Debating Politics

So… the last few days or so has seen me engage with a family acquaintance about President-Elect Trump on a family member’s Facebook wall who had posted anger and frustration with President-Elect Trump. As folks who know me know, I come from a very lefty family.

I’m not sure I changed any minds, and I can’t really tell you why I felt the need to write a 3000 word treatise on why I vote the way I do, believe what I do, think like I do, but I did. I really do believe that one component of the way we’re going to get to a better place as a nation is by talking through it with people who disagree. I don’t pretend to say that some of what this person said wasn’t really hard to read and frustrating, but this is what it is.

So what follows is a transcript of that conversation with only identifying details taken out. For the purpose of the post, I’m going to name this person Susan. There are moments where, as I re-read it, there are moments that need clarification or contextualization and I’m going to mark those moments with [bracketed] comments. I’m also only going to include the commentary between Susan and myself. There were other folks, but for this, I’m not going to include their voices.

I don’t know that I believe that this is what we all have to do. And I certainly don’t believe this is all we have to do. We’re all going to have to figure this out for ourselves – what discussions we choose to have… what discussions we have to walk away from… what activism we engage in… it’s going to take all of us engaging in a myriad of ways to make this better.

And finally, I know that a lot of folks will argue that Facebook isn’t the place for these conversations — and I get it. But again, it’s what we have. For me, I don’t see any space as exempt from the world in which we live. So with that…

Susan: For the majority of Americans and the world, the nightmare is almost over.

Me: Susan – today, President-Elect Trump attacked a civil rights icon — someone who has spent his life working for those who in America — to the point where even Republican Congressmen are publicly calling on him to stop.

He refuses to honor the conventions of divestiture of assets. He violates ethics laws after ethics laws with his actions.

He has undermined the press.

He has publicly supported Putin over the information of the American intelligence community over and over again.

He will enter office under the cloud of an investigation to determine if he colluded with the Russian government to swing the election.

And none of this has anything to do with any policy – Republican or Democratic. It is, instead, the actions of a demagogue and an oligarch.

He has shown, over and over, that he has neither the temperament nor the willingness to honor the office he is about to inhabit.

How can you possibly support any of this?

Susan: Well, I guess we will all find out. Personally, I am optimistic that the US and Israeli leaders will once again be friends, that business and jobs will come back to our country, that race relations will heal, that our healthcare will make sense, that charter schools will give public schools competition, that we will be able to say who enters our country, that we can confront Islamic terrorism, and that we will all finally understand which bathroom to use. It is a large task to reverse the failures of the past 8 years, but I honestly believe that Trump and his capable team are up to the task. It would be nice if we could all give them a chance.

[At this point, I made a conscious decision to cite sources and provide links to the arguments I was making. I wanted to have a real discussion – and to do that, I wanted to be able to point to the data that was behind the arguments I was making.]

Me: So… there are specific policies we probably disagree on – and any time you want to argue education policy with me, you let me know – but your comments about race and gender were particularly telling, because those were wedge issues that probably did swing white voters to Trump, so let’s look at them.

Susan, the comment about bathrooms was really hateful. And I’m really not o.k. with it. We have a number of transgender students at my school. They use the bathrooms that is appropriate for them to use. No one is hurt by it. We create a space for students to identify as they see fit – and that includes where they use the bathroom. More than that — behind that statement is a rejection of transgender issues in general. Transgender youth face one of the highest suicide rates in this country. I’ve sat with students, trying to help their parents accept who their child is… and I’ve seen parents refusal to understand cause incredible pain to their children. I strongly urge you learn more about transgender issues.

[ed note – in retrospect, I don’t think this is particularly strong here. I think I led with an emotional statement that didn’t help the argument any.]

As for race relations, what the Obama administration has done is highlight the damage America’s original sin still causes today. When the average black family has 6% of the wealth of a white household (http://www.demos.org/…/publications/RacialWealthGap_1.pdf), we have a real problem in America.

When African Americans in 2016 were six times more likely to be killed by a police officer than whites (https://www.theguardian.com/…/the-counted-police…), we have a real problem in America.

When race and poverty determine how much money the government spends on a child’s public education – irrespective of public or charter – (http://www.theatlantic.com/…/public-school…/408085/) we have a problem in America.

Many Americans want to believe that the issues of race and racism are behind us. They are not. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a brilliant piece called “The Case for Reparations” two and a half years ago that is a incredible delineation of how far we have to go. (http://www.theatlantic.com/…/the-case-for…/361631/) It’s a worthy read.

It’s difficult to face these issues, because they force us to stare down the injustice that still exists in this country. Race relations in this country have come to forefront in the last eight years because we are facing them head on. That’s going to be painful. But does his behavior, attacking a civil rights icon in John Lewis really make you think he’s going to make it better?

And many of us do not believe moving forward on issues of race, gender and sexuality are anything but a good for this country. What you define as failure, I define as progress, so no, I have no desire to give President-Elect Trump the chance to roll those back.

[here – a day went by and Susan wrote the following addressed globally to the people in the thread. My commentary was not addressed, and since the thread was continuing, I felt I could chime back in.]

Susan: Hello Everyone, I understand I am alone in this conversation, but what scares me the most is the hatred, stubbornness, and refusal to accept the leadership that the majority of Americans have chosen. You can’t even open one eye to see the sorry state that Obama has taken us to. The only country in the world that was a beacon of good backed up by strength has been reduced to weakness. We can’t help our friends and we can’t fight our enemies and all you can worry about is which bathroom to use and whether we have a black and then a woman president. The majority have chosen a new president who doesn’t speak in diplomatic terms, but who expresses what we Republicans have been feeling for 8 years. No, we didn’t demonstrate against Obama, we didn’t provide puppies and crayons for our conservative students, we accepted his presidency twice, realizing that we would have to get the votes together to change course. No, we don’t believe that we are a perfect country and that many issues have to be addressed, but we all have to work together to correct what is broken in many aspects of our country. Whatever is important to you, speak out and become part of constructively fixing it instead of obstructing which is what Obama did to the Republicans. For that he earned our eternal disdain.

Me: So… I wrote you a long, thoughtful response. I’m sad to see that you’ve not taken the time to respond.

Susan: Hi Chris, I appreciate your thoughtful response but was trying to answer everyone with one reply. No go I guess. About transgender issues: I applaud your support for transgender youth, but I feel that rather than address Conservative reluctance to accept issues like gay marriage, abortion and transgender people using whatever public bathroom they feel comfortable in, Dems libel and label them baskets of deplorables. That isn’t fair because people actually have religious beliefs that conflict with those issues and those beliefs should also be respected. As for race, do you know that the majority of black youth that are murdered are murdered by other black youth? Do you know that our inner cities are more dangerous than some places in the Middle East? Where do we start to fix this situation? How about with black fathers owning their kids and supporting them? How about a war on drugs and fixing public schools so that they are safe places and anyone who is not there to learn is kicked out? How about bringing jobs back to this country by lowering corporate taxes so there are jobs for our youth? If police officers are more likely to shoot black youths it is because black youths commit more crimes and are more violent in most cases where that happens. It doesn’t have to be that way if they have constructive lives and hope. I say BS to “racial problems.” If you are black, prove yourself. Work hard and learn in school and take advantage of all the opportunities our country provides. I know there are plenty of obstacles Chris. Let’s start with your school having standards of success instead of letting people make excuses. Now I know you will call me a racist [other commenters in the thread had done so. – cdl] which I am not. I just believe in tough love. And I personally have no problem with transgender people, I am just not sure I want a guy who believes he is female to shower in gym with your niece in school. Do you?

[What follows actually took four Facebook comments to fit in. Turns out Facebook must have a limit on length of comments on Facebook walls. Who knew? I decided to treat this like the old USENET debates of long ago and go point for point. For the purpose of this post, Susan’s words are repeated in blockquote and italics. On FB, I just used ** ** to delineate her words.]

Me: Hi Susan – Thanks for your reply. I thought it would make sense to take on these issues one at a time.

About transgender issues: I applaud your support for transgender youth, but I feel that rather than address Conservative reluctance to accept issues like gay marriage, abortion and transgender people using whatever public bathroom they feel comfortable in, Dems libel and label them baskets of deplorables. That isn’t fair because people actually have religious beliefs that conflict with those issues and those beliefs should also be respected.

People do have religious beliefs, it is true, but what we are talking about is public spaces and the role of government in ensuring that there is not discrimination in public spaces. In the not distant past, people used religion as a justification against interracial marriage – as the original judge in the Loring v. Virginia case wrote in his decision. (http://lva.omeka.net/items/show/54). It’s taken the federal government – whether in the 9-0 SCOTUS ruling in the Loring v. Virginia case or in the 1964 Civil Rights Act which specifically prevented discrimination based on religion and discrimination on the basis of sex [to move civil rights forward. Hate it when I don’t finish thoughts.] And in the intervening forty plus years, SCOTUS has ruled to expand the Civil Rights Act to include LGBT rights in such cases as Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins and Oncale v. Sundowner, (http://www.americanbar.org/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/human_rights_vol31_2004/summer2004/irr_hr_summer04_protectlgbt.html) and, in fact, American history is filled with examples of the federal government leading the way in creating the conditions for a more equal, more equitable nation – even when religious conservatives have resisted. This is true for racial civil rights (Civil Rights Act – Title VII), gender rights (Civil Rights Act Title IX), religious freedoms and freedom from religion (Abington School District v. Schempp) and now transgender rights. Time and again, the federal government and the courts have ruled that religion cannot be used as a reason to discriminate against others in public spaces.

As for race, do you know that the majority of black youth that are murdered are murdered by other black youth?

Yes. But that is also true for white youth. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 86% of white victims killed between 1976 through 2005 were killed by white offenders. The overwhelming majority of all murders are committed are intraracial because most people are killed by someone they know, and as a 2015 Brookings Institute study of census data showed, despite modest change, Americans live overwhelmingly in segregated spaces. (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2015/12/08/census-shows-modest-declines-in-black-white-segregation/)

[I wish I had included a bit more commentary here.]

Do you know that our inner cities are more dangerous than some places in the Middle East? Where do we start to fix this situation?

Susan – here, I just question why you feel the need to talk about inner cities to me. You know I’ve spent more than twenty years as an urban educator, and I’d venture to say that I’ve spent far more time in places like the South Bronx and North Philadelphia than you have. Is crime a major issue in our cities? Of course. And I’d point you to the work of the Chicago Youth Violence Prevention or the work of the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia to see the work of a diverse coalition of anti-violence advocates making a difference in our cities. And it’s working. Violent crime statistics are right around the lowest rates they have been in decades. According to the Department of Justice statistics, violent crime rates per 100,000 Americans are nearly half of what they were in 1991 and fascinatingly, the largest drops in the violent crime rates have occurred during Democratic administrations. (https://www.statista.com/statistics/191219/reported-violent-crime-rate-in-the-usa-since-1990/) Serious people have been at work on this for a long time – and while we have a lot of work to do, we have made gains despite the continued and continuing wealth divide between black and white America which I mentioned in an earlier post.  

How about with black fathers owning their kids and supporting them?  How about a war on drugs and fixing public schools so that they are safe places and anyone who is not there to learn is kicked out?

So… parts one and two are deeply linked here. Let’s look at drug sentencing laws and drug enforcement in this country. First, let’s examine the difference in crack and powder cocaine laws. Powder cocaine use is far more prevalent among whites than blacks, and until the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was passed, mandatory minimum sentencing rules meant that crack cocaine sentences were wildly out of balance with powder cocaine with ten grams of crack cocaine resulting in a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence while it took 1,000 grams of powder cocaine to engender the same sentence. [I should have included a link to info about the Fair Sentencing Act. I’ve included it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_Sentencing_Act]

America has the highest rate of incarceration of any nation in the world with 698 Americans incarcerated per 100,000 residents, and overwhelmingly, this is powered by the drug war. (http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/drug-war-mass-incarceration-and-race) There is now an incredible amount of research to suggest that incarceration is deeply ineffective at stopping drug use whereas treatment is far more effective. Even twenty four years ago, I was working at the Federal Bureau of Prisons working on examining drug treatment programs inside the prisons and their effectiveness at stopping recidivism compared to prisoners who did not have access to those programs. No less a conservative than Chris Christie came out this week, arguing that we need a therapeutic answer for drug use, not a judicial one. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/10/nyregion/new-jersey-chris-christie-drug-crisis-state-of-the-state-address.html)

In addition, enforcement of drug laws has varied wildly racially. A study by the ACLU, examining marijuana use and arrest rates showed that while white and black use of marijuana is roughly equal, blacks are nearly more than four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use. (https://www.aclu.org/report/report-war-marijuana-black-and-white?redirect=criminal-law-reform/war-marijuana-black-and-white) And a federal research study showed that there was no statistical difference between races in the use of illegal drugs. (https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHresultsPDFWHTML2013/Web/NSDUHresults2013.pdf) And despite this, blacks and hispanics make up nearly 80% of those incarcerated for drug offenses, while only representing less than 30% of the overall population.

This has had a hugely detrimental effect on black families. One in nine black children have had an incarcerated parent, compared to one in 57 white children. And again – the highest percentage of people in prison are in for drug use – not participation in the drug trade, not violent crime, but drug use, and the racial disparity of drug arrests is staggering.

And as far as schools are concerned… suspension is a blunt instrument that does not work anywhere near as well as lay-people think they do. I’ve written about suspensions and the need for explicitly anti-racist policies in schools. (http://practicaltheory.org/blog/2014/01/20/bothand-priorities-and-working-toward-anti-racist-schools/) but many folks who are far better at research and far smarter than me have shown the powerful racial bias in suspension rates. Shaun Harper at Penn Graduate School of Education showed the powerful racial inequity in southern states around suspension rates (http://www.gse.upenn.edu/equity/SouthernStates), and the Office of Civil Rights has a powerful report on racial inequity and school discipline (http://ocrdata.ed.gov/Downloads/CRDC-School-Discipline-Snapshot.pdf.) Even many of the “No Excuses” charter schools, such as KIPP, have recognized that that suspension cannot be a used as a blunt instrument tool and have committed to lowering suspension rates. (http://www.kipp.org/events-press/statement-from-tracy-mcdaniel/)

Of all the issues you raise in your comments, I have had the most practical and professional experience here, and I’ve had to restrain myself from writing another 1000 words just on this topic, but there is more to write, so let’s move on.

How about bringing jobs back to this country by lowering corporate taxes so there are jobs for our youth?

According to the Tax Policy Center, the United States has the third lowest tax revenue as a percentage of any of the countries in the OECD at 26% — compared to an average of 34%. In fact, only Chile, S. Korea and Mexico are lower. (http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/how-do-us-taxes-compare-internationally) This means we have fewer financial resources for everything from infrastructure to education to defense, etc. A far better economic plan would be to align our tax policy with other countries in the OECD such that our government has the financial resources to take care of the nation we have. Moreover, under President Obama, the unemployment rate is at a nine year low, and the growth has largely been private sector jobs, not public sector. (https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000)

If police officers are more likely to shoot black youths it is because black youths commit more crimes and are more violent in most cases where that happens. It doesn’t have to be that way if they have constructive lives and hope.

Actually, again, the stats do not bear this out. A ProPublica piece shows that black youths are 28 times more likely to die at the hands of police than white youth. (https://www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white) Black youth do not commit 28 times as many crimes as white youth.

In fact, as a total number, whites commit more violent crimes than African-Americans. In 2012, of 12.2 million arrests, 8.4 million whites were arrested and 3.4 African-Americans were arrested. And that difference holds true when you control for crimes committed by offenders under the age of 18. (https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=datool&surl=/arrests/index.cfm#) Now, whites make up 77% of the US population while African-Americans make up 13% of the US population, so yes, per capita, more blacks are arrested than whites. However, despite the fact that whites make up a greater number of arrests – both overall and multiple subcategories including violent and property crime – blacks face much higher rates of incarceration. (http://www.businessinsider.com/study-finds-huge-racial-disparity-in-americas-prisons-2016-6)

And again – as I mentioned in my first post – Six times the number of African-Americans were killed by police than whites in 2016 – and your claim that black youths commit more crimes and are more violent when they do is simply not backed up by factual data. The recent study of Chicago police practices showed profound racial bias on the part of the police to the extent that there now needs to be a consent decree to reform Chicago PD. (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38611693)

I say BS to “racial problems.” If you are black, prove yourself. Work hard and learn in school and take advantage of all the opportunities our country provides. I know there are plenty of obstacles Chris.

You can’t simply say “BS to ‘racial problems’” as if they do not exist. Our country does not provide the same opportunities for African-Americans as they do for whites. An example of this is a 2004 study that showed that employers were 50% more likely to call in an candidate for an interview if they had a white-presenting name than a black-presenting name — even if their resumes were exactly the same. You cannot say “BS to ‘racial problems’” when the overwhelming majority of academic studies show profound racialized difference in police action. (http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/07/data-police-racial-bias)

In educational spending, the wealthiest districts in America spend – and this is not hyperbole – 10 times what the poorest districts spend, (https://www.brookings.edu/articles/unequal-opportunity-race-and-education/) and I’ve already documented for you the difference between black and white wealth in this country. Again – the average black family has 6% of the wealth of the average white family. (http://www.demos.org/…/publications/RacialWealthGap_1.pdf ) But even when one controls for income, predominantly white districts are funded at a higher level than predominantly black districts. (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/public-school-funding-and-the-role-of-race/408085/) This is why the work of people like Gary Orfield at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity is so important.

If education is meant to be the great equalizer in American society then we cannot allow for the inequities of spending on public education to continue. Locally here is how this manifests, Lower Merion – which has only 7% African-American population and only 11% economically disadvantaged students, spends more than $25,000 per student per year (https://www.lmsd.org/about-lmsd/about-lmsd/facts/index.aspx) whereas the School District of Philadelphia (including public and charter schools as the budget is for both) spends $14,300 per student when 53% of students are African-American and 87% of students are economically disadvantaged. (http://www.phila.k12.pa.us/about/) This means that, over the course of a student’s K-12 career, a student in Lower Merion has $140,000 more government money spent on their public education than a student in Philadelphia. What could possibly justify such an inequitable allocation of government money to a district that serves 87% students of color except racial and economic injustice?

Let’s start with your school having standards of success instead of letting people make excuses.

Susan – I don’t know if you meant the schools I’ve started when you said “your school,” and I’m going to work under the assumption that you didn’t, because otherwise, I suggest you back up what you said with data or apologize.

[In retrospect, I don’t know that I needed to say that.]

And, it’s more than just my school, actually. A 2014 study out of the University of Pennsylvania showed that – given the inequity in school funding levels, School District of Philadelphia students outperform other students. Philadelphia students and teachers, literally do more with less. (http://www.cpre.org/…/policyb…/2030_pbsteinbergquinn.pdf) But why should they have to? Is there anything inherent in being born as a child of color or being born into challenge economic situations that means a child deserves less money spent on their education?

Now I know you will call me a racist which I am not. I just believe in tough love. And I personally have no problem with transgender people, I am just not sure I want a guy who believes he is female to shower in gym with your niece in school. Do you?

I’m going to deal with the second part of your quote first here. And first, kids in high schools don’t shower together anymore, really. The communal shower isn’t really a thing — and for good reason. High school is cruel enough that no one needs to throw all the body image nonsense that comes with the communal shower. (And honestly, it wasn’t a thing as far back as [my school] in the late 80s.) Second, that argument has been used to keep gay and lesbian students out of locker rooms. A version of it was used to keep ‘Colored Only’ washrooms in the pre-Civil Rights era. What this is really about is working to ensure people aren’t bullied and harassed. 12% of transgender Americans report being harassed in a public bathroom in the last year, 9% report being denied bathroom access and over 60% report avoiding public bathrooms for fear of harassment. (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-lgbt-survey-idUSKBN13X0BK) The funny thing is that there’s every probability that you’ve been in a public bathroom with a transgender woman and simply didn’t know it.

And, actually, I’m sure that, when [my niece] runs into classmates who are transgender young women in the bathroom that both of them will be fine. That’s been our experience at SLA. And actually, I’ll take the risk that a cis-gender person might be somewhat uncomfortable over the humiliation that would result in enforcing North Carolina House Bill 2. Suicide rates of transgender youth are already far too high – are we willing to risk even one more suicide after a young transgender American has to leave a bathroom to have their genitalia examined by a police officer who was enforcing such a bill? That is, simply, inhuman.

And finally, I am not going to call you a racist. I don’t know what’s in your heart of hearts. And I trust that you treat the people in your sphere of influence with kindness and care. But I would urge you to read “Racism Without Racists” (https://www.amazon.com/Racism-without-Racists-Color-Blind-Persistence/dp/1442202181) which details how America persists in reifying racial inequity even as instances of what we think of as traditional racism are, perhaps, not as high as they once were.

And what I am concerned about is the racial implications of a post like the one you wrote. When you construct arguments that are not grounded in fact that actually, instead, rely on racialized tropes, you do harm, regardless of what is in your heart. And when you vote based on those arguments, you do harm, regardless of what is in your heart. That’s why I spent the time to write 3000 words on this subject.

America is supposed to be the land of opportunity. And at our best, we are. However, if America was a 100 yard dash, and eight runners lined up with a ten-yard head start, we wouldn’t blame the two athletes for finishing behind. We would, instead, argue for a fair race. That is the crux of the argument. It’s time for a more fair race. The promise of America is that we are always moving toward that vision of a more perfect union. That is the promise of our continued fight for civil rights, and that’s why when President-Elect Trump acts the way he does, I fear that we will take a major step back in that vision.

[New writing again…]

So.. I don’t know what good this did. 24 hours later, Susan hasn’t replied which makes me both sad and frustrated. As I re-read this, I think about ten other ways this could have gone – for example, Susan side-stepped my first commentary about Trump’s behavior, and I made a decision to move on to the next comments she made. In the end, that led to a place where both Susan and I were able to make our cases about issues of race, gender and civil rights, which I thought was a far more important conversation to have than about President-Elect Trump’s Twitter habit.

But two things strike me as I read and re-read this interaction – one is how much more there is to say about all of the myriad of issues that are raised. As I read what I wrote now, I keep thinking, “I should have said… I should have included…” and yet, this is already one of the longest pieces of writing I’ve done since the book.

And secondly – and far more importantly – this conversation shows how wide the gap we have to bridge is. And yes, we knew that. And yes, every day, we see more and more evidence of that. But, for me, it’s different when that gap is represented by someone you’ve known for over thirty years. And yes, I know that for many, that gap is in one’s own family, but I’m fortunate that that’s not my reality.

As I wrote earlier, everyone is going to have to figure out where they land on having these kinds of dialogue. Some people will choose their activism in other ways, and that’s o.k. For me, I like the words… so I’m going to talk and write and listen. It’s not all I’m going to do, but it feels like a good start.

It’s what I’ve got.

 

3 thoughts on “Debating Politics

  1. Chris, this was fantastic. I actually deactivated my Facebook account because I was trying to have these very conversations and I got exhausted and frustrated. My husband does this in public with his brother at Blank vs. Blank. I can’t read it anymore. Doug reads me snippets as he’s working on it and I start yelling, “But . . . But . . .” I’ve heard the exact same arguments Susan presents here, and he or I have tried to counter them, though not as thoroughly as you have here, and it gets frustrating. But I think it’s what we have to keep doing. I wish I were doing more–talking and doing–that would move us forward. I take it one day, one conversation at a time.

  2. Really appreciate the post. It’s encouraging to know that there are people like you out there in the world helping people on both sides of the issue to make sense of all. Thank you for sharing, I was moved by your knowledge and passion.