Monday, July 24, 2017

The Black Community and the Trump Community

I bet THAT pisses off liberals
And reading such accounts leads me to a decidedly unoriginal conclusion.  We are seeing today some of the same pathology in the white rural working class community -- or, to avoid tarring with too broad a brush, what I will call the Trump community -- that we have seen in the black inner city community (and beyond it, to a degree), particularly from the late 1960's to the mid 1990's (though I will focus mostly on the tail end of it), though it began well before and continues to varying degrees today.

What pathology is that, crime and addiction?  Crime and addiction are parts of it.  And, for what it is worth, our current opiate addiction is worse than any prior addiction crisis because the drugs in question are legal and therefore much cheaper and easier to obtain.  Crime, on the other hand, is well short of rates in our black inner cities today, let alone at the height of the crack wave.  Still, the  article made some good points about rising crime rates in Grand Junction in particular and white rural communities in general. Felony killings have increased by 56% in the last three years, while overall homicide had doubled in a decade.  This is no more than should be expected in a community whose economic base it collapsing.  It also goes a long way to explaining the appeal of Trump calling America a hellscape of crime, even though overall crime rates have been falling for a quarter century. In the sort of rural communities where Trump did best, crime rates are rising.  If they are not as high there as in the black inner city -- well, overall trajectories affect people's perception more than absolute numbers.  Where crime rates are high but have been falling for a quarter century, people tend to look at the improvement and not panic.  Where crime rates are rising, alarm is reasonable.  If rates still fall well short of inner city rates, people may nonetheless look at inner city pathology as something to dread as a possible future.

But what I really mean here are other pathologies have troubled the black community -- celebration of indulgence of people's worst instincts as "authenticity;" estrangement against outsiders, who are seen enemies, with a tendency toward paranoia and conspiracy theories; and a tendency to rally behind any leader who comes under attack, no matter how deservedly so, because he is one of our own.  Certainly there was a time not so long ago when these were bases of serious complaint about the black community.  Besides high levels of addiction, crime, and single motherhood, rap artists  produced songs that were pure collections of profanity, misogyny, and violence.  Many people excused these works as "authentic" expressions of the real inner city experience.  A certain vile nihilism broke out, a gangster chic, that celebrated crime and misogyny and and pure indulgence of one's worst impulses and authenticity and mocked and sort of self-restraint as trying to be white and people who exercised it as "oreos." This viewpoint was profoundly anti-intellectual, seeing no point in education other that to find evidence of how oppressed black people were and castigating any love of learning and knowledge as "trying to be white."  It frequently retreated into paranoia, blaming the CIA for smuggling drugs into the inner cities, or claiming that the AIDS virus was genetically engineered in government labs to kill black people.  And whenever any black person of prominence was accused of a crime or misconduct -- Marion Barry (Mayor of Washington DC) of smoking cocaine, Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment of Anita Hill, O.J. Simpson of killing his wife and so forth -- black people were quick to rally to defend their own, no matter how obvious the evidence of guilt.  This applied even if the accused, like Thomas or Simpson, was widely seen as a sell-out or race traitor.

And doesn't the Trump community show some fairly obvious equivalent behaviors these days? Celebrating obnoxiousness (and worse) as "authenticity," praising ignorance as virtue, seeing knowledge and expertise as a "swamp" to be drained, measuring every action by the sole metric of how much it offends liberals and rallying to Trump no matter how outrageous his behavior just because the elite coastal media attacks him for it.  Not to mention the extraordinary churning of conspiracy theories, and that the fever swamps have actually found a politician they consider to be their own.

The Trump community has been primed for the past generation to distrust all mainstream sources and not believe anything unless it comes from an accepted right wing outlet. Trump is simply taking it a step further by denouncing any report he doesn't like as "Fake News."  His followers eat it up.  And there you have it.  As with the black community before, so with the Trump community today, no one on the outside is going to change minds.  And here is where I see a disturbing difference.

The black community, even in the darkest days of the crack epidemic, never lost its capacity for self-criticism.  Self-criticism was a veritable cottage industry in the black community of the time.  Exhorting one’s audiences to do better, to stay off drugs, to refrain from crime, to take responsibility for their children and so forth was a ritual virtually required of any black leader speaking to a black audience.  The "growing up in the 'hood" movie became almost a genre of its own, all by black directors, all urging their audience to stop dealing drugs and killing each other.  The comic strip Boondocks thoroughly mocked Riley, the younger brother who modeled himself on a gangster rapper. While Huey, the black militant hero of the strip had the author's sympathies, he came in for his share of ridicule as well and had to acknowledge many cultural identifiers (Kwanzaa, anyone?) were silly.

Well, one may say, that was the leadership.  What about ordinary folks?  But a leader necessarily requires followers.  If a would-be leader speaks out and attempts to lead but no one listens or follows, then by definition that person is not a leader.  Louis Farrakhan, the absolute embodiment of a white-hating black supremacist, called for a Million Man March that was all about personal responsibility and individual improvement.  He didn’t get a million, but the crowd was certainly in the high six figures – and might have been twice as large if women had been invited.  And it was all about self-criticism and personal responsibility.  Indeed, someone commented that self-criticism and exhortations to self-improvement were so common among black leaders and so regularly got a positive reception that only one conclusion was possible.  Black people obviously liked being lectured about better conduct, so long as the speaker was black. 

I don't see anything like that in the Trump community -- no warnings not live up to people's worst stereotypes, no looking inward at real problems with crime and drugs, no sense that anything goes so long as it pisses off the liberals is a warped viewpoint.   Imagine the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter or Steve Bannon criticizing their followers and urging them not to give in so readily to their worst impulses.  Seriously, imagine it!  And now try to imagine how their followers would react.  I think it safe to say it would not be a boon for ratings!

And do keep in mind that the black community's capacity for self-criticism has ultimately paid off.  No one is suggesting that all is well, but things really are better.  Crime rates in our inner cities have been falling for a quarter century.  Burned out ruins of core cities have revived.  In 1977, a blackout in New York City was met with a looting spree, and many people went so far as to defend the looters. No equivalent outbreak occurred with the blackout in 2003.  And during Hurricane Katrina, there was wide consensus across the racial and ideological spectrum that taking food, clean water, medicine and sanitary supplies was reasonable under the circumstances, stealing valuables was to be condemned. Mindless violence no longer seems cool, and even rap has toned it down.  If there has been any great rush to defend Bill Cosby I, for one, have not noticed it.  And Black Lives Matter, for all its violent fringe, is not a movement of pure, nihilistic anger and resentment, but an expression of clear and specific grievances about real and specific abuses.  Even when it broke out into riots, these riots have been -- so far -- short lived, scattered, and on a much smaller scale than the 1960's riots or the Rodney King riots.  (Let's keep it that way!)

And again, I can imagine the Trump community responding with fury.  They are nothing like the black community in the time of the crack epidemic and to even make such a suggestion is an outrage. But, again, the trajectory can be as important as the absolute condition.  Let pathology fester, praise it as "authenticity," reject any self-criticism, any unwelcome facts, and base all your values on opposition to the liberals, and things can get a whole lot worse before they get any better.

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