GOP’s raging intra-party war

— The August 6th Fox News-sponsored, two-tiered debate of the GOP presidential primary candidates has shown anew the Republican Party’s continuing to explore different ways a political party can self-destruct.

Two developments of last week have underscored that the GOP’s raging intra-party war and identity crisis is more serious than ever.

Donald Trump’s remarkably bad performance at the so-called Top 10 debate in Cleveland has to worry the Party’s professional operatives as much as his initial entry into the race did (especially since he explicitly refused, amid catcalls from the audience, to rule out mounting a third-party candidacy). From the beginning to the end of the two-hour session, Trump was horrible: flustered and defensive at the probing quality of the questions put to him, especially by Fox News talk show host Megyn Kelly; needlessly rude and insulting to a host of others present and not present; and clearly annoyed at having to share the spotlight at all with the other candidates.

Trump’s failure was the more surprising because navigating the debate format of the crowded, 10-person field didn’t actually require specific knowledge about this or that policy. It just required glibly using standard Republican sound bites to deliver a seemingly coherent response to the questions.

What does it mean that Trump, for all his television experience, couldn’t bob and weave his way through such a low-pressure question-and-answer reality show?

It means Trump shouldn’t have been there at all.

He was there, however, because his great wealth shields him from having to seek the GOP’s “permission” to run. And, ironically, because his indifference to Republican ideology has enabled him to more openly and harshly champion the Party’s doctrine of tough-guy posturing, cruelty and exclusion the GOP base is addicted to.

In other words, Trump’s candidacy personifies how the Republican Party’s organizational integrity is being erased by both its wealthy class of supporters and those who make up its rank-and-file voters. Jon Stewart, the satirist and former host of “The Daily Show,” got it exactly right in late July when he said, “People like Trump are supposed to buy the candidates – not be them.”

But Trump has shown that billionaire outsiders like him can run for the presidency because the U.S. Supreme Court’s egregious Citizens United ruling of 2010 struck down limitations on political spending. The GOP lobbied for that decision because they thought it would enable them to defeat President Obama in 2012 and, backed by the dollars of the business sector and wealthy individuals, forever destroy the Democratic Party’s national political prospects.

What GOP leaders didn’t understand was that, by erasing limits on political spending, Citizens United also destroyed political parties’ organizational ability to significantly control how wealthy donors’ money got spent. It produced an explosion of fund-raising vehicles – super PACs – completely independent of the parties’ control. And it the ability of the parties to keep an unwanted rich outsider from injecting himself or herself into the presidential sweepstakes.

So, who will be the next uber-wealthy outsider to push the GOP’s professional politicians aside?

Or, perhaps the question should be: How long before the right-wing “Billionaires Boys and Girls Club” uses its enormous collective wealth and its individual and collective sponsorship of individual elected GOP officials to become the “new” Republican Party. (The GOP’s ultra-conservative and heavily Whites-only political orientation makes this a Republican phenomenon.)

In that regard, last week’s second important development was the invitation-only conference for the uber-wealthy the right-wing billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch staged at a luxurious California resort. Amid extraordinary secrecy, the Kochs invited just five of the announced GOP candidates to pitch the 450 attendees for support.

The conference is just one part of the Kochs’ multi-faceted campaign involving a web of nonprofit political organizations they’ve created with the goal of putting a Republican in the White House in 2016 – an effort on which they’re prepared to spend $889 million.

An article in the Washington Post last week noted that the Kochs and their allies “have built a quasi-political party outside the traditional infrastructure [of the GOP], one made up of nonprofit groups financed with secret donations free of campaign finance limits.”

It went on to say the new entity is “both a valuable ally and a rival power center to the Republican National Committee” and that recent tensions over their separate data-mining efforts led the RNC’s chief of staff to warn it was “very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how.”

The power struggle was subsequently papered over by a joint agreement to share data throughout the current election cycle. But isn’t the tension between the traditional GOP bureaucracy and the new independent, “quasi-political party” of uber-wealthy conservatives evidence that there’s another elephant taking up space in the Republican Party’s tent?

Of those two elephants, which one is growing larger and stronger every day, and which is fading to ghost status right before our eyes?

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com

America’s true crime problem

— It’s getting to be difficult to recall a week when, thanks to public exposure of videos, or tweets, text messages or emails, we’ve not seen another shocking example of police mistreatment of Black or Hispanic citizens under questionable circumstances.

Consider that, and then ponder these words about Black Americans and the criminal justice system: “There is too much crime and too little justice in the lives of black Americans today. But while the problem of crime is widely shared in the United States, the problem of injustice is not.”

And these words which closely follow them: “It is a paradox that black Americans, who suffer from crime disproportionately, have mixed feelings, at best, regarding its support of and confidence in the criminal justice system as it operates today.”

And, finally, these: “The only way out of this paradox is to address the problems of crime and injustice simultaneously: changing the nature of the courts, criminal punishments and law enforcement agencies and their agents, while honestly acknowledging the scope of the crime problem and working for peace in Black America.”

No, you won’t find those words in the agreement signed recently by the Department of Justice and the city of Cleveland requiring an extensive reform of the city’s widely-criticized police force. Actually, they were written 20 years ago by criminal justice scholar Christopher E. Stone, then head of the nonprofit Vera Institute for Justice, in the 1996 edition of the National Urban League publication, The State of Black America 1996. Stone, a founder of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, in New York City, is now president of the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations.

But they are as relevant today as then because the use of social media has undeniably revealed that some significant segment of cops – largely White ones but also some Black and Hispanic ones, too – view Black Americans not as citizens to protect but easy marks to prey upon.

What’s also been made clear, via a growing stack of Justice Department investigations of small-and big-city police departments, is that this predatory attitude and behavior, has long been part of the “culture” of policing itself.

For example, one of the high-ranking Miami Beach, Fla. cops charged last month with exchanging 230 emails filled with racist and sexist jokes and pornography, told a local news channel last year when the emails first surface, “That was the culture back then. It was just guys emailing each other. There was a good ol’ boy mentality back then.”

What that “aw shucks” pose tried to obscure was both the vile nature of the emails and that “back then” covered the years 2010 to 2012.

Who would expect officers with these attitudes to treat citizens of color fairly? Polls have long shown that Black Americans don’t.

The Justice Department’s scathing report on the management and practices of the Cleveland police force is the latest to show that police department’s racist practices toward Blacks and Hispanics is also both a cause and effect of bad policing: of the unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force and lethal force; of retaliatory beatings and the unnecessary use of Tasers, batons and chemical sprays; of the mistreatment of people who are mentally ill; of the use of poor tactics in dangerous situations that put officers and innocent civilians at risk; and of a lack of proper training and supervision of its officers.

The findings largely repeat those of a Justice Department investigation done a decade ago during the Bush administration that let Cleveland officials off the hook with a voluntary pledge to change departmental practices.

The new agreement requires specific measures to correct the deficiencies. Most important, it mandates the creation of a 13-member community police commission to oversee the reform effort. That body will have 10 members representing a cross-section of the Cleveland community and one member each from the Cleveland Patrolmen’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Black Shield Police Association.

Of course, the commission has much contentious work ahead of it in trying to solve the problems of the Cleveland police force. But the Justice Department’s involvement in forging the agreement, and those of other communities bedeviled by egregiously racist police practices, underscore the fact that reforming bad police departments requires the combination of federal government oversight and local government oversight and local-community oversight.

That requires that the right people be in charge of the Justice Department – which means having the right people in charge of the White House – if there’s to be any chance of solving the nation’s true crime problem: a criminal justice system built substantially on injustice, particularly racial injustice.

Lee A. Daniels is a columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com

The Waco Biker Riot and the lexicon of racism

— Question: When men (and a few women) belonging to gangs known to law enforcement agencies for criminal behavior explode in a rampage – using guns, knives, clubs, and chains in trying to kill each other, and police officers, too, that leaves nine dead, nearly 200 injured and hundreds arrested, is that a “riot?”

Answer: Apparently not if the overwhelming majority of the gang members are White?

America’s present-day “racial divide,” has never been more strikingly displayed than in the refusal of much of the mainstream and conservative media to describe the May 17 biker riot in Waco, Texas as a riot.

The riot, which occurred at a popular restaurant amid dozens of innocent bystanders and, according to police, involved members of five different gangs, was one of the most extraordinary outbursts of mass criminal violence in recent memory. Further, almost immediately after Waco police arrested the bikers, rumors swirled that other members of the gangs were heading toward the city to both continue the battle against their rivals and carry out death threats made against Waco police officials.

Yet, scanning the newspapers, the universe of online publications, and the network and cable television news programs, you’d have scarcely come across any description of what occurred in Waco as a “riot.” Nor would you have likely found any reference to the bikers, clad in their distinctively grungy biker garb, as “thugs” – or, as one newspaper reader put it: “murdering thuggish rioters.”

MediaMatters, the watchdog group, pointed out the contrast in how Fox News, for example, covered Waco versus Baltimore and Ferguson.

It noted, “After African-American communities in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. came together to demonstrate against the deadly and racially disparate policies of law enforcement, Fox News branded the protests a ‘war on cops.’ But when the story became a mostly white Texas biker gang plotting to kill police with grenades and car bombs, the network took a decidedly less sensationalist approach in its reporting.”

CNN Political Commentator Sally Kohn wrote, “In fact, in much of the coverage of the Waco shootings, the race of the gang members isn’t even mentioned. By comparison, the day after Freddie Gray died in the custody of police officers in Baltimore, not only did most coverage mention that Gray was black, but also included a quote from the deputy police commissioner noting Gray was arrested in ‘a high-crime area known to have high narcotic incidents,’ implicitly smearing Gray and the entire community.”

The disparity in coverage did not go unremarked upon on Black social media, in a host of progressive publications, and in numerous online reader-responses to mainstream-publication stories. (Many also noted the Waco police responded to the deadly shootout with none of the heavily-militarized equipment and body armor that immediately marked police responses to peaceful protests in Ferguson and Baltimore.)

Indeed, the differences in the language used underscore that the way words and phrases are used to talk about race and racial events has its own meaning. In this instance, it’s that such words as “riot” and “thug” are part of the lexicon of America’s continuing racial divide that, among other things, individualizes White crime and White flaws while it indicts all Black Americans for the flaws and crimes of individual Blacks. Some years ago a journalist friend of mine described this dynamic as “the chains of collective guilt.”

The phenomenon isn’t new, of course. Once, the lexicon of anti-Black collective guilt helped justify the actual chains of Negro slavery and the legalized racism that followed. Now, it’s usually employed in more subtle ways.

Except when it’s not: As in the revealing discoveries over the past two months of racist, sexist and homophobic tweets and e-mails by cops in the police departments of San Francisco, Miami Beach, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

In each case – all are still in early stages of investigation – police officers, some with long years on their force, were found to have exchanged from dozens to hundreds of social-media messages disparaging with vile slurs against Blacks, Hispanic-Americans, women, gays and lesbians, Muslim Americans – and, of course, President Obama. Law enforcement co-workers and innocent civilians alike were denigrated along with Black criminal suspects. The bulk of the messages in all these instances, which cover from 2010 to the present, focused on Black Americans.

The discoveries have led to the resignations of some of the officers, and disciplinary actions, including firing, against the others. Even more important, prosecutors and police officials in the three cities are reviewing cases of defendants in which the officers were involved either as arresting officers or witnesses at trial. In San Francisco, prosecutors have already dropped eight cases connected to some of the officers there.

One Miami Beach cop tried to excuse his behavior by describing it as just part of the police department’s longstanding “culture.” Unfortunately, the same could be said for the mainstream and conservative media’s refusal to use the most accurate descriptions for the Waco biker riot.

It’s those similarities that are worrisome.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com

The Supreme Court’s ‘religious freedom’ scam

— Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions that the Court’s conservative majority and the larger conservative movement pretended were about “religious freedom.”

In the one case, involving the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores and the Conestoga Wagon Specialties company, which makes wood cabinets, the majority ruled that a federal law guaranteeing “religious freedom” means family-owned corporations don’t have to provide insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act.

That decision, which the Court issued on June 30, seemed to leave in place the law’s provision governing nonprofit organizations in place. The law allowed nonprofit organizations to, if they wished, transfer the delivery of free contraception to others. However, in the second ruling, which the Court handed up on July 3 and specifically involved Illinois’s Wheaton College, a conservative Christian institution, the court majority temporarily exempted it from having to comply at all with the contraception provisions of the law.

Critics of the decisions, which produced extremely sharp dissents from the court’s three female justices, said they have stripped women workers of any guarantees that contraception coverage will automatically be part of their health insurance. That’s because these rulings aren’t about “religious liberty.” They actually have an entirely different purpose: jerry-rigging a legal framework around the efforts of the white Christian right to impose its religious beliefs on other Americans. The Christian Right has been pursuing that goal, of course, for decades. But it’s become clear in recent years that it was losing control on two of its most important issues: women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gays and lesbians, especially regarding same-sex marriage. So, now they’ve re-cast themselves as “victims” whose “freedom” to adhere to their religious beliefs is being violated. It’s a scam the conservative political movement is pushing in brazen fashion—as exemplified by a strikingly apt word in the Hobby Lobby opinion written by Justice Samuel A. Alito.

That word is “fiction.”

On page 18 of the majority opinion, Alito acknowledges that defining corporations as persons in legal terms is a “fiction,” but asserts that “the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings … When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of those people.” A moment later, Alito defines “those people” in this way: “And protecting the free-exercise rights of closely-held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control the companies.”

As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank pointedly noted two days before the Wheaton College decision, that sentence does not contain any mention of the rights of these corporations’ employees. In other words, in declaring that a family-owned corporation – which, after all, is an artificial entity created in accordance with governmental regulations – can, in effect, take on the religious coloration of “those who own and control” it, the court’s conservative bloc was indulging in another of the “fictions” by which it’s been trying to hold back the expansion of democracy for more than a decade.

That became even clearer once it issued the Wheaton College ruling.

Given that it is indeed a “fiction” to pretend the ruling was not a politically driven gift to the Christian right, here are some questions to think about:

How long will it be before some conservative Christian business owners require their female employees to wear dresses (no slacks, please) down to their ankles? And for all employees to genuflect before crosses set up at entrances to their businesses? And to join them in “prayer sessions” before and after the workday? And to attend only those houses of worship they “approve” of?

And how long will it be before some white business owners claim—as in the Jim Crow days—that their “religious beliefs” require that they not serve or employ Black Americans? Or, will they try that on Muslim Americans first? Or gays and lesbians? Or Hispanic Americans? Or Jewish Americans?

If those possibilities sound far-fetched to you, you’ve forgotten that for most of American history, the “white” version of Christianity was part and parcel of the many crackpot justifications for the exclusion and oppression of women and Americans of color. And you’ve forgotten that the Court’s conservative majority crafted numerous “fictions” in its 2010 Citizens United decision to enable corporations to make unrestricted political contributions, and again in the 2013 decisions that significantly narrowed affirmative action and voting rights protections.

Those facts underscore that there’s little in the Christian right’s efforts to limit the freedom of others that the Supreme Court’s “5 political operatives” (as a headline in The Huffington Post so accurately put it) will consider “far-fetched.”

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

Our continuing conversation on race

— Donald Sterling, the disgraced San Diego Clippers owner (thus far), is like the proverbial bad penny: he won’t go away. He’s still trying to whistle the “I’m-not-a-racist” ditty to anyone who’ll listen.

His attempts to obscure the obvious have produced two important results. First, of course, they’ve confirmed the accuracy of our first impressions. Sterling has shown that the racial sentiments the world heard first on that now-infamous tape aren’t just the one-time ravings of a bitterly jealous old man. Secondly, the racism and sexism he’s so bluntly put on display multiple times now has, along with other recent developments, underscored that these forms of bigotry in America, while less powerful than before, are still widespread, and will be for a long time to come.

So, it’s important to keep including in our conversation on race Sterling, and the chiseling Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy – whose racist comments helped puncture the notion that he was some sort of hero of the Old West fighting against unjust federal intrusion – as individual examples of that broader point.

And now, we can add Robert Copeland to that list. Copeland, you’ll recall, is the now-former police commissioner of the small town of Wolfeboro, N.H., who was outed after being overheard in a restaurant loudly calling President Obama that long-time favorite slur of White racists. Subsequently, Copeland bluntly declared in an e-mail to the town’s two other police commissioners that “I believe I did use the ‘N’ word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse (sic). For this, I do not apologize – he meets and exceeds my criteria for such.” He did not explain his “criteria.”

To their credit, residents of the town of 6,300 (of which, according to reports, about 20 are Black; the state’s Black population is about 1 percent) quickly and angrily demanded at a packed town meeting that the 82-year-old official resign – a demand that was seconded by a large swath of local and state officials, and the town’s most prominent vacationer, Mitt Romney. They represent the Americans of all backgrounds who don’t tolerate the old bigotry, whether it’s expressed publicly or privately.

Some would say of Copeland – as what was said of Sterling and Bundy – that he’s not merely one individual stuck in the past and that is unseemly ‘piling-on’ to keep condemning him. They say it distracts from the serious discussion we should be having about the far more important manifestations of bigotry.

Others would use the claim of the NBA’s Maverick owner Mark Cuban that “we’re all prejudiced” in different ways and that “before we can help others deal [with] racism, we have to be honest about ourselves” as an excuse to, in fact, do nothing. Tainted though we “all” may be by different biases, many of us don’t let whatever biases we may have rule our behavior, and we don’t use them as an excuse for inaction when we witness the blatant or subtle bigotry of others – as the overwhelmingly White residents of Wolfeboro, N.H. proved.

Their reaction, as I’ve said, demonstrated anew that confronting individual expressions of bigotry is important in helping illuminate how entrenched anti-Black racism, and bigotry of all kinds remain in the American system as a whole.

After all, the American system and its institutions are, overwhelmingly, run and heavily influenced by White men; By White billionaires and millionaires, like Donald Sterling, who control vast economic empires and move in the most sophisticated and elite of circles. By White police chiefs, and fire chiefs, school superintendents, politicians, and so on, who, like Robert Copeland, hold responsible positions in their communities and thus help operate the country’s governmental and civic infrastructure. And by individual owners of all kinds of businesses, like Cliven Bundy, who are always praised as constituting the backbone of the country.

Remember that – and then consider the racial malice in each of these men’s remarks. Cliven Bundy, on a drive-by past a Las Vegas federally subsidized housing project, sees “enough” of some Black residents there to declare all Black people worthless. Donald Sterling’s perverse jealousy of Magic Johnson, who has excelled as an athlete, a businessman and a philanthropist, propels him to charge that Black Americans don’t help one another. And, finally, according to Robert Copeland’s “criteria,” Barack Obama, a former United States Senator and the twice-elected president of the United States, is just a n—–.

In the comments of these three men, one can take a long walk back through the America’s tragic racial past, and understand better why this month’s 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka finds more Black children attending segregated schools now than in 1980.

That’s part of the evidence that continuing to talk about Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Robert Copeland, and other individuals like them isn’t a distraction from America’s conversation on race but a central part of it.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.