Between Conklin and Buffalo

BUFFALO, New York — A weekend trip to the grocery store descended into a bloody tragedy for dozens of people Saturday. Jennifer Tookes, of Buffalo, had been in the Tops Friendly Market shopping with a cousin in separate aisles for about two minutes when she heard multiple gunshots coming from the front of the store. When it was over, 10 people were dead and three were wounded. A white 18-year-old who dressed in tactical gear and carried an assault weapon was arrested at the scene. He was arraigned Saturday evening on a first-degree murder charge and jailed without bond.

Maybe it’s a problem but what most ties up my emotion with the mass shooting in Buffalo is the extent to which the shooter Payton Gendron is like me and mine. The Fox News/Buffalo shooter is from Conklin, NY, a village of about 5,000 about 20 miles southeast of Binghamton on the Susquehanna River at the meeting point of Rt 68 and I 81. Conklin and the neighboring town of Kirkwood form a rural district of about 10,000. My own home town of Waverly is about 50 miles west of Conklin and grouped with three small Pennsylvania towns into what’s known locally as “The Valley.” When I was taking social studies classes in elementary school, the Binghamton area was thought to be on the verge of booming because of IBM, highway construction, etc. But by high school gradation, the whole region was in decline. That was especially the case with “The Valley” as IBM moved out of Binghamton and Owego and railroad repair shops and a highway equipment company moved out of the area. With an Amazon distribution center and a Dick’s Sporting Goods facility, Conklin and Kirkwood look to be doing better than Waverly with its empty downtown stores and boarded up houses. But declining opportunities, shrinking populations, and various drugs epidemics are the order of the day and both towns are “Trump Country.”

Google Maps

Waverly is not listed on this Google map of the trip between Conklin and Buffalo but Waverly is like Conklin in being right on the NY/PA border and Gendron would have dipped into PA at the two Waverly exits on Rt 68 as he was driving from Conklin to Buffalo to kill as many black people as he could.

Beginning with the racism.

Regional notions vary but I’ve always thought of the “Southern Tier” of Upstate NY as extending from east of Binghamton to Ithaca in the North and Elmira/Horseheads in the West. I last lived in the area in 1977, but have rock-solid confidence in saying It’s a racist place. I went to a lecture by a Binghamton University prof at the University of Louisville in the late 90’s where she mentioned the racism of the Binghamton area but I also remember reports of Klan groups associated with guards at the Elmira, NY prison and Klan meetings in Athens, PA just across the border. Waverly had an unusual number of black families who worked at the big restaurant on the hill and I knew a number of black guys growing up. But the fact that all my black acquaintances left town and didn’t come back says a lot about the strain of living as a black family in Waverly. My own family was racist to the core. My mother bragged about her adapted home town of Sayre, PA (actually she lived in Athens but graduated from Sayre High and always referred to Sayre as her home town) having a law against black people residing there (something which I’ve never confirmed or disconfirmed) and my parents had a broad early hostility to rock as “n-word” music. My father was even more racist and made a sustained effort to socialize me into white racism in my early teens as part of his effort to “make a man” out of me. Remembering, my father’s racism had an abstract quality. As far as I remember, he never said anything derogatory about any of the black people living in the Waverly area and it’s not like he spent much time in areas with black populations either. It’s like my father had animosity toward black people as a “category” and viewed that animosity as important to both his and MY being a “man.” Because of the categorical character of the animosity, my father’s racism was always impervious to counter-arguments, examples to the contrary, or anything having to do with the real world. It was necessary, obvious, and my disagreement made him less in his eyes without bringing his own self-esteem into question. Anyway, the effort backfired and reinforced the sense of him being repulsive that I had been forming for a couple years as a result of his abuse of my mother and more than occasional pummeling of me. Over time, I began to perceive Waverly as part American Graffiti, part “Harper Valley PTA,” and part Blue Velvet with nice people socializing in the living room while Dennis Hopper tortured Isabella Rosellini in the basement. I grew up in a Blue Velvet family and racism was an ingrained part of the experience.

The Racism and the Guns.

I wonder where Payton Gendron developed his interest in guns. Was it part of a “hunting culture” in which guns are central to stories about the hunt, the kills, the misses, dressing the carcasses, being with your buddies, and the male identity with that? Or was Gendron more into the fetishism of “gun culture”–the brands, names, fire power, ammunition, cammo gear, and all their possibilities, how all of that is displayed, counted, priced, and shared competitively with relatives and friends. When Payton Gendron travelled from Conklin to Buffalo for his massacre at the Topps market, he carried two guns with him, ammunition, body armor, and a helmet, and started opening fire. Like my father’s racism, there was an abstraction about that. Gendron not only did not know any of people he killed, he picked out the neighborhood because it was the zip code with the highest concentration of black people in Upstate NY. The aim was to kill black people generically and that killing black people was a kind of categorical imperative to Gendron. My father was also a dangerous gun owner as I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and shot at least of our family pets in the head when they began to decline in health or got run over by cars. But the guns were never part of the bullying, gas lighting, or beatings that he dished out to my mother (who got it bad), myself, or my siblings. It’s like he never made the leap from thinking of guns as an instrument of hunting and display to guns as an instrument for the family abuse to which he was so highly committed. Once I became aware of murder-suicides, I am very grateful for my father never catching on to the idea.

The Racism and the Guns.

I wonder where Payton Gendron developed his interest in guns. Was it part of a “hunting culture” in which guns are central to stories about going on hunt, getting the kills, the ones that got away, dressing the carcasses, being with your buddies, and all the white male identification that goes with that? Or was Gendron more into the fetishism of “gun culture”–the brands, names, fire power, ammunition, camo gear, body armor and all how all of that is displayed, counted, priced, and shared competitively with relatives and friends. When Payton Gendron travelled from Conklin to Buffalo for his massacre at the Topps market, he carried two guns, ammunition, body armor, and a helmet, and started opening fire after a day of scouting. He also wrote about them in his 180 page manifesto. Of course, there’s a great deal of overlap between modalities hunting culture and gun culture but I’m wondering if Gendron’s interest in guns morphed from hunting culture or gun culture into mass murder or whether he first developed an interest in guns AFTER beginning to see himself as a mass murderer on the examples of mass murderers like Charleston killer Dylan Roof and New Zealand shooter Brenton Tarrant. In political discourse, Roof, Tarrant, and Gendron are accurately seen in terms of accepting the “Great Replacement Theory” of white people in the United States and Europe being “replaced” by a combination of Black, Asian, Muslim, and Hispanic non-white populations and the whole thing orchestrated by a global Jewish conspiracy. What’s unique about Gendron is that he chose being a mass murderer before he decided which mass murder narrative he was adapting. At first, Gendron was interested in shooting up his graduation from Susquehanna Valley High School in Conklin. But some of his writing on the topic was seen and he was sent to a psychiatrist for evaluation. It was only after the “school shooter” path to mass murder was closed that Gendron adapted his race war blather to his ambitions to become a mass murderer. In this sense, answering the question about Gendron’s interest in guns might concern figuring out his path to the choice to adapt the persona of a mass murderer.

Choosing.

Being a racist mass murderer was Gendron’s second choice, being a mass murderer was most definitely a choice. There are a variety of identities available to small town white guys. In my case, it was the college prep path that I took because I wanted to leave town and leaving town was my overriding purpose from age 7-17. Gendron could have chosen “getting out of Dodge” as a kind of social identity as well. Or he could have just chosen college prep. Gendry’s parents were both college graduates and engineers, Gendry himself did well at school, and he could have chosen a college path without an overriding plan to leave town. He could have also chosen to adapt a hunting and fishing or golfing identity. If Gendron wanted to be working class, there are working class jobs at the Amazon Distribution Center in Conklin. I went to high school with guys from Waverly who live to hunt and fish, other guys who lived to play golf, and still others who wanted more physical, traditional working-class kinds of jobs. Payton Gendron refused all of these modes of white male identification and more in favor of being a mass murderer.

But why! It may be that Gendron had some sort of psychological disability that prevented him from prevented him from taking any of the established paths for small town guys. Likewise, there may be some sort of trauma in his background. All of that may or may not come out as Gendron’s case is investigated. But the “positive” aspects of being a mass murderer need to be considered as well. I remember several cases in which mass killers reveled in the expectation of their posthumous celebrity and their association with other famous mass murderers and that association seems to be a real plus for Gendron. But I haven’t seen any consideration for the kinds of pleasures and ego boosts involved in mass murders. When I was forty years younger, I certainly got a lot of pleasure from separating from all the “losers” I grew up with in Waverly and I noticed the same imperative when I was teaching small town students at Morehead State U in Kentucky. The Kentucky term was “dumbasses” but the feeling is the same. Given all the taboos against murder, the murder of people who are defenseless, and the murder of people with no reason. It may be that the breaking of all these kinds of taboos enhances the pleasure of separation in ways that are not recognized in mainstream culture. The same pleasure in breaking taboos can be seen in the 1830’s and 1840’s blackface minstrelsy that broke many of the taboos involved in racial boundaries. The same intensity of pleasure can be seen in the behavior of slave owners in the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. In certain ways, mass murder is an even more extravagant expression of “I don’t give a shit about anything” as antebellum slave ownership. Indeed, mass murderers have a not entirely dissimilar power of life and death over their (short-term) victims as slave owners. For a few minutes, the mass murderer is the lord of everything he surveys.

Schumer Shows Some Spine: The Senate Vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act 

Yesterday, head Democrat in the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called up the Women’s Health Protective Act for a vote and the vote failed by a margin of 49-51 with Joe Manchin and the two pro-choice Republicans voting against the measure.

But I see the vote as a step forward for the Democrats.

The Women’s Health Protective Act was originally passed by the House in 2021 and contains the following items according to Congress.Gov:

This bill prohibits governmental restrictions on the provision of, and access to, abortion services. Specifically, governments may not limit a provider’s ability to

  • prescribe certain drugs,
  • offer abortion services via telemedicine, or
  • immediately provide abortion services when the provider determines a delay risks the patient’s health.
  • perform unnecessary medical procedures,
  • provide medically inaccurate information,
  • comply with credentialing or other conditions that do not apply to providers whose services are medically comparable to abortions, or
  • carry out all services connected to an abortion.

In addition, governments may not (1) require patients to make medically unnecessary in-person visits before receiving abortion services or disclose their reasons for obtaining such services, or (2) prohibit abortion services before fetal viability or after fetal viability when a provider determines the pregnancy risks the patient’s life or health.

In other words, the Women’s Health Protective Act reaffirms the fundamental right to terminate pregnancies before a fetus is viable, identifies a woman and her doctor as the primary agents of decision making in relation to abortion health care, and bans all the impediments conservative states like Texas and Kentucky have been putting in place to make abortions more difficult and costly.

In addition, the Women’s Health Protective Act did not provide for any religious-based exceptions to its provisions.

Thus, the Women’s Health Protective Act affirmed women’s rights to abortion procedures as normal medical practice and provided no exceptions for state’s rights, Catholic hospitals, or the tender sensitivities of the religious right.

It’s an excellent bill and that’s why GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell was outraged.

Leader Schumer wants the Senate to vote again on a Democrat bill that would effectively legalize abortion on demand through all nine months. Their bill is written to protect abortionists rather than mothers. It would roll back health regulations. It would attack Americans’ conscience rights and religious freedoms. It would overturn modest and overwhelmingly popular safeguards like waiting periods, informed consent laws, and possibly even parental notification. And it is written so that in practice, it would allow elective abortion until birth. Democrats’ extreme position is radical on a global scale and it is wildly unpopular with the American people.”

A lot of what McConnell says is laughable regurgitation of things that the forced birth movement has been making up about abortion for decades.

However, one of the main points about the Women’s Health Protective Act is that the House authors did not care about anti-abortion opinion.

And neither did Chuck Schumer in bringing up the bill for a vote.

Failing to understand Roe v Wade, Sen. Joe Manchin called the Women’s Health Protective Act an “expansion” of Roe v Wade and voted “no.”

Make no mistake, it is not Roe v. Wade codification,” he said of the Women’s Health Protection Act. “It is an expansion. It wipes 500 state laws off the books, it expands abortion, and with that, that’s not where we are today.

I’m sure Manchin’s Republican friends provided him with that number but the bill would have codified Roe v Wade rather than all the slices Republicans have taken out of abortion rights since 1973

But Chuck Schumer didn’t care what Manchin said and neither should I.

“Pro-life” Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski also voted against the bill because it didn’t provide any religious exemptions.

However, given that Collins jerked the Democrats around on Obamacare and voted attempted rapist Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, the Democrats have stopped viewing her as an honest person with whom they could negotiate.

So Chuck Schumer didn’t care what Collins and Murkowski had to say either.

The Never Trumper journal The Bulwark accuses Schumer of “once again playing to the activist base rather than to his gettable colleagues.” That’s exactly right. Schumer and Congressional Democrats needed to stop listening to Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell, moderate conservatives like Susan Collins, and GOP leaning Democrats like Joe Manchin.

And they have.

Schumer still needs to get better at legislative strategy and all Democratic leaders in Congress and the Biden administration desperately need to improve their partisan messaging, find ways to get their message amplified, and stick their rhetorical landings.

But the mainstream Democratic leadership has crossed the Rubicon of giving up on the Republicans and the fact that Chuck Schumer now has a spine is a big step forward.

A Layman’s Maximalist Defense of Abortion Rights

Samuel Alito’s draft of an opinion overturning Roe v Wade is a candidate for history’s best-known first draft. What I want to draft here is an outline of a maximalist defense of the right to an abortion that provides an aggressive alternative justification to the one codified in Roe v. Wade.

I. A Crime Against Human Rights. In overturning Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court will take away the rights of more than 150 million women in the United States and subject them to bans on abortion procedures that include elective procedures, procedures to save the life of the mother, and procedures to end pregnancies caused by rape and incest. Following on the publication of Alito’s draft, conservatives have been quick to propose bans on abortion pills, contraception, laws that criminalize travel to pro-women states for abortions, and other things. In effect, the Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade will authorize the creation of totalitarian systems for nullifying the human rights of women in the United States.

2. The Governing Standard. The governing standard for Constitutional evaluation of laws about abortion of other matters primarily affecting women (job and salary discrimination, etc.) should be the full citizenship of women that is recognized by the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX, and other laws. Likewise, the primarily references for understanding what is meant by full citizenship for women should be the feminist tradition that reaches back to Mary Wollstonecraft in England and includes American figures from Maria Stewart, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and others extending through the several waves of feminist thought since 1963. Given that English authorities on the common law did not recognize full citizenship for women, Samuel Alito’s reliance on those authorities was wrong-headed in a fundamental way.

3. The Weightlessness of “Potential Life.” According to Alito, “Roe and Casey each struck a particular balance between the interests of a woman who wants an abortion and the interests of what they termed “potential life.” Given that women are full human beings and citizens of the United States, the rights and interests of women are paramount in the situation while the “interest in potential life” is miniscule if it should be considered at all. Of the rights of speech, press, religion, and assembly, a fetus knows nothing just as it knows nothing of its interests. The rights and interests of women are a fundamental element for any understanding of the Constitution while any talk of the rights and interests of a fetus is patent nonsense.

4. Heightened Scrutiny. Alito ridicules the idea of the “heightened scrutiny” that Roe originally demanded in relation to laws concerning abortion. However, Roe actually did not go far enough in that regard. Given the fundamental character of the full humanity of women, all the laws, regulations, and practices of government that concern women should be subject to strict scrutiny for both recognizing and promoting the full humanity of women. The scrutiny should be especially strict in terms of forbidding the reintroduction of any practice originating from the period in which women were not assumed to be fully equal. Much of the reason for overturning abortion restrictions is that they originate from traditions in which women are not treated equally.

5. No Good Faith in Abortion Opponents. Alito argues that “even Roe and Casey did not question the good faith of abortion opponents.” Given the violence of abortion opponents and their facetious arguments for parental notice, waiting periods, informed consent, and clinic qualifications, it’s become increasingly difficult to fully portray the extent of the bad faith of abortion opponents. More importantly, abortion opponents can not have “good faith” in relation to the reproduction decisions of women because they do not accept women as fully human beings who have a right to direct their own sexual and reproductive lives. It’s especially the case on the religious right that anti-abortion activists believe that women are “the weaker sex” and should live in subordination to men and under the protection of men. As long as abortion opponents reject the views on female equality in American society, they can not be considered as acting in “good faith” for legal purposes.

To briefly summarize, opponents of abortion should have no standing to legislate in opposition to the rights of women, including the right to terminate a pregnancy at will.

Marjorie Greene: GOP Spokeswoman

The Democrats should stop treating Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, the Republican National Committee, and Ronna Romney McDaniel as “Republican leaders” or “GOP Spokespeople.”

Yes, these figures are members of the Republican Party who hold offices in Congress and the national party, but they no longer represent “Republican opinion” and are not particularly significant for understanding the internal dynamics of the Republican Party.

You know who is significant for understanding the Republican Party—Marjorie Taylor Greene!!!

The Republican Party consists of one thin layer, a larger layer of inertia, and an extremely thick and active MAGA layer.

The thinnest elite layer is the configuration of office holders and big business titans. Think the alliance between Mitch McConnell and the Business Roundtable.

Along with the elites, there’s the layer of small government, cut taxes, and deregulation Republicans who have a marginal preference for the McConnells but are just fine and dandy with supporting Trump and everything associated with Trump. That’s probably 35% of the GOP voting public. However, that constituency is also politically inert and therefore not a dynamic force in the Republican Party.

That leaves MAGA Republicans who broadly divide into the highly overlapping spheres of the conspiracy world, the religious right, and gun culture. That represents a heavy majority of Republican voters, 95% of the dynamism in the Republican Party, and also serves as the political base for Donald Trump.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is the most prominent spokeswoman for the MAGA majority of the Republican Party and therefore the most prominent spokeswoman for the Republican Party. Of course, she’s not nearly as important as the Lord God Trump but I bet Donald Trump looks to Greene’s pronouncements to help him understand the MAGA base and how he should pander to it.

When Greene goes, the Republican Party is already there.

Greene speaks at a white nationalist event because the GOP is a white nationalist party.

Greene proclaims that Catholicism is Satanic because the GOP believes that Catholicism is satanic.

Greene believes that women are the weaker sex because Republicans believe women are the weaker sex.

Greene thinks that anyone who is pro-gay rights is a “groomer” because that’s the position of the Republican Party.

All of Greene’s pronouncements should be thought of as the official position of the Republican Party.

The Joy Reid Model for Democratic Communication

Like many activist Democrats, I’m chronically dissatisfied with the messaging of the Biden administration, the Democratic National Committee, and the lib/left media more generally. Much of the communication reads like public service announcements, there’s not enough anti-GOP partisanship, what partisanship exists (“And no Republicans voted for this”) has little bite, and none of the more effective messages get amplified.

Both the Biden administration and the DNC have improved over the last month but recent tweeting by MSNBC broadcaster Joy Reid provides an excellent model for what official Democratic communication should look like:

@JoyAnnReid, twitter

1. An Aggressive Attack. My guess is that Joy Reid did not mean this as “Democratic messaging” but it’s excellent Democratic messaging all the same. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida used three black kids as props for his most recent anti-CRT announcement and Reid aggressively called him out for child abuse barely qualifying the statement as “tantamount to child abuse.” The anti-CRT announcement was another high point of DeSantis going after teachers and corporate training but Reid saw an element of racial abuse in the staging of the event and called him out.

2. Creates Controversy. When I accessed twitter this morning, Joy Reid was trending and there was an article about Reid’s accusation on the Fox News web site. As has often been the case with controversies pushed by Trump and the GOP, the Fox News headline served to spread Reid’s message:

MSNBC’s Joy Reid calls photos of Black kids at DeSantis event as ‘child abuse’

Yeah, the headline was that big!

In other words, Reid’s attack on DeSantis “made news.” One could say that Reid’s tweet would be even more effective if the “controversy” was reported by the New York Times and Washington Post or taken up by CNN, other MSNBC shows, and network news.

But one of the benchmarks for Democratic communication should be that it needs to “make news.”

3. Forcing A Response. Another benchmark for successful Democratic messaging is forcing a defensive response from the propagandists of the right and this is another area where Joy Reid’s attack was successful. In answer to Reid, DeSantis flak and superstar homophobic bigot Christina Pushaw tweeted:

“I was working at this event and helped with the set up. My colleague talked to all the kids beforehand & told them what the issue was & what bills @GovRonDeSantis was signing. Hundreds of people attended this event; those ~50 who ended up on stage freely chose to stand on stage,” Pushaw wrote.

4. Follow-up. Because the mainstream media views the right-wing as having a monopoly on controversy, the Democrats have a hard time getting their message amplified, such a hard time that the Biden White House needs to focus much more of their time on amplifying Democratic messages. It will be interesting to see if Joy Reid will address the controversy on The ReidOut tonight. But she did follow up with another post in the thread:

Joy-Ann (Pro-Democracy) Reid, @JoyAnnReid

That sure looks like T. Willard Fair in the background. But I’ve been told by a trusted source that these were not Miami Urban League kids, standing there looking like they were at the dentist. Any Florida journalists have insight into this?

That prompted more discussion in the thread which brought out more facts.

4. Audiences. This kind of messaging doesn’t just serve to attack the Republicans. It gets Democratic messages to independent and moderate voters and also provides encouragement and support for Democrats. Democratic elites often get hung up on the idea of identity politics and campaign against the idea of politics as “teams.” But white conservative identity is the main thing driving GOP support for Trump, ideas of violent insurrection, opposition to Covid relief measures, etc. The Democrats need more identity politics, not less.

Is Florida Joining the Right’s War on Trans Teens? Maybe Not Yet

Today, Florida state health officials released official guidelines on treatment options for trans teens recommending against physicians recommending social gender transition, puberty blockers, hormones, or gender affirming surgery for anyone under 18.

These guidelines are vaguely reminiscent of the Texas initiative to criminalize health care for trans teens. That’s especially the case because the strictures are directed against doctors rather than trans teens themselves. But there is a also strong difference. The Florida guidelines are recommendations that do not carry the force of law and do not define gender affirming health care. Doctors will not be punished for following the federal Department of Health and Human Services

Research demonstrates that gender-affirming care improves the mental health and overall well-being of gender diverse children and adolescents.1 Because gender-affirming care encompasses many facets of healthcare needs and support, it has been shown to increase positive outcomes for transgender and nonbinary children and adolescents. Gender-affirming care is patient-centered and treats individuals holistically, aligning their outward, physical traits with their gender identity.

There are several possible motivations for Florida’s actions. If Kevin McCarthy can make craven gestures to Donald Trump, it’s understandable Florida health officials might be just as craven to Gov. Ron DeSantis and “nullifying” the federal recommendations could be a way to curry favor with the Governor. It might also be that Florida health officials want to contribute to the sense of confusion and fear developing among trans young people and their families. Truthout has a discussion of the possibility below.

News about the statement could add to the heightened sense of fear felt by young people and their parents as the rights of trans and nonbinary youth come under attack in Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and other GOP-led states, Charles said. Activists and journalists should approach far right disinformation carefully.

As Adam Serwer says, “the cruelty is the point” with American conservatives. However, where the rulings of TX Attorney General Ken Paxton create a system of cruelty for trans young people, Florida’s anti-trans “guidelines” are more of a gesture.

A Reign of Terror in Our Future?

Republicans like Mark Kelley, Republican governor’s candidate in Michigan, are gradually one-upping themselves into promising a reign of terror if elected.

Quoting from Adrian Cole writing for The American Independent:

“On Monday, real estate broker and Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan D. Kelley posted a video to his TikTok account to say that if elected, he would charge state school boards with felonies if they refuse to remove “sexually explicit content” from Michigan public schools.”

“One of the biggest problems in Michigan public schools is the sexually explicit content that is being offered and available to students in our schools across the state of Michigan,” Kelley says in the video. “Parents are showing up all over the state at school board meetings expressing their concerns, requesting that this type of material be removed from the schools, and a lot of times it falls on deaf ears to the school boards. Kelley said that if elected governor, he would take “swift action” to charge any school boards that failed to remove such material from their schools with felonies, citing a 1978 Michigan law that made it a felony to disseminate “sexually explicit matter to a minor.” Those convicted under the law can face up to two years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both. This law was amended in 1999 to extend its reach to the internet.”

Mark Kelley advocates this as a way to show that he’s tougher than the usual MAGA Republican. But white conservatives are getting to the point where executions without trial are within the realms of their imagination.

The GOP: The “(White) Boys Will Be Boys” Party

The story of host Jesse Watters courting his current wife Emma DiGiovine in 2018 while she was an intern for his show Watters World at Fox News reminds me a lot of my town’s Kim Davis of refusing to grant licenses to gay couples, having a child by her third husband five months after her divorce from her first husband, and then making her second husband into her fourth husband fame.

Fox News, The Five

The basics of Watters’ story were that he was married to his first wife Noelle (Inguagiato) Watters and was the father of twins, he started courting Emma DiGiovine (now Emma DiGiovine Watters) by letting the air out of all her tires and then offering her a ride. As soon as their affair started, the lovely couple reported their romance to the Fox News brass and they reassigned DiGiovine (now Watters) to ghoul Laura Ingraham and her show “The Ingraham Angle.”

Apparently Noelle Watters was neither amused nor inspired by the love story of her husband and his husband’s mistress and immediately filed for divorce. And who can blame her.

But my main point is that guys like Watters are part of what weak Republicans, independents, and moderates like about the Republican Party. There’s a kind of instinct to see Republicans as the “(white) boys will be boys” party and to view these kinds of frat boy stunts as “funny,” “brave,” “harmless,” and above all entertaining. The presence of guys like Watters gives the Republican Party and conservative movement cover for the zealotry of the anti-abortion movement, the religious right, and MAGA. It’s like “Republicans can’t be all bad” as long as they’re associated with irreverent and fun guys like Jesse Watters.

In various ways, conservative activists call for a return to the 50’s, but figures like Jesse Watters provide a real connection to the bad boy white male entitlement of the time.

That’s a deep cultural asset for Republicans.

The Mourning, the Resentful, and the Bitter

Josh Hawley, Ketanji Brown Jackson, @MSNBC

In her @Salon article comparing the Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings to the confirmation hearings for Thurgood Marshall, Margaret Russell of Santa Clara University views the Republican senators who badgered Judge Jackson as acting in a manner similar to the racist Dixiecrats who questioned Justice Marshall during his confirmation hearings in 1967.

Like the Dixiecrat senators — Democratic senators from the South who believed in white supremacy — who grilled Marshall about his views on crime, the present-day Judiciary Committee Republicans have repeatedly insinuated that Jackson is soft on crime for performing her job responsibilities as a defense lawyer and trial judge in a manner that has been shown to be well within the mainstream of these legal roles.

Prof. Russell focused on Republican fear-mongering about crime and Critical Race Theory and she didn’t indicate whether or to what extent she shared contemporary conservative Republicans shared the belief in white supremacy so characteristic of their Dixiecrat forebears. However, what leading Republicans, GOP affiliated groups, and Republican voters think about race is an important issue in American politics. For “Portia Vaxxed and Boosted McGonagal” writing on twitter, conservatives are afraid that they would be treated the same way they treat “others,” meaning Black people, other racial minorities, undocumented immigrants, and LGBT folks.

Thinking about the issue in relation to the hearings, I believe a closely connected set of racist attitudes can be identified for conservatives which is distinct from the liberal racism discussed by Robin DiAngelo in White Fragility.

Persisting White Supremacy. In the contemporary context, white supremacy is a centuries long-standing belief that Black people are inferior to white people in intelligence, morality, and overall civilization, and are therefore rightfully excluded from occupations, subject to surveillance, harassed by police, and followed by store security. That belief is expressed in scholarly writing like The Bell Curve and by prominent defenders of The Bell Curve like journalist Andrew Sullivan, police officers celebrating the murder of black men like George Floyd, and the legions of “Karens” trying to monitor or exclude black people from parks, public pools, stores, and other places. Out of the public eye, these persistent racists use the n-word prolifically, tell racist jokes, make derogatory comments about black entertainers, athletes, and politicians, and share a sense of solidarity with white family members, friends, and co-workers who do the same. The main historical reference is the segregation system of the post-Civil War White South but 20% of Republicans believe that emancipation from slavery was a mistake. For hard-core racists, a culture of white supremacy is important to them even if they say they don’t really mean it, give “color-blind” excuses, or say that Blacks are the ones who are “really racist.”

Resentment Over Moral Criticism. White supremacists resent being morally criticized for racism even more than they enjoy participating in racist socializing. They get upset at being called racists because of the widespread moral stigma attached to racism by “official” public ideology in the United States. For Tucker Carlson of Fox News, his resentment of being called a racist is so intense that he cited it as his first reason for preferring Vladimir Putin and Russia over the Democrats and the United States as the beginning of the Ukraine crisis. “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia?” White supremacists view themselves as anchoring American society, as “the people,” but being called “racist” casts them outside the mainstream as condemns them as evil, bad, ignorant, and in fact marginal to the larger American society. The core of the resentment lies in white supremacists recognizing both that the official ideology of the United States is “rejection of racism” and that the official ideology is appropriate. However much white supremacists dodge, dissemble, and fight against it, they agree with the official ideology, know their own cultural marginality, and already have a resent marginality before any of their critics remind them. In other words, white supremacists resent being called out for the immorality they already know in themselves.

Bitterness over Black Advancement. The bitterness over black advancement has a long history going back at least to the 1820’s and comes in many forms, but exploded into American society with the election of Barack Obama and the explosion of birther conspiracies that emerged in the racist backlash against his election. But white supremacists harbor a great deal of bitterness over any black achievement or mainstream notoriety and express that bitterness in diatribes over black athletes, black politicians, black musicians, black actors, and black business people. They spit out “wealthy athlete” or “wealthy celebrity” in a way that emphasizes their contempt for black people being wealthy or famous in the first place. The most recent example of that bitterness came out in a Charlie Kirk diatribe against the first black woman Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson

Charlie Kirk, @MediaMattersForAmerica

Charlie Kirk: Well, KBJ – Ketanji Brown Jackson – is what your country looks like on critical race theory. KBJ is your country on CRT. KBJ – Ketanji Brown Jackson – is an embodiment of the tyranny that we currently live under. She’s an ideological, unintelligent, yet confident fanatic . . . What do you get when you start to platform and implement critical race theory into every single corner of American society, in your corporations, in your schools? Your children and your grandchildren are going to have to take orders from people like her. And what’s amazing is that she kind of has an attitude too. You, look carefully at some of those videos, she kind of just she’s like, what? Why are you answer – why are you asking me such a question, Senator? She feels entitled to this position. Why wouldn’t she? It’s not like she got this position based on her qualifications. It’s not like she was selected based on her qualifications, it’s not like she was selected because of her amazing rulings. Of course not.

Charlie Kirk knows his audience. So the bitterness runs wild. Jackson doesn’t deserve to be on the Supreme Court (“it’s not like she was selected based on her qualifications”). Jackson is “an unintelligent, yet confident fanatic.” As a black woman, Ketanji Brown Jackson is undeserving of a Supreme Court seat and Charlie Kirk is bitter about it, but Kirk is also bitter about the nature of the society that could appoint a Black woman like Jackson. According to Kirk Jackson is a product of the most evil dimensions of American society, “an embodiment of the tyranny that we currently live under.” Jackson is what you get “when you start to platform and implement critical race theory into every single corner of American society.” In this sense, Ketanji Brown Jackson stands for all the black and women who have a consciousness of being black (being “woke” in what is now conservative terminology). Not is Kirk is bitter about that but he is also bitter about the impact of the advance of black people on the lives of future white conservatives–“Your children and grandchildren are going to have to take orders from people like her.”

“Fear of the black boss”–that’s one way to express the bitterness of white conservatives over the mobility of Black people in American society.

The Ketanji Brown Jackson Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings: Brief Dynamics

With the hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court complete and confirmation pretty much in the bag now that Sen. Joe Manchin (sometimes D-WV) has expressed support, it might be safe to make a two or three points.

Definitely a BFD. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court is a big effing deal. It’s a big deal to Judge Jackson for breaking another ceiling for black women, a big deal for black women, a big deal for the Court to have a more dynamic figure on the liberal side, and a big deal for American national identity. Since the Civil Rights Era, the United States has changed from what historians call a White Republic or White Man’s Republic to a Multicultural, Socially Liberal Nation. At a time when black women have become more of a force than ever, Judge Jackson’s nomination represents both 70 years worth of progress and the expectation that continuing to fight will bring about real change.

Intensified Backlash. But it’s been the case since Barack Obama’s election as the first black president that progress has brought about intensified backlash. Judiciary Committee hearings were dominated by the vicious and racist smearing of Judge Jackson’s perfectly ordinary sentencing in pedophilia cases by Ted Cruz (Insurrection R-TX), Josh Hawley (Insurrection R-MO), and Lindsey Graham (Toady R-SC). But as Amanda Marcotte discusses in Salon, Republican senators also spelled out a radically conservative agenda for the current 6-3 conservative Court majority. Once the Court wipes out Roe v Wade as expected, conservatives will move to overturning the Griswold v CT (1965) decision establishing a Constitutional right to privacy in relation to contraception for married couples. Given that the Obergefell decision that established a right to gay marriage was based on the right of privacy, conservatives would expect to overturn that as well. Just as the U.S. has coalesced into a socially liberal nation with large majorities in favor of abortion rights, contraception, and the right to gay marriage, conservative politicians and their religious right constituencies want to establish an extensive system of sexual coercion.

A Fragility. But white conservatives are not the only constituency interested in what Elizabeth Warren calls “Big Structural Change.” Since Justice Amy Barrett’s appointment establishing the 6-3 conservative Court majority, there has been enough buzz among Democrats about “expanding the Court” that Ted Cruz and other Republicans made it a campaign theme in the 2020 election. That buzz is now loud enough that Mitch McConnell (Establishment R-KY) made it his primary criteria for announcing his upcoming “No” vote on Judge Jackson’s nomination. Conservative politics has a frantic “we must turn back the clock now while we still have a chance” character that also reveals the fragile character of their position. As American society becomes more multicultural, black women like Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson can be recognized for having “amazing American stories” (paraphrasing Ben Sasse) while white conservatism is mostly about preventing American stories from happening. It’s not a solid position.