Trump is not gone – silence = death

We’re back once again, unable to move on from our short series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site.

On March 18–just 5 days ago–we wrote about the Iowa state legislature working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. The University of Iowa is being pressured by the state legislature to end diversity education for students and staff.

Now, we find the same effort being taken up by the Idaho state legislature. Coincidentally, the Chronicle of Higher Education article from which this quote is taken was published on March 18:

Boise State University officials say their suspension of diversity classes this week was motivated only by reports of an unspecified incident, but the action comes amid a pointed attack by Republican state lawmakers on the university’s efforts to educate students about racism.

The university on Tuesday abruptly suspended 52 sections of a diversity and ethics course, citing concerns that “a student or students” were made to feel “humiliated and degraded” in class “for their beliefs and values.” No official report has been filed, and officials said they have only heard about the incidents second- and third-hand, but the university is investigating.

The Idaho State Senate made its decision-making process very explicit:

The course suspensions at Boise State came the same week that the Idaho State Senate passed a higher-education budget that cut $409,000 from Boise State’s appropriation — the amount the university said it spent on social-justice programs — and shifted the money to Lewis-Clark State College, the Idaho Statesman reported on Wednesday. Some Republican lawmakers had wanted to cut much more in order to send a clear signal to the university that they were against its efforts to educate students about racism and social justice.

…it’s hard to imagine an American legislator publicly saying “I am against educating students about racism and social justice” and still considering themselves a) a good American and b) supported by our founding principles.

“We don’t want funds expended for courses, programs, services, or trainings that confer support for extremist ideologies, such as those tied to social justice, racism, Marxism, socialism or communism,” Rep. Priscilla Giddings said earlier this month, according to Boise State Public Radio. In 2019, 28 House Republicans signed a letter to Marlene Tromp, who was then the new president of Boise State, urging her not to support initiatives intended to promote diversity at Boise State, Idaho Ed News reported.

It’s almost impossible to parse this ridiculous statement, which says that social justice is an ideology, and that social justice and racism are the same thing. Social justice and racism do represent opposite extremes of humanity, from good to evil, but that is their only connection. To place social justice (a good thing) in a list with racism (a bad thing), and then Marxism, socialism, and communism (as practiced so far by humans, bad things), is a bold statement of hatred. We hope that since she feels this way, Rep. Giddings does not say the Pledge of Allegiance, which ends, of course, by pledging allegiance to a nation that stands for “liberty and justice for all”.

Apparently, the Republicans in the state legislator took the opp presented by a single student saying they felt uncomfortable in the Boise State diversity and equity course to shut everything down.

One might wonder why the feelings of a student quoted in the article as having enjoyed the course did not carry equal weight. But one already knows.

Trump is “gone”, not gone. Take a look at your own state’s legislation and see what they may be doing. Check the institutions of higher ed that you care about. The time to act is now, while there’s still some room to breathe.

Wondering what “silence = death” means? Check out Neutrality isn’t Justice, silence = death

Neutrality isn’t justice, silence = death

Just when we thought we were done with our short series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site, we get pulled back in.

Attempts to deny equality of opportunity by acknowledging racism do not die when an Order is rescinded. One proof is that the Iowa state legislature is working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. Here’s a report from Inside Higher Ed:

With very similar language to the Trump order, the Iowa bills prohibit race and sex “stereotyping” and “divisive concepts” in diversity training. Such ideas are that one race or sex is “inherently superior” to another, that the state of Iowa is “fundamentally” racist or sexist, and that a person, by virtue of race or sex, is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Other prohibited concepts: that a person, based on race or sex, “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,” and that anyone should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” for similar reasons. Meritocracy and “traits such as a hard work ethic” cannot be described as racist or sexist under the bill.

The bills apply to public colleges’ and universities’ staff or student training, led by employees or contractors. Institutions may continue training that fosters a “respectful” workplace or learning environment for all.

You can revisit our series on the Trump order, where we explain how this language bars people from acknowledging racism by saying that doing so is racist–that calling out white racism against black people is, itself, racist because it identifies white people as “fundamentally” racist. It also firmly locates all white racism “in the past”, safely removing white people today from any association with it.

One quote in particular from the story on Iowa sticks with us:

Representative Sandy Salmon, a Republican, argued that there still “needs to be a paragraph in there about requiring a public institution of higher education to attempt to remain neutral on current public policy controversies.”

Neutrality. We understand the disequilibrium our nation is going through as it attempts its boldest reckoning with racism since the 1950s and 60s. We know how painful it is to everyone to disturb the equilibrium of an entire nation, to call a halt to business as usual, including all the coping mechanisms people have relied on for centuries to deal with and survive racism and sexism. That coping state is identified as neutrality, and it can seem like neutrality, a grey area between violence and safety, but it isn’t neutral. It’s charged with fear and hate. It’s the medium in which cells of injustice grow and multiply.

So there is nothing noble or helpful about calling for neutrality on “controversies” that are tearing our nation apart, and that we are finally stopping all the machinery to address and redress. It doesn’t “calm things down”. It only perpetuates the medium for injustice by refusing to call it out and destroy it.

First they force universities to go along, then K-12 schools, then businesses, then everything else. Neutrality isn’t justice, in Iowa or anywhere else. All of us have to stick with the exhaustingly difficulty work of derailing what is corrupt in our society and nation, and then, when all injustice is indeed safely “in the past,” we can figure out how to keep it that way.

There was a slogan back in the 90s amongst gay Americans fighting the unwillingness of the U.S. government–and most of society–to do anything to stop the AIDS epidemic.

Silence=Death was a quick, efficient way to get the message across that not talking about AIDS, or “gays”, was a way to guarantee that the death rate just kept rising. Gay Americans who had adopted the coping mechanism of silence about their sexuality, concealing it in some way, to some extent, in order to survive had to be mobilized for public protest, public political action. It was not easy. But momentum grew with the death rate, and heroic gay Americans put their lives on the line to stand up and demand equal medical treatment and attention. It was dangerous, it was hard, it put all of American society into disequilibrium as “mainstream” America was forced to acknowledge gay people as human beings with equal rights (and as people–regular people who had jobs and pets and went on vacation and hated broccoli, etc.).

Neutrality in that situation was not the answer. It’s never the answer when justice is at stake. We all need to revive this slogan for today. Find a new shape to replace the pink triangle that represented homosexuality and get those t-shirts and buttons out there on every American who knows that “neutrality and silence for all” is not our national slogan.

Truth v. Myth: Biden Order on equity needs our help

It’s part the last of our short series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site. We left off in part 2 looking at the end of Section 4 and its directions for identifying methods to assess equity.

Sec. 5 Conducting an Equity Assessment in Federal Agencies tasks the head of each agency, or someone they deputize, to consult with OMB to carry out a review of their agency that identifies:

(a)  Potential barriers that underserved communities and individuals may face to enrollment in and access to benefits and services in Federal programs; 

(b) Potential barriers that underserved communities and individuals may face in taking advantage of agency procurement and contracting opportunities;

(c) Whether new policies, regulations, or guidance documents may be necessary to advance equity in agency actions and programs; and

(d) The operational status and level of institutional resources available to offices or divisions within the agency that are responsible for advancing civil rights or whose mandates specifically include serving underrepresented or disadvantaged communities.

–What we like about these four categories of inquiry is that they incorporate correction to the very Order they’re part of. A and B address the potential–and likely–problem that benefits may exist but the people who need them will be presented with constant obstacles when they try to access them. C accepts that the existing policies and guidance may prove to be incomplete in advancing equity, and new ones will be needed. D accepts that agencies may likely need more resources–money and people–to carry out the Order. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation in which passing an Order solves all problems. It’s not a magic wand, and it needs to be the beginning of a large collaborative effort. That means there will be changes and it will be expensive and there will have to be real enforcement. All of this should inspire people to do this good work, rather than turn them off, because it’s a healthy and helpful acknowledgement of the real world in which change takes place.

Section 9 – Establishing an Equitable Data Working Group – is a call to gather more data on our population, as “Many Federal datasets are not disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status, or other key demographic variables.  This lack of data has cascading effects and impedes efforts to measure and advance equity.  A first step to promoting equity in Government action is to gather the data necessary to inform that effort.” The Working Group is established, and will go about the difficult business of gathering data from people who have every right to feel threatened by federal requests for their personal information and scared to provide it lest they be fired, deported, or harassed. This small section is very important, and calls for the most thoughtful work.

Thankfully, Section 10 – Revocation – revokes the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year.

This is a good start, and we welcome it. But we fear for it, too, as America continues to go through ever more violent pendulum swings right to left with every presidential election. The specter of the EO on equity that the next Republican president might sign is menacing. The next four years must be spent moving the nation back to its established central base, where it is assumed the the United States is meant to provide liberty and justice to all. That founding principle was openly and explicitly rejected by the Trump administration, and too many Americans resonated with that trashing. Let’s let this Order be a step toward getting back where we belong. Do your part by asking what’s being done at your workplace to provide the data we need to broadcast the fact that “hardworking American” is not code for “white”, and to pull back at that pendulum before it swings away from us.

Truth v. Myth: Biden Order defines racism as racist! (and anti-racism as anti-racist)

Hello and welcome to part 2 of our series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site. We left off in part 1 looking at the end of Section 1 and its framing of equality of opportunity in positive economic terms.

“Sec. 2 Definitions” establishes the same for “equity” and “underserved communities”:

Sec. 2.  Definitions.  For purposes of this order:  (a)  The term “equity” means the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.

(b)  The term “underserved communities” refers to populations sharing a particular characteristic, as well as geographic communities, that have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life, as exemplified by the list in the preceding definition of “equity.”

We know that this Order is specifically addressing racial inequity, so we will not complain that being female is omitted here from categories of Americans who have been denied equality of opportunity. It’s good to have an Order specifically focused on race. But we do expect the Administration can do two things at once and also address sexual discrimination and sexism in America as well, and as soon as possible.

The main difference here between the Biden Order and the Trump Order is that the Trump version had 9 separate definitions of the term “divisive concepts”, all of which stated that anti-racism and anti-sexism training were, in themselves, divisive concepts based on lies and, of course, anti-white racism. So we’re on better footing already here with the Biden Order, as it is short and common-sensical and acknowledges reality.

Sec. 3 Role of the Domestic Policy Council states that this DPC will “coordinate efforts to embed equity principles, policies, and approaches across the Federal government. This will include efforts to remove systemic barriers to and provide equal access to opportunities and benefits, identify communities the Federal Government has underserved, and develop policies designed to advance equity for those communities.” Again, a 180 from the Trump Order which focused on prosecuting government departments that continued diversity training that attempted to address “divisive concepts.”

Sec. 4.  Identifying Methods to Assess Equity says that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will work with federal agencies to “[assess] whether agency policies and actions create or exacerbate barriers to full and equal participation by all eligible individuals. The study should aim to identify the best methods, consistent with applicable law, to assist agencies in assessing equity with respect to race, ethnicity, religion, income, geography, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability. … Within 6 months of the date of this order, the Director of OMB shall deliver a report to the President describing the best practices identified by the study and, as appropriate, recommending approaches to expand use of those methods across the Federal Government.”

So far so good; we can say that by 2021 it’s a little late to say you’ll begin to assess “whether” there are barriers to equity and then “recommend approaches” to dismantling them… but if this really happens by August, we’ll be happy to wait one last time.

Next time: defining obstacles to equity

Truth v. Myth: Biden Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity takes on Trump EO on same(?)

As 2020 drew to a close, we did a Truth v. Myth close-reading series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.

Today, as 2021 rolls into its second month, we bookend that series with this: an examination of the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site.

As you’ll recall, the Trump Order was a naked attempt to misrepresent anti-racist diversity training in government and education as a “destructive ideology”. As we say in part 2 of our previous series:

“This destructive ideology is grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world. Although presented as new and revolutionary, they resurrect the discredited notions of the nineteenth century’s apologists for slavery who, like President Lincoln’s rival Stephen A. Douglas, maintained that our government “was made on the white basis” “by white men, for the benefit of white men.” Our Founding documents rejected these racialized views of America, which were soundly defeated on the blood-stained battlefields of the Civil War. Yet they are now being repackaged and sold as cutting-edge insights. They are designed to divide us and to prevent us from uniting as one people in pursuit of one common destiny for our great country.”

–The duplicity here makes one want to cry out. Here is the pretzel: acknowledging racism at work in America today is actually racist. To bring up race is, somehow, to have a “racialized view” of America, and, beyond that, to bring up racism is to be an apologist for slavery… Fighting racism and working for civil rights is also not racist. To claim that fighting racism forces people to think about race, and only race, and therefore is racist, can only be the product of a deep stupidity or a deep evil. It’s very hard to say which would be worse.

It’s unclear how much traction this Order got, since it was issued in September 2020 and now a new Administration has begun, so it’s not clear how much damage has to be undone. But let’s take a look through the new Biden Order and see what it holds, starting with Section 1: Policy.

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered: 

Section 1. Policy. Equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy, and our diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths.  But for too many, the American Dream remains out of reach.  Entrenched disparities in our laws and public policies, and in our public and private institutions, have often denied that equal opportunity to individuals and communities.  Our country faces converging economic, health, and climate crises that have exposed and exacerbated inequities, while a historic movement for justice has highlighted the unbearable human costs of systemic racism.  Our Nation deserves an ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda that matches the scale of the opportunities and challenges that we face.

–Just about every new attempt at guaranteeing civil rights in America begins with an encouraging statement about how much we’ve already done, how peerless we are as a nation in working to offer liberty and justice to all. Sometimes this can have the chilling effect of making the new call for action seem like an extra, a nice-to-have rather than a need-to-have in a country where fundamental justice is already established, and now we just want to tie up a few minor loose ends.

This Order, then, is refreshing in its limiting that encouragement to a single short sentence and then moving on to acknowledge in plain language that we are not doing well enough, we are not in a good place and just need a slight push to an even better place. We have slipped backward in America over the past 40 years, as the backlash against the civil and human rights wins of the 1950s-70s began with Reagan and relentlessly gained momentum wit the help of both Bush presidencies, the Tea Party during the Obama presidency, and the Trump presidency. Those who call liberty and justice for all treason led an attack on our Capitol on January 6, 2021, and their supporters and members in Congress sit safely, in no fear of censure from their colleagues, refusing to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting a treasonous coup. We’re in a very dangerous place and that has not come out of the blue. Complacency about how strong our democracy is allowed too many Americans to treat right-wing extremism as normal and powerless, even as its basic structures fell apart.

A case in point is the very Executive Order we’re reviewing here. The Executive Branch–the presidency–does not legislate in our three-branch system. The Legislature–Congress–writes and passes laws. The Judiciary–the courts–test whether those laws are constitutional, and can overturn them if not. The president does not have the power to write laws. They do have the power to write Executive Orders: directives describing how laws should be enforced. They are part of the president’s discretionary power. No EO can violate the Constitution, and all EOs are subject to Judiciary review to make sure that they don’t. Basically, once a law is passed, an EO can determine how, and how seriously, it will be enforced.

Most presidents use EOs are low-key and uncontroversial: formalities (to inaugurate Presidential Commissions or Presidential Advisory Councils, for instance); to designate emergencies (declaring a city or region a disaster area after a hurricane or flood), to award an honorary medal (the Purple Heart) or to create task forces (for ecosystem restoration or terrorism prevention).

Other EOs are major: Trump’s “Muslim ban” of January 2107 prevented citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. until it was overturned as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in June 2018.

EOs remain in force until they’re canceled by the president who issued them, or their successor; they’re found to be unconstitutional by the courts; or they hit their expiration date (if they have one). And therein lies the problem we are experiencing, and the challenge to our democracy. During the Obama presidency, the use of EOs fundamentally changed for the worse.

Faced with a Republican-led Congress that openly stated its intention to block any legislation the Democrats introduced, President Obama began writing Executive Orders to get around Congress. A good example is his EO to grant limited amnesty to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors (the “Dreamers”). Congress would not pass immigration law that protected this population, so Obama went around Congress. While the end goal was just and good, this use of the EO was dangerous because it set protections in place that were then quickly and easily overturned by the next president. It also allowed Congress to abdicate its role of writing laws. This erases the check between Legislature and Executive, and allows Congress to remain impotent and harmful. Whether an EO promotes justice or obstructs it, it cannot and should not substitute for legislation.

When it does, we go into a deadly pendulum-swing, where a Democratic president signs Orders that are then revoked by a Republican president, who then signs new Orders that are revoked by a Democratic president, and so on. Real American lives are impacted, as protections come and go. And Congress lies stagnant and dormant, refusing to take action. Americans begin to look to the president for laws. This is not how our system works. It turns the president into a monarch or a dictator.

So while we applaud this Biden EO so far, the fact that the first thing the new president did was sign 19 EOs, many of them deliberately overturning Trump EOs, is unsettling. The one we’re examining now is a case in point: this Biden EO on Advancing Racial Equity seems clearly positioned to overturn the Trump EO on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. The nation cannot be whipsawed back and forth between policies for decades without our very democratic system deteriorating under the strain and the neglect.

With all that said, we’re going to keep close-reading this EO, but in the back of our minds we know how fleeting it may turn out to be, and how negative and anti-democratic an EO it may provoke from the next Republican president in 4 or 8 years.

It is therefore the policy of my Administration that the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.  Affirmatively advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our Government.  Because advancing equity requires a systematic approach to embedding fairness in decision-making processes, executive departments and agencies (agencies) must recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.

–This is a welcome return to logic, history, and reality after the double-speak of the Trump EO. Here, the obvious is acknowledged: America has allowed systemic, institutional racism to create inequality of opportunity for those who are not white. This honest assessment was rejected by the Trump EO as a “malign ideology [now] migrating from the fringes of American society and threatens to infect core institutions of our country. Instructors and materials teaching that men and members of certain races, as well as our most venerable institutions, are inherently sexist and racist are appearing in workplace diversity trainings across the country, even in components of the Federal Government and among Federal contractors.” As we said then, we say now, that this is more of the same idea that acknowledging race and racism is racist, that we should all be allowed to be “color-blind”. This phrase, as used in this Order, represents a false assumption, which is that America, or at least most Americans, are not racist and do not ever made judgments about people based on their race. Therefore, being told to think about race is ruining this paradise by introducing race-based thinking, and therefore, racism.

Again, it’s a visceral relief to read the Biden EO, but one tempered by the knowledge that this is just an Executive Order, not a law passed by our Congress, and therefore it’s a frail and temporary bulwark against injustice.

By advancing equity across the Federal Government, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone.  For example, an analysis shows that closing racial gaps in wages, housing credit, lending opportunities, and access to higher education would amount to an additional $5 trillion in gross domestic product in the American economy over the next 5 years.  The Federal Government’s goal in advancing equity is to provide everyone with the opportunity to reach their full potential.  Consistent with these aims, each agency must assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups.  Such assessments will better equip agencies to develop policies and programs that deliver resources and benefits equitably to all.

–It’s depressing that the idea that helping the poor helps everyone is so often rejected by Americans today, while the idea that helping the rich helps everyone is so eagerly embraced. Here, the Biden EO frames equality of opportunity in positive economic terms to help reach those who believe that rich Americans should fund economic growth (through “trickle-down” or “job creation”) out of their largess, which requires the rich to become even richer, to even astronomical levels. Instead, all Americans could help each other, which redistributes not wealth, but the opportunity to gain wealth, to all.

How can advancing racial equity make this happen? We’ll find out next time.

Next time: Section 2 – definitions

The Great American Experiment goes on

Way back in November 2008 we posted “The Great American Experiment”, an essay describing the election of Barack Obama as president as an instance of the triumph of our ongoing experiment in creating true democracy in the United States and the world.

We re-run it today, as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take their oaths of office, with a few updates for 2021.

______

America is an experiment. From at least the time of its first white settlement, and likely for centuries before that, America has been a place where people came to experiment with doing things differently. It’s been a place to gamble, to see if you could be one of the lucky ones who could buy land, support yourself, marry and create a new life and a new family future in a stable, new land. You gambled on the weather, politics, your own skills, and your own ability to commit to the experiment of living in America, and being an American.

During the 18th century, the experiment deepened, as Americans began to speculate that they could form the first democratic nation in modern times. Intense experimentation went on from the 1760s to 1787, as Americans adapted and invented forms of government fit for the scope of their needs, the gaping hole of their inexperience, and the high and intense expectations for their future.

On and on went the experiment: could we create a strong and stable centralized government? Could we grow without destabilizing? Could we solve the problem of slavery? Could we truly create a melting pot in which to forge Americans out of peoples of all nations? Could we give women the vote? Could we accept Jewish people as true Americans? Could we desegregate? Could we assure civil rights regardless of sexuality?

Every time Americans experienced failure, or had the rug pulled out from under them, whether by natural disaster or human disaster (like stock market crashes, Depressions, war, and injustice), they had to stop and think: is it worth it? Do our high expectations just set us up for disappointment? Is it really possible to have a strong, wealthy, powerful, modern country that is also just, fair, free, and equal?

Our momentum from the Founding onward propelled us to believe that it is possible. We took pride in attempting the unlikely, in dedicating ourselves to making the seemingly impossible possible. We did it because we knew our history began when we committed ourselves to the biggest experiment humans can attempt: liberty and justice for all.

America’s story is one of constantly tackling the big—the biggest—problems, ahead of everyone else, with very little to guide us but those Founding principles that nag at our conscience. And each time we’ve made progress, extending civil rights to more and more people, it’s been because that old spirit of taking a gamble, of performing the ultimate experiment, took over and led us to the right decision.

As we think today about what divides Americans, we think it boils down to the fact that some Americans no longer want to experiment. They want to close the lab down. We’ve gone far enough into the unknown, making it known, they say; now let’s stop—let’s even go backward. We were wrong to conduct some of our experiments in liberty, and that’s the source of all our problems. Gay people shouldn’t be treated equally. Black people shouldn’t run the country. Women shouldn’t hold high office. Muslims shouldn’t be granted habeas corpus. Democracy itself is weak and corrupt–we need a military and religious dictatorship to undo every advance in civil rights and the pursuit of happiness, because somehow freedom and happiness are destroying America.

Whenever one of those Americans talks about the problem with our country today, they talk about how we should be like we once were, back when white people who defined marriage as one man-one woman and were Protestant veterans built this nation. They feel they are losing their birthright, their legacy.

But those Americans are wrong. What their ancestors really were was scientists. Experimenters. Radicals who always considered the impossible possible. A people with near-supernatural qualities of optimism and defiance and willingness to go into the unknown and make it their home, to make the amazing the norm. They defied the status quo. That’s how they built America.

Americans who want to end the experiment are few, but boisterous. They clamor at the national microphone. But Americans who know that there is no America without the experiment will keep at it, and they will persevere. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are such Americans, and their election is proof that the lab is still open, and that America in general will always be at the drawing board, expanding its concept of liberty and justice and equality until we finally fulfill the founding principles that created this nation so long ago.

A call to action, January 2021

Our democracy is under open attack. Americans who have long considered our system of government to be the source of all our nation’s problems have at last acted to overthrow it by invading the Capitol building in an attempt to stop the certification of a fair and legal presidential election.

These people have been taught to hate “the government” at least since the days of President Reagan, who claimed in his January 20, 1981 inaugural speech that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

This was the official start of an alternate American history, one that identifies all government, but particularly our federal government, as the enemy of American freedom and individuality. This imaginary history describes a “great” America that was controlled by white Christian men, where there were no homosexuals, non-Christians, or feminists, and all immigrants were “honest, hard-working” white Christians.

Those of us who study and love actual American history have always had to fight against this fantasy American history.

We’ve done our best to teach the people we talk with about the real history of race, sex, religion, immigration, and politics in America.

We do this tirelessly because the study of real American history is always the study of the struggle to fulfill the unique mandate of our founding documents, which commit Americans to promoting the general welfare by acknowledging the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We take pride and pleasure in helping people understand the importance of the pledge of allegiance they make to stand up for liberty and justice for all.

We are ever-ready to show other Americans how the language “all men are created equal”, with its assumed meaning of “white men”, was a starting point from which generation after generation of Americans expanded rights to include women, non-white Americans, and all citizens of this country.

We don’t pretend that American history is a rose garden of justice and triumph. But we help people understand that we have a unique national conscience that drives us, each generation of Americans, to live up to our founding principles, that won’t let us settle for less, that makes us despair over injustice and recommit, over and over, to creating a more perfect union.

Today, in 2021, we must do even more.

Today, we must rise up to take real action against the terrorists who would destroy our democratic government. Not just by issuing statements of dismay, but by actually mobilizing protests in the streets and online.

There is no line between “history” and “current events”, between “studying history” and “talking about politics.” Today’s political event is tomorrow’s history. We can’t divorce our study of American history from political activism in the name of justice.

This is a time for action as historians. What can we do?

We must first demand that emergency actions be taken to remove a treasonous president, and the treasonous members of Congress who voted to overturn a legal election.

We must fearlessly identify anti-democratic, racist, nativist activities and groups and explicitly call them out as enemies of our democracy. This is not the time to call for “trying to understand.” If we pretend not to understand tyranny and terrorism after studying it for years, we are part of the problem.

We must acknowledge the magnitude of the terrorist overrunning of our Capitol and Congress. We cannot tell the public this is just another in a long history of anti-democratic activism. If we minimize what happened on January 6, we help Americans to normalize it, and we are part of the problem.

We must teach Americans their real history, which does not include a once-great America in the undefined past that only a dictatorship can restore. We must teach Americans that our history is one of success and failure in the never-ending pursuit of liberty and justice for all, and that only when we do that work are Americans truly great.

We must speak out to interrupt lies and hate speech. If you are called on to give commentary in any public forum, speak bravely and clearly about the anti-democratic terrorism taking place in the United States, and make it clear that we are bound as Americans to call it by its name and fight against it.

We must refuse to find, provide, or tolerate excuses or justifications for hate speech and for physical acts of terrorism.

We must give talks and write articles and have discussions where we explicitly connect what we learn in American history to the politics of the present day, and the American mandate to create a just and democratic state.

There is open war in America today. If historians can’t or won’t take action in this moment, then we really are just useless “history nerds” and academics, escapists who hide our heads in the sand of the past.

Truth V. Myth: Trump Executive Order On Diversity Training, concluded… we hope

Today, part the last of our series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping (find the official White House version of this executive order here). We race through the concluding sections, noting the final problematic statements therein.

Sec. 8. Title VII Guidance. The Attorney General should continue to assess the extent to which workplace training that teaches the divisive concepts set forth in section 2(a) of this order may contribute to a hostile work environment and give rise to potential liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. If appropriate, the Attorney General and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shall issue publicly available guidance to assist employers in better promoting diversity and inclusive workplaces consistent with Title VII.

–More of the same here; the noble Civil Rights Act of 1964 is perverted to support anti-diversity training and the debarment (see Sec. 7(b)) of contractors who provide real diversity training.

Let’s hit the final section for an ill closure:

Sec. 10. General Provisions. (a) This order does not prevent agencies, the United States Uniformed Services, or contractors from promoting racial, cultural, or ethnic diversity or inclusiveness, provided such efforts are consistent with the requirements of this order.

b) Nothing in this order shall be construed to prohibit discussing, as part of a larger course of academic instruction, the divisive concepts listed in section 2(a) of this order in an objective manner and without endorsement.

(c) If any provision of this order, or the application of any provision to any person or circumstance, is held to be invalid, the remainder of this order and the application of its provisions to any other persons or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.

(f) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

DONALD J. TRUMP

THE WHITE HOUSE,
September 22, 2020.

–One might laugh aloud if it weren’t for the sheer malice and evil intention of this final section. Subsection a represents a terrible perfection of perversity, saying this order purporting to describe diversity training does not prevent any entity from providing diversity training. It’s so clear that the Order precisely does prevent all agencies from promoting diversity and inclusion that the authors are either subconsciously driven to defend themselves or just enjoying their terrible power. Subsection b follows the same. Subsection c is a logical fallacy, and Subsection d is, we hope, boilerplate text, and not something assembled for this particular and particularly anti-democratic Order.

This Order may well be rescinded by the incoming Biden Administration, but that is cold comfort. The wedge has been driven into our democracy from the top down by a small number of people who are all too happy to destroy our democratic traditions. They are easily split from democracy. Let’s hope that as the wedge goes down into the full population, we find that Americans as a whole will resist the fracture.

Truth V. Myth: Trump Executive Order On Diversity Training, or, a return to McCarthyism

Hello and welcome to part 5 in our series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping (find the official White House version of this executive order here). This time, we slog through Sections 4-6.

Section 4 is Requirements for Government Contractors. This Order is, after all, directed toward “Executive departments and agencies (agencies), our Uniformed Services, Federal contractors, and Federal grant recipients”, so here’s where it gets very specific by outlining policy.

During the performance of this contract, the contractor agrees as follows:

1. The contractor shall not use any workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating, including the concepts that (a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (b) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (c) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; (d) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex; (e) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; (f) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; (g) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or (h) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race. 

The term “race or sex stereotyping” means ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of his or her race or sex, and the term “race or sex scapegoating” means assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.

–This is copied and pasted from Section 2: Definitions, which we covered all-too-thoroughly in part 4. As we said there, “We do not believe in good faith that the context of diversity training in the U.S. provides or supports [eight] separate, and often completely opposing, definitions of “divisive concepts.” In a nutshell, this is the third restatement in this Order of the idea that acknowledging the existence of racism and sexism is racist and sexist.

Now we get to what this means in terms of actions that federal contractors must take. First, they must send a copy of the Order “to each labor union or representative of workers with which he has a collective bargaining agreement or other contract or understanding” and each union office must “post copies of the notice in conspicuous places available to employees and applicants for employment.” We pass over the sexist language in this ostensible Order against sexism… for now.

The next item swerves from what the contractors should do to a warning that if they are non-compliant “this contract may be canceled, terminated, or suspended in whole or in part and the contractor may be declared ineligible for further Government contracts”.

Back to tasks: the contractors must “include the provisions of paragraphs (1) through (4) in every subcontract or purchase order unless exempted by rules, regulations, or orders of the Secretary of Labor, so that such provisions will be binding upon each subcontractor or vendor.” The Department of Labor will “establish a hotline and investigate complaints received” against any contractor who is “utilizing such training programs in violation of the contractor’s obligations under those orders. The Department shall take appropriate enforcement action and provide remedial relief, as appropriate.”

Unlike the usual lip service that accompanies any civil rights protections, the DOL is very likely to follow through with this for as long as the Trump Administration lasts. All the energy it never has for providing enforcement and relief for victims of race and sex discrimination will be poured into prosecuting people trying to fight race and sex discrimination.

Finally, “Within 30 days of the date of this order, the Director of OFCCP shall publish in the Federal Register a request for information seeking information from Federal contractors, Federal subcontractors, and employees of Federal contractors and subcontractors regarding the training, workshops, or similar programming provided to employees. The request for information should request copies of any training, workshop, or similar programing having to do with diversity and inclusion as well as information about the duration, frequency, and expense of such activities.”

The constant theme here is Soviet- or McCarthy-style encouragement of informants. Instead of going to your company or union first, go directly to the government and report your employer or union. Secretly inform the government about any violations you perceive. Again, if this administration had ever protected whistle-blowers for justice, this would be less infuriating. Only informants, not whistle-blowers, will be protected.

Section 5 leads, for the third time, with the same cut-and-paste 8-part (re)definition of terms and statement that acknowledging racism and sexism is racist and sexist. In fact, that’s all Section 5 includes after the brief intro text “Sec. 5. Requirements for Federal Grants. The heads of all agencies shall review their respective grant programs and identify programs for which the agency may, as a condition of receiving such a grant, require the recipient to certify that it will not use Federal funds to promote the concepts that (a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; …” We are perhaps meant to be hypnotized by this repetition.

Section 6 mixes it up by not repeated the cut-and-paste.

Sec. 6. Requirements for Agencies. (a) The fair and equal treatment of individuals is an inviolable principle that must be maintained in the Federal workplace. Agencies should continue all training that will foster a workplace that is respectful of all employees. Accordingly:

(i) The head of each agency shall use his or her authority under 5 U.S.C. 301, 302, and 4103 to ensure that the agency, agency employees while on duty status, and any contractors hired by the agency to provide training, workshops, forums, or similar programming (for purposes of this section, “training”) to agency employees do not teach, advocate, act upon, or promote in any training to agency employees any of the divisive concepts listed in section 2(a) of this order. 

…(ii) Agency diversity and inclusion efforts shall, first and foremost, encourage agency employees not to judge each other by their color, race, ethnicity, sex, or any other characteristic protected by Federal law.

…(b) The Director of OPM shall propose regulations providing that agency officials with supervisory authority over a supervisor or an employee with responsibility for promoting diversity and inclusion, if such supervisor or employee either authorizes or approves training that promotes the divisive concepts set forth in section 2(a) of this order, shall take appropriate steps to pursue a performance-based adverse action proceeding against such supervisor or employee..

–More cultivation of informants here, as any employee that dares to “promote in any training to agency employees any of the divisive concepts listed in section 2(a) of this order” will be informed upon and the Director of OPM “shall take appropriate steps to pursue a performance-based adverse action proceeding against such supervisor or employee…”

Three sub-steps reinforce this message, and part ii, requiring “the agency inspector general [to] thoroughly review and assess by the end of the calendar year, and not less than annually thereafter, agency compliance with the requirements of this order in the form of a report submitted to OMB” is particularly irritating; how we wish that there were at least annual, and ideally monthly, reviews to ensure enforcement of real civil rights laws in the workplace.

Next time: the bleak conclusion

Truth v. Myth: Trump Executive Order on diversity training redefines in order to mislead

Part four of our series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping (find the official White House version of this executive order here) concerns “Definitions”.

Every document has to define its terms. But when it redefines commonly used and accepted terms, be on the lookout for acts of bad faith.

Sec. 2. Definitions. For the purposes of this order, the phrase:

(a) “Divisive concepts” means the concepts that (1) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (2) the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist; (3) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (4) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; (5) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex; (6) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; (7) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; (8) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or (9) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race. The term “divisive concepts” also includes any other form of race or sex stereotyping or any other form of race or sex scapegoating.

We do not believe in good faith that the context of diversity training in the U.S. provides or supports nine separate, and often completely opposing, definitions of “divisive concepts.”

(1) is a neutral definition of racism and sexism

(2) uses the word “fundamentally” as a subjective motivator for the reader to define any attempt to address discrimination in the U.S. as an attack on their nation that they should patriotically reject; here, “fundamentally racist or sexist” is a cartoonish statement that “the U.S. is bad” that all patriotic Americans are pressured to reject. This one-dimensional, cartoonish definition of “fundamental” is deliberately harmful. Fundamental means “foundational”–built into the foundation of something. That something cannot exist without its fundamentals. While there are well-known, constant arguments made that “racism is America’s original sin,” and that sexism was enshrined in the line “all men are created equal,” this is only part of the story of America and the U.S. The real message of good diversity training is “of course there is institutional racism and sexism in the United States that we must oppose and dismantle–just like the many millions of Americans who have done just that, from 1776 onward; our present-day sense of needing to fight that battle is the result of their work, and is their legacy to us. Fighting for liberty and justice for all is America’s original mandate.” Alongside fundamental discrimination in this country is, and always has been, a fundamental commitment to justice. You can’t have one without the other, and you can’t acknowledge the good fight without acknowledging that there is something that needs to be fought.

(3) this is simply true, and while difficult truths are uncomfortable, they must be faced. No one is innocent when it comes to prejudice. The only lie in this definition is the word “inherently”. Prejudice is not biological. There’s not a gene in your body that makes you prejudiced. It’s 100% nurture. Human beings, like most mammals, are clannish. We are trained to be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., from infancy up, just like our parents and grandparents etc., were. Usually this is completely unspoken–no one tells a little boy that women are inferior. Instead, they teach him that boys play kickball at recess and girls play four square, and if a girl wants to switch, he should prevent that by tormenting her with name-calling. No one tells the boy about homosexuality–instead, he learns that a boy who wants to play four square instead of kickball must be tormented with name-calling. If you are white and you use a mortgage app and it says you and your wife can borrow $1 million, it likely never occurs to you that a black couple using the same app in the same city will be told they can borrow $200K. It doesn’t occur to you to think about what other people might be experiencing. The whole point of diversity training is to wake people up, to make the invisible visible.

By putting “inherently” in this re-definition, the Order attempts to turn a proven sociological fact about how we acculturate children so fully that they grow up never realizing they’ve been acculturated into some indefensible nonsense about genetic prejudice that of course the logical person must reject.

(4) we cover this in Part 2 – “Here is the pretzel: acknowledging racism at work in America today is actually racist.”

(5) (6) this is also covered in Part 2 – “This is more of the same idea that acknowledging race and racism is racist. We should all be allowed to be “color-blind”. This phrase, as used in this Order, represents a false assumption, which is that America, or at least most Americans, are not racist and do not ever made judgments about people based on their race. Therefore, being told to think about race is ruining this paradise by introducing race-based thinking, and therefore, racism.”

(7) this re-definition is just another dog-whistle to panic and redirect white people in the U.S. away from fighting racism by threatening that if they fight racism, they’ll end up being forced to pay restitution to black people for slavery. Good diversity training does not tell men that they are responsible for sexism in the 17th century. Nor does it tell white people that they are responsible for racism in the 1800s. What it does tell people is that if they do nothing to stop discrimination today, in their own time, they are part of a longstanding problem instead of part of the longstanding solution. If you don’t reject racism today, you are no different from those who accepted it in previous centuries. You may not be participating in race-based slavery, but you are adopting the same mindset as those who did enslave others based on race.

(8) this builds from (7), and is just a restatement of (3). Asked and answered.

(9) this is so warped and deliberately harmful. The ignorant language is all over the place: is working hard really a biological “trait”? There’s a gene in the human genome labeled “hard worker”? Can a biological trait be “created”? The term they are searching for is not “trait” but, ironically, “concept”. The “hard work ethic” (known before this Order to all as “the Protestant work ethic”) is a dog-whistle concept in the U.S. for “white people”. Again, we cover this in Part 2: “In the U.S., the words and phrases “patriot,” “real Americans,” “honest, hardworking Americans,” and “middle-class” have been turned into dog-whistles for racism since the 1970s, when the conservative backlash against the civil rights movement and gains of the 1950s and 60s began, and were fully gelled by the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. All of these have become code expressions for “white”, and it was a horribly effective mis-use of meritocracy: start with the false assumption that everyone had the same starting point and resources, and then when racism ensures that people who aren’t white don’t succeed, the only way to explain it is by blaming the non-white people for being lazy, dishonest, and treacherous. If only white Americans succeed, it must be because only whites are hard-working, honest, and patriotic.”

There are three more re-definitions in Sec. 2 of this Order, two of which simply reiterate points above about how identifying racism is racist, and describe fighting prejudice as “race or sex stereotyping,” or the scourge of “reverse-discimination,” which is somehow not just discrimination and worse than discrimination.

Section 3 defines “United States Uniformed Services” very briefly and objectively.

Next time, if you can bear it: Sections 4-5-6