It's the Racism, Stupid

How do you explain American Greatness?

U.S. National Guard troops block off Beale Street as Civil Rights marchers wearing placards reading, "I AM A MAN" pass by on March 29, 1968. (GettyImages)

1. It’s the Racism, Stupid

Reductive arguments are always abstractions. When you say, “In the 1980s, white working-class voters started voting for Republicans because of the economic stagnation of the 1970s” that’s a true thing, but not a grand unified theory of explanation. There were lots of reasons: the increase in crime; the sexual revolution, the reaction to the political leanings of the Baby Boom generation.

In that same way, it is reductive to say that the animating impulse of Trumpism is racism. There is a constellation of other causes. It’s too simple to say that Trumpist conservatism is nothing other than white nationalism.

And yet . . .

Here’s a piece from American Greatness by a conservative intellectual (“intellectual”?), which is very, very angry about black people still caring about slavery:

Until the African American community embraces forgiveness over slavery and other past harm, then the engine of strife and civil conflict will tear the republic apart. The rub is that this will have to be their choice, as the question of whether they are willing to live together in communion in a shared civic order or not is on them. 

And let us have no foolishness that whites [sic] America’s begging for forgiveness or bending their knees will actually do anything to help overcome (or satiate) the black community’s sense of grievance and harm. They need to get over it and forgive or let us part and go our separate ways. Otherwise, the political forecast will be nothing but ever-increasing civil strife and violence towards one another.

I know what you’re thinking: Is this guy saying that if black people don’t “embrace forgiveness” for slavery, Jim Crow, police violence, etc. then white people are going to start a civil war? That’s can’t be real.

My friends, it is real and it is spectacular. Here’s the guy, in the same piece, making the exact same argument again:

Resolving this conundrum does not require continual and eternal contrition by the supposed guilty party but rather a forgiveness by the aggrieved. Until the aggrieved have forgiven and chosen to share a life together, there can only be continual strife and hostility that will move the political community toward violence and civil war. 

Let us have no foolishness about this: those who peddle “white fragility” and “overcoming whiteness” are only selling hate and resentment. It is only a recipe for civil war and the dissolution of the republic.

So yeah. The guy means it enough to say it twice. Get over it, black people. Or else.

Context, of course, is everything. Maybe this gentleman isn’t obsessed with race. Maybe he’s just making a grand philosophical point. He does mention Aristotle!

Well, here’s how he opens the piece:

Joe Biden gave a speech on June 2 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, an infamous incident in which Southern Democrats took vengeance on a very prosperous African American community in Oklahoma. Instead of echoing (or even noting) the path that President Warren G. Harding took at the time to condemn the atrocity and stand for our common citizenship as Americans, Biden emphasized how the event was merely one of the many endless examples of injustice and crime that “White America” has committed against their fellow African American citizens. 

The sum and substance of Biden’s speech were that white Americans need to be constantly reminded of what they have done and are doing wrong and that they need continually to atone for the wrongs that were done. The logic of Biden’s speech falls in line with the whole set of policies pushed by his administration. 

Read that last line again: This guy thinks that Biden reminding people of an atrocity committed against black folks that most Americans had never heard of is “in line with the whole set of policies” pushed by the administration.

So yeah, this guy sees everything in political life through the lens of racism.

Also, there’s this: On his personal webpage, he explains his political self-identification:

In a perfect world, I would rather be a Democrat of the old pre 1860 variety (Free Trade, States Rights Democrat), in the tradition of Robert Frost and the Southern Agarians [sic], but that is no longer possible.

How many times does a guy have to tell you what he is before you believe him?

Here’s some more context. A couple years back American Greatness ran a “poem” titled “Cuck Elegy.” A sample:

As I said at the time, there is no way to read those last three lines as anything other than Daily Stormer, KKK-style, white supremacy.

So yes, saying that “racism” is what motivates nationalist conservatives is reductive and leaves out a whole host of other factors. But also, it’s kind of true? We can be honest about that, right?

The best part of all of this—the absolute cherry on top—is that the type of people you find at American Greatness are forever complaining about how awful the liberal media is with their cancel culture and CRT and socialism-commie worship.

But the sad-sack who edits American Greatness—the guy who published the “get over slavery or else” essay and the KKK poetry—the New York Times has him as a contributing opinion writer. He writes for them all the time! They lend him their platform! Because . . . well, I’m not sure why, exactly. Probably because something, something both-sides.

It is darkly amusing how today’s authoritarian conservatives learned from the early twentieth century Communists: They’ve figured out that in their quest to hang the liberal order, the liberals are gladly selling them rope.

Where’s cancel culture when you actually need it?

Call things by right names.

No both-sides-ism.

And screw false equivalence.

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2. Baseball Fights

I come from Philadelphia, so I know from stadium fights. But that’s football. The only fighting at a baseball game is supposed to be on the field on the rare occasion when a player disrespects the game.

So this Texas Monthly piece about fights breaking out across the league—and at Minute Maid Park—is sad. It’s baseball! They’re going to play another game tomorrow! If you fail 70 percent of the time, you go to the Hall. The best team is still going to lose 60 games!

Everything about baseball is designed to humble us, both the practitioners and the fans. And the resting state for all sensible baseball lovers is—or should be—a contented fatalism. (This is why America hates the Yankees so much. They’re the only franchise that views baseball with a default expectation of success.)

Washington is a bad sports town. It’s a transient place with very few natives. People work too much. The traffic is nearly LA-level awful.

But the upside is that I can’t imagine a fight breaking out at Nationals Park. No one cares enough. (I mean this in a healthy way.) Two years ago I went to the World Series and Nats fans were unfailingly gracious to visiting fans from Houston. Took pictures with them. Bought them beers. The Nats lost all three of those home games and the mood in the park after each loss was upbeat and cheerful. We had gotten to see a World Series game! How cool!

And the fans knew that even if the Nats lost, there was always tomorrow. And next year.

I write a lot about how MLB is screwing up baseball. But sometimes the fans screw it up, too.

If you go to see a ballgame and get into a fight, then you’re doing baseball wrong.

3. Doing Life

This is a tough read: Jessica Schulberg convinced Kip Kinkel to talk with her. You probably remember Kinkel as one of the early school shooters. In 1998, he killed his parents and then two students at an Oregon high school. He was caught, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole. He was 15.

This is a story with no good outcomes and no easy choices.

Kinkel was sentenced to nearly 112 years without the possibility of parole, which to many in the community felt like the closest thing to closure. A parent of one of the students Kinkel killed said at his sentencing she had “no idea how long it will take before we can lead a normal life without all the constant reminders” of her son’s death. The media rushed to piece together a narrative about him. Friends and acquaintances described a boy with an all-American upbringing but who was obsessed with bombs and guns, dressed in black and listened to Marilyn Manson.

That image of Kinkel has remained frozen in time: the dangerous child people point to as the reason some kids need to be locked up for life. For decades, Kinkel never tried to correct it. He refused every interview request and even avoided being photographed in group activities inside the prison. He worried that reemerging publicly would only further traumatize his victims. . . .

I have spoken with Kinkel over the phone for about 20 hours over the course of nearly ten months. It was a rare opportunity to hear from the perpetrator of a school shooting; those that survive almost never speak publicly again. No questions were off-limits. He described to me the childhood onset of hallucinations and delusions that would later be identified as symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. He walked me through the events that drove him to amass weapons and his memory of the psychotic break he experienced during his crime. He described his intense guilt for what he had done. He told me about the treatment and support he received from his doctors, therapists, sister, volunteers and his community of juvenile lifers. . . .

Today, Kinkel is unrecognizable from the 15-year-old boy who inflicted devastating harm on his community. Within the confines of the prison system, where he has now spent most of his life, Kinkel has earned his college degree, become a certified yoga instructor and advocated for criminal justice reform before elected officials. He is diligent about his mental health treatment and says he rarely hears the voices anymore. When they do emerge, they are quiet and garbled. Even when he can make out what they are saying, he understands them as manifestations of his illness . . .

Kinkel is still worried about hurting his victims by speaking publicly, but as he watched people use him as the reason to exclude some of his closest friends from getting a second chance, he began to feel as if his silence was causing harm, too.

We spoke for the first time last summer, about a year after the legislative roller coaster. “I’ve never done this. I’ve never done an interview,” Kinkel told me. “Partly because I feel tremendous, tremendous shame and guilt for what I did. And there’s an element of society that glorifies violence, and I hate the violence that I’m guilty of. I’ve never wanted to do anything that’s going to bring more attention.”

“I have responsibility for the harm that I caused when I was 15. But I also have responsibility for the harm that I am causing now as I’m 38 because of what I did at 15,” he said.

Read the whole thing. It’s a remarkable piece of writing and reporting. What are we supposed to do with people who commit horrific crimes as kids? Even if it could, should the justice system discriminate between someone who may have been suffering from severe mental illness from someone who is a sociopath?

Like I said: No good outcomes and no easy choices here.

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