The half-life of racism

Attorney General Eric Holder made a bit of a splash when speaking at Columbia earlier this year.  He told the audience at his alma mater that he could not imagine a time when the need for racial preferences like affirmative action would cease.

So at what point does racism stop mattering in American life?  Perhaps you’ve entertained this question before.  If government, civil society and churches have been laboring against this great sin for decades, is there anything to show for it?

Surely, in 300 years, after our great-grandchildren are deceased, the old, nasty attitudes so prevalent before the Civil Rights era will have been expunged.  But if not, there will be sophisticated equipment–maybe like a Star Trek tricorder–to empirically identify any remnants.

For now, we are lucky to have wagging tongues like Chris Matthews to tell us when someone is being racist.  Or, we can just as well heed the dire warnings of speakers at this year’s Democratic National Convention.

Anyone who genuinely seeks a substantive discussion of issues, such as our raging national debt or the proper scope of federal government, has required a little patience in dealing with smokescreens thrown up by progressives and Democrats.  We know these as racism, the war on women, homophobia and so on.

The identity politics fiefdom built on these “wedge” issues is troubling in how it treats people in need as abstractions, not individuals.  The long history of progressive prescriptions affirms the ineffectiveness of promises perennially extended toward these abstracted victims.  President Johnson launched a “War on Poverty” in the 1960s, but the numbers of poor and dependent have reliably increased in the decades since.  Why should we think that President Obama, in spending ever more sums on the same problems, will change that?

While some conditions haven’t improved, there has been tremendous progress on societal attitudes.  Among those born after the tumult of the 1960s, the ideal of “equality” crowns the paramount virtue of “tolerance.”  But many remain beholden to the hope that just a little more money to social programs, a little more Ad Council propaganda, will actually change conditions for the abstraction.

What if these well-intended moves crowd out the healthy habits and cultural capital necessary to the success of the individual?  These, not the wasteful expenditures of federal welfare programs, are what can change conditions on the ground.  But to assess this soberly will require a little distance from the crooning promises of “Hope and Change” or MSNBC’s alarmist cries of “racism!”

Would it be safe to say that, in America today, we’re beyond the half-life of racism or patriarchy?  Existential struggle against oppression need not trump every policy consideration.  As I noted recently, a diverse lineup of thought leaders in media and at this year’s Republican National Convention have given us hope that we’re past that point.  For the sake of true progress, and the issues that really matter, I hope November will reflect a similar move among the population at large.

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2016 and RNC: increasingly visible, minority conservatives buck liberalism

This past weekend, I saw Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America.  It was playing on some 1,000 movie screens.  And this upcoming weekend, it will open up on a thousand more.  There’s been considerable coverage now that it’s broken into the weekly box office top ten.  Not only that, it’s at least the fifth highest grossing political documentary of all time.  Watch out, Michael Moore!

I have offered some critical words about D’Souza’s past work.  Just the cover of his 2011 tome, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, comes off as a psychoanalytical potshot.  But given the election year excitement and buzz, I thought I’d give 2016 a try.

Dinesh D’Souza travels the world to learn about Obama’s roots. 2016themovie.com

The film is well-produced, and acclaimed Hollywood veteran Gerald Molen can be thanked for that.  The music, not overbearing or manipulative as we might expect for a political documentary, lends an air of excitement and intrigue befitting the cosmopolitan journey.  After all, this is D’Souza’s “reading” (as my wife put it) of Obama’s globetrotting, cross-cultural upbringing.

D’Souza lays out a comprehensive case in the course of 90 minutes; undoubtedly, he has done his homework.  Polished graphics and dramatic cuts of D’Souza retracing Obama’s footsteps through Indonesia, Hawaii, and Kenya add grit and a kinetic potency to his “anticolonial” thesis.

A recent AP Fact Check–which Breitbart’s Big Journalism has answered–takes exception to some of D’Souza’s claims.  But the finer points of what Obama was exposed to at prep school or what his father’s old associates believe about Israel pale in comparison to the the core fact that the AP fact checker perhaps willfully overlooked.  This is the odd trajectory his white, American, maternal side of the family put him on.

Looking beyond the film for a moment, we can see the root of that strange trajectory.  President Obama’s maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham, named his daughter after himself.  Of course, people mostly know her by her middle name Ann.

Back in the film, we see Ann’s radical values–adopted early in life–play out.  She rejects her Indonesian husband Lo Lo Soetoro because he cozies up to an American oil company and comes to oppose communists.  This telling is hardly the kind of “logical stretch” that AP’s fact check would have you believe the film is built on.

D’Souza’s most important revelation may be Obama’s “founding fathers.”  How he comes to know one of these guiding lights is particularly telling.  Young Barack’s grandfather Stanley Dunham  introduces a peculiar personal friend to be his mentor: card-carrying Communist (no. 47544) Frank Marshall Davis.

At one point in the film, D’Souza refers to Obama’s ideas as “alien.”  As cringe-inducing as this may sound, it is not a prelude to a radical right rant.  Neither is it a racist code or dog whistle.  After all, D’Souza is a mixed race immigrant from the global South.  That Barack Obama is black is merely an asterisk to the long-raging ideological struggle that lent his mother and grandfather strange ideas most Americans reject.

As important as D’Souza’s revelations are, we’ll find in 2016 a deeper significance.  It’s a film where a South Asian immigrant stars in a winsome, provocative telling of his own life as it contrasts with Obama’s.  During one prominent segment, D’Souza invokes the expert testimony of a fellow biracial academic, Shelby Steele.  Liberal Hollywood doesn’t hand us such a substantive, diversely-cast film everyday.  Sure, there’s Harold and Kumar, if Asian-Americans being depicted as stoners is somehow a good thing.

What 2016 accomplishes by featuring such thought-provoking minority conservatives is something neither the media, academia, nor the rest of our liberal cultural elites can stand.  This film is a very “brown” critique of the liberal worldview, and something I deeply appreciate as the son of a Southeast Asian immigrant myself.  Just as D’Souza relates his own college experience to spotlight the strange thinking of some Americans, I can recall absurd liberal expectations that I encountered as a college student of color.

Minority conservatives are to be found not just on screen, but on stage, at the Republican National Convention.  Speakers like Nikki Haley, Artur Davis, Condoleezza Rice and Susana Martinez have this year voiced their rejection of liberalism while affirming all that makes America powerful, decent, and good.

Nothing threatens the liberal worldview more than when its objects of sympathy and concern stand up, call it for what it is, and reject it.  As important as it will be in getting out the 2012 conservative vote, 2016 is,  perhaps more significantly, another nail in the coffin of liberal ideas whose time has passed.

Fearing the rhesus revolution

It’s an exciting time.  The Republican National Convention is about to start.  This is Romney’s chance to shine.  But the press has been stuck on the narrative that unwelcome events keep the GOP off message.  This is where media malfeasance has steered us, to meta-news, news about news.  Who is responsible for determining what the media covers?  Whoops, we’re not supposed to ask that kind of question.

The New York Times Magazine commemorates the advent of the Republican convention with a dour examination of the host city, Tampa, Florida.  Writer John Mooallem brings us the saga of a renegade rhesus macaque.  As he tells it, this indomitable monkey has become a sort of resistance symbol and a focal point for anti-government sentiment.

From start to finish, he peppers the piece with liberal complaints.  Opening up, he finds fault with the American flag flying over a local restaurant.  It’s “preposterously large.”  He reveals that, en route to covering the story, he tortured himself by listening to conservative talk radio.  From what I can tell, he’s done this for no other reason than to complain about it in writing afterward.

With respect to the monkey controversy itself, Mooallem makes his sympathies very clear.  He’s supportive of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, who the locals see as “the Gestapo.”  The writer’s sentiment crystallizes in this assessment of the state officers:

But they took a somewhat traditional view: the American people had a right to be protected by their government from wild monkeys. It was disorienting to watch the people of Tampa Bay champion the monkey’s rights instead.

That an idea like freedom might trump the public order deeply troubles him.  To counter such libertarian exuberance,  he quotes one man’s stern warning: “Sometimes, freedom isn’t necessarily a good idea.”  In true liberal fashion, the writer is most at home expressing his convictions as an equivocal miasma.

Nonetheless, he seems to advance a genuine concern about public order and safety.  Mooallem unmistakably condemns Tampans’ refusal to cooperate with the animal control agency.  But I suspect he doesn’t feel the same way about the Holder Justice Department’s bitter reluctance to enforce federal deportation laws.  Per his metric, why shouldn’t the prospect of fellow humans living an uncertain, shadow existence elicit the same kind of concern?

At any rate, pieces like Mooallem’s are the Sunday afternoon grist that Northeastern cultural elites relax by.  Harper’s, Atlantic, The New Yorker, anything that will allow them to look with detached pity and concern upon their benighted countrymen in the far flung regions.

I recall a long-running TV ad from some years ago.  In an effort to get the viewer to subscribe to the weekend edition of the New York Times, a woman would exclaim, “For me, that’s what Sundays were made for!”  Back then, I suspected this woman’s compatriots would profess that Sunday was “made” with a nobler purpose in mind.

With aching essays like the Tampa monkey expose, the folks at the Times demonstrate they are just as aloof of Middle America today as they’ve ever been.

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