American History as Told by AOC

The latest brainstorm from the New York freshman: The New Deal was racist.

But SXSW’s 2019 rock star was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who filled 3,200 seats in the Convention Center Saturday. Notably, the Green New Deal advocate didn’t arrive in a Prius or on one of the ubiquitous scooters that clog Austin’s streets during the festival. She came instead in a gas-guzzling SUV.

.. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez dealt at length with America’s pervasive racism, declaring, “The effort to divide race and class has always been a tool of the powerful to prevent everyday working people from taking control of the government.” America’s leaders also helped “racial resentment to become legitimized as a political tool.”She and Ms. Gray agreed that Mr. Trump is a racist, of course. But so was President Reagan, who in 1976 criticized a Chicago woman for bilking the welfare system for $150,000 a year. That attack was “rooted in racism,” according to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, even though the woman in question was white.

Even more astonishing, the New York freshman representative declared Franklin D. Roosevelt a bigot, saying “the New Deal was an extremely economically racist policy that drew literal red lines around black and brown communities and basically it invested in white America.”

According to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, the New Deal “allowed white Americans to have access to home loans that black and brown Americans did not have access to.” By doing so, it “accelerated . . . a really horrific racial wealth gap that persists today.” Yet studies show that FDR’s Home Owners’ Loan Corp. did not discriminate against African-Americans, and the gap between black and white homeownership remained around 20% from 1900 to 1990, though ownership levels increased for both groups.

This attack on FDR exhibited another theme of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance—the ubiquity of conspiracy. Just as FDR’s New Deal secretly discriminated against “black and brown Americans,” dangerous forces are subverting our country today.

For example, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd America’s “norms and systems and electoral system” are “dominated by special interests and dark money and rules of seniority.” Because the rich have “taken away all the guardrails of a responsible society,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said, “it doesn’t feel good to live in America today.”

Furthermore, “We should be scared right now because corporations have taken over our government.” Nor do these businesses want to help themselves and the community; under capitalism, “we seek and prioritize profit and the accumulation of money above all else and we seek it at any human and environmental cost.”

Our economic system is also “based on scarcity,” which corporations have made “artificial.” So “we are driven to work 80 hours a week when we are being the most productive at any point in American history.” If the profits weren’t “skimmed off and given to a billionaire,” we would “be working the least amount we’ve ever worked”—Marx’s promise of old. The crowd applauded as she excoriated the 540 American billionaires who stole our money.

Republicans’ Race to the Bottom

The absurdity of denying Trump’s bigotry.

It’s hard to say what’s a bigger taboo in American politics: being a racist, or calling someone one.

Sure, the Republican Party will occasionally try to distance itself from one of its more egregiously hateful members, like Representative Steve King of Iowa, who lost committee assignments after seeming to defend white nationalism. But mostly, right-wing politicians and their media allies pretend, to the point of farce, that the primary racial injustice in America involves white people unfairly accused of racism. This makes talking openly about the evident racism of our president harder than it should be.

To see how this works in microcosm, consider the House Oversight Committee hearing at which Donald Trump’s former consigliere Michael Cohen testified on Wednesday. Cohen said, in his opening statement, that, in addition to being a con man and a cheat, Trump is a racist. This should be clear to all people of good faith, given that Trump was a leading figure in the birther movement, defended white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville,and claimed he couldn’t get a fair hearing from a judge of Mexican heritage, to mention just a few examples.

But Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, strenuously objected to Cohen’s description, and came up with what he seemed to think was an airtight rejoinder. Meadows, who is white, had Lynne Patton, an African-American woman and longtime Trump employee now at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, stand behind him, and quoted her saying that she would not work for a racist. Checkmate!

In the past, one person who would often publicly vouch for Trump’s non-racism was Omarosa Manigault Newman, the “Apprentice”-star-turned-White House aide. Then Manigault Newman came out with a book calling Trump “a racist, a bigot and a misogynist.” As part of her promotional tour for that book, she released an audio recording of a conversation she had with Patton and another African-American Trump supporter, Katrina Pierson, strategizing about how to handle the fallout should a tape surface of Trump using a racist slur. On the recording Patton, the person Meadows called upon as a character witness for the president, didn’t seem doubtful that Trump could have said such a thing.

Many liberals were agog at this stunt by Meadows; on the left it’s largely accepted that responding to charges of racism by pointing to black friends — never mind black employees — is clueless at best. Some white conservatives, however, seem convinced that you can’t be racist if you have an affectionate relationship with a person of color. And so when Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, called out Meadows toward the end of the hearing, he was so aggrieved he nearly melted down.

The “fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself,” said Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American. Red-faced, indignant and seemingly on the verge of tears, Meadows demanded that Tlaib’s words be stricken from the record, turned the charge of racism back on her, and said that he has nieces and nephews who are people of color. In a stunning dramatization of how racial dynamics determine whose emotions are honored, the hearing momentarily came to a halt so that Tlaib could assure Meadows that she didn’t mean to call him a racist, and the committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, who is African-American, could comfort him. “I could see and feel your pain,” Cummings told him.

This contradiction is behind some of the madness of our public life right now. Normalizing Trump, which has become a central mission of the Republican Party, depends on denial about what racism is. Not for the first time, Tlaib got in trouble for pointing out the obvious — the president is a bigot, and that in bringing out Patton to exonerate him, Meadows only demonstrated his own gross insensitivity.

On Thursday, Tlaib and Meadows reportedly had a warm conversation on the House floor; according to a CNN reporter, they hugged. I’m glad; given how much she’s been demonized in her short time in Congress, it’s probably in her interest to make Meadows feel better about their earlier exchange. Who knows, if she’s friendly enough, maybe he’ll be able to cite their relationship next time he’s caught saying something awful.

 

The Cynicism of Georgia’s Stacey Abrams

Ms. Abrams has claimed that Mr. Kemp unlawfully purged 1.5 million voters from the rolls, put 53,000 new registrations on hold, created long polling lines on Election Day, and misplaced provisional ballots. She says her “accusations are based entirely on evidence.” Let’s take a look.

.. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Clinton, requires states to keep voter lists “accurate and current” by identifying persons who died or moved, using “uniform, nondiscriminatory” procedures.
.. Georgia’s law to comply with the federal act is similar to Ohio’s, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld this year. It works like this: If the U.S. Postal Service’s change-of-address list shows a Georgia voter has moved or is no longer at his address of record, the state sends him a postage-paid confirmation reply card. It there’s no response for 30 days, the voter is considered “inactive,” but can still vote if he wants.
.. Then there’s the charge of holding up registration applications. This involves the state’s “exact match” law, which requires the last name, first initial, date of birth and other simple information on voter-registration applications match the information in the Social Security database or the Georgia driver’s-license file. If they don’t match, the prospective voter is notified online and by mail, and given 26 months to correct any discrepancy.
.. Meanwhile, he can vote by presenting a valid ID that is “a substantial match” with his application. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a similar law in Florida.
.. Ms. Abrams herself may be responsible for many of the botched voter applications. Before running for governor, she led a $12.5 million registration drive that paid her $442,000 over three years for serving as its part-time leader. Despite ample resources, Ms. Abrams’s efforts relied on paper forms, not online registration or electronic forms. As a result, many applications contained mistakes or fraudulent signatures.
.. Ms. Abrams’s complaints about long lines at polling places and mishandled provisional ballots are also misplaced. County election boards, not the secretary of state, decide on poll closures, set the number of voting machines, and handle provisional ballots. These local officials are in many cases Democrats, and Ms. Abrams carried the three Atlanta-area counties—Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb—with the most closures, the largest numbers of machines withdrawn from service, and the bulk of provisional-ballot problems.
.. As a rising star on the Democratic left, Ms. Abrams drew millions in donations from the Soros family and billionaire hedge-funder Tom Steyer, as well as campaign appearances by Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama and many of the party’s 2020 presidential hopefuls. She lost anyway.
.. Ms. Abrams now cynically claims she’s a victim of election fraud motivated by bigotry. Even in this ugly period of American politics, trying to use defeat in a close election to create racial resentment stands out as dangerous and corrosive. Ms. Abrams’s suit, Fair Fight Action v. Crittenden, is unlikely to have a happy ending. And damaging the state’s reputation won’t help her win future races, no matter how much she says she loves Georgia and wants to serve it. Sometimes you should exit gracefully.

To Beat Trump, Get a Grip

Democrats won’t win in 2020 by calling him a ‘traitor’ and doubling down on identity politics.

 If precedent holds, he can be unseated in 2020 by a candidate perceived as his opposite: experienced, serious, knowledgeable about policy. If Democrats attempt to rush the process, amid current charges that Mr. Trump is a “traitor” and Russian agent and that his Supreme Court nominee is an extremist, they will further energize their take-it-to-the-streets wing but alienate all but partisan Northeast and Pacific Coast voters.

.. Mr. Trump stumbled in Helsinki, but stumbles do not amount to treason.

.. Democrats and some media are now calling for Mr. Trump’s impeachment, presuming that a post-November Democratic House majority would bring such a vote. But it is a risky strategy that would polarize Americans deeply. The case against him would have to be airtight and based on indisputable fact. Otherwise Mr. Trump would be strengthened rather than harmed.

.. Democrats should take a fresh look at why and how Mr. Trump won the 2016 election. The party’s national leadership claims it was because of support from white supremacists, religious nuts, nativists, misogynists and Latino-haters. This is a failure to recognize what actually happened. President Trump was the consequence—not the cause—of a nationwide loss of confidence in all of the American establishment: political, media, cultural, business, financial. Sen. Bernie Sanders played on similar sentiments on the Democratic side and, had he known his potential sooner, could have won his party’s nomination.
.. Most voters knew before the election that Mr. Trump was a crude, freewheeling, womanizing egotist, a man who very well might finance his ventures with money from sketchy sources. They discounted all those negative factors because he was so obviously different from the establishment candidates in whom they had lost trust. Think about it: In one campaign, Mr. Trump polished off the Bushes, the Clintons, and even Ted Cruz. Voters did not love Mr. Trump; they rejected the other guys.
.. Ranked first, not surprisingly, was Mr. Sanders, given his strong 2016 showing. Also near the top was former Vice President Joe Biden, who relates well to middle-American voters. But most of the rest of the contenders take an angry, accusatory line toward Mr. Trump. Leading the pack were Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, from Massachusetts and California, respectively, where bashing the president earns cheers from the party faithful.
.. Shrill attacks and identity politics got a strong start during Bill Clinton’s two presidential terms. Under fire on multiple fronts, the Clinton White House took an aggressive posture toward critics, asserting that it was just “fighting back.” Democrats repeated that pattern in President Obama’s 2012 campaign. They labeled Mitt Romney, a temperate former governor of Massachusetts, as antiwoman, antigay, antiblack, anti-Latino, anti-immigrant and a tool of big finance.
.. Most voters see abortion and gay rights as accepted issues and wonder why Democrats present them as threatened. They do not see racism as on the rise or the country as moving back toward Jim Crow. On the contrary, they see several decades in which the barriers to equal opportunity, legal or otherwise, have been steadily dismantled. They do worry about the problems of big-city neighborhoods: violence, drug use, broken families, unemployment, daunting dropout and incarceration rates. But they see little evidence that “white privilege” is the cause.
 They like immigrants and refugees but generally believe everyone should take a legal path to citizenship.