board cuts to public programs and essentially halt the legislative function of the federal government for the next six years. The result: A jobless recovery followed by a slow, unequal economic expansion that hurt Americans of all backgrounds.

The anti-government stinginess of traditional conservatism, along with the fear of losing social status held by many white people, now broadly associated with Trumpism, have long been connected. Both have sapped American society’s strength for generations, causing a majority of white Americans to rally behind the draining of public resources and investments. Those very investments would provide white Americans — the largest group of the impoverished and uninsured — greater security, too: A new Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study calculated that in 2019, the country’s output would have been $2.6 trillion greater if the gap between white men and everyone else were closed. And a 2020 report from analysts at Citigroup calculated that if America had adopted policies to close the Black-white economic gap 20 years ago, U.S. G.D.P would be an estimated $16 trillion higher.

Heather McGhee,
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

The lie about the role of government, and how much white people relied and rely on government, makes for the righteous pull-up-the-ladder mentality we see among conservatives. It risks further disinvestment in our cities and in our children for the sake of power-grabbing and short-term tax avoidance. The lie hurts all of us, and it will seriously hamper our ability to stay competitive — and, unironically, will hamper our ability to reduce the deficit with strong growth — in the long run.

The US economy could be almost twice its size by now, $16T-a-year busier, if we had tried harder to close the racial income and wealth gap. This is strong evidence that our fates in this country are linked; and that $21T isn't so crazy of a deficit after all, given our potential.

But at the same time, the deficit is still $60,000 per American. And thanks to the poor income distribution in our country as a result of conservatives' regressive and austere policies, this is agreeably a scary number for most of us. So if we owe China all that money, is President Xi coming for my house and my 401k?

Here again, the Gamers are hoping that you skip your homework and tune to Fox and drink some Kool-Aid instead. You see, there's a funny thing about all of this "debt" the US has that the elite doesn't want you to understand: it's all issued in US dollars, and the US Government literally cannot default on debts issued in US dollars, since it's our money and we control the supply of it.

Understand that a US government "debt" is just a Treasury note, not unlike the greenbacks in your pocket are notes of the Treasury. To say "we owe China money" is therefore quite misleading; just because some Treasury notes have a maturity date ("T-bills" or "bonds"), does not mean that we can't pay them off with other Treasury notes we print (more T-bills with a different maturity date, or more greenbacks with immediate maturity). In other words, China doesn't have a lot of our loans or bonds that are "coming due" and will doom us, China just has a lot of money.

Newsflash, Whitey: it's ok for other people to have money, even if they are Chinese.

In fact, "printing money" for ourselves and diluting our currency a bit to make the dollar "weaker" can be a useful short-term approach to countering China, and to countering our own economic downturns. Devaluing the dollar boosts our markets with liquidity, and it boosts our exports by making them appear cheaper to foreign buyers. This was a strategy wisely employed by Donald Trump, in response to China's own manipulation of its currency to make exports from China appear cheaper on the global market.

The problem with diluting our money, of course, is that we can't keep stepping on the gas forever: running the engine too hot for too long means it will eventually overheat. In the case of our economy, this means increasing the money supply too much will eventually cause prices to start rising too quickly, better known as inflation.

A growing economy will always have some inflation, but when prices rise too quickly bubbles form, and value starts to get distorted. People with assets see their wealth increase dramatically (like a lot of white homeowners in the 1980s did), while people without assets struggle to pay for basic needs. The effects of these disparate outcomes last generations and hurt all of us, because the end result is a smaller economy.

Inflation is therefore the primary measure against which the Federal Reserve makes money supply decisions (its other related goal being full employment). Because inflation has remained quite low of late despite increased money printing, we can simplify things for our simple individualists, and note that our envious position in 2021 is akin to a mortgage borrower in a very low rate environment. In other words, this is exactly the time to be leveraging our balance sheet and taking on more "debt," since our loan-to-value ratio is fine and rates are in the basement.

A young and scrappy group of economists have come together to advocate capitalizing on this gift of a financial position from which America currently benefits. The Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), as it's known, doesn't seek to upend our monetary system so much as it seeks to point out our overly-rigid understanding of it: conventional wisdom says that the government finances its spending with taxes; MMT points out that this isn't exactly true for a reserve currency like the Dollar, since our spending is always technically initiated by creating money, and taxes are simply a way of taking some money out of the system so it doesn't overheat, thereby controlling the money supply, controlling behaviors, and ultimately controlling inflation.

Adherents to MMT are pointing out an important truth: measuring the deficit in absolute terms (OMG 21 Trillion!), or even relative to GDP, is completely arbitrary. Inflation should be our guide when making money supply decisions. And with inflation low, we are squandering a massive opportunity and disinvesting in our future by not significantly increasing spending today.

The reason the MMT folks are often written-off by the right, and labeled as members of the evil radical left, is because they take the power of the balance sheet a step further, insisting that the Fed can easily stabilize demand (help businesses) and meet its full employment goal (help households) by providing a job guarantee.

Anyone who has ever been to a government building and seen a bunch of black people sitting around knows that employment has been a primary tool of the government, to quell racial unrest and to combat inequity, since the Civil Rights Movement. To understand racism is to understand that you aren't racist for pointing out some problematic job redundancies in government — you're racist for thinking these people are lazy, but your people in the same situation wouldn't appear lazy also.

At the end of the day, due to these perceptions, and due to the actual waste associated with government-run anything, MMT's adherents do themselves a disservice by combining the specificity of the job guarantee as our best solution with the vagaries of what something like that would even look like. "Free jobs" may make sense during an actual depression, but would seem to be a pretty offensive moral hazard outside of one.

In any case, there are important lessons for us to learn in MMT's more accurate description of the way money supply actually works in America. What's a few trillion among friends if it won't increase prices for any of us anyway, right?

Unfortunately, the naiveté of the MMT crowd is laid bare not by the job guarantee, but by the events of January 6th, when just 4 hours of cable news was enough to make the entire world wonder if the US Dollar was still a safe store of wealth.

Coins and Tokens

It seems Trump missed Reagan so much, he wanted to bring back inflation again.

It's in appreciating the precariousness of our standing in the world where the liberal becomes a conservative. We are kings of a very steep hill.

So when Modern Monetary Theory tells us to "Mint the Coin," a way of describing the charade that is the accounting between our Treasury and Congress's purse strings, I'm not worried about the first Trillion Dollar Coin we mint and deposit in our own accounts — I'm worried about the 20-somethings in our government who would mint 100 of them.

Nonetheless, the opportunity cost of austerity now is worlds greater than the cost of a temporarily-higher deficit, this made-up "debt" Gamers use to prey on our conservative friends and family, in order to shelter themselves from some potential near-term tax increases.

Leaving our nation's money on the sidelines means missing the chance to buoy the consumer during a pandemic, which would support our businesses. Opting for austerity means we would miss the opportunity to embark on true digital transformation and true energy transformation more quickly than our global competitors. It means the real deficit will end up being in our grandkids' abilities and life chances.

Now, to the question of just how our money should be put to work, we are of course diverted into yet another of the Gamers' parlor games.

"Trickle-down economics is the best way to support growth," they said.

The "trickle-down theory" represents another of those more glaring examples of the Gamers' mastery of myth. When Reagan told us "trickle-down is your friend," he was advancing a theory that we should aim to make our tax regime regressive: wealthy people and corporations should have the lowest possible tax rates (or no taxes at all), and rates should increase the less money you make, with the lowest-earning people paying the highest percentage of their income to the government. How convenient.

What's more, under trickle-down theory, actual spending by the government should be directed at supporting our corporations, since corporations hire people, and giving corporations money directly and via tax breaks will eventually "trickle down" to the people.

"Just let us handle the distribution of all of the country's resources and you'll do great," they said.

After all, since they are the elite, they must have merit. Since they have merit, they must have Moral Authority. Since they have Moral Authority, they must be the best group to decide how to divvy up all the cookies. So, logically, everyone should support trickle-down economics — Right?

In reality, trickle-down is a joke invented by rich people to keep the rest of us poor.

Working-class whites actually know better, but they tolerate trickle-down rhetoric as long as they get their Medicare and their Social Security, and as long as their leaders pretend to love guns and hate immigrants.

The real magic keeping the trickle-down myth alive is the way the Gamers fool slightly-more affluent whites into thinking trickle-down is good for them, too.

The American version of the petite-bourgeoisie represent coveted hearts for the Gamers to steal, because these fine people don't all live in easily-won bible belt or border states, so they have the power to swing elections. If you're one of these folks, the Gamers know that you think your good job or your small business makes you special — filled with so much merit that you think your life in America ought to look a little more like your vacation in Mexico, if only the country was being run right.

Our petite-bourgeoisie are our most strident individualists. Their principles of Hard Work and Personal Responsibility are what made them meritorious foremen, shop owners, and smaller-scale "job creators." The way these folks see it, we should all be so thankful for their contributions that workers should be willing to labor for low wages indefinitely in hopes of someday being "like them."

The Gamers understand that the white man's sense of his own value is amplified for these people, so much so that they can be tricked into thinking that if they support the savage policies of the elite, maybe one day they will get to be part of the elite, too. This explains why the Gamers can toss these self-important wannabes a small tax break to make them feel like they are one with the oppressed tax-paying elite, then turn around and suppress the demand for their services by disinvesting in the consumer.

Can you even comprehend how many more pizzas you would sell, or properties you would landscape, or kitchens you would remodel, if more black people got a fair shot at money in this country?

Remember, when the government gives more money to people like Mitt Romney, a good chunk of it disappears and gets stashed in places like the Cayman Islands; but when they give money and opportunities to consumers, virtually all of it flows quickly to local businesses, or trickles up to Jeff Bezos and the Waltons.

So even though trickle-up would ultimately benefit wealthy Gamers too, the issue is one of control. If the Gamers allow the world to see that progressive policies and trickle-up can actually work, then their pull-up-the-ladder mentality will be exposed, and they will lose control of government and its balance sheet forever.

Consider that, in trickle-up economics, the government helps stabilize demand by supporting the people: decent minimum wages, access to financing, protection from unscrupulous lenders, etc. Companies are then free to compete for this stable demand based on the merits of their offerings. Jobs are created based on this demand.

In trickle-down economics, on the other hand, the government helps the companies and industries with the best lobbyists and political connections, and those companies then make some investments in the US economy, and also some investments in offshore tax havens. Jobs are created based largely on the government picking winners.

Which one sounds more like a "free market" to you?

It is a great moral travesty that so many would believe the elite trickling a little juice on the parched lips of the people would somehow amount to a rising tide to lift all boats. That our conservatives are so easily duped by such metaphors is evidence of a certain intellectual laziness — where "conservative principles" are actually just closed-mindedness in a changing world. Archie Bunker stuff.

And because we are a two-party system, the Gamers know that they can lure their bitter followers into simplifying these complex economic questions down to tribal Us vs Them binary choices, flipping a switch between right and wrong: the right wants to flip the switch toward trickle-down, the left wants to flip the switch toward trickle-up.

But here again, our conservative friends find themselves susceptible to the idea that what's true in the micro is also what's true in the macro. For example, in regards to our small businesses, it is true that we need to keep taxes low to support our local job creators, which requires an eye toward certain trickle-down policies; and in the macro, it is also true that leaning a hard right into these policies across the board has resulted in the worst income distribution we have ever seen (which is a threat to everyone, including wealthy people).

In reality these decisions are more nuanced: the decision between trickle-down and trickle-up is not a switch, it is a complex system of levers. We need to support job creators in some ways, and we need to support "job doers" in other ways.

In other words, pointing out that trickle-down is a myth is hardly an argument to tax our corporations in a way that would make them less competitive with foreign firms; rather, we should recognize how the Gamers use myths like trickle-down to create a perverse sense of belonging for their followers, dividing our nation by distilling so-called "conservative principles" into immoral binary choices: The Freedman's Bureau: support Congress and you support the Negro, sustain [Trump] and you protect the White Man.

Despite their pretend-outrage and dog-whistles about government "appropriations," the Gamers happen to know full well that $21 Trillion is not too high of a deficit. It's why they were happy to oblige Trump's $8 Trillion deficit increase in just four years, which brought us to 21 Trillion. As long as government largess goes to the handful of rich people who control the Gamers, Republicans are cool with it; it's when black people get anything that they have a conniption.

"National Debt," it turns out, is just a convenient misnomer used by people who would gladly defer the average American's dreams in order to defer any amount of their taxes or their sharing of power. For these people, to give an inch is to concede the mile — best if you believe your children will all be speaking Chinese if you don't give Mitt Romney a tax break immediately.

Shameful is the Gamers' ability to obstruct and wait-out entire 8-year presidencies from the comfort of their ivory tower, lest people realize that there is an important role for government in our society.

And so the reason I find a handful of entitled liberals more tolerable than a cadre of savage conservatives comes down to their behavior as kings.

Liberal guilt may be patronizing and naive, but its principles of social justice and equity, however aspirational, are rooted in the belief that we are losing too many Bill Gates and Elon Musks of all races to ghettos, and to opioids.

Conservative principles, on the other hand, can be more of a moving target: The government is bad, except for when white people want something, like a loan guarantee or a thin blue line. Support law enforcement and be glad Comey killed Hillary's chances, then pillage the FBI and the CIA and shun Comey, because the Trump Organization is somehow the more trustworthy entity. Skewer Cuomo for botching the nursing home thing in 1 state, but take no issue with the White House for sabotaging testing in 50 states. Spend 8 years randomly claiming the black guy doesn't respect the constitution, then turn a blind eye when your guy blatantly interferes in free and fair elections.

The selective blindness of conservatives isn't limited to just their politicians — all of these misguided people choose not to see that what's good for black folks is good for the whole economy in the long run. In their tribal Us-versus-Them worldview, anything that's good for black people must have been stolen from morally-superior white people. That's why it's not disqualifying for a United States President to talk about "good genes" and "racehorse theory," it's endearing.

Conservative principles, if there really are any, appear rooted less in the equality of our votes and of our children, and more in the belief in ongoing natural selection and Manifest Destiny.

And as for those self-righteous Gamers and Breakers within our government, it seems they represent their people quite well: these white men and women are overflowing with so much Moral Authority that they get to cherry-pick their principles in each interview, and respect our government and our institutions and our norms only when it suits them. And when it doesn't suit them? Look out, because it's not just laissez-faire, it's Lord of the Flies.

The European Error

Behold, one our proud American "zip tie guys," who raided the Capitol on the 6th with the intention of taking hostages. I'm sure this gentleman was thinking about the importance of the constitution when he posed with his flag, but may have been confused about his constitutional duties after watching Donald Trump in the background say the election was being stolen, lying about voting 47 times in a 50-minute speech.

But I'm sure it wasn't the Republican propaganda that radicalized this nice man. The TV is probably just a coincidence, like with Kyle and the big-gun McKloskeys — except, surprise!, this Trump speech was August 24th, that same Monday in summer 2020 at the Republican National Convention, meaning the same goddamned day the McCloskeys were featured guests, and the same day Kyle Rittenhouse decided he'd wake up the next morning and head to Kenosha.

If we are being honest, we can see plainly that a deep-rooted Us vs Them mentality is why millions of white Americans have the gall to look you in the face and tell you their politics aren't driven by white supremacy, then shamelessly binge on rabid racism on Fox each day, and hold up someone like Rush Limbaugh as the noble leader of conservative "thought."

Perhaps the reason conservatism is so difficult for anyone to define is that there really aren't any unifying principles among this group after all — shared Moral Authority via racial superiority is the only glue.

Limbaugh’s racism was obsessive, not incidental. Any measures to uplift Black America, in his mind, could only come at white expense and were inherently illegitimate. Any economic reform... was “reparations.”

Like many conservatives, Limbaugh maintained, and perhaps believed, that the bedrock of his worldview was a set of timeless constitutional principles based on the holy writ of Ronald Reagan, from which no deviation could ever be permitted...

Yet, by the time Trump appeared on the scene, Limbaugh had realized this was not quite right. Almost every candidate had run to Trump’s right, and all of them had failed. Limbaugh himself no longer cared... he explained away [Trump's] many ideological deviations... "if conservatism were the glue, the belief and understanding of deep but commonly understood conservative principles, if that’s what defined people as conservative and was the glue that made the conservative movement a big movement, then Trump would have no chance."

What, then, was the glue? It was simple: “The thing that’s in front of everybody’s face and it’s apparently so hard to believe, it’s this united, virulent opposition to the left and the Democrat Party and Barack Obama.”

Limbaugh, like Trump, understood the party’s id years before its putative leaders grasped it. They had the same feel for the conservative audience and nearly the same message to capture it. They were almost the same person.

Jonathan Chait in Intelligencer,
Rush Limbaugh Taught Republicans to Love an Angry, Racist Bully

Thanks to their blabbering "thought leaders" like Limbaugh and his oratorical twin — and the authentically-American rabidness they birthed — the moral plasticity of our constitution-loving conservatives is no longer "silent" at all: now the silent majority has a neatly-packaged racist bullet-point about the "Radical Left Democrat Party" to scream out for every national issue. A big fat lie.

Making America Grieve Again

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth.

The American Abyss

Snyder, who articulated the broader ideological split in the Republican Party by giving us the concept of the Gamers and the Breakers, also gives us a succinct description of what the fuck happened in that election. It was the culmination of a post-truth presidency of over 30,000 little lies and hundreds of shattered norms: it was the The Big Lie.

The coup of 2021 and the associated Big Lie was a defining period in all of our lives. All was not lost, but the abrupt feeling that all could be lost was an eye-opener for us. A President can sic his dogs on the Legislature? And then watch it on TV while he works the phones to subvert the democratic process? And he can actually get away with all of this?

These were scary and precarious times. They also made for great debate about the role of government, and specifically the role of representative democracy in a sharply-divided nation. If people don't recognize the vote, then what?

As we searched for answers, we were reminded that when shit hits the fan, we can trust that there will be Rabid Republicans on-hand to blame the whole mess on black people.

Prevent the peaceful transition of power? No bigs.


Now we're talking. Now we're being honest. That's what this is about. "They." Thank you for acknowledging it.

Black people start a national multi-racial movement in response to extrajudicial government killings, the protests are over 90% peaceful, and you are outraged.

Trump and his cultists beat police officers with American flags and subvert our democracy's most important constitutional protection, and you think it's justified.


It's like the irony just keeps on coming with these people, because even a casual observer of black history American history knows that most of these white people haven't actually cared about "our cities" in generations.

I'm not sure how any honest person could compare Trump's coordinated obstruction of the democratic process to racial justice protests in 2020; that is, unless you view January 6th as a racial justice protest, also.

And there we have it: by comparing the insurrection to black-led racial justice protests, the conservative tips his hand. The coup was about race. It was about white domination — over "illegal" black votes, even though there weren't any. January 6th was a racial justice protest for white people.

If there's anything the insurrection has in common with the protests of 2020, it's that all of this division stoked by the President and the media is the absolute dream of our adversaries like China, and Russia. In our global race for the future, January 6th and the obvious vulnerability of our institutions is all the proof we need to see that Donald and Rush, and Sean and Tucker, are dead wrong about what unity and strength of democracy actually mean, and how and why they're important.

Whether or not you believe Trump "colluded" with the Russians or instead believe that he was "targeted" by the FBI is completely meaningless. The amount anyone from either side devotes to this debate is inversely related to their understanding of global affairs. There is no point in arguing whether or not he colluded because he did — he asked Russia in public to help him. And there is no point in arguing whether or not he was targeted because he was — that's literally what law enforcement agencies do, and so-called conservatives are cool with it when it's aimed at anyone who's not a Republican.

The reason these points are so meaningless to debate is because you are playing political checkers while our adversaries play 3D Chess. While you are focused on the obscurities of the FISA report and raging about Hillary, Russia is getting everything they ever dreamed of:

From "Tear down this wall!" to "If you have any of those E-mails."

All it took for Putin to achieve these amazing feats was knowledge of America's bubbling racism and sexism. Vlad says that Hillary is part of a Democrat-led pedophile ring running out of a D.C. pizza shop, and people in America will not only believe him, they will act on it.

Given these clear vulnerabilities, it is quite perplexing that our "conservatives" are so very worried about "the country going to shit" because a Democrat is in the Oval Office, but slept so peacefully with a grifter-in-chief who decimated the foreign service, legitimized dictators, openly asked foreign governments to help him get reelected, and inexplicably invited Russia's top spy into the Oval Office.

It is very difficult to understand why so many people held this man to an entirely different standard than any other President, or any other politician, or celebrity, or earthling; that is, it is difficult until we remember that Trump's self-dealing was ignored simply because he made 74-million people think he would help them turn the clocks back to the Rockin' Reagan 80s, to the real (white) American Dream. Never mind that Trump would also give Vladimir Putin his American Dream — as long as the lazy blacks don't get anything, we're good.

And like the rest of the fake Republicans in government and media, Trump did it all in the name of "freedom" — this fluid concept the right says they value so much, yet for some reason they still watch a channel every night that drowns them in white grievance and makes them feel trapped in a liberal dystopia. What is freedom to these people anyway, if not freedom from the resentment they sow?

What's the America they actually dream of?

This has everything to do, of course, with the nature of that dream and with the fact that we Americans, of whatever color, do not dare examine it and are far from having made it a reality. There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. People are not, for example, terribly anxious to be equal (equal, after all, to what and to whom?) but they love the idea of being superior. And this human truth has an especially grinding force here, where identity is almost impossible to achieve and people are perpetually attempting to find their feet on the shifting sands of status...

Furthermore, I have met only a very few people—and most of these were not Americans—who had any real desire to be free. Freedom is hard to bear. It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are always menaced and are ultimately controlled by the spiritual state of that nation. We are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know, and the American dream has therefore become something much more closely resembling a nightmare, on the private, domestic, and international levels. Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster...

The only real advantage Russia has in what we think of as a struggle between the East and the West is the moral history of the western world. Russia’s secret weapon is the bewilderment and despair and hunger of millions of people of whose existence we are scarcely aware...

Behind what we think of as the Russian menace lies what we do not wish to face, and what white Americans do not face when they regard a Negro: reality—the fact that life is tragic. Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us. But white Americans do not believe in death, and this is why the darkness of my skin so intimidates them. And this is also why the presence of the Negro in this country can bring about its destruction. It is the responsibility of free men to trust and to celebrate what is constant—birth, struggle, and death are constant, and so is love, though we may not always think so—and to apprehend the nature of change, to be able and willing to change. I speak of change not on the surface but in the depth—change in the sense of renewal. But renewal becomes impossible if one supposes things to be constant that are not—safety, for example, or money, or power. One clings then to chimeras, by which one can only be betrayed, and the entire hope—the entire possibility—of freedom disappears. And by destruction I mean precisely the abdication by Americans of any effort really to be free. The Negro can precipitate this abdication because white Americans have never, in all their long history, been able to look on him as a man like themselves. This point need not be labored; it is proved over and over again by the Negro’s continuing position here, and his indescribable struggle to defeat the stratagems that white Americans have used, and use, to deny him his humanity. America could have used in other ways the energy that both groups have expended in this conflict. America, of all the Western nations, has been best placed to prove the uselessness and the obsolescence of the concept of color. But it has not dared to accept this opportunity, or even to conceive of it as an opportunity. White Americans have thought of it as their shame, and have envied those more civilized and elegant European nations that were untroubled by the presence of black men on their shores. This is because white Americans have supposed “Europe” and “civilization” to be synonyms—which they are not—and have been distrustful of other standards and other sources of vitality, especially those produced in America itself, and have attempted to behave in all matters as though what was east for Europe was also east for them. What it comes to is that if we, who can scarcely be considered a white nation, persist in thinking of ourselves as one, we condemn ourselves, with the truly white nations, to sterility and decay, whereas if we could accept ourselves as we are, we might bring new life to the Western achievements, and transform them.

Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Well, shit. Now it's starting to all make sense. The Rabid Republicans who stormed the Capitol on January 6th do believe we are a white nation. Anyone who would dare identify themselves with today's Republican Party believes we are a white nation.

This is the America these people dream of — one where "American culture" will always mean "white culture." Where the demographics will never shift and further impede on the "silent" white majority. An America where the hue of the Melting Pot can never change.

The American pride these men and women have is indistinguishable from white pride. From their stories about their immigrant ancestors to their bootstraps politics, they think they are better than everyone else, that everyone else is trying to "have what they have," and that everyone else is a guest in their home. This is why it so confuses conservative whites that anyone would value diversity, since the country is already moral and perfect with them at the helm: in their minds diversity is a concession and a liability, not a strategy and an asset.

Because we have remained so segregated in this country, sometimes we forget that black people have been here much longer than most white families, and we don't realize that black culture and ingenuity are literally everywhere in American culture; and sometimes, we don't forget that at all, and we use the black man's long history here to compare him to more recent immigrants who "did more with less."

For conservatives, though, the whitest behavior starts happening whenever they skip comparing black people to white people or to immigrants, and jump right to comparing them to each other.

For example, conservatives often show us their confusion about the meaning and usefulness of America's diversity by presenting us with token examples of black people who "figured it out" and integrated seamlessly into the white world. These are those model blacks who adopted the most important white standards, while also being sufficiently non-offensive to white sensibilities. Perusing Fox News for a few nights would be plenty long enough to encounter this interesting and recurring trope: the conservative black man who just "gets it."

I mean, if some black people figured it out, why can't they all, right?

It is important to stay aware of these tropes, because white folks will be using them disingenuously. As Baldwin explained, when a black person is presented by white people in this way, he serves only to corroborate the white man's sense of his own value.

Like the cult of the taxpayer and other stratagems white people use, the black version of the "Rough Dad Republican" is a go-to refrain for conservatives simply because it has served the Gamers so well in stealing white hearts for over 100 years: in Herschel Walker, for example, we see Booker T. Washington, and his recurring age-old debate with the progressive W.E.B. Dubois, which went mainstream in 1903:

Excerpt from Booker T. and W.E.B., a poem by Dudley Randall

Instead of assuming the gulf between us would be closed if black people tried to be more like Herschel, or Booker T., we should simply respect these black voices as evidence that black people are not some monolith.

Black people are individuals like we are, each unique and with their own opinions, experiences and diverse perspectives — not just diverse from ours, but diverse individually. And because they are truly American, I have no doubt that black folks tend to believe strongly in the importance of the individual: that black people may skew liberal is evidence not of some socialist cancer on the left, but of a capitalist heartlessness on the right.

Conservatives don't have a monopoly on what capitalism should look like just because they pretend to like "free markets," or because they assume all liberals prefer "free stuff." And they damn sure don't have a monopoly on what's good for black people, just because their European grandparents "came here with nothing" and their black friend Herschel Walker says they're cool.

We should instead take Herschel Walker's perspective as an opportunity to stop lumping all black people together. In fact, while we're at it, let's normalize not referring to black people as "The Black Community." As if these fine Negroes all live in the same place, and get together for chitlins on Sundays.

Let's start our healing and unity by not assuming we know how to solve black problems — better, let's start by not assuming black people have a problem.

In trying to envision what true integration and diversity even means or would look like for us, then trying to reconcile that with the holy writ of Ronald or Donald, the real issue in the conservative heart starts to surface, making the heart ripe for stealing.

The issue the white man has with "the black thing" has remained so awkward and uncomfortable for him because it is so counterintuitive, it's not quite what we've been thinking at all: black people don't deserve more respect because they got here first and they are American "like us." Black people deserve respect because they are people, individuals, and they deserve our deference precisely because they are not like us. They are different people than we are. And different means they can help us.

This troubles white people immensely, black people being different, because white people think this whole epic battle about racism is about being "equal," which they erroneously take to mean "the same as me."

White people don't realize that it's ok to acknowledge that black people are different. To be "colorblind" may sound nice on the surface, but would serve only to discount a person's entirely unique and valuable frame of reference. This is why it's so next-level for white people to even begin to comprehend that different is a good thing, and different is what can help America achieve even more: they still think we're all fighting over how to make sure we're all the same.

When we deny black people (or immigrants) their individuality and assume they ought to hurriedly melt into white America and become "like us," what we are really forgetting is our own American story, and its most important moral: our renewal has always come from fresh ideas, fresh perspectives — and often from actual Freshies, people who are fresh-off-the-boat.

For example, I have always found it intriguing that so many Italian-Americans show such pride in their foreign heritage, yet tend also to pair this Italian pride with an American pride that is both racist and xenophobic.

For context, note that Italians have contributed greatly to American society despite some legitimately-American gripes. Italians were treated horribly when they first came here. Before whites-only suburbs allowed them to intermarry and blend in over time, they were at first relegated to tenements and to stereotypes of criminality in the North, and sometimes even to lynch mobs in the South.

Any older black American who settled in the suburbs can explain succinctly what's going on when we see the sort-of-Italians take on the Puerto Ricans in West Side Story, or we see the Italian boy having to sneak around with the black girl in A Bronx Tale: the reason Italian-Americans tend to have animosity is because they have always been that last group to be reluctantly accepted from the tenements into the Dreamy white suburbs. After the Italians, there's only the colored people. And there goes the neighborhood.

The reason such animosity among Italian-Americans has a particularly-American irony to it isn't just because Italians overcame oppression of their own: it's ironic because these folks show so much pride in the history of Italy, and it's Italy that gave us the fucking Renaissance.

The Renaissance, of course, was about open-mindedness, new ideas from new people. The spices of life. The Renaissance was made possible because diverse people and goods flowed through Italy and sparked new collaborations.

So in our race against China, it should not be lost on us that China is over 90% one ethnicity, the Han Chinese. Lacking diversity is their disadvantage and our advantage. Instead of dreaming of a world where the stoic white man resists the Asian demographic explosion, envision a world where a colorful America is undeterred by the economic might of others because she continues to create virtually every new thing that matters, and can thus command her own price.

The next Renaissance will be borne of America the Remix, not America Redux.

China, which once relegated its women to the household, long-ago realized that it could not compete on the global stage without bringing women into the workforce in a meaningful way. Likewise, in a changing world where everything that is not creative will eventually be automated, we are leaving behind large sections of our creative talent base for the sake of our fragile white identities.

China holding some US "debt" in the form of T-Bills may be no big deal, but China innovating faster and creating new wealth much faster than us is a big deal.

And so let me be perfectly clear about my own anti-racist viewpoint: I'm not thinking about kids in the hood because I feel bad for black people. I'm thinking about kids in the hood because I'm scared of China.

We're going to need all that talent we have trapped on islands of poverty, in order to make sure everybody keeps buying American creations and keeps our economy central in a globalized world. Black success is absolutely our success. And no, you racist prick, I'm not just talking about black people creating music. For every musician in Cleveland or Newark there are 10 inventors at least. Without America's full squad, be sure that our opponents are going to catch us slipping one of these days. So don't fix America for anyone but yourself.

So back we go to our burning question about what fixing America even means. Where do we go from here?


The main reason racism confuses us so much is that, absent klan hoods and fiery crosses, we tend not to truly grasp what it is that's even happening here, how and why exactly we are a racist country. We can see some symptoms of it, but we are hard-pressed to determine the methods of the actual disease. We often wonder if the statistics really bear it out, for example; or perhaps we hear about an Affirmative policy and wonder why we can't call that racism-in-reverse.

Racism is about complex structural power dynamics, not about anecdotal stories of reverse-discrimination or strained statistics. In fact, when someone says things like "show me the proof of racism here," or "statistically that's not racist," well, then, that's how you'll know that person doesn't actually understand racism at all.

To really understand what racism is and how to fix it, we first have to understand that its root cause hardly has anything to do with black people.

Consider, for example, two very powerful nations that have had longstanding conflicts with each other, such as the UK and Russia. When powerful nations are in a fight, the challenge they have is that they cannot immediately punch each other directly in the face, because their great power means this would cause too much damage, and escalate things too quickly. Instead, nations often resort to proxy wars to engage in their tit for tat. The UK's century-long conflict with Russia over Central Asia eventually gave way to the proxy wars of Afghanistan during the Cold War; the US is currently engaged in proxy wars with Iran in Syria and Iraq; Saudi Arabia and Iran have always been keen to battle things out in helpless host countries, as we see today in Yemen. The list goes on.

In the case of the centuries-old struggle over control of America's vast resources, the fight has always been between the powerful elite of America's Northern Union, and the powerful elite of her Southern Confederacy: and it's the black man who has proved a useful battleground for their proxy war.

The feel-good story of the young Yankee is that the North and Honest Abe wanted to free the slaves, and that's why the white people ended up at each others' throats for a time; but as any white Southerner would be quick to point out, in this conflict it's not so much that the Northern elite cares about the black man's plight, so much as he has found the black man useful in the North's subjugation of the South. The South's race problem is something the North has exploited politically for centuries, holding up the Negro Problem in the South as evidence the Southern elite are unfit parents, and therefore unfit stewards of white power.

Likewise, when our enemies today see the vestiges of this great white fight between the Confederacy and the Union, they quickly recognize it as a vulnerability they can use to exploit the whole of us. This is America's Achilles Heel. The UK and Russia's proxy war ultimately gave Afghanistan an internal fight among factions so brutal it would give rise to Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden; America's proxy war would ultimately divide white America and create a fight among factions so brutal it would give us the Klan, the Proud Boys, douchebags like Richard Barnett, and dangerous people like Dylann Roof and Donald Trump.

If you doubt that this battle between the white North and the white South has continued and represents the root of our problem even today, you can look no further than one of the most circulated images from January 6th, the one of the white man walking through the Capitol waving a Confederate flag, 156 years after the Civil War.

The story in this photo is much more than just another hillbilly who hangs on to his "heritage." Mike Theiler's photo was poignant because it caught this sad man as he strode past portraits of the abolitionist senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner, and the pro-slavery senator from South Carolina, John C. Calhoun. This picture says a thousand words, but what's most telling isn't the poignancy of what's in the image, it's the poignancy of what's not: black people.

Racism was and is a struggle among white people, who use the black man in their proxy war with each other. It's what we saw go on between the Confederates and the Union, and it's what we see going on between the Republicans and the Democrats. Both of them are severely racist in their own way, and the black man ends up caught in the crossfire.

The Northern elite saw a vulnerability and used the black man to divide our nation and maintain political control in the 1800s, and to this day our elections and our national discourse are driven by this proxy war, with recent attacks on the vote becoming the rocket's red glare that gave us proof, thanks to Republicans, that our Confederate flag is still there.

When we come to understand that racism is part of a historic fight between white people and other white people, not between white people and black people, we start to think differently about how we can dig ourselves out of this shameful hole and take on our adversaries like China.

When actual working people see the elite in both parties for what they are, we will learn to come together across racial lines and support policies that truly expand the middle class, namely by making sure more people of color have a fair shot at the middle class, since historically they haven't. This doesn't mean handouts, this doesn't mean reparations, and this isn't a zero-sum game where the white man's taxes are the lazy black man's come up.

Where we go from here is to a place where we can comprehend that the reason Hard Work has always been sure to mean success for white people is because of a handful of government programs over the years that made sure this was the case. As long as you worked hard and you where white, you made it. It's the confirmation bias of assuming it was the hard work alone which confuses the white man so, since he has been made to believe that those without material success must have inferior morals.

In other words, here again, a big part of solving the black problem in your mind is to stop assuming black people have a problem. Stop thinking you have something that black people inherently want, or that you are being asked to "give" them something.

White Americans are in nothing more deluded than in supposing that Negroes could ever have imagined that white people would “give” them anything. It is rare indeed that people give. Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be. One can give nothing whatever without giving oneself—that is to say, risking oneself. If one cannot risk oneself, then one is simply incapable of giving. And, after all, one can give freedom only by setting someone free. This, in the case of the Negro, the American republic has never become sufficiently mature to do. White Americans have contented themselves with gestures that are now described as “tokenism.” For hard example, white Americans congratulate themselves on the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in the schools; they suppose, in spite of the mountain of evidence that has since accumulated to the contrary, that this was proof of a change of heart—or, as they like to say, progress. Perhaps. It all depends on how one reads the word “progress.” Most of the Negroes I know do not believe that this immense concession would ever have been made if it had not been for the competition of the Cold War, and the fact that Africa was clearly liberating herself and therefore had, for political reasons, to be wooed by the descendants of her former masters. Had it been a matter of love or justice, the 1954 decision would surely have occurred sooner; were it not for the realities of power in this difficult era, it might very well not have occurred yet. This seems an extremely harsh way of stating the case—ungrateful, as it were—but the evidence that supports this way of stating it is not easily refuted. I myself do not think that it can be refuted at all. In any event, the sloppy and fatuous nature of American good will can never be relied upon to deal with hard problems. These have been dealt with, when they have been dealt with at all, out of necessity—and in political terms, anyway, necessity means concessions made in order to stay on top.

Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

The real challenge with inducing a change of heart is that the argument for promoting diversity, for promoting inclusion in the American Dream, is usually packaged in a way that does little but to once again reinforce the white man's sense of his own value. To conservative whites, diversity means black people "earning their way" into white communities; for liberal whites, diversity means "making it easier for them to earn their way" into white communities. Each outcome represents a mere token for white people to tender, as proof of their own achievement of building a moral nation.

This is a hard problem. And that's why it has been so easy for our adversaries to exploit. When black people feel forced to play the race card, white people feel forced to play the race token. And on and on we go, until we suffer a violent coup. My great fear is that we will only deal with this difficult problem when we are forced to do so, because we will be approaching disaster on the world stage. Let us hope we are not too late.

This is a global competition, guys. And we need all of our talent.

In short, we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation—if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity, as men and women. To create one nation has proved to be a hideously difficult task...

[White people] have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men... Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.

Jame's Baldwin's Letter to My Nephew, quoted above, is a sort of preamble for his young nephew, also named James — a preamble not just to the most important book any of us will ever read on race in America, but a preamble to James' upcoming odyssey as a young black man encountering the realities of the American Dream.

Our country is what it is because of the opportunities and the peculiarities associated with that Dream. The American Dream, for all of us, agreeably includes a fair shot at securing fertile ground upon which our children can grow. To understand why the Dream already feels so real and so readily-available for white people, we must understand that the government invested heavily in us to get us to fertile ground. If we can lower our guards and consider that fact, we can acknowledge that we should continue to prioritize investing in programs to expand our middle class and build-out — not pull-up — the ladder that is the American Dream.

When instead we tell ourselves our moral society is already complete because "anyone can become rich," we are forgetting that this fact is a feature of our investments in a strong middle class. Just because it is still technically true that anyone can become rich, does not mean we should be making it harder for people to join and to surpass the middle class: fair housing, access to healthcare, new curriculums, green energy — these aren't free fish, they're fishing poles. It's these tools that will make more people middle class and will make more people rich, and it's these tools that will make the economy bigger and stronger for all of us.

Once we finally realize that the Dream feels more available and tangible to white people because the government made it that way, we are unoffended when Obama tells us "you didn't build that." If you aren't overcome with misdirected guilt and confusion about race, you can easily understand that Obama isn't saying you didn't work hard for what you have. He isn't saying that you didn't face any adversity of your own. What he's saying is that you didn't build that alone. He's pointing out that you had the help of government, and you didn't even realize it. And he's pointing out that you don't even know (or don't care) that your people alone didn't build all of America's assets, much like you didn't build that storied building behind him in the photo. The Capitol was built largely by slaves. It was your own meritorious and "patriotic" folks who pranced through it with a Confederate flag, 228 years later.

So quick our so-called conservative patriots are to tell others they must "hate America," when they themselves only love America if it is sufficiently white.

Who really hates our beautiful and colorful America more, I wonder? Is it the white guys with the Confederate flags who shit in the hallways of our Capitol and spread it all over the walls, or the black janitor who cleans it all up? Who hates democracy more?

Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words "acceptance" and "integration." There is no reason for you to try to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it...

We cannot be free until they are free.