Category Archives: The Politics of Hate

Foreign Elections — French Edition

On Sunday, French voters will go to the polls in the first round of their presidential election.  There are several key differences between the U.S. and France.  First, the French have more than two main political parties.  Out of the eleven candidates running, at least five represent significant political groupings.  Second, the French president is elected by popular vote.  Third, if no candidate gets a majority of the popular vote (likely based on current polls), there will be a run-off.  Fourth, the center of French politics is significantly further to the left than U.S. politics.  While folks try to put things in U.S. terms, the best way to view it is that the top five is like Donald Trump, John Kasich,  Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and someone to the left of Bernie Sanders, and even the Donald Trump candidate is more liberal on fiscal issues than President Trump.

Of course, what is the same is the existence of the National Front — an organization that Donald Trump loves.  As it’s name implies, the National Front is a xenophobic party opposed to French membership in the European Union and the Islamic influence in France.  It is also pro-Putin.  The National Front typically polls somewhere in the teens.  While this has historically been enough for the National Front to contend for run-off slots (both in Presidential and Parliamentary elections), the National Front is so far out of the mainstream of French politics that it normally loses most of those run-off elections (it only holds two seats in the outgoing French Parliament.)  In this election, the National Front is (again) running Marine Le Pen — daughter of the founder of the National Front and its leader since dear old dad retired.

There are some signs that the far right nationalist views of the National Front are making gains in France.  There is a symbiotic relationship between ultranationalist candidates like Le Pen and Trump on the one side and Islamic fundamentalist terror groups like ISIS.  Each terror attack make the law and order and anti-Islam messages of the ultranationalist sound like the only option that voters have if they want security.  However, that very anti-Islam message feeds into discrimination against Muslims who are native-born citizens.  Young Muslims feeling rejected by their own country then turn to leaders who call for a return to an era when Islam was dominant and promote violence as a means to that end.  When these young people follow through on that call and engage in acts of terror, the cycle begins again.   Given a spate of terror incidents on the eve of the election, the National Front may pick up an extra couple of percent in the first round of the election. Continue Reading...

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“Deep State” Paranoia

In the past several weeks, we have heard ranting out of the White House about a “deep state” conspiracy to frustrate Donald Trump’s objectives.  It is only this current fact-free administration which could turn a well-understand aspect of the American government — mentioned in political science courses for over half a century — into a sinister conspiracy aimed at President Trump.  It’s no secret that bureaucracies across the world (not just in the U.S.) function in their own peculiar ways to keep the government functioning — even when elected officials would rather destroy the government.  There are, of course, some features that are driving the Trumpistas crazy.

  1.  The United States is not a dictatorship.  The jobs and duties of the various departments and agencies are defined by statutes and existing regulations.  Because there are grey areas in these statutes and regulations, the executive branch does have some discretion in interpreting them (as discussed regularly in the posts about legal issues).  However, the President can’t on his own enact new laws or repeal existing laws.  Thus, however, much a President might see a need for new revenues to balance the budget, he can’t simply order the Treasury Department to start collecting a new $1 per day tax on every hotel room in the country.  Similarly, the President can’t simply order the permanent resident status of a legal immigrant revoked simply because that permanent resident posts a tweet criticizing the President.

2.  At the federal level, most individuals working for the federal government are careerists who have civil service protection.  Even for agencies that are exempt from civil service protection (which includes many state and city governments), there are First Amendment protections against discharge for political reasons.  Barring gross insubordination, these individuals can keep on doing their jobs as they understand their responsibilities.

3.  Most career civil servants identify with the mission of their department or agency.  It was not a shock that the organizations representing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol employees were sympathetic to Trump’s proposals to beef up border security and to step up deportation activity.   Similarly, you would expect that career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division believe in enforcing civil rights laws and that those working in the foreign service believe in diplomacy and the traditional foreign policy objectives of the U.S. government.  You may have some temporary influx of “rookies” when government changes hands that agree with the goals of the new administration.  In the long term, however, it is hard to stay in a job when you disagree with the basic goal of the job.  Additionally, many jobs in the federal government (e.g. EPA and the FDA) require a certain educational background.  Most rational persons do not choose their college majors or graduate/professional schools for the purpose of one day undermining a government department. Continue Reading...

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Hate in America

Last night, we in Philly heard that hundreds of headstones were turned over Saturday night at a Jewish cemetery, a week after similar vandalism in St. Louis. Many people are saddened, appalled and surprised. They should be sad and appalled, but not surprised. This is Trump’s America.

I have been working with Indivisible locally, and I am heartened by the number of people completely new to politics who are suddenly aware, and ready to take action to both resist the Trump agenda, and help elect people who will serve America, and not what is actually the Bannon administration.

I keep hearing two themes through my work with Indivisible. First, people are concerned about what they can do to stop hate. And by “hate” I mean not just the vandalism, but the verbal abuse people see foisted upon innocent people, just for the colour of their skin,  The ICE roundups are another form of hate: people question what they can do to help those who will be caught up in the dragnets. Hate also in the form of the administration’s moves against sick people (“repeal Obamacare” and dismantle Medicaid), Hate in the form of transgender bathroom rights. I’m a doctor, and I’m telling you, the only thing that matters is that you wash your hands. (If you’re a long-term reader, you remember back to SARS and fingers, nails, fingers, fingers, fingers.) And let’s not forget the hate of literacy in terms of claiming the media is the “enemy of the people”.  The hate is creeping down from the Cheeto Team, and up from the GOP state legislatures. Continue Reading...

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Immigration Kerflufle

We knew the policy was coming.  We should have guessed that Trump would botch it — both in terms of the actual policy and in terms of how it was implemented.  Now, we have a fustercluck of a “temporary” Arab ban policy.  There are potential legal issues involved which I will discuss below.  As a major cautionary note, I don’t do immigration law.  Despite what the U.S. Supreme Court may think, those of us who deal in ordinary criminal law don’t really get the nuances of immigration law nor all of the technical terms involved.

Before turning to the potential legal challenges, what has happened over the past five days is exactly why there are usual procedures for issuing executive orders.  While Trump would probably have still tended toward the outrageous in this policy, some of the problems might have been avoided if things had been handled better.  Instead, we have a policy statement masquerading as a policy.

Normally before an executive order is released, the White House staff has consulted with the effected agencies — here, State, Homeland Security, I.C.E., U.S.C.I.S., and T.S.A. — to get their input and make sure that everyone is on the same page at the time of implementation.  Additionally, the Office of Legal Counsel typically has gone through the order to make sure that it is legally defensible — not necessarily a winning defense, but at least no glaring fatal flaws for which there is not even a colorable defense — and clearly sets forth the policy. Continue Reading...

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no_more_hate (2)This morning on the radio, they were asking for people to tweet whether the problem related to Orlando was whether there were too many guns, or not enough oversight on the mentally ill. How very, VERY, wrong a question.

The tragedy at Pulse has so many root causes, and so much blame to go around. I am struck by all the lives affected: the dead, the injured, their families, friends and co-workers, plus everyone who is LGBTQI. And I have questions. Many questions.

First, I have LGBTQI friends. I don’t think of them as L or G or B or T or Q or I — they are my friends. The people I share a meal with, dance with, go shopping with….just plain friends. I used to have a lot more gay male friends, sadly lost to what was then called GRID, before it was AIDS. I’ve watched the struggles over the years: the hiding before Stonewall, the discrimination, the beatings for having been born. The evangelicals say that we are all created in G-d’s image: how do they integrate their supposed love of G-d with their obvious hatred of those created in her image? Rumor has it that the shooter was “incensed” by seeing two men kissing. I don’t get it. Continue Reading...

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Stopping Donald Trump

This post is about The Donald, but first, an anecdote to frame the discussion. My dad is a movie buff. He took me to my first film, the story goes, when I was 6 weeks old, all in bunting because “if there are going to be two women in my life, one of them will love musicals”. To this day, my mom, not so big on musicals. My dad took me to revival films, to remakes, to new movies all my life. When he took me to see the remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in the first scene, when Donald Sutherland is driving in San Francisco’s Chinatown, a man runs into the street, yelling “It’s happening again, I’ve seen it all before.” He is struck and killed by a car. My dad said “That’s Kevin McCarthy, he had the Donald Sutherland role in the original. He has seen it all before.”

I know about Germany in the 1930’s from people who saw it all. From my grandparents, to my childhood chiropractor and dentist who both had numbers on their arms, to the older people who used to explain what they meant by “Never Again.”

I live in suburban Philadelphia in 2016, not Berlin in 1933, and I am terrified. 
Last Friday in Chicago was the last straw for me. Back in the summer, when the MSM was making fun of Donald Trump, I assumed what every political junkie thought: Bush v Clinton. And then I saw a Trump rally. I understood immediately the type of people to whom he would appeal, and how broad and deep the appeal could go. Donald Trump, as many have said before me, is the embodiment of where the GOP has been going for years, but with a few twists. That fascism twist. That isolationist twist. That ability to blame innocents and spare the real source of problems twist. Continue Reading...

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Trump and the Future of the Republican Party

Regular readers of this blog know that a recurring topic of discussion has been how long the Republican Party can stay intact as it now is.  For forty years, the Republican Party has been a combination of nativist Dixiecrats, Christian Fundamentalists, economic libertarians, neo-conservatives, and the traditional moderate business establishment.  For most of the forty years, this coalition has been a con job with candidates using enough coded phrases and wedge issues on the campaign trail to keep the nativists and the fundamentalists happy at election time, but focusing primarily on keeping the neo-conservatives happy on foreign policy and the establishment happy on economic issues once in office.

For the first twenty years to thirty years this strategy worked well in most places.  The gradual increase of Hispanic citizens, however, is altering the demographics (at least in Presidential election years), making it difficult to keep the nativists happy and still have a chance at winning the presidential election.  (For Congress and state legislatures, the geographic dispersion of seats plus a little bit of gerrymandering will help the Republicans keep their heads above water for a little bit more).  At the same time, the grassroots are beginning to catch on to the con, and they are becoming restless.

Continue Reading...

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Fearing Fear Itself

Wanting to give a chance for the heat of the moment to pass, I did not post on this topic last week.  However, our wonderful politicians to paraphrase another statement, never miss an opportunity to make things worse by over-reacting to the crisis du jour.  While it is unclear that the current proposed legislation on refugees actually changes the screening process, the timing of this legislation and the specific requirement that the Administration give periodic reports to Congress is another blunder on the PR side of the war on terror — sending a clear message to the Muslim world that the U.S. sees Muslims as our enemy, even though that is not the case.  Several points need to be made (and hopefully will be made by those who want to be President and our other national leaders, but I am not optimistic).

First, and foremost, fundamentalism — whether Islamic or Christian or Jewish or Hindi or Buddhist — is an idea.  An idea can’t be defeated by military force.  In today’s world, all it takes is a computer (or smart phone) to communicate messages — both to recruit new participants and to coordinate plans — and to transfer the funds needed for operations.  While controlling a piece of territory (especially one rich in natural resources) can allow a training program and help with raising funds, it is not absolutely necessary.  Thus, if our only strategy is a military one, we face the modern day equivalent of a mythical Hydra — lop off one head (Al-Qaeda) and a new head (ISIS) emerges to take its place within a year or two.

Second, all religions have the potential for a fundamentalist streak, and most religions have some text that can be interpreted to support holy war (call it a jihad, a crusade, or whatever) against non-believers.  Most also have texts that can be read to support tolerance and non-violent attempts to convert by persuasion and demonstrating the goodness and truth of the religion.  Christians attempting to convince others that Islam is different should first closely examine their own history — even at this late time, we are only a couple of decades removed from the troubles in Northern Ireland and the war in Bosnia, much less the continued mistreatment of gays and lesbians on religious grounds by Christian leaders in Africa.  We also need to recognize that all religions have different sub-denominations.  If a Muslim tried to lump in Episcopalians with Southern Baptists, both groups would quickly respond about how different Episcopalian beliefs are from Southern Baptist beliefs — although both qualify as Christian and protestant.  Yet, in the U.S., we quickly gloss over the differences between Sunni and Shia and all of the divergent schools of belief that fit within each of those two broad categories. Continue Reading...

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The Shame of America

Yesterday, the House passed HR 4038, a bill that expands background checks on certain refugees who wish asylum in the United States. It passed with bipartisan support 289-137. (Full list of who voted how is here.)

If you think this is okay, you could not be more wrong. The whole issue of refugees is bringing out the worst in far too many politicians and candidates, as well as “regular” Americans. And if you think it will stop with Syrians and Iraqis, you have no understanding of history. This is a blight on our collective soul as a country.

Reasons and rationale after the jump. Continue Reading...

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