Family Values?

(Poster from a vigil/protest, Lexington, VA, June 14, 2018)

Last week, I was walking our dog past a neighbor’s house.  I called a “hello” to the elderly neighbor, who sat in a chair under a tree in his beautifully tended garden, a garden I have watched him plant, water, and weed for over two decades.  He said “hello” and then asked if I was a teacher.  When I said “yes,” he asked what I taught, and I replied with the simplest answer possible, “Spanish.”  “Damn Mexicans,” he said.  I walked on, feeling shocked (even though of course I know how many people in this racist country subscribe to such beliefs), hurt (in a representative way, knowing that this comment towards me is nothing compared to comments made against others, which are absolutely nothing when compared to real acts of hatred and violence committed against real people), and angry (why wasn’t my dog pooping in the beautiful garden at that very moment?).

This little comment from a neighbor who I thought for years was a kindly old gardener should give us every bit of evidence we need that the United States has taken a more dramatic turn, almost two years into the Trump regime, towards violent, racist acts and, in particular, significant gaslighting effected daily through the fast-paced, absolutely wacked GOP spin-machine.  The New York Times reports (6-15-2018), “’I hate the children being taken away,’ Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday morning in front of the White House. ‘The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law.’  A short time later, he wrote on Twitter, ‘The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.’”  The very next line of the The New York Times piece says, “But Mr. Trump was misrepresenting his own policy.”  The GOP spin machine does not even realize how good they have it, when newspapers such as The New York Times continue to soft-pedal the language of Trump’s lies, which, in turn, normalizes his racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and blatantly anti-family platforms and actions.  While Trump voters continue to sport bumper stickers that say, “Don’t believe the liberal media” and “NRA.  Don’t let them take your guns away,” the so-called liberal media is struggling to keep up with reporting and rebutting the extensive lies told by this dictator and his kleptocratic cronies.  (*See this 6-14-18 related piece from Slate.) The lies run so long and deep, and their reach allows the regime’s inhumanity to stretch to every corner of the United States and to many corners of the world.

I probably do not need to remind you that on this day, Fathers’ Day in the United States, the Trump regime is actively separating children from their mothers and fathers at the borders, placing children in privately-owned detention centers, and constructing an actual tent city for these young children left alone in western Texas.  We see the news—not fake, completely verified—in every outlet and confirm the stories—that 1,995 children have been separated from their parents over the last six weeks; that a Honduran man committed suicide after being separated from his family; that a Guatemalan woman was picked up by ICE and deported, leaving her young child alone.  These stories are heartbreaking in the aggregrate—the staggering numbers of separated families—and in the particular—each and every case of a parent separated from a child for a minute, a day, a week, indefinitely, and often at great and likely insurmountable geographical distances.

In addition, recent news from the Department of “Justice” reveals that the United States will no longer grant asylum to victims of domestic abuse or of gang violence.  These policies demonstrate again the entrenched racism and misogyny of the Jeff Sessions DOJ.

The academic realm offers us many lessons about and depictions of the gradual erosion of civil rights and democracy.  We do not have to dig too deep to find acute moments of U.S. history at which parents and children have been separated: the institution and business of slavery and separation of African-American parents from children; the creation of “Indian schools” to separate Native children from their parents and force them to assimilate into white culture; United States internment camps of Japanese individuals and families.  This 2016 article from Human Rights Advocates (University of San Francisco School of Law) details the steps in denying civil liberties, which lead to the dehumanization, torture, and sometimes death of specific groups of targeted peoples.  Chilling subtitles of the article include: “Arbitrary Deprivation of Liberty”; “Structural Violence and Discrimination”; “Degrading Treatment” (health concerns; sexual abuse; immigration workers); “Right to Counsel” (beware the officials who believe that migrant children make good immigrant rights lawyers); “Private Detention Facilities.”  Note this warning by the authors in their conclusion: “Accountability for violence against children in these detention centers is difficult to achieve because the actors are private businesses and not the State. The incongruity here is that the government contracts private companies to deal with social and economic issues that are entirely the concern of the State. This unique task blurs private and State responsibilities. This issue should be included in national action plans on business and human rights in efforts to implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

*Consider the historical context of this 1941 Dr. Seuss piece and relate it to today’s realities.

Add to all of this the multiple reports (including this one) that Trump will withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council, and you find an even more deliberate and dire picture of the politics of inhumanity in these United States.

The heroic work of the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (CAIR), the thousands of Indivisible groups across the nation, and many other major legal and political resistance groups is not enough to get us away from this regime.  We need Republicans—politicians, party leaders, voters, Republican-leaning people just going with this flow—to decide finally that it is time to express vociferously their discontent with the Trump regime.   I know many of you.  I am your neighbor. I am related to you.  I work with you.  I cannot accept that you accept this increasing dehumanization and cruelty.  When will you decide that enough is enough?  This is not just one person (me) moralizing about others’ lack of action, but rather a whole nation watching the corrosion and corruption of its high-level governmental officials, watching the erosion of civil rights and democracy, watching itself implode.  This cannot possibly be what good people want for themselves and others, can it?  This cannot possibly be what people mean by “family values,” can it?

Free Speech: For Whom is it Free?

WE THE PEOPLE of the United States…

Yesterday the so-called president of the United States had what should have been the pleasant task of honoring Navajo code talkers from World War II. As we all know by now, he did so at the White House, in front of a painting of Andrew Jackson, fetishized Native peoples, and then, for at least the twelfth time, referred to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.”  Donald Trump’s and Elizabeth Warren’s workplace is the Unites States government, whose buildings include the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, and media venues and publications.  This racist epithet, repeated now so many times, constitutes not only demonstrated racial harassment of Elizabeth Warren as employee in the national workplace, but also racial harassment of Native peoples in general.  This could be grounds for a Title VII lawsuit against the harasser-in-chief and should be added to the long list of discriminatory, harassing, and retaliatory actions taken by this individual.

Some of you out there might think, “Oh, come on.  This is no big deal.  These are just words.  Let’s move on.”  I would ask you, though, how often will we agree to move on?  The racist-in-chief already lowered the bar so far so as to not only allow, but actually encourage, the violence of Charlottesville, thus chilling and degenerating conversations about racial justice, extreme incarceration, and hate speech.  These highly public statements, made live, on the news, and impetuously, through Twitter, create a hostile work environment for the individuals targeted and for the groups the harasser-in-chief believes they represent.  I also wonder if those who do not belong to legally protected categories but who do experience harm from the hostile work environments that impinge on others’ freedoms have some sort of claim here to insist on improved environments for all.

In this piece from The New York Review of Books (9-28-17), National Legal Director of the ACLU David Cole asks these important questions: “Does the First Amendment need a rewrite in the era of Donald Trump? Should the rise of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups lead us to cut back the protection afforded to speech that expresses hatred and advocates violence, or otherwise undermines equality? If free speech exacerbates inequality, why doesn’t equality, also protected by the Constitution, take precedence?”  Cole examines the elasticity of the First Amendment, stating that fewer millennials have faith in free speech than did previous generations and that some European nations differ from the United States in the scope of prohibitions against racist speech.  While Cole acknowledges the importance of these points, as well as the significance of the 1993 collection of essays titled Words that Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech, and the First Amendment, he still insists: “If free speech is critical to democracy and to holding our representatives accountable—and it is—we cannot allow our representatives to suppress views they think are wrong, false, or disruptive.”  In a speech delivered in Lexington, Virginia, Virginia ACLU Board member Wornie Reed cogently and ardently defended free speech along the same lines, as he does in this piece about the Virginia ACLU’s defense of Charlottesville white supremacist rally leader Jason Kessler.

Ted Gup writes in “Free Speech, but Not for All?” (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4-27-17): “Barring speakers or preventing hate speech does not safeguard the oppressed. It empowers the oppressors, and it suggests that their words are to be feared for a compelling, persuasive power that, absent the muzzle, might infect others.”  As Gup defends free speech in his critique of Ulrich Baer’s argument, he makes reference to “Baer and his ilk.”  He cites “abolitionists, gay and lesbian people, civil-rights activists, feminist, and others on the cutting edge of change” as groups who have benefited from unfettered free speech, but then uses Arthur Miller as the principal example of someone who was barred from speaking at the University of North Carolina.  Arthur Miller did not suffer for lack of visibility and invitations to share his work publicly, but many others from the groups cited by Gup certainly have.

Cole, Reed, and Gup make excellent arguments in favor of maintaining free speech laws.  These arguments have sound basis in constitutional law and knowledge of traditional touchstones for democracy.  Nevertheless, I find the arguments also to be steeped in a nostalgia for the United States as the cradle of democracy from centuries past, when founding fathers owned human beings and limited the rights of enslaved individuals and women.  Democratic freedoms played favorites back then, and they still do now.  When I think about the $17 million of taxpayer money used by members of Congress to hush cases of harassment against them, I think again about who gets to speak, who is silenced, and who pays for it all.

My question, then, is this: At what point have we indulged free speech so thoroughly and allowed free speech to become so married to Second Amendment rights that free speech can be said to limit the freedoms of others? If African-Americans and other people of color felt unsafe just existing in the streets of Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, then they were less free to navigate the public sphere during those days.  If Nazis and presidents continue to be given maximum public forums to expose hatred, they change the environment and the level of risk for the groups they hate (people of color, migrant peoples, women, non-Christians, LGBTQIA+ individuals, etc.).  Why must someone’s right to use the N-word or the C-word, both of which can constitute physical threats, supersede others’ rights to move through public spaces, which include workplaces, restaurants and stores, schools, and government office buildings?  If the Sessions Justice Department advocates for greater free speech, especially on college and university campuses, can we interpret this as providing a more ample forum for hate speech?  If so, then hateful speech acts will require more corporeal forms of resistance, thus upping the ante on conflict and the real risks and dangers it represents. (*See Tiya Miles’ piece, “Fighting Racism Is Not Just a War of Words,” in the 10-21-17 The New York Times.  See also Adam Harris’ free speech-hateful speech piece in the 10-25-17 The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

In her book License to Harass, Laura Beth Nielsen states: “Rather than seriously engaging in an analysis of the costs and benefits to society of rules that might limit such behavior [hate speech], American courts have treated such conduct as ‘speech,’ which can be regulated only if the state offers a compelling justification.  This doctrinal treatment in effect grants a license to harass.  The judicial protection of offensive public speech works to normalize and justify such behavior” (3). Nielsen then (on page 3, and later in Chapter 7) makes the point that the most legally restricted form of public/street speech is that of begging, a restriction which demonstrates a significant class bias.  We might consider swinging the pendulum away from granting power to practitioners of hate speech and violent speech and towards those who have already been afforded certain protections under the law (Title VII, Title IX) precisely because of their historically limited free access to public spaces and media outlets.

The harasser-in-chief has created the biggest hostile work environment possible—the United States of America.  We do not have to allow this to continue.

Education in the Trumpocracy

(http://www.ushistory.org/us/39a.asp)

Oak Plains School (North Carolina; built in late 19th century for white children)

When the “president” appointed Betsy DeVos to the education secretary post on November 23, 2016, and she was confirmed on February 7, 2017, I groaned out loud, along with many of my friends and colleagues who are teachers.  DeVos seemed uniquely unqualified to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education in that her principal experience with education is having been a high school and college (undergraduate) student.  She has no experience as a teacher, administrator, or educational policy expert. On her own website, DeVos describes herself as “a proven leader, an innovator, a disruptor and an advocate.”  She also uses the word “pioneer” in her self-description. This billionaire and former chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party is co-opting revolutionary language to promote herself and to cement traditional platforms that take us back to the 19th century (or probably before, since positivist, pro-science philosophy thrived in the late 19th century).  If she is a “proven leader,” then the direction in which she is moving her followers is most definitely backwards.  If she is a “disruptor,” then it is due to her utter lack of experience in the educational realm.  This Gender Shrapnel Blog post examines damage wrought by DeVos in the areas of public education, education access and affirmative action (also a Justice Department issue, of course), and Title IX protections for women and transgender individuals.  This is a shrapnel cluster, hitting religion, race, class, and gender.

The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of The Constitution of the United States (also linked here through the White House site), taken together and interpreted through centuries of jurisprudence, “[build] a wall of separation between Church & State” (Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists).  Garrett Epps’s article in The Atlantic (6-15-2011) uses abundant textual evidence that the founding fathers never intended to build a Christian nation.  For all that the GOP claims to be the party of “constitutional correctness,” the intentional Christianization of our public school system thumbs its nose at the purpose and practice of the First Amendment.  In 2001, DeVos stated, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom” (cited in this Mother Jones article from March/April 2017).  DeVos & Company must feel a dizzying sense of power as they promote Christian charter schools (see here what DeVos did to public education in Michigan) and funneling public monies into Christian schools.  This 3-20-2017 article from The Atlantic explains the ways in which the Trump-DeVos team might dismantle school integration.

In its Manichean view of the world, does the Trump-DeVos axis realize that the tables could be turned and their own children and grandchildren might have to attend public schools dominated by religions other than Christianity?  As a resident of the United States, I believe in the free practice of religion, which means not having religion of any kind imposed in the public school system.  In our area, the moment of silence built into the public school day, the prayer gatherings on public school buses and at public school flagpoles, and the invitation to Christian “inspirational” or “motivational” speakers already demonstrate the much more dangerous and more slippery slope of the DeVos regime in education.  The ACLU warns the same here.

While Jeff Sessions is at the helm of the Justice Department’s initiative to sue universities over affirmative action (described in this 8-1-2017 piece in The Washington Post), Betsy DeVos is to blame as well.  One of the first hires she made in the new post was that of Candice Jackson as acting head of the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  This NBS News (4-14-2017) piece probes how well Jackson’s disapproval of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and her anti-affirmative action stance meshes with the mission statement of the OCR.  DeVos does not seem as riled up about legacy admissions to colleges and universities, perhaps principally because they still favor white people. (See related pieces in The Washington Post; The New York Times; Business Insider; The Chronicle of Higher Education; and another in The Washington Post.) The DeVos regime, as part of the Trumpocracy, is all about accomplishing the opposite of the office’s mission.  Again, this is DeVos, through Jackson, leading us backwards.

While we’re on the subject of the now-infamous Candice Jackson, let’s not forget that she has followed her boss’s lead in advocating for men’s rights over women’s in campus sexual assault cases.  The New York Times (7-13-2017) says about Jackson: “Investigative processes have not been ‘fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student,’ Ms. Jackson argued, and students have been branded rapists ‘when the facts just don’t back that up.’ In most investigations, she said, there’s ‘not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman.’ ‘Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’ Ms. Jackson said.”  Jackson does not even use the term “rape” or “sexual assault,” but rather, “students overrode the will of a young woman.”  Although Jackson later attempted to clarify the statement, she has made it clear that she does not believe campus sexual assault happens and, by extrapolation, does not believe rapists exist.

In the meantime, Jackson’s boss, DeVos, was meeting with men’s rights activists.  As Jon Krakauer and Laura L. Dunn say in this op-ed (8-3-2017) from The New York Times, “The Department of Education is taking a hard look at its policies on campus sexual assault.  The result may make colleges safer.  For rapists.”  (*See Mili Mitra’s 7-18-2017 op-ed in The Washington Post for an eloquent rationale of the need for a strong DOE and OCR to follow up Dear Colleague letters issued under the Obama administration; see Katz’s and Alejandro’s 8-3-2017 op-ed in USA Today; see also this 1-2-2017 Gender Shrapnel Blog post.)

DeVos is also crippling Title IX protections in the realm of transgender rights, as detailed here by the ACLU (3-29-2017), although she is reported to have been initially in favor of maintaining Obama-era protections.  Through DeVos, and of his own accord, Trump is using the transgender community to pander to his base in the face of epically low approval ratings.

None of this is about education (DOE; DeVos) or civil rights (OCR; Jackson).  It is about fake-revolutionary rhetoric and continuing to assert power to the benefit of few and the detriment of many.