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Why Political Correctness is Not So Bad
The Democratic Party is debating identity politics versus economic justice. Here are some thoughts based on a story my father told about prejudice and living as a minority.
By Ed Knudson
My father told a story after dinner one time when I was in high school and we lived at 4315 Longfellow in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He told about growing up in Manvel, North Dakota. He was the oldest (born in 1905) of a large family on a farm not too many miles from the town. Manvel was a small town north of Grand Forks. As he told it most of the people in Manvel were Polish Catholics. He was a Norwegian Lutheran. And in those days the Catholics and the Lutherans didn't like one another at all, no indeed. Any wedding between a Lutheran and a Catholic was frowned upon.
What I remember about my father talking about this is that he reported how difficult it was for him to be in a minority group, in this case the only Norwegian in the school. He spoke in ways revealing that he experienced real emotional trauma. It was that night, I think, as I have tried to look back at my own life and what influenced me, that I learned that prejudice against others is not good. My father had dared to share his actual feelings with his family and it made a real difference for me.
It is not as if I don't know that there continues to be racism in my thoughts and attitudes, even though I have lived and worked many years of my life in black communities. In fact, I think racism is so deeply embedded in the European white psyche in this country that it should be viewed as an actual demonic spirit within our minds and hearts; it can only be removed by a terrible, unsettling difficult experience like when Jesus expelled demonic spirits from people in his time. The demons screamed and shook when they were forced out and the people were healed.
But often people like their demons and don't want to let go of them. Even though we have tried to exorcise the demon of racism from this country, in politics there is still a lot of shaking and screaming going on.
We had the civil rights movement in the 1960s which changed the status and power relations of black-white relations, but there has been a huge and powerful backlash against the gains of black people ever since. White people have not been willing to spend money on inner city redevelopment, on jobs and schools; the only thing they have been willing to pay taxes for is police to keep black people in their place, and in prison. That is the awful truth of these last decades.
Now Donald Trump has been elected. He started his campaign calling immigrant laborers, the folks who work to keep food on our tables, who clean our homes and hotels, who build houses and all manner of other work, "rapists" and evil people. He came down that escalator to cheers of actors he had paid to be there. He was not a politician who had served in government in any way, he was not experienced, he had no real following. He had to pay for people to cheer him. But he did get a lot of media attention especially for claiming the first black president didn't deserve the title because he wasn't really born in this country. That was a racist rant through and through. The media loved it. The media created Donald Trump, the con man, the man who should not be president, who is not a legitimate president.
Trump said over and over that he was not going to be politically correct. He wanted to be able to bash immigrants, to lie about them. He wanted to be able to attack black people living in inner cities and talk against "Black Lives Matter". He wanted to excuse white policemen who shot and killed black people with little reason. And lots and lots of white people loved what he was saying. They were tired of not being able to tell their racist jokes.
And Trump was just saying what right wing radio had been screaming for the last eight years every day all day, convincing very large numbers of Republicans that Obama was really a socialist Muslim, that he hated Israel. I heard Rush Limbaugh say such stuff again and again. He talks to get people angry and emotional so they will tune in again the next day. Anger, hatred, bigotry, screaming, racism. That's the AM radio these days.
Right wing radio is fundamentally racist as is right wing religion which has its primary roots in the white South, the old traditional racist South that didn't want their children going to schools with black kids so the white churches set up their own white schools. The white South hates the federal government with a fury unknown in other parts of the country. The federal government, the Supreme Court, and then Congress and the President, forced the South to change its ways of segregation. And this happened primarily under a Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, so the South changed to become solid Republican in federal elections. There is only one thing that explains this: racism.
And there has been enough racism left in the country to elect a racist as president, a racist sexual predator at that. For those of you who voted for Trump, do you not know that the women in your life who you love will have a greater chance of being groped by some strange man who can say "the president does it". For the life of me, I do not understand how people of sane mind cannot see how bad Donald Trump is. Yes, I know Democrats have failed as a political party and they share the blame of helping to establish the conditions that made the election of Trump possible. Yes, educated professionals have chosen to put money over ethics and served the interests of corporate business which is concerned only with profits and not with any semblance of social responsibility. Many institutions have failed Americans so they have lost faith in them nearly entirely.
But why vote for Trump to fix things? He has been a loser at most of what he has done, he has been saved only by the bankers to try to salvage something in his "brand". His con game was not really criticized in the press. They tried to pretend equivalence between Trump and Clinton. And they loved to put Trump's vicious attacks on people in headlines, it sold papers and television commercials since in public today you are not supposed to be politically incorrect, you are not supposed to verbally abuse people and violently attack them. So when Trump did it anyway, it made the news. Trump had learned how to dominate the news in his earlier battles with the press in New York City. That the national press went along is testimony that the corporate media is so corrupt it cares not for the quality of public life or discourse, it cares only for the bottom line like the rest of the corporations in the country.
The problem is that there are actual real people behind the verbal attacks. When Trump mocked a disabled reporter there were lots and lots of actually disabled people who felt emotionally maligned. Imagine it yourself. Imagine yourself a Mexican carpenter proud of his craftsmanship working twelve hour days and he is told he is in the country only to get free social welfare services. Imagine yourself a working poor father with three kids and three jobs but no affordable health insurance for his wife, his kids, or himself, and he is told he doesn't deserve it.
If he does have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the Republicans in Congress look like they are going to take it away for people like this young father. I do wonder, what is wrong with these people? Why do they allow themselves to do what screamers and haters on right wing radio want them to do? These are real people out there, with real lives and feelings. Making public policy based on prejudice and hatred and anger is only going to further destroy the country and any faith remaining in public institutions, including corporations and private business.
I learned that from my father. Acting on the basis of prejudice and bigotry hurts people. The people who voted for Donald Trump responded to his politically incorrect screaming with hoots and hollers and apparently were loving it that explicit racism was back in the public consciousness. If you voted for Donald Trump you cannot deny that you knew what he was saying and doing. He was attacking political correctness, he was using violent language against innocent people, immigrants, blacks, women, to some degree gay and lesbian people (though he moderated that to some degree), anyone benefitting from government programs and public expenditures (except those for corporate welfare and the vast military). So many workers were duped by Trump into believing he was on their side; too many let their prejudice influence their vote.
I think we need new political parties in this country. The Republican Party has literally lost its mind, it has no coherent political philosophy anymore; it allows itself to be dictated to by outside groups like the Heritage Foundation, whose studies are based on false statistics and methodologies. Trump wants to get rid of regulations for business and that is a big Republican talking point. But they rarely are honest about specifics. Do you really want to bring your kids to a restaraunt where no government regulates food safety? Do you really want your rivers and streams polluted again? Do you really want national parks sold off to private business so you cannot enjoy natural wonder? Do you really want your nephew working in a factory with no safety regulations? Do you really want to trust the auto maker when it claims certain miles per gallon? Do you really want to pay for every road you drive on? Do you really want to destroy public schools? Do you really want to close down post offices in small towns? Do you really want millions of elderly people without medical care or adequate income? (Yes, they are talking about this even though current issues are easy to fix.) I can go on and on about this. I, for one, don't want my grandkids getting sick from the air they breathe. Trump lied to coal miners, he lies about jobs, he has already shown himself to be an incompetent administrator of government. But a big part of this is an incompetence of mind. The Grand Old Party no longer knows how to think carefully, truthfully, and creatively about public policy. The right wing radio has so manipulated the minds of Republicans that they promote the insane idea that government can do no good. It truly is ridiculous. They claim that the more taxes are cut the more revenue flows into government; yes, that is a central belief promoted with a religious-type fervor. But it only means the deficit grows larger, for which they then blame the Democrats. And they won't even talk about this seriously, they only scream and holler and require that everyone accept their silly beliefs.
My father was a Republican who proudly worked for the post office, a government agency. He was a capable and independent thinker, not characteristics of current Republicans. He wanted good government, not anarchy and war. And he especially did not want to say one thing and then do another, which Trump is doing every day now.
The Democrats on their part have completely failed the working class even as they pretend to represent its interests. I reject the idea of some that identity politics should be rejected for concern only for economic issues. Both are equally important I believe. But Democrats clearly can no longer imagine that they can do identity politics without addressing economics. Current office holders who don't do both should be replaced by a new breed of Democratic politician who is savvy on political correctness and fully astute on economic justice. The Democratic Party has one resource it should utilize much more. That is higher education. The Republicans hate the universities because they actually have professors on many sides of issues but that often disagree with what's good for business according to conservative dogma. So they have set up their own institutions claiming intellectual credibility. The press falls for it. But Democrats ought to use their access to universities for rethinking how to move into a promising future for all people in the country.
One way to do this is to have banquet teach-ins. I am reading a book on 19th century revolutions right now. When the conservative monarchy made it illegal to hold political meetings the liberals got together at what they called "banquets" just to eat together and then they had a speaker or two. Liberals historically, of course, believe in reason, get together, talk, discuss, reason together. Conservatives believe in authority; Trump doesn't want discussion; "just do as I say." In the former East Germany it was many Lutheran churches where the people got together in basements to talk about what they wanted for the future. It didn't take long before the Communist authoritarian government was gone and the Berlin wall was torn down. I know there are church basements in towns and cities all across the country which would be happy to have a banquet with some speakers from the nearest college or university. We should not want to rabble rouse, or holler and scream like the demons, we need serious, informed learning about actual people's lives and policy option. And in those settings some young emerging politicians might get their chance to start articulating their ideas as well. The Women's March after the Trump inauguration was a great start. Let's help keep that spirit going by eating and learning together again. Turn off the radio and TV and go talk to real people. And ignore Trump. He is going away soon because he is cruel and vindictive and is hurting too many people.
But there is one thing that is perfectly clear to me. If we do not exorcize the demon of racism from our public and political life there will be no future for this country.
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