Brief Political Commentary

Voters who attended the Democratic caucuses in Nevada yesterday were asked to identify the most important issue facing America. 34% said the economy and jobs; 7% said terrorism.

NVDem_Issues_02202016

Voters in the Republican primary in South Carolina were asked the same question. 28% said the economy and jobs, but 32% said terrorism.

SGOP_IssuesV2_02202016I haven’t been able to determine whether the Democrats and Republicans were given the same list of issues to choose from, but it’s still remarkable that one-third of Republican voters chose terrorism as the most important issue we face. In fact, it’s remarkable that 7% of the Democrats said the same thing.

Unless these people think there is a strong chance that terrorists (of whatever political persuasion, not just Islamic fundamentalists) will attack America with nuclear or biological weapons, it’s silly to put terrorism at the top of the list. (In fact, given how silly it is, I have to wonder – mostly facetiously – whether some of those Democrats were devious Republicans attending the Democratic caucuses in order to make trouble, something the rules in Nevada allowed).

Here in New Jersey, we don’t get to participate in the nomination process until June, when it won’t matter what we think or how we vote. But if anyone asked me, I’d put global warming first, because of its possibly catastrophic consequences. After that, it would be hard to choose between the economy and jobs; money in politics; and the number of Americans who have lost their minds and vote for Republicans.

Terrorists Like Us

From President Obama’s statement regarding the terrorist attack in Charleston:

This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked.  And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.

The President could have used the active voice instead of the passive. He could have said “This is not the first time that racist white men have attacked black churches”. That would have been more descriptive.

But it would have sounded unnecessarily inflammatory. Unnecessary, because who else would murder nine black people while declaring that “You rape our women and you are taking over our country”. Inflammatory, because calling attention to the killer’s color would upset people who say or want to believe that white racism isn’t a problem anymore.

Britt Bennett’s brief article in the New York Times does an excellent job of explaining how and why white terrorism isn’t called that:

This is the privilege of whiteness: While a terrorist may be white, his violence is never based in his whiteness. A white terrorist has unique, complicated motives that we will never comprehend. He can be a disturbed loner or a monster. He is either mentally ill or pure evil…. Either way, he is never indicative of anything larger about whiteness, nor is he ever a garden-variety racist. He represents nothing but himself. A white terrorist is anything that frames him as an anomaly and separates him from the long, storied history of white terrorism.

I’m always struck by this hesitance not only to name white terrorism but to name whiteness itself during acts of racial violence. In a recent New York Times article on the history of lynching, the victims are repeatedly described as black. Not once, however, are the violent actors described as they are: white. Instead, the white lynch mobs are simply described as “a group of men” or “a mob”…. [Obama’s] passive language echoes this strange vagueness, a reluctance to even name white terrorism, as if black churches have been attacked by some disembodied force, not real people motivated by a racist ideology whose roots stretch past the founding of this country.

In America’s contemporary imagination, terrorism is foreign and brown. Those terrorists do not have complex motivations. We do not urge one another to reserve judgment until we search through their Facebook histories or interview their friends. We do not trot out psychologists to analyze their mental states. We know immediately why they kill. But a white terrorist is an enigma. A white terrorist has no history, no context, no origin. He is forever unknowable.

Like South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said this week: 

While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.

But the thing is, in this case, we do know. 

No Wonder The Foreign Bastards Hate Us

Some foreigners may hate us for “our freedoms”, as Bush the Younger once said. But many surely hate us, justifiably, for our willingness to kill recklessly and with minimal regret.

It hardly made the news here, but a few days ago our government attacked a “wedding convoy” in Yemen, murdering 14 people and maiming 22. At least three more have since died. Meanwhile, our government (including the Democrat in the White House) hasn’t commented.

At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf asks how we would react if something similar happened here:

Can you imagine the wall-to-wall press coverage, the outrage, and the empathy for the victims that would follow if an American wedding were attacked in this fashion? Or how you’d feel about a foreign power that attacked your wedding in this fashion? …  and all for the sake of five people suspected of ties to al-Qaeda.

We might as well be broadcasting a message worldwide on Voice of America: “We don’t give a shit about you foreign bastards”.

The whole article, which is brief, is worth reading, especially if you’re still proud to be an American.