Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What does it mean to look "presidential" (or "professorial," or "decanal," or...)?

One of the big stories of the 2016 presidential election is whether Donald Trump looks and acts presidential. This is no idle conversation.  What voters want to know is whether Trump can act like a president is supposed to act, do the things a president is supposed to do, look like a president is supposed to look.  Note that the bar for candidate Trump is very low.  Reading from a teleprompter will do.  Or not behaving like a sixth grade bully.  Note also that the point is not whether he is or can be presidential.  The point is whether he can pass for one.

Think first about what that means.  And think next about who benefits and who does not when we think about candidates, and jobs, and life, in that way.

Monday, September 5, 2016

What to make of the Puerto Rico Fiscal Control Board?

Back in June, the US Congress agreed on a bill to "solve" Puerto Rico's financial problems.  One of the solutions under the PROMESA Act (who says that politicians and their aides do not have a sense of humor?) is the establishment of a federal control board to oversee the finances of the island and the restructuring of the notorious Puerto Rican debt.  And just this past week, President Obama appointed seven members to the board, five of whom are Latin@s.

This is in-your-face colonialism for a 21st Century audience.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Alt-Right and "race realism" taken with a dose of history

The Diane Rehm show had a terrific discussion about race and immigration this week.  You can find it here.  Of particular interest to me is the conversation began by Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance magazine, a self-described "race-realist, white advocacy organization".  This particular exchange, early in the conversation, is particularly revealing:
Help me to understand what the term race realism means.
Well, this has to do with the central element that does unite the alt-right. Among the many positions held by the alt-right, we reject the notion that race is some sort of sociological optical illusion. Race is a biological fact, whether we wish to recognize that or not, and we completely reject the idea that all races are exactly equal and equivalent and in effect interchangeable. 
It's obvious that if a nation goes through substantial racial demographic change, many aspects of it will change, and a majority has the right to remain a majority. This is taken for granted in all non-white countries. You would never expect the Japanese or the Nigerians or the Mexicans to countenance some kind of immigration or other program that reduced them to a minority within a period of decades. They would laugh at it. 
Of course the United States has, from its very beginnings, taken in far more of a variety of races, some voluntarily and some otherwise. 
Yes, but the very first immigration law established in 1790 by the very first Congress of the United States, when these fellows were sitting around trying to decide what sort of nation they are going to be, the very first naturalization law was going to restrict naturalizations to free, white persons of good character. 
And that's how you'd like to keep it. Is that correct? 
Nations have a right to maintain some kind of cultural, racial and historical homogeneity, yes indeed. Furthermore we had an immigration policy, up until 1965, that was explicitly designed to keep the nation majority European. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this. The United States, people like to call it the American experiment. I don't like to think of my country as an experiment, a bunch of chemicals sitting over a Bunsen burner. 
We have not suspended the laws of human nature in the United States of America. We are a nation like any other, and the extent to which we lose any kind of cultural, racial homogeneity, the extent that we become a multi-culti mishmash, we will become an ungovernable place...
This is breathtakingly refreshing.  It is a testament to Diane Rehm and her wonderful show.  I am particularly intrigued by Mr. Taylor’s gloss on the past.

Mr. Taylor argues that the white majority has a “right” to remain a majority.  Diane Rehm pushes back, and rightly so: the US has admitted a multitude of races and nationalities from the beginning of the country, “some voluntarily and some otherwise.” Taylor responds with the 1790 Naturalization Act, which reserved U.S. citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person.”  Mr. Taylor appears to read this language as a hardened racial classification.  One need not do so, of course; instead, this language could reflect a racialized baseline that accounted for the reality of slavery as it existed in the late 18th Century.  In other words, the language of “free white person” is simply to draw a line between black people and everyone else.

Note that this second reading is much kinder to the founding generation and their conflicted views about race.  In contrast, Mr. Taylor’s reading sides with Dred Scott and the reading of our founding generation as racist and white supremacist.  He further ascribes this view to subsequent generations, up to 1965 and the Immigration and Nationality Act, which replaced the national origins quota system with a preference system.

So there you have it.  Mr. Taylor is essentially calling into question the First Reconstruction, which overruled Dred Scott and extended rights of citizenship to the former slaves, and the Second Reconstruction, which continued the earlier struggle.  Mr. Taylor objects to racial progress, diversity and multiculturalism.  He objects to the very things that many of us see as what makes the United States an exceptional country. 

More generally, what I find most interesting about Mr. Taylor’s views is how he deploys history and his reading of our shared past in order to tell a story of where we should be as a nation.  But of course, Mr. Taylor is telling you the story he wants you to hear.  I wonder what he would say, for example, about the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and its treatment of those living in the annexed Mexican territory.  I also wonder how he would fit Hawaiian and Alaskan statehood within his narrative, or the 1917 Jones Act, which extended US citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico, or the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act, which conferred US citizenship to American Indians born in the US.  Or the McCarran Walter Act of 1952, which removed race as an exclusionary category in immigration.

I imagine he would revert back to his view of the founding generation as racist and white supremacist.

Refreshing indeed.