Sunday, April 23, 2017

Artists Cutting Through the Bullshit
Samantha Bee is one of the smartest and more important political commentators on the air today. 

She is also hilarious and candid about our president’s utter lack of basic policy knowledge, willingness to lie repeatedly and then double-down on the lie and the coverup, and his indecent treatment of women and minorities. If I had to reduce my TV news intake to only one show today, I would choose Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

Michael Gerson is a conservative columnist for the Washington Post with whom I often disagree. But he is also smart. And while he uses Samantha Bee as his illustration, and I reject that choice as an ideologically driven effort to weaken the strongest voice among his opposition, he makes a good point in today’s editorial: when Trump critics slide into Trumpist rhetorical spaces, ‘dehumanizing’ those who disagree with us, we weaken our capacity to mobilize centrist voters to move dump Trump and his Republican comrades.

Gerson misses the mark by emphasizing the threat posed by late-night comedy shows, particularly at a time when the rough sarcastic edge of these shows is one of our few pathways toward clarity in an era dominated by Trumpian levels of bullshit. Neither mainstream media nor Democratic Party officials dehumanize Trump or Trump supporters—though both do point out things Trump actually says and these stand on their own as evidence of stupidity…often then used by overly sensitive Trump supporters as evidence that the mainstream media is dehumanizing Trump.

Gerson also misses the point in a more significant way when he then claims the far left is hijacking the anti-Trump movement to peddle the same old, off-the-shelf, ideas it has always tried to sell. First, this is how it always works. Second, this is a self-correcting process. Third, the worst instances of this in recent memory are W’s response to 9/11 and the current Republican agenda in DC.

At the same time, I do agree, to a point, with this Gerson point: “A substantive, centrist response to Trump has a chance of releasing his hold on the GOP and the country. A sneering, dismissive, dehumanizing, and conspiratorial hard left response to Trump is his fondest hope.”

To a point? I agree that mainstream media and party leaders need to mobilize a ‘substantive, centrist response to Trump’ because the key to defeating Trumpism is to win back the moderate Trump supporters who are less racist, less bigoted, less ignorant than the core Trump supporters. 

But, doing this has nearly nothing to do with muzzling Samantha Bee. We need more SamanthaBees and John Olivers and... And we need to be thankful that comedy and art are able to fill the black hole in our souls left by the election of the most indecent president in our lifetime.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Flip Flop Flexibility?
Today’s Akron Beacon Journal printed a Hershey column largely repeating analysis done in numerous other national outlets earlier this week: What does Trump flip-flopping mean? 

Hershey concludes the flip flops are Trump ‘slapping his brand’ on politics, concluding whimsically with the suggestion that Trump should produce some Trump branded footwear to take advantage of the moment.

Hershey’s discussion of the degree to which these inconsistencies might be a strength mirrors CNN analysis from earlier arguing that this is a sign of flexibility in Trump.

Here is the list (including info from a second CNN article as well):
Candidate Trump: "NATO is obsolete."
President Trump: "I said it was obsolete; it's no longer obsolete."
Candidate Trump: "China has been ripping us off…. I'm going to instruct my treasury secretary to label China a currency manipulator."
President Trump: “They are not currency manipulators.”
Candidate Trump: Will get rid of Import-Export Bank
          President Trump: Import-Export Banks is fine.
Candidate Trump: Will rip up NAFTA
          President Trump: NAFTA okay with some minor tweaks.
Candidate Trump: Crooked Hillary is a worry wart.
          President Trump: “Who knew health care could be so complicated.”
Candidate Trump: Anti-abortion and Anti-Obamacare.
          Trump before his campaign: Pro-Choice and favored universal health care.
          President Trump: Gorsuch on court, but no repeal & replace in sight.
Candidate Trump: Tweet: "What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval."
President Trump: "Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched…" Trump did not ask for nor receive congressional approval to launch his attack.
Candidate Trump on Fed Chief: "She's keeping (rates) artificially low to get Obama retired … I think she is very political and to a certain extent, I think she should be ashamed of herself because it is not supposed to be that way."
President Trump on Fed Chief: "I like her, I respect her."
Candidate Trump: Tweet: "Why is @BarackObama constantly issuing executive orders that are major power grabs of authority?"
President Trump: Trump has issued 23 executive orders, including his controversial travel ban, since taking office on January 20.
Candidate Trump on Government Unemployment Figures: "The numbers are phony. These are all phony numbers. Numbers given to politicians to look good. These are phony numbers."
President Trump: White House press secretary Sean Spicer: "I talked to the President prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly: 'They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now.' "
Candidate Trump: Tweet: "Can you believe that,with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf.Worse than Carter"
President Trump: Trump has visited his golf courses 16 times since taking office. In early February he tweeted: "Played golf today with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and @TheBig_Easy, Ernie Els, and had a great time. Japan is very well represented!"

CNN then makes a familiar (if nevertheless still disturbing) observation: Trump supporters are not bothered by this track record of lying to them. CNN speculates that his supporters might even see this as a strength: he is flexible and not dogmatic, because he is a doer…and yet his record of non-accomplishments in office grows longer by the day.

The President frames the lying as ‘the world has changed.’ But, CNN points out the world has not changed since the campaign, so they can argue that what has changed is which advisers the President is listening to (the more hawkish ones is their answer).

We should all welcome the fact that this president has shown a willingness to admit he did not understand ‘how complicated’ governance really is and that he might be open to learning how to do it. We should also all hope he learns it quickly enough to avoid sending our young men and women into an avoidable nuclear confrontation with North Korea.

But there are two more important stories lurking beneath the surface here.
First, the president continues to ignore data and what everyone (on both sides) agrees are the complicated and messy facts upon which policy must be made.

Second, retreating to he is a pragmatist businessman dodges the most corrosive aspect of his lying. He and his supporters believe all the nonsensical soundbites about President Obama even though the sum total of all these about-faces results in a Trump policy agenda that can only be seen as a continuation of the Obama approach. Is Trump Obama-light?

On the first deeper story, here is an AP effort to factcheck the President on the flip-flop issues.

It was a flip-floppy week at the White House as President Donald Trump walked away from some promises and people, contorting reality in the process.

He declared NATO no longer obsolete, even though the alliance hasn’t changed much since he denigrated it in the 2016 campaign. He credited China with ceasing the manipulation of its currency, swerving away from a campaign pledge with a belated acknowledgment that China had changed its ways.

The president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, joined a list of people Trump has claimed to know well until he said he didn’t. Russian President Vladimir Putin is on the list, too, as he has been for some time. “I don’t know Putin,” Trump said in characterizing U.S.-Russia relations as the worst ever. He’d bragged in 2015, “I got to know him very well.”
As he performed such acrobatics to explain a series of shifts, Trump also committed several more familiar sleights of rhetoric, taking credit where it isn’t due in job growth and corporate expansion.

A look at some of his statements this past week:

TRUMP: “The secretary-general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.” — news conference Wednesday with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
THE FACTS: NATO has not substantively changed its mission as a result of Trump’s campaign-season complaints. As evidence that NATO is heeding his call to be more aggressive on terrorism, Trump has cited a NATO decision last year to establish a high-level intelligence coordinator that could make the alliance more nimble in responding to threats. But that position was in the works during the Obama administration and came about because of worries about Russian aggression as well as from a desire to respond more effectively to the Islamic State group. It wasn’t in response to Trump.
———
TRUMP: “Already we’ve created more than almost 600,000 jobs.” — to CEOs on Tuesday.
THE FACTS: More than almost?
First, Trump is taking credit for three months of job creation even though he wasn’t president for two-thirds of January. Second, the economy doesn’t turn on a dime — or an inauguration. Over time, his predecessor’s influence on the economy wanes and Trump’s grows.
Third, he took actual job growth and rounded it up — way up. The economy added 533,000 jobs in the first three months, not the 600,000 claimed by Trump on several occasions. That’s a monthly average of 178,000 jobs. President Barack Obama’s pace was slightly better last year: 187,000 jobs per month on average.
———
TRUMP: “We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia.” — news conference Wednesday
THE FACTS: Arguably true in the post-Soviet era. Not so during the decades of the Cold War, shadowed by the threat of nuclear annihilation.
The U.S. and the Soviet Union were on the verge of a nuclear conflict in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the Korean War, Soviet pilots covertly backed North Korea against U.S.-led forces. Tensions also were high after a U.S. U-2 spy plane was shot down over Russia and its pilot, Gary Powers, was imprisoned and tried for espionage. And the U.S. helped militants fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
———
TRUMP: “Toyota just announced that it will invest more than $1.3 billion … into its Georgetown, Kentucky, plant, an investment that would not have been made if we didn’t win the election.” — to CEOs on Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s election was not the spark for the investment. Toyota said the announcement was the culmination of plans in the works for at least four years.
———
TRUMP: “The car industry is not going to leave us anymore, believe me. The car industry is staying in our country. They were leaving — if I didn’t win this election, you would have lost your car industry to Mexico and to other countries. They’re not leaving anymore, believe me. There’s retribution if they leave. There was no retribution.” — Fox Business Network interview, broadcast Wednesday
THE FACTS: The only “retribution” he has meted out has come on Twitter and in other rhetorical forms. He hasn’t signed any laws or instituted rules to punish fleeing industries. In fact, Ford Motor Co. is still planning to move small car production from Michigan to an existing plant in Mexico next year.
———
TRUMP, on his chief strategist, Steve Bannon: “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist, and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.” — Interview on Tuesday with the New York Post.
THE FACTS: Trump shortchanges his relationship with Bannon in an apparent effort to downgrade his importance.
David Bossie, who was deputy campaign manager, told The Associated Press after Trump took office that Bossie had introduced Trump and Bannon in 2011 at Trump Tower and they had grown close. Bannon interviewed Trump at least nine times in 2015 and 2016.
In August 2016, when the Trump campaign announced the hiring of Bannon as campaign CEO and the appointment of Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager, its statement quoted Trump as saying: “’I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years.”
———
TRUMP: “I don’t know Putin.” — news conference on Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s claimed familiarity with Putin has waxed and waned according to political circumstance.
It waxed when it served his interest to demonstrate comfort dealing with world leaders. “I got to know him very well because we were both on ‘60 Minutes,’ we were stablemates, and we did very well that night,” he said in November 2015. Actually, Putin spoke from Moscow and Trump from New York and appeared in separate segments of the show.
It waned when Trump’s frequently admiring comments about Putin became a liability and Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election came to light. “I never met Putin, I don’t know who Putin is,” he said in July, and essentially ever since.
The two spoke by phone Jan. 28, when Putin congratulated the new president.
———
TRUMP on his decision to attack a Syrian air base: “What I did should have been done by the Obama administration a long time before I did it, and you would have had a much better — I think Syria would be a lot better off right now than it has been.” — Fox Business interview.
THE FACTS: Trump may think that now, but he certainly didn’t three years ago when Obama was contemplating retaliation following a deadly chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb.
Among several tweets he sent advising against a strike: “President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your powder for another (and more important) day!”
———
TRUMP on China: “They’re not currency manipulators.” — Wall Street Journal interview Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Here Trump catches up with reality. During the campaign he pledged to brand China a currency manipulator, a move that would set the stage for trade penalties. China had once devalued its currency to make its exports artificially cheaper, crowding out other countries’ products, but in recent years has let market forces do more to shape currency exchange rates. When Trump railed against Chinese currency manipulation in the campaign, there were signs that China was actually taking steps to keep the value of the yuan from sinking further against the dollar.
Trump didn’t let go of his accusation easily. As recently as April 2 he told The Financial Times that the Chinese are “world champions” of currency manipulation.
———
TRUMP: “I think we’re doing very well on health care. It’s been very much misreported that we failed with health care.” — Fox Business interview
THE FACTS: By any objective measure, that’s sugar-coating a faltering health care initiative.
Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., yanked the Republican bill intended to repeal and replace much of Obama’s health care law. The problem: disagreements among GOP hard-liners and moderates, and no Democratic support. Since then, negotiations have led to some tweaks, but no apparent breakthroughs.
That’s not to say he can’t succeed on another try. But after the bill flopped, an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that among seven major issues tested, the president got his worst rating on health care. About 6 in 10 disapproved of Trump’s handling of the issue.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

PC Police, Part II
A conversation with a colleague whom I respect deeply reminded me, yet again, how profoundly gnarly racial conflicts can be. 

Not just complex and layered and confusing and charged. But sometimes situations that are, quite simply, impossible.

A short article in the Huffington Post that this colleague shared, included a list of ten things white folks should stop saying.

Full text of this article from the Huffington Post.


  1. Do not use the word “exotic” to refer to humans who do not look like you. We are not fruit, and it is not a compliment. The longer you insist on assuring us that it is a compliment, the stupider you look. Just give it up.
  2. Do not use the word “ethnic” as though it were a distinct race or nationality.
  3. Do not ask people where they are from more than once. Trust them the first time. No need for “Where are you really from?” or “Where are your parents from?”
  4. Avoid statements like, “Wouldn’t it be great to live during [insert any era during which the person you’re talking to couldn’t vote or own property]?”
  5. Resist the urge to ever say, “I have a lot of [fill in the blank with the racial, religious or ethnic group with which you are least familiar] friends.”
  6. Remember that reverse racism isn’t a thing. Racism is about the abuse of power and privilege. If your race denies you power and privilege, then you can’t be racist. Certainly, you can still be an asshole. Just not a racist.
  7. Unless you are one of “those people” making fun of other people calling you “those people,” then never say “those people.”
  8. Think before asking people to explain an entire race, religion, civilization or geographic region to you simply because they happen to identify with that background. Don’t expect a 14-year-old girl who covers her hair to explain all of Islam to you in ten minutes or less simply because you’re too lazy to read a book. Get a library card and let her eat her lunch in peace.
  9. Remember, we are not all from any one place. Pretending we are just makes you look delusional. So avoid the “We’re all from Africa anyway” statements.
  10. Unless you have achromatopsia, never say “I don’t see color.”

I respect the ideas here and I want to speak with great care because my own experience is rooted in being a white male. At the same time, I want to explore one of these ideas more closely.

“Racism is about the abuse of power and privilege. If your race denies you power and privilege, then you can’t be racist.”

This is persuasive to me. And important. Power matters.

At the same time, one of the many reasons these conflicts become gnarly is that I do not get to decide what is important. One side does not get to decide the definition of the phenomena in question—this is always part of the conflict itself, usually the most important part.

To work toward resolution, or a better understanding (if that is all we do with gnarly conflicts at this point) requires us to try to achieve agreements (including on the definition of key terms). These cannot be imposed to stack the deck to favor our own side, but instead are creative & collaborative efforts to speak in inclusive ways that account for the concerns and experiences of as many parties as possible.

What if we accept one of these two dictionary definitions as an approximate statement of what someone mobilizing a non-academic understanding of racism might be thinking?

“Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.”

“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”

Both of these define a term that could be used to describe antagonism directed from a less powerful racial group toward a more powerful group, if that antagonism was ‘based on the belief that one’s own race is superior’ or on the ‘belief’ that racial groups share distinguishing characteristics.

I am not simply asserting that we should accept the definition: antagonisms based on race.

I am not arguing that scholarly concepts are best defined in an ordinary language dictionary.

I am suggesting that to dismiss out of hand, and by fiat, anyone who might see racism operating in reverse is to fail to do our job. It is more like an effort to silence opposing voices, rather than to demonstrate where those holding these views are misguided.

For me, this changes our question and reframes our challenge.

When someone brings a lens that mobilizes these more ordinary language understandings of racism we need to recognize that this has its own internal logic. It makes sense to them and simply asserting that it is incorrect is unlikely to persuade or improve the situation (by the way, no one I know is doing this, but I am imagining how these conversations might play out in a local pub or parish picnic).

This is where we need to be able to translate on the fly.

We have internalized a powerful argument that has resulted in us concluding that racism, dictionary notwithstanding, is about power imbalances and privileges allocated on the basis of race.

From this perspective, the ordinary language understanding of antagonism based on race is a rudimentary starting point, and one that likely misleads us, upon closer examination, about how racism actually operates as both an interpersonal and structural force.

Perhaps [and there are certainly very smart folks doing better work on this] we then need to distinguish between two types or levels of racism.

Everyday interpersonal racist comments or actions that, arguably, are antagonisms directed at others on the basis of race. And racist comments or actions that reinforce or deepen the privilege of the speaker’s more powerful racial group by subordinating or silencing or hurting the target and her less powerful racial group.

I could see a conversation with an ordinary white person (that is, a white person who is not a motivated racist, but just a run-of-the-mill white person who does not get race, does not see how he benefits from racism, and is generally oblivious—a key characteristic of white privilege) where this distinction might make sense to them. I could see conversations where it did not makes sense, but let’s go with the ‘does makes sense’ option here.

Then we might explore how these two are deeply and inescapably inter-connected.

I welcome disagreement, correction, or help sorting this out and fully recognize that my own experience prevents me from fully understanding this, though I would really like to understand it.
….
Once we are debating the inter-connectedness, we might also shift to a flank attack where we get our average white guy counterpart to reflect on his own experience and then redirect that.

See structural forces, boxes beyond your control that subordinate, that result in you Mr. White Guy being ‘totally screwed by the system.’ Use this to recognize it takes a village and what we earn is not based only on how hard we work…recognize this on the basis of your own white working class experience.

Now see that there are other structural forces that work to your benefit. Yes, you are getting screwed, now imagine that on top of all that you are black.

Navigating back and forth between structure and agency, impersonal systems and interpersonal interactions is not easy for anyone. We need to help each other out with this if we want to move forward together.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

PC Police
Laughing in disgust at 'political correctness' is like a cottage industry today. While there is no doubt that some have acted as if they were our collective conscience, as self-appointed new sheriffs in town policing speech in ways that do not help us figure out how do this thing call life better.

At the same time, the core insight being criticized is too important to throw it out with the bath water. Who disagrees with the expectation that we should try to speak to each other in less offensive ways whenever it is possible to combine that with candor? It is certainly true that if our objective is problem solving and we value community then speaking to each other in ways that are thoughtful, and designed to be clear and respectful and loving should always be preferred to alternatives.

Further, and this might not be as widely shared an expectation (though I believe it should be), it is entirely reasonable to expect that we will listen to each other and, particularly relevant to the back & forth on political correctness, to listen when others tell us that this or that language is offensive.

Is this more complicated than using the scorecard from our childhood George Carlin albums as our never-changing guide? Yes. But we do this all the time with aging family members with out-of-date sensibilities, neighbors we happen to be from the other party, and bosses or co-workers we want to strengthen our relationship with...so, why do we resist so self-righteously when expected to extend this same courtesy to our neighbors of color or women or non-Christians?

Having a president model disdain for this skill, and the shared expectations we advance together by valuing this skill, makes it even more difficult than it already is to problem solve, revitalize communities, and protect family values. But it is not his fault; he is more a consequence of a longer-term trend here (though he is amplifying that negative consequences of this trend).

Maybe we should all list non-offensive speech as our second major? Why? Because doing this well is a skill. Like any skill it takes practice to master. Most of us learn this on the streets, at parish picnics, and in school or family interactions. Some never learn it or master it.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

War
What is it good for? Absolutely nothing (for average folks, though it does create myriad possibilities for elite profiteering). This is why a good leader is very cautious about putting our young men & women into harm's way. Doing this to distract us from probes into Russian attacks on our electoral system and administrative incompetence is nearly always a horrible idea, reflecting either cold-hearted disregard for average folks or inexperience, or both.

Experience matters. Growing up as a rich kid who inherits great wealth and does nearly nothing of value with it does not constitute relevant experience, nor does being the son-in-law of that rich kid.


Success in world politics is already challenging enough. We are asking for unnecessary trouble with a leadership style that is so profoundly disconnected from the realities of regular folks and even from the realities of what it takes to be a successful business leader. And unaware of its own incompetence.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

I Was Wrong about Bob Dyer
Let’s start near the beginning. Many years ago, ‘our favorite columnist’ Bob Dyer was part of an ABJ team that won a Pulitzer Prize for a series on race.
It will take me some time to get to how I was wrong about him, and yes, I am getting thoughts off my chest that have been ruminating for years.
Since the Pulitzer, Dyer has written several times on race, usually in response to a recent news event. His stories are nearly always the same: “Your favorite columnist thinks the core problem on race is that non-whites keep bringing up racism,” or some version of this storyline.
He packages that message within his trademark humility and nearly always reminds us (as he did again this week) that he has spent a lot of time thinking about race and unlike most who “are so terrified of being labeled racist for saying ‘the wrong thing’ that they just avoid the subject altogether” Dyer is “not the least bit bashful about discussing race.”
I have always maintained that he should be a lot more bashful; he should even consider silent listening, because he is part of the problem when, as a powerful white man, he insists that our central concern about race ought to be the many white people who are afraid of being labeled racist and feel burdened by this very ordinary expectation that we not offend our conversation partners.
Turns out I was wrong about Bob Dyer.
The ABJ ran a two-part series on their front page this week. Dyer in conversation with a black preacher in town I respect deeply.
In part one, after introducing the conversation he asks the Bishop for his thoughts on a recent incident in a high school locker room. But after the Bishop explains that such actions reveal to him that there is hate in people’s hearts, Dyer does not share his own thoughts on that incident.
Instead, he turns the spotlight on himself. Bragging that he has been having conversations like this for 40 years. Perhaps if he had been sharing, in 40 years of conversations, the same outrage as the Bishop about the manifestations of hatred in the hearts of white youth toward their black peers in our city today, he might have mustered the courage to listen in these conversations.
Instead, he chooses to say nothing to this black preacher about how horrifying it must be to grow up black with such white hot anger directed at you every day and asks the Bishop if there is any reason to feel optimistic. He first avoids being a leader (or a listener) and then actually asks a leader of the targeted group to help him feel better in the shadow of horrifying hatred being perpetrated by fellow whites against blacks for no reason, other than hate.
So, question one asks the black man to make sense of senseless white violence against blacks, and the white man says nothing.
Question two asks the black man to help the white man feel better about this horrible senseless violence.
Question three is prefaced with how impressed the white man was with President Obama being elected, thinking (as no-one who has actually engaged thoughtfully and honestly in conversations about race for 40 years could ever think) this meant we had moved into a ‘race-neutral society.’
Then he asks the black man why the election did not do this? Is the underlying theme here that Bob believes only the black man can explain racism, because concern about racism is not about white people, but about overly sensitive black people? Subsequent questions suggest this is a reasonable interpretation.
Question four: the white man compares racial profiling (traffic stops are the situations Dyer focuses on) to Dyer being pulled over for ‘swerving’ while he was trying to find a safe time to pass a truck. Dyer conclude that had he been black he might have mistakenly assumed this was racism.
Bob’s n-of-one story is contrary to dozens and dozens of studies showing that police and airport security and private sector employers and more all profile on the basis of race…often. And in policing it results in more stops with fewer hits, that is, a waste of taxpayer funds. In airports it overlooks those most likely to be terrorists. In job hunting it results in those with identical resumes (but white sounding names) getting more than 50% more callbacks for interviews.
Yes, Bob, you were pulled over once. Tragedy. Now let’s have an adult conversation.
In part two, question five gets to the meat of this series for Dyer because as he puts it… “going back to our dust-up in January, are you willing to say that most people who voted for him are not racist and sexist but just wanted the biggest possible Washington shake-up?”
Dyer sounds like a classic Trump supporter who wants, here, to be exonerated for over-looking the candidate’s obvious racism, misogyny, bigotry and ignorance of policy in nevertheless choosing to vote for him.
Keep in mind this means, over-looking the fact that this candidate holds strong negative views of citizens on the basis of their skin color, gender, religion, and national origin…over-looking the fact that this frightens our fellow citizens who are not white male Christians born here. And this is not a talking point from the other side; the candidate advertised these views proudly and often.
So, question five was to ask one of the targeted groups if we was willing to forgive him and his ilk, and take back his comment suggesting Trump voters be held accountable for their actions in voting.
His final question, in response to their agreement that a central problem is that whites and blacks do not know each other well, is to ask the black man if the ‘ghetto’ is a result of blacks preferring to live with other blacks?
Again, in this final question, rather than speak candidly about redlining and segregated schools and the GI Bill and more (where the focus would be white agency)…the white man who likes to think he has been in conversations about race for 40 years asks the black man if segregation is rooted in blacks not wanting to live with whites.
Astonishing in the extreme.
Our Bishop somehow remained calm; I am sure that, unlike Dyer’s traffic stop, this was not the first time he has encountered this situation and he is a very good and kind and intelligent man. A real leader.
So, I finally decided to write something about Bob Dyer. Several times over the years I have written letters to the editor, but the paper consistently protects its star columnist. None have been printed.
This leaves a blog no one reads. So be it.
After reflecting on this, it occurs to me that I have been wrong about Bob Dyer. He is not encouraging or enabling others, because he is not a leader. His 40 years of commentary on race…as reflected in the six questions here…reveal him to be an ordinary follower.
I have been wrong about Dyer. I always feared he was mobilizing the worst tendencies within us. Turns out that the questions he asks are likely the questions many of his generation, race, gender, and position do ask. He is not leading readers astray, he is following readers who (like him) are afraid to ask questions about themselves, others like them, or institutionalized racism. Instead, they avoid serious questions and honest conversation as they seek narratives that justify what they already believe and pat them on the back for self-righteously blaming the victims for the cancer eating at the great American experiment: racism.


Here are links to both parts of the two-part story and below that I have pasted the full texts as well.
Part One
Bishop Joey Johnson and Your Favorite Columnist clashed a few months ago over some statements he made during a public meeting. But on at least one subject, we are of a single mind.
Race relations are terrible.
And they’re getting worse.
And that is bad news for all of us.
Johnson, a 65-year-old African-American, is one of the most influential preachers in the region, regardless of color. On Sundays, his House of the Lord church in West Akron draws about 200 worshippers for the early service and about 600 more for the later one.
He estimates that his congregation, which meets in a gorgeous, sprawling facility very close to the Vernon Odom Boulevard exit on Interstate 77, is about 1 percent white, down from 10 percent a decade ago.
A pastor in this city for 43 years, Johnson has played an active role in trying to ease the clash of colors, participating in public events such as unity meetings and also working behind the scenes, such as talking with the Akron police hierarchy about the enormous divide between law-enforcement and much of the black community.
Johnson is not the least bit bashful about discussing race, and neither am I. That’s not always the case, because many people are so terrified of being labeled racist for saying “the wrong thing” that they just avoid the subject altogether.
At least in public.
Both of us thought it would be worthwhile to sit down and see how things look from opposite sides of the color divide in 2017.
We sat in his well-appointed office and talked for nearly an hour. Because of the newspaper’s space limitations, what follows is a drastically edited version of the conversation, but a version that I believe retains the high points.
Dyer: I assume you read our story about the racial slur written on the door of the boys basketball locker room at Ellet? [A student wrote “f*** n******” next to a Nazi swastika.] What do you think motivates people to do that kind of thing?
Johnson: I really think there’s hatred down inside of people that they’re unaware of. I don’t think most people are consciously racist. I think it’s things that were planted long ago that come out. Sometimes it’s not that they hate other people but they’re having issues themselves, and they express it in that kind of way.
Dyer: I’ve been having these types of conversations for 40 years, and race relations right now are as bad as I’ve ever seen them. I’m discouraged. Is there any reason for optimism?
Johnson: That’s a great question, because I think many people are discouraged. I think it is about as bad as it’s ever been in my lifetime. I think it’s because of the climate in which we live.
But there’s always reason for hope. Here’s what I’ve been saying to people in the city who are discouraged: “If we’re going to be in this struggle, you’re in it because it’s right. You’re in it because there is redemption in the struggle.”
This is a problem that has been going on for so long, I’m not sure what’s going to get done. But we may be able to help people in the long run if we’re doing it because it’s right.
When Martin Luther King said, “I may not get there with you,” I think [he meant], “I’m not going to make it, but something’s going to happen after me.”
And I think that’s the key. If we can do something to help our children and grandchildren be better, we ought to do that.
Dyer: When Obama was elected, I said to myself, “Wow. If this country elects a person of color to the highest office in the land — with Obama winning 43 percent of the white vote, the second-highest figure for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter — isn’t that proof that we’re heading toward a race-neutral society?” But race relations got worse. Why?
Johnson: A black man in the White House does not guarantee equality for all. It’s one person. Obama was exceptional. He does not represent the average African-American. One person can’t change the whole country.
Dyer: But I thought it said something that so many white people were willing to vote for a black person.
Johnson: It did say something. I think it said we recognize that this guy has something and we’re willing to overlook everything that has taken place in our country and vote him to be the president.
He carried a unique mantel. That was the blip on the radar, and it seems like we’ve been going backward ever since.
African-American people are collectivistic people, group-oriented, and we expected him to be our savior. I didn’t. But I think we did in general.
He wasn’t going to do that because he wanted to be the people’s president, not the black people’s president. So he said very little [about racial issues]. That was a problem. It’s like an elephant sitting in the middle of the room and he won’t talk about it.
Dyer: You experienced a traffic stop for the offense “driving while black.” [A 16-year-resident of Copley Township, he was pulled over one night and asked what he was doing “in this part of town.”]
I have friends who are certain they have been targeted for DWB, and I don’t doubt that happens at times.
But I tell them about a night I was on state Route 585, trying to pass a semi, edging out a couple of times to see whether the coast was clear, and got pulled over. The trooper said I had been “weaving,” and wanted to know whether I had been drinking.
I told him I was simply trying to see whether it was safe to pass. He already knew that’s what I was doing. He was on a fishing expedition. What would I have thought had I been black?
I also remember being in a restaurant where my family was getting horrible service. I noticed a black couple across the room getting the same horrible service. I thought to myself, “If I were black, I might well attribute the horrible service to racism.” Do you think there are times when blacks mistake racism for plain old incompetence?
Johnson: Yeah! I think you’re overestimating [its frequency], but I don’t think you’re wrong.
It’s the narrative. After a while, if you get discriminated against a number of times, that’s the attitude that you begin to carry.
I have no doubt in my mind that every instance that people bring up is not necessarily discrimination on the basis of color. But it has been so prominent, and some of them are so egregious, that I think there’s more on that side than there is on the “not” side.
How do we deal with that? What I do, which gets me in trouble, is I deal with both sides.
When I worked with the attorney general’s office on law-enforcement training, I talked about implicit bias and micro-aggressions, the micro insults and invalidations people do without knowing they do them.
Dyer: Can you give me an example?
Johnson: Sure. “You talk very good for a black man.” The person thinks they’ve complimented you. They don’t know they’ve insulted you.
When I go into Acme after church, or Giant Eagle, I’m generally wearing a tie. Invariably, somebody is going to ask me where the ketchup is.
“I’m sorry ma’am, I don’t work here. But I can tell you where the ketchup is. I come here all the time. It’s in Aisle 7.”
I’m not picking a fight. I’m not taking offense. You’ll have to give it to me if you want me to have it.
Part Two
Bishop Joey Johnson and Your Favorite Columnist sat down recently to talk about the sorry state of race relations in 2017.
The black baby boomer and the white baby boomer both believe the racial divide is as wide as it has been in their lifetimes.
Johnson is among the most influential preachers in the region, drawing 800 Sunday worshippers to his House of the Lord in West Akron.
Our hourlong conversation has been heavily edited, but I believe it retains the high points.
About midway through our talk, Johnson revealed that he has arranged for people in the black community to use police simulators to illustrate how tough it is for officers to make split-second decisions with lives on the line — theirs and the suspect’s.
The participants role-play being cops. They are shown videos of various situations unfolding and — as in real life — must make almost instantaneous judgement calls.
The action on the screen changes based on what you say and do. If you shoot at somebody, the machine will tell you how fast you reacted, how accurately you shot and whether your actions were appropriate.
I was invited to try my hand at a simulator many years ago — and failed miserably in two of the scenarios.
In one, I stood idly by while my partner was stabbed to death.
Later, I poured two 9 mm slugs into an old, slow woman who was approaching with a knife. I quite likely could have disarmed her easily without firing a shot — much less two.
Johnson: I said, “Let’s see what the police have to go through.”
I’m on both sides, so people get angry with me. “Well, are you for us, the black people?” I’m for truth! I’m for what’s right for everybody.
Police are in a very difficult situation in our country, and I don’t think all police are bad or racist. Having simulators helps people get a different perspective. All of a sudden, they’re saying, “Well, I wasn’t thinking it was like that.” It shows it’s not that easy.
That kind of viewpoint is often just not dealt with because there’s no middle ground. We need to create a middle ground.
Dyer: Agree completely.
I hesitate to even utter the word “Trump,” because any time I write anything about him people on both sides read things into it and go ballistic. But going back to our dust-up in January, are you willing to say that most people who voted for him are not racist and sexist but just wanted the biggest possible Washington shake-up?
Johnson: I think so. I’m not a conspiracist that all whites are racists.
When I define racism, I define it differently than other people. The personal discrimination, personal prejudice, those are personal things. I define racism on a corporate level, an institutional oppression of people.
I don’t think most whites are racist personally. That’s not their attitude. That’s not their identity. But they are caught in a system which impacts you that way.
I look at racism as a powerful river that flows downstream. It picks whites up and it carries them along. You don’t have to want to go.
Most people are not overt, out-and-out racist. They’re not KKK. They just can’t see the impact of their racism. If you don’t have to face it, there’s no reason to think about it or for it to come up.
Dyer: Actually, I’ve always said that if there’s a race problem, it’s my problem, too, because it impacts my life.
Johnson: I like your attitude. That’s worth talking about. You and I can clear some air.
Not every black person is walking around blaming whites for where we are. It’s more of an institutional problem. Not just with blacks, but American Indians, Chinese, the Japanese during World War II. America as an institution does not want to face those issues nor deal with them.
We have to figure out how we can do it, how we can do it without offending everybody, how we can bring people together. It’s a tough agenda.
Dyer: My theory is that the people who tend to be the most prejudiced have had very little exposure to people who aren’t like them.
Johnson: That’s a great part of it. One of the stats that goes along with that is we’re as segregated as we’ve ever been. People are unaware of it because it’s not necessarily “the ghetto,” but black people still live in a particular section of town and whites live in a particular section — for many reasons.
Dyer: Do you think one reason is that many blacks prefer to live with other blacks?
Johnson: That’s one reason. There’s a powerful book called The Color of Wealth [which argues that] wealth is determined by the ownership of a home. If you don’t own a home, you can’t accumulate wealth.
One of the things people never give any thought to is that the average white person, if they have any history, may have some resources that have been left by parents or grandparents. [Many blacks] don’t have that. There’s nothing left for you. You’re still trying to make it out of the hole.
And when you move out of the area, you face racism — “You need to stay with your people.”
Dyer: Well, I’ve lived in Copley Township for 30 years. The schools are 25 percent minority, and I have no sense whatsoever that any of the white folks I’ve known, even remotely, resented the fact that there were a lot of minorities. I was happy about it. I wanted my kids to interact with people who weren’t like them. So I don’t agree that people in the suburbs are resistant.
Johnson: There are certain enclaves ­where you move in and people paint stuff on your house and do things. I don’t view Copley that way. So it’s not universal, but it can be very powerful.
The other side of that coin is, both of my kids went to Copley High School. My daughter, no problem. My son, problem. I don’t think it was because of Copley High School. I think it was because of him.
Again, the thing I am very concerned about is the narrative. The narrative ends up being played, and people pick it up whether it’s theirs or not. My son picked that up: “I’m being discriminated against.”
[Johnson’s son did well on standardized tests but didn’t apply himself and got ordinary grades. One year, he came to his father and announced he was going to dive into his schoolwork and study hard. The first grading period, he came home with four A’s and a B.]
I’m saying, “Wow! I’m so proud of you!”
He says, “No, I’m not going to ever do that again.”
What? “I had 91 percent and the teacher discriminated against me. She wouldn’t give me an A.”
I said, “You didn’t earn an A! That’s not discrimination. You didn’t earn it!”
He said, “You can’t get ahead in this world, and white people — ” I said, “Whoa! This has nothing to do with white people. This has to do with what you earned.”
I think people pick up the narrative that plays in our country without even understanding it, deciphering it.
The narrative I’m concerned about now in our nation is that “I can just say anything to people, I can do anything I want to do because it’s now open season.”
That narrative we want to attack.
I work with the city of Akron and the police. The narrative of what happened in Ferguson is not what is happening in Akron. But in the absence of an Akron narrative, Ferguson will be the one we will play.
I think the mayor is attempting to write a local narrative that says, “This is Akron. This is what we stand for. We are not going to discriminate, regardless of what anybody else is doing.”
I want the police to drive their narrative with community policing. Start getting articles on how you go to basketball games, how you help young people. But the only thing getting any press is when someone gets shot.
Dyer: That’s mostly just the definition of news. If something unusual doesn’t happen, it’s not news.
Johnson: I agree. But I think we can change news. You’ve got to tell your own story, by having events in the neighborhood — however you want to tell it.
I’ve known some police who are wonderful people. I also know a couple that have issues. But that’s OK. That’s life.
The essential thing is that we not allow this divide that is happening in our country, that we work toward the good of all people.
Dyer: Amen, Bishop.