Analysis & Research

Drillbitnews.com provides in-depth and well researched analysis on the most critical issues confronting US politics and national security.
Trump’s Legacy

Trump’s Legacy

Why things will get worse before they get better

I am on record admitting that I was one of those who got it very wrong in 2016. But given the stakes, I’m also on record stating that Donald Trump will lose for sure in 2020. The conviction stems from the belief that he has done enormous damage to American political systems, our standing around the world, and the very foundations of our nation’s culture. But the closer we get to a new president, the more I become convinced that things will get worse in America before they get better. Donald Trump has broken the mold of the presidency in ways that were unimaginable four years ago. We now must prepare for the reality that as an ex-president he is going to continue to disrupt American politics and society in ways that his predecessors never could have considered.

It is not a stretch to suggest that Donald Trump’s behaviors and personality alone will lead him to significant departures from the traditional role played by ex-presidents. But the reality is that once out of office he will continue to influence American politics and society in ways that no other former president has ever done. That influence will fall into four general areas: disruption of his successor’s administration, influence on his party, personal life, and international presenceTrump has already given indications that he will double down on the claims of corruption and conspiracy he has leveled at the election process in the past. But questioning the outcome of the elections and resisting leaving the White House is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact he will have on America as an ex-president.

Image for post
With primaries still a month away, the negative campaigning by Trump and Biden is already at fever pitch

Battling Biden

When Joe Biden wins this November, he will quickly come to the realization that ex-president Trump is the primary threat to his administration. There is certainly a precedent for ex-presidents to criticize the individual currently in the Oval Office. But as Prof. Peter Loge put it, “Historically, recent presidents do not attack sitting presidents that often and when they do, they are measured.” From the moment Trump becomes a lame-duck he will not only attack the sitting president, but he will do so in the most unrestrained manner imagined. His disdain for the rules, laws, customs, and standards that have defined the US presidency since the country’s founding is well-documented. But it will be his complete rewriting of those rules as ex-president that really set him apart from his predecessors.

Trump will be the first ex-president to attack his predecessor’s policies aggressively and consistently, presumably daily. And he will do so using the most powerful weapon in his arsenal, his Twitter account. It is a weapon that he has used indiscriminately and at times to the detriment of his own message or standing. For the first half of his administration, he used it as a platform to attack his enemies and embolden his allies using rhetoric and spurious claims. But as things have deteriorated during the second half of his administration the attacks have become more subversive, purposely opening some of the oldest and most sensitive scars in American culture. From the promotion of white supremacist messaging and ideology to the use of clearly doctored videos and narratives, Trump has pushed his use of this weapon to the point of forcing social media platforms to flag and even sensor his messages.

Image for post
President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order aimed at curbing protections for social media giants, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

What must be understood is that as destructive and hateful as his messaging has been as president, as ex-president he will add new levels of anger and resentment driven by having lost a second term. Once out of office Trump’s use of Twitter and Fox News to attack enemies, level baseless claims, and promote some of the most malignant narratives in American culture will be elevated beyond what we see even now. When everything else is considered, we may see the first attempt to censure an ex-president by Congress for behaviors and statements deemed a threat to national security and public safety. And the more Biden and a Democratic Congress attempt to roll back the legislative and cultural impact of the Trump administration, the more vocal and aggressive he will become. The hallmark of Trump’s administration has been an unrestrained attack on anyone or anything he perceived to be a threat to his political status. With that status removed he will see new threats and more targets, and he will attack them all with a venom that will surprise even his staunchest supporters.

Redefining the Republican Party

Trump’s rise to power was based primarily on his ability to capture and enhance the principle arguments and perspectives of the Tea Party. Considered a fringe political group aligned with libertarians and other right-wing politics, the Tea Party’s platform became the foundation of Trump’s assault on American politics. From erasure of Barack Obama’s legacy to new levels of anti-government and anti-immigration sentiment, he captured some of the more extreme aspects of the Tea Party’s conservative agenda and forced the Republican Party to adopt them. The result has been a Republican Party often at odds with itself as it wrestles with the chasm between Ronald Reagan’s legacy and Trump’s presidency. Through much of his administration, Trump has managed to keep moderate Republicans in line mostly through threats and intimidation. But the real test of his impact on the party will come once he is no longer in office.

Image for post
(Erin Schaff | The New York Times, Jan. 29, 2020) Mitt Romney speaking with reporters shortly before being the only Senate Republican to vote in favor of impeachment articles against the president.

Just as Trump’s vitriol will become louder once he is no longer constrained by the office of the president, his attempts to maintain control over the Republican Party will become more pronounced. His control of the party during his administration has been absolute with any dissension immediately rooted out and attacked with the same viciousness with which he goes after his Democratic opponents. The primary source of his power is the impact of his base as part of the conservative electorate, especially at the local and state political levels. Once out of office his practical impact on the party’s platform and leadership will diminish. But his ability to shape and control the Republican Party’s narrative will increase, especially as his base supporters go back to the “outsider” mentality that was the origin of the Tea Party Movement. The result will be a hard choice for the Republican Party between returning to Reagan-era Republicanism or moving forward with Trump as the face of the party for at least the next decade.

It will be a hard choice because Trump will make it so. There will be no compromise, no accommodation, and certainly no apologies for the past on his part. He will use the same ‘support me or pay the consequences’ approach to Republican leadership he’s had for the last four years. The difference is he will not have the powers of the presidency to back up his threats and thus he will rely even more on the social-cultural messaging and political power of his base. The result will be a doubling down of both he and his supporter’s previous efforts (e.g. attacking McCain, Bush Sr., etc.) to destroy the Republican Party from the inside. The most direct political impact of Trump as ex-president will be the conflict within the Republican Party over how to move forward to 2024. There has been a significant group of Republicans who have been biding their time, waiting for an opportunity to take the party back from Trump and his base. And it will be the legislative power of those Republicans pitted against the influence of Trump’s grassroots base on the party platform that will form a fight for the soul of the party.

Image for post
Adult film actress Stormy Daniels leaves federal court in 2018. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The ‘Real’ Donald Trump

Perhaps more than any other president in modern times, Donald Trump’s personal life prior to his election was (and is) a significant source of problems. The number of issues swirling around the president before and during his presidency would’ve been a death sentence for any other politician. While they are too numerous to try and cover all of them here, there are some key issues that, like his enemies in the Republican Party, have been waiting for their opportunity to strike. Most are aware of the litany of lawsuits and investigations that have been leveraged against him and his business interests. But utilizing the office of the president as both a sword and a shield he has worked tirelessly to shield himself from the circling sharks, even suggesting that he had the power to pardon himself. Once he leaves office, he will lose those things, and plaintiffs, investigators, and whistleblowers will all fall on him at once, looking for vindication and satisfaction that has been put off for four years.

It cannot be underestimated the amount of trouble, legal and otherwise, that ex-president Donald Trump will find himself in very quickly. From Stormy Daniels to impeachment ‘Part Deux’, from Russian meddling to Saudi and Turkish favors, Trump’s legal troubles will unfold exponentially the moment he leaves office. There are course a variety of lawsuits that were put on hold when he was elected, as well as those that have developed over the last four years in anticipation of him leaving office. But the real trouble for Trump will be the potential of democratic control of both houses of Congress. Should the Democrats retain the house and gain control of the Senate during a landslide defeat of Trump in November, they will view it as a mandate in much the same way Trump viewed his victory in 2016. While Democrats have resisted narratives of revenge and righteous indignation during his term, ‘setting the record straight’ will become the focus of a Democratic Congress as it investigates and deconstructs the four years of the Trump presidency.

Image for post
Trump speaks with Vladimir Putin during 2018 Helsinki Summit — Jorge Silva / AFP — Getty Images

Every aspect of the Trump presidency will be under a microscope by a Democratic Congress, and we will all discover that what most saw as his abuse of power and perversion of American politics was only the tip of the iceberg. The investigations will run the gambit of presidential abuse of power including use of the Office the President for personal gain, manipulation of the judicial system to protect himself and allies, and relationships with foreign representatives that will arguably border on treason. America will have a reckoning with just how deep Trump’s abuse of power was during his administration, and more importantly just how many were involved in enabling his activities. In fact, America at some point will have to come to grips with the potential of an ex-president facing jail time related to his illegal activities while in office.

Reconstructing America’s Global Image

Americans have always been significantly biased towards domestic politics over international relations. But once Trump leaves office it will be hard to ignore the reality that his most significant damage to the country has been in foreign relations, not domestic politics. Much of his rampage against American political culture has been focused on reversing the initiatives of previous administrations. From the EPA to the Department of Justice he has forced key government agencies far from their original mandates and missions. But the foundations and structures of the agencies remain sound, and so the primary mission of a Democrat-led government will be reinstituting the frameworks of regulation and oversight he has dismantled. The difference for US foreign policy is that he has obliterated the foundations of some of America’s most important foreign-policy principles. So, as difficult as it will be for a Democrat president to heal the country in the immediate post-Trump era, there are aspects of our foreign-policy which have been damaged beyond repair.

Image for post
President Donald Trump, right, talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, and surrounded by other G7 leaders during a June 9 meeting of the G7 Summit in Canada. (JESCO DENZEL / AFP/Getty Images)

There is virtually no area of US foreign policy in which the Trump administration has not either reversed or completely erased the principles upon which US leadership has been built since the end of World War II. He has attacked and undermined key international institutions such as the United Nations at every opportunity. He has distanced America from the principles of international law, human rights, and diplomacy that have been the benchmark of international relations since the end of World War II. But it has been his attacks on NATO, his denigration of entire regions such as Africa, his war of immigration against Latin America, and his failure to confront the regional bullying of China that has already created chaos across the spectrum of US foreign-policy areas. Further, he has emboldened pariahs and dictatorships from Russia to South Korea to the point that they have now “effectively realigned the coming world order.” The failure of the Trump administration to enforce US interests in relation to states like China, Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia has created a much more threatening world, one the new president will have to navigate gingerly.

And it will be the inevitable ‘world apology tour’ that will uncover the depths of dangerous associations and relationships developed by the Trump administration with some of America’s most powerful adversaries. This is because attempts to repair or restructure these relationships will take place simultaneously with investigations into what will turn out to be Trump’s most egregious activities while in office. A fully led Democratic government will almost certainly revisit and deepen investigations of Russian election meddling. But more dramatically, there will be significant discoveries of inappropriate and potentially illicit exchanges between the Trump administration, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, with even China and North Korea being areas of potential misdeeds. It will be difficult for America to recover from some of the impacts of the Trump administration on culture and society. But it will be even harder to come to grips with the realities of lost leadership and prestige that may take generations to rebuild, if they can be rebuilt at all.

Trump’s Legacy: the “Gift” That Keeps on Giving

Someday textbooks will label the presidency of Donald Trump as the most impactful since FDR. Unfortunately, it will not be because he guided the nation through the Great Depression, or because he led the country to victory over the evils of fascism and Nazism. Instead, he will be remembered as a president that came closer to flirting with those ideologies than any other in modern history. He will be one of the most important presidents in US history precisely because of the damage he has done in four years to a system of US leadership that took eight decades to build. Donald Trump will go down in history as the antithesis of Abraham Lincoln, responsible for creating and exploiting divisions in America that most presidents worked tirelessly to reduce and eliminate. And he will be most remembered not for the things he did while in office, but for their lasting impact on America’s political conscience and historical role as the leader of the free world.

Image for post
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner may be at the center of investigations When the president leaves office. (Attending a joint news conference with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in the East Room of the White House, April 2020. BY ANDREW HARNIK/A.P. IMAGES)

Given his history and the avalanche of impending investigations, Donald Trump may very well be the first ex-president to ever declare bankruptcy. Despite their own political and business aspirations, his family will also be under scrutiny on a level never seen in American politics or legal circles. This may in turn lead to him also being the first ex-president to ever go through a divorce. And all the while he will be relentlessly attacked by a Democrat majority seeking revenge for the four years of his presidency. The key however is that his base will remain unyielding in their support. In fact, the more he and his family are attacked the more they will circle the wagons in defense of him. And as has always been the case, the adoration and near deification of Trump by his supporters will only further embolden and energize him relative to the behaviors that have gotten him in trouble in the first place.

Trump is going to ‘Thelma & Louise’ his way through the rest of his presidency, pausing only slightly to step on the gas once he is no longer in office. And the whole time his base will be in the backseat cheering him on while most Democrats happily push the car forward. And so, no matter how hopeful I am about the end of a Trump presidency, I can only imagine that things will get worse before they start to get better… but at least the country will no longer be locked in the trunk.

_________

Dr. Darius Watson, PhD is a professor of Political Science at Lincoln University in Missouri. He is also the primary contributor to the news and analysis website drillbitnews.com, as well as the senior consultant for Watson Consulting & Analysis, LLC. Dr. Watson is an active scholar, analyst, and instructor with a record of commitment to publication, professional presentations, and most importantly his students.

WRITTEN BY

Drillbitnews.com

News. Analysis. Integrity.

Why Trump (and America) Will Lose the Trade War with China

Why Trump (and America) Will Lose the Trade War with China

US and Chinese delegations in negotiations, November 2018

Things are not going well for America in our trade war with China. Even as talks stalled last week the economic conflict escalated with President Trump’s announcement of additional tariff’s against Chinese imports. The move was a negotiating tactic by the president aimed at using America’s position as the largest recipient of Chinese exports (18% of total Chinese exports in 2018) to force an agreement between the two countries. Unfortunately for Trump, the stock market, and America in general, China responded by countering with new sanctions against US imports to China. The result was another series of alarms and growing concerns over the trade war with China. The reality however is that this is just one battle in the larger geopolitical struggle between the two countries, and America could very easily lose both.

The rationale behind the Trump administration’s trade negotiations with China are the same as they’ve been for two decades. The most high profile issue is America’s need to protect itself from Chinese violations of US intellectual property rights (IPRs), as well as forced technology transfers for companies investing in the country. But for American economists and politicians the most important issue is the US trade deficit with China. The $420 billion deficit combined with China’s control of 28% of America’s public debt has convinced many that it is a source of geopolitical leverage over the United States and thus a growing threat to national security. For these and other reasons (e.g. increased Chinese defense spending, territorial issues in the South China Sea, etc.) America has engaged the Chinese in continuous economic and diplomatic skirmishes since the end of the Cold War.

President Trump believes he can win this battle due to the sheer weight of America’s economic might, and he may be correct. What should really be considered however is that China’s willingness to fight from a disadvantage signals they have already accepted the possibility of short-term losses and disruptions. There are several reasons for the Chinese strategy including waiting for “a more serious administration” in 2020 and confidence born of the Communist party’s long-standing political and economic control in the country. What is clear however is that Beijing is being uncharacteristically restrained as they are aware of the fine line between political rhetoric and fiscal responsibility. Trump’s obliteration of that line with frequent, aggressive, and sometimes confusing communications regarding US policywork to China’s favor as despite the violations laid out above, they are still able to play the role of the victim.

In the end China will win the current trade dispute because they have time on their side. President Trump must consider daily the impact of the trade war on the temperature of America’s economy and political landscape using the Dow Jones as a thermometer. Chinese president Xi Jinping however sees the dispute as a war of attrition, one in which China, “thinks it can outlast the US.” By making the issue one of national pride, maintaining political control of the majority of wealthy citizens, and widening the ‘war’ to include investment and currency markets, China will be able to rally domestic support for their position. Simultaneously, any lengthy downturn in the US economy will have significant repercussions for president Trump’s 20/20 reelection bid as America’s economic growth over the last two years is widely considered one of the few positives he can point to from his first term. In the end, Trump may have to accept much less than what he is demanding from the Chinese in order to claim some sort of win heading into election season. The irony will be that anything less than full Chinese commitments to honor international law protecting IPRs and increase the Chinese import of US goods will in reality be a Chinese victory.

Eurasian leaders celebrate China’s “One Belt, One Road” economic initiative, April 2019

The biggest issue for America’s future economic and national security will be the degree to which the current trade dispute hastens the diversification and strengthening of the Chinese economy. China at this moment is having the same realization regarding their dependence on the US consumer market as America did regarding Middle East oil in the 1970s. America’s response was to simultaneously develop alternative energy and domestic petroleum sources with the result being energy self-sufficiency in a generation. China has been engaging similar strategies for the last decade focusing specifically on increasing the strength of their domestic consumer market, expanding trade relations throughout the world, and reducing barriers to foreign direct investment. The result is that each successive trade dispute has had less and less of an impact on the Chinese economy, in turn indicating the declining leverage and overall economic power the United States has. When combined with China’s quiet negotiations to possibly assume the position in the Transpacific Partnership turned down by Trump, they are fully prepared to not only weather the current battle, but perhaps when the war altogether.

_____

Dr. Darius Watson, PhD is a professor of international relations, political theory, and security studies. He is also the primary contributor to the news and analysis website drillbitnews.com, as well as the senior consultant for Watson Consulting & Analysis, LLC. Dr. Watson is an active scholar, analyst, and instructor with a record of commitment to publication, professional presentations, and most importantly his students.

The Appearance of Diversity

The Appearance of Diversity

America has promoted increased racial diversity in business and academic environments since the 1980s. Despite this, there has been little change in the representation of African-Americans as CEOs and senior managers, or academic administrators and tenured professors. In fact, relative to the growing importance of key sectors and essential research fields like STEM underrepresentation of minorities has become more acute over the last two decades. So, although both Wall Street and ‘The Ivory Tower’ have spent billions to promote greater diversity there appears to be little return on investment.

The failure of most diversity initiatives is recognized, but not fully understood. The promotion of diversity in America fails partly because even the most noble creators of diversity programs can’t differentiate between what diversity looks like and what it means. Initiatives fail because they either alienate the minorities needed to create diversity or threaten the established culture of the business or university being diversified. The result is a default search for people of color to create the appearance of diversity efforts without real and substantive change of the organization’s culture. No matter how committed the organization may be to cultural diversity, initiatives also fail due to a lack of qualified and interested minorities.

Kenneth Frazier at Merck, Roger Ferguson Jr. at TIAA, and Marvin Ellison at JC Penny are the only African-American CEOs of a Fortune 500 company

“You say diversity, I say inclusivity…”

As a recent Forbes article puts it, “It’s not news to anyone that there is a diversity problem in the U.S. workforce.” It has been more than three decades since American corporations began developing diversity initiatives and little has changed in terms of African-American representation amongst CEOs and senior management of top 500 businesses. Only 3 of the Fortune 500 companies (0.6 percent!) currently have black CEOs, and the percentage of African-American representation amongst senior executives and management has stayed essentially static between 3% and 3.3% since 1990. The Harvard Business Review reports that in some key sectors such as commercial banking there has been a decline in the overall level of diversity.

The story in academia is essentially the same. Despite decades of initiatives and programs, growth in the diversity of college administrators and senior faculty has been relatively stagnant. And when key fields within STEM are examined not only is there a decline in diversity since the 1980s, there are measurable inequities in pay, tenure, and overall professional opportunity for African-Americans. There is no doubt that diversity amongst undergraduate and graduate students has increased substantially over the last three decades, and will continue to do so. But despite three decades of widespread diversity initiatives aimed at hiring African-American faculty and administrators, there appear to be few success stories. Like the promotion of diverse leadership in major corporations, there has been no real change in the underrepresentation of African-Americans. The question is “why?”

The dreaded diversity workshop…

All diversity initiatives begin with one of two motivations: the promotion of diversity (aesthetic diversity), or the creation of diversity (cultural diversity). Many program failures begin with the belief that these are the same thing making it fatally flawed at inception. Aesthetic diversity is the checking of boxes, the placement and utilization of token minorities in certain positions, and the overall understanding that you are searching for a minority that fits the already existing culture. Cultural diversity is a fundamental alteration of organizational missions, goals, and processes as part of incorporating minority viewpoints into key decisions and leadership. It is ultimately defined by how much members of the existing organizational culture realize (and accept) that their thinking, their behavior, and perhaps even their jobs will be changed by the diversity initiative.

For a variety of reasons, it is the inability to conceptualize cultural diversity that leads to aesthetic diversity as the default goal of whatever initiative or program is designed. The default is made easier to choose due to bureaucratic “how to make diversity” guidelines of federal laws like Title VII and EOP being the only metric of success. And so, every major corporation and university in America works their way through a paint-by-numbers approach to creating diversity that’s tailored to their existing culture. Because the final picture is different than it used to be they believe they have created diversity. But it requires ignoring the reality that the picture from last year’s company Christmas party hasn’t changed at all.

At the beginning of every diversity initiative, members of the corporate or academic culture in question must be BOTH willing and able to recognize the need for diversity. When it comes to the willingness to promote diversity there are many explanations for internal resistance and even hostility to initiatives. Some of the more selfish or immoral reasons include racism, sexism, or enjoyment of personal benefits from the unequal status quo. In my experience however most resistance comes from a “sincere ignorance” to what a diverse work or learning environment looks like. Regardless of the cause or source, considering these individuals are also the ones defining the meaning, processes, and goals of diversity programs it is easy to see how even the most well-meaning initiatives can derail before they’ve even left the station.

It may be surprising for some to hear that the key consideration for most diversity initiatives is NOT promoting diversity, i.e. fundamental changes of the business’ or university’s culture regarding the perceptions and roles of minorities as key leaders and decision-makers. Rather, it is to avoid or at least limit as much as possible the disruptions to the organization’s existing culture caused by promoting diversity in the first place. The reason for this is one of the least talked about aspects of diversity initiatives: the implied racial indictment of the existing culture of what are essentially successful businesses and institutions of higher learning. By calling for greater diversity the leadership of businesses and universities is being called out and blamed for a problem that some of them are not fully aware of, or even believe exists. Because the most successful individuals in both cases are likely to be white males, “woke” or not there is an immediate and defensive cynicism that develops towards diversity initiatives, their underlying psychologies, and the African-Americans they are ultimately meant to help.

The call for greater diversity in corporate and university leadership, as well as senior management and faculty positions, is from their perspective a call for them to publicly shame and then replace themselves with a minority. It is not hard to imagine individuals who have already spent most of their professional lives in firmly established cultures of inequality being driven from personal and organizational perspectives to resist the diversity initiative. This is the most common path by which programs are routed away from deeper changes to organizational culture towards a more symbolic and bureaucratic understanding of diversity. In so doing the initiatives sidestep one problem only to encounter a new one: incorporating new minority hires into the illusion of diversity.

Make yourself at home! Please don’t change anything…”

All diversity initiatives operate with the explicit goal of promoting change of an organization’s structure and culture through increased minority representation and inclusion. The pursuit of aesthetic diversity reduces the actual impact of change on the existing corporate or university culture, while allowing leadership and members to literally “check the boxes” of diversity promotion. Through developing initiatives and programs associated with Title VII and EOP guidelines the organization creates a series of forms, training sessions, and videos to explain to the people in the room why they need to respect people that don’t look like them. It is not seen as a foundation for building a new and more diverse business culture. Instead, diversity is an investment any business or university receiving federal funding must make knowing in advance that it may not produce a bottom-line return on investment. But what if you’re successful? What if you’re able to hire two or three (or ten!) qualified African-Americans into a pool of 100 white faculty or senior executives?

In the fall of 2014 a significant episode took place at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Black students, athletes, and activists concerned over what they saw as a long-standing culture of racism eventually forced most of the university’s senior administrators including the President and Chancellor to resign. Approximately two weeks after the issues at Missouri had become national news the University I was working for, which was in a deep-red Midwestern state, held its fall faculty meeting. Discussions included creation of a university “Working Group on Diversity” whose only minority representation was a newly hired Korean American business professor. Most of the discussion focused on campus security, with the presentation culminating with the president saying in reference to the protesters, “We have to make sure we don’t let those people come here and take over.”

At just about every job I’ve ever had I am the diversity initiativeAs I looked around the room of 90+ white faces to catch the eyes of the ONE other full-time African American faculty member the difference between aesthetic and cultural diversity smacked me in the face. Where I came from in New York using the term “those people” in any way, shape or form referencing African-Americans was simply not done. The fact that it had just been used in an open forum to establish the entire university’s response to the ethnic and racial issues taking place at the University of Missouri was for me a clear signal that there were real problems at the institution. My mistake was thinking most of my white colleagues understood the problem the president’s comments revealed. My undoing was asking why they didn’t.

Protesters on Missouri campus, 2014

For most of my white colleagues it was simply a non-issue. It was not that they didn’t care about diversity or me personally, they just couldn’t understand why I was making such a big deal out of the president and university wanting to avoid the sort of chaos and negative spotlight that was hitting Missouri University. There were a few that were sympathetic to my concerns, but there were neither the numbers nor the commitment to make an issue out of it. This left me playing the role of the “angry black man” as I tried to convince people that the comments, other behaviors, and the sheer lack of diversity at our university represented just the sort of problem that had caused the Missouri upheaval in the first place.

The irony was most of my colleagues and administrators came to see my concerns over potential racial bias and discrimination as ‘fake news’ precisely because I failed to accept the illusion of diversity that had been created. My attempts to explain and illustrate some of the most basic issues that would in fact be at the core of any diversity initiative (e.g. respecting minority viewpoints, diversity of leadership, etc.) were now seen as direct attacks on the University and its senior administrators. I slowly evolved from a symbol of the University’s commitment to diversity to an internal threat to its stability. And in the end, we “mutually parted ways” with me unable to prove, and them unwilling to admit, that there had even been a problem.

Even when organizations are successful in attracting African-American faculty and senior management, the disparity between the expectations and realitiesof cultural diversity can undermine continued success. For me personally, the realities are that I have worked for over 20 years as an educator at seven different institutions from the urban community college and small liberal arts school, to state universities and large online schools. Throughout my career as a graduate teaching assistant, adjunct, visiting instructor, assistant and associate professor I have never had more than one African-American colleague within my department. I have NEVER worked for African-American department chair, Dean, or university president. In the 16 years that it took me to complete my undergraduate and graduate degrees (over 120 courses!) I had a total of two professors of color, one African-American and one an immigrant from Africa; neither were mentors or in my degree field. And ironically, my two decades of work in the restaurant business mirrored this experience exactly as I never had an African-American manager, and never worked in a restaurant owned by an African-American.

For me, this reality created lower expectations for diversity wherein I sometimes found myself playing the role of the “happy token” in order to avoid major issues with students and customers, colleagues and coworkers, administrators and managers. It also created a false sense of camaraderie and shared interests that compelled me to reach out to any face of color. I remember the University hiring a young (late 20s) African-American male professor right before my departure as part of their attempts to expand their healthcare offerings. I visited his office with intentions of recruiting him to the struggle that I believed I had been fighting for years on my own and made a comment somewhere along the lines of, “I’m sure the NAACP would love to know what goes on here.” His response was simple, honest, and left me speechless… he asked, “what’s the NAACP?”

It was in that moment that I realized that corporate and university leadership weren’t the only groups struggling with aesthetic versus cultural diversity. As our conversation concluded he made it clear that if the paychecks kept coming, he really didn’t care either way about the culture of University. I had only ever considered the impact of how much corporate and university structures buy into or resist diversity initiatives. It hadn’t occurred to me until then that African-Americans could become apathetic to the idea of diversity. I had a mixture of responses including feeling old, more isolated, and less certain of my own commitment. The only thing worse than being the sole African American in an organization with diversity issues, is being one of two African Americans and the other one doesn’t see it as a fight worth engaging. In the end, I realized that the historical resistance to a diverse America has been so successful that even as we develop new diversity initiatives the beneficiaries don’t think they matter. And sadly, until we move beyond the appearance of diversity to the development of a true culture of diversity, they may be right.

_____

Dr. Darius Watson, PhD is a professor of international relations, political theory, and security studies. He is also the primary contributor to the news and analysis website drillbitnews.com, as well as the senior consultant for Watson Consulting & Analysis, LLC. Dr. Watson is an active scholar, analyst, and instructor with a record of commitment to publication, professional presentations, and most importantly his students.

The Hard Truths of White Privilege

The Hard Truths of White Privilege

The myths and realities of America’s continuing struggle with race and class privilege

Photo by The Daily Beast

The white privilege debate is about each American’s slice of the pie and the color of the baker who cut the slices. The mistake is assuming that the baker and the pie are the same thing.

White privilege is the most polarizing topic in American politics today. Part of this is due to its intersection with major issues like the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, as well as the perceived white male dominance of Trump’s administration and agenda. But the importance of the debate over white privilege in America goes beyond all these issues to hit at the core of American culture itself. It begins with the argument that white Americans have advantages in society that others don’t enjoy which in turn has led to significant inequalities in the country. The primary cause is a history of racism and discrimination that built social, economic, and political systems of privilege for white Americans. The result is a contemporary America where even if a white American is not rich or connected, well-known or highly respected, they inherently enjoy privileges that nonwhites of relatively equal standing don’t get. For its proponents the white privilege debate is critical because it is the starting point for almost all other issues of inequality and injustice in America.

The problem is that the narrative, and the defensive reaction of whites to it, are both out of focus. Like many issues in our age of political volatility and social media the issue of white privilege has been twisted and distorted to such a degree that it no longer resembles a rational discussion. Initial misunderstandings and misuse of concepts become married to self-interested narratives to the point that anyone honestly trying to engage the topic is left with only extremes and hyperbole as their basis of judgment. And so, most of the people in the middle have checked out leaving the battlefield to the truly dedicated who fight for their causes with no intention of listening to the other side, let alone compromising their perspectives. In terms of the white privilege debate this has meant the drawing of two successive lines of battle: 1) arguing over the existence of white privilege, and if it does exist 2) should white Americans today bear some guilt/responsibility for it?

Heidi Younger, New York Times

Because of misconceived definitions and understandings for question number one however, the answer for number two becomes conveniently obvious to nonwhites in America, as well as a growing number of “woke” whites.

Of course, there’s white privilege in America!

The absolute certainty with which we answer the first question means the answer to number two is ‘just’ a matter of determining how much guilt white Americans must bear for inequality in America. This of course should be accompanied by a tangible demonstration of their acceptance of responsibility for it. What drives the debate is some version of a response by most white Americans that either denies the existence of white privilege altogether, or accepts the existence of privilege while denying a racial component to it. Either way, the debate immediately puts white Americans on the defensive ensuring that like all human beings they will be less likely to consider accepting guilt and responsibility, especially if they did not directly participate in and do not condone it.

The tangible structure (e.g. slavery, Jim Crow, etc.) that enabled white privilege is gone, along with most of the individuals that created it. Slavery has been gone for more than 150 years, civil rights in America are fully protected and promoted, and systemic racism is all but a thing of the past. And because there are fewer and fewer members of the generations that did support those things alive today it is difficult if not impossible to draw direct lines of responsibility for inequality in America associated with our legacy of racism to white Americans today, regardless of whether they are directly benefiting from that inequality.

Thus, many white Americans can plausibly deny the existence of white privilege as defined by minorities or “the Left”, or at least explain how they as a white person are clearly not benefiting from some hidden economic or social privilege in America. This creates a reinforcing cycle of recriminations and deflection that has led to where we are today. On the one side is a white American community that is largely exhausted and increasingly angry over what they see as unfair claims of racism against them, their lineages, and America in general. While on the other side is a minority population that is growing in size, wealth, and power, and which is also increasingly angry over what they see as white apathy towards, and thus perpetuation of, a system that is inherently unfair for everyone but white people. And all the while both sides fail to recognize the three hard truths of white privilege in America: white privilege is not one wordmost whites don’t enjoy white privilege, and we as a nation really don’t want to change the privilege part.

White privilege is not one word

The most widely made error in considering white privilege is beginning with the assumption that the concept is one word, or at least hyphenated. Put another way, people on both sides of the discussion tend to operate with the belief that privilege in America is inherently connected to whiteness. It is a fundamental mistake and one that seriously damages the ability of everyone involved to discuss the topic in an honest and open way. Privilege as the reward of wealth is an inherent component of the American economy, just as it is throughout every developed society in the world. More importantly, the relationship between privilege and wealth predates domination of the American economy by white Americans. If in some alternate universe Blacks represented 60% of America’s population and had practiced cultural and systemic discrimination against whites for the first 200+ years of the country’s existence I assure you, we would be having the same conversation about black privilege in America. Privileged America does not exist because of white America. The question is how much of white America exists because of privilege?

To understand white privilege, we must separate the racial history of America from the development and evolution of our economic system. It is true that previous generations of white Americans discriminated against people of color by developing social, political, and legal systems that kept minorities from equal opportunities to fulfill the American dream. It is also true that this resulted in significant economic inequality between whites and nonwhites relative to the ability to enjoy the privileges of wealth. But the key assumption underlying every resistance movement in American history is that economic success and the privileges that come with it are separate from the white males that dominate it. Minorities and the underclass have been fighting against the idea of white privilege since the founding of the country. But it has never been the intention to eliminate privilege as much as to ensure a more equal and fair distribution of it beyond whites. This is because privilege in all its forms is the last stop for every American dream.

Minorities are legitimately angry over white domination of privilege in America. But I think it’s important to recognize that there is a much larger group of Americans, white and nonwhite, who are in fact more jealous of the privilege than they are angry over how it’s been acquired. In the end, one of the greatest sources of power and stability privileged whites have been able to exercise in America is determining how and when to share that privilege. From the end of the Civil War and slavery to the #MeToo movement white male dominance of economic privilege in America has faced a steady erosion in strength. That said, most of the erosion has taken place around the edges of society with many of the core issues (e.g. economic and political leadership, land ownership, etc.) continuing to be extremely unequal. It’s the continuing strength of “the good old boys network” at the core of America’s economic culture that perpetuates certain truths of white privilege, and the broader debate that surround those truths. But over the last 2 to 3 decades there has also been an increase in the number of women and minorities accessing and taking advantage of privilege. It is the Oprah Winfrey’s and the Barack Obama’s, the Lebron James’ and the Neil deGrasse Tyson’s that most directly illustrate the need to separate whiteness from success and privilege in America. There is certainly a LONG way to go in terms of creating greater racial equity in the distribution of privilege in the country. But regardless of what it was in the past, privilege in America today is not defined simply by being white.

Most whites don’t enjoy white privilege

It is only logical that if you begin with the assumption that privilege in America is inherently tied to being white that you conclude all white Americans enjoy some form of privilege. The only way to maintain this belief is through forcibly combining America’s history of racism and inequalities associated with all capitalist economies to the point that they become one in the same: things are only unequal economically in America because of white people. Once assumed this perspective creates a broad if not universal disdain towards white people and American culture in general as they are now one and the same. Every injustice and inequity must be the result of white privilege and whether implicitly or explicitly every white person is a co-conspirator. But we don’t need to do much digging to prove that this is not the case. It is the nature of America’s economic system and indeed capitalism in general to create inequity, and by association the potential for injustice. Throughout our history the majority of the people who have succeeded within the American economic system have been white, with some of them using racism and discrimination to achieve that success. But none of this means that just being white in America guarantees some form of privilege.

Perhaps a better way to consider the relationship between white Americans and privilege is to consider the notion of privilege (i.e. advantages over others due to position) from a purely social perspective. I had the wonderful opportunity to teach English in China a few years ago, truly one of the great experiences of my life. One early evening after classes I decided to head down to the basketball courts to try and get a little exercise and maybe take in some of the atmosphere of a Chinese University. There were probably 300 to 400 students spread out across a vast collection of basketball courts and the entire atmosphere was much busier than I expected it to be. Through my teaching assistant/interpreter I quickly realized that many of the Chinese students were becoming excited because they somehow expected I was going to do fantastic things with a basketball. Anyone that’s ever played with me knows I’m fast, play great defense, and probably couldn’t shoot the ball into the ocean if I was standing on the beach. The only reason they had any expectations otherwise was because I was black, and yes, they were quite honest in saying so to me directly. Personally, this has always been the best example I could come up with to illustrate what I would call purely social privilege: assumptions of skill or ability based solely on the fact you look like other people identified with success. Racial privilege as the manifestation of social privilege makes sense and I believe it exists to some degree for white Americans. But it is a mistake to assume that it is the same thing as the broader symbols of privilege in America that come from wealth.

My understanding of white privilege in the social context crystallized during the first election of Barack Obama. I remember watching a reporter interview a very old black woman wanting to know what her feelings and opinions were regarding America’s election of its first African-American president. While she was polite, she was clear in her inference that American presidents had always been white, and she wasn’t sure if a black man could do the job. This echoed a much more prevalent belief amongst African-Americans, especially prior to the Civil Rights movement, that there were certain positions in society that whites were just better suited for. The belief amongst many African-Americans that white doctors, lawyers, or teachers were better was (and still is) a reflection of the racial dominance of white Americans throughout most of the country’s history. But that form of privilege in America is as limited as the specialized roles those individuals play in the daily lives of most Americans. For the vast majority of white Americans there is no advantage to being white that has helped them overcome poverty, upbringing, or sheer circumstance as the cause of inequalities holding them back personally. Whatever minimal or fleeting advantage they might get in their own office or community because they are white, it does not translate to true privilege in America. Just like me on the basketball court, everyone quickly realizes that just because your skin is the same color as Lebron James doesn’t mean you can dunk a basketball.

We really don’t want to change the privilege part of white privilege

Much of this article was driven by an epiphany I had a few months ago during a conversation with a coworker. I was working in a restaurant as a prep cook in order to earn a little money towards making ends meet. My coworker, a young white student at the local university, was on break and we were talking about what she’d done over her extended holiday. She explained how her vacation started with her family’s annual 10-day trip to Vale, Colorado for skiing. As always, her father rented a large chateau inviting friends and family to come and stay at their convenience After the New Year school started again so she didn’t work for the first half of the semester to assure good grades; the job was just for spending money anyway. Before she finally came back to work after a 2+ month hiatus she finished up with a week-long spring break trip to Hawaii with her friends. And the entire time she talked I slowly realized that she was forcing me to confront my own understandings of white privilege.

I knew her well enough to say with confidence that she was not racist in the least. From what she’s told me her father started a business and then invested in real estate ultimately making the family rich. But when she was young, they were simply middle-class, completing college degrees and buying a home while they leaned into their own American dream. While she talked, I considered just how much of the advantages and enjoyment of life she described was due solely to her being white? I thought about how far back in her family I would have to go to find someone I would be justified in being angry at? Later I thought about how much of my internal reactions were driven by a combination of that anger and a baser jealousy over not being able to enjoy the life she was living. Even if I could find Clue-style ‘the racist, with the hood, in the family closet,’ how much could I expect her to feel guilty? It’s at that point that I realized as much as I understand that white privilege exists, I’m more concerned with the privilege part.

I keep trying to conceptualize the white privilege debate in a nonthreatening way that engages white Americans. But whenever I try it comes out in essentially material terms, which as described above all but forces the white person in front of me to become defensive. It’s hard to explain during dessert that you don’t feel you’re getting your fair share of the pie without automatically implying that everyone else eating is getting more than they deserve. But regardless of the ongoing argument over who divided up the pie and why some people keep getting smaller pieces, no one ever hates the pie. Privilege as the ultimate reward for success is the most important component of American culture. It is true that in America being privileged and being white have historically been so intertwined that they were essentially the same thing, especially for minorities. But as the legacy of racism in America begins to fade so too will the false narratives that have perpetuated the debate over white privilege. Eventually seeing racial and economic privilege as separate problems will become the norm and not a skill that “woke” Americans need to perfect. And then we’ll have to deal with the reality that ending racism in America will not end our pursuit of privilege as the essential component of the American Dream, or our creation of inequality as the necessary byproduct.

_____

Dr. Darius Watson, PhD is a professor of international relations, political theory, and security studies. He is also the primary contributor to the news and analysis website drillbitnews.com, as well as the senior consultant for Watson Consulting & Analysis, LLC. Dr. Watson is an active scholar, analyst, and instructor with a record of commitment to publication, professional presentations, and most importantly his students.

The Gun Debate is Over

The Gun Debate is Over

(If You Didn’t Realize It, Guns Won)

Darius Watson

On May 18 of last year there was a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. In 25 minutes 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis killed 10 people and wounded 13 more using a revolver and a 12-gauge pump shotgun. The story itself was quickly eclipsed by the upcoming Royal wedding and rumors of a caravan of criminally-minded illegal immigrants approaching the southern border. It was the second deadliest school shooting in US history, and it was just a blip on the screen of America’s media cycle. In fact, if you go back and review the news cycle for that week you will quickly notice that the story itself was prominent for less than 48 hours. The overall perception was that all the issues and concerns the shooting potentially raised had just been covered by the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting three months earlier.

emergency personnel and law enforcement officers respond to the shooting, Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. TRK-TV ABC13 via AP

It wasn’t just media exhaustion or the country choosing to look away from yet another school shooting. The death and mayhem in Santa Fe Texas last May marked a watershed event in the national gun debate. Comparing the national response to the tragedy with the procession of mass school shootings that had preceded it I was left with only one conclusion: the gun debate in America is over, and guns won. There will always be those who argue for gun control, but it seems clear there will not be any significant change in US gun laws anytime soon. Over the 19 years from Columbine to Santa Fe the two primary tools of the gun-control lobby, sympathy and shame, have failed to lead to any real change. The result moving forward will be a steady decline in America’s interest with the next ‘most recent mass shooting’, and a continuing inability to leverage reactions to the shootings for legislative change. Eventually, the events will start to become more deadly and destructive as perpetrators begin to consider ways to “outdo” previous attacks.

Sympathy

Columbine nationalized the idea of violence in our schools in a way that long-standing school violence in cities such as Chicago and New York never had. Part of the apathy towards violence in schools before Columbine was the result of discrimination and a general belief that ‘life in the big city is just more violent’. Columbine changed things not just because it took place at a predominantly white rural school. It was a watershed event precisely because it represented a combination of previously unseen levels of violence, broader concerns with youth in America, and a massive increase in the debate over the role of guns in our society. What dominated however was a national sympathy for the victims and their families that everyone participated in regardless of what side of the gun debate you might be on. Since the battle lines for the contemporary gun debate had not yet been fully drawn, everyone could commiserate and mourn for the young victims of senseless gun crime.

Emergency services after the Columbine massacre: Rodolfo Gonzalez/AP

As the gun debate gained momentum, the source of national sympathy for victims of school and other mass shootings was divided very clearly along the lines of the Second Amendment and gun ownership. Gun rights activists focused on the psychology of the individuals involved, as well as the overall level of security that was provided to protect schools. There was a very clear message being sent to gun-control advocates in the form of the now established mantra, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Gun-control activists then seized the other end of the rope, arguing that the availability of guns was the primary cause of the horrible act. They immediately and aggressively responded to gun rights advocates whom they saw as not only lacking empathy, but as enablers of mass shootings. This divide quickly reduced objective attempts to understand why the shooting happened and all but eliminated the discussion of how to prevent the next one.

In almost every instance of a mass shooting there’s been a follow-up push for changes in gun legislation. Regardless of the context of the tragedy, those calls have emanated from a shared sense of sympathy and national guilt over the reality that our children are being shot while going to school. Regardless of the failures to enact significant gun laws after Columbine… or Sandy Hook… or Las Vegas… or Parkland, there has always been a period of national reflection. How much that reflection translated into serious debate over gun control laws was related to how horrific the shooting itself was. Sometimes it took the form of a national debate across media platforms. In the worst instances like Sandy Hook and Parkland it led to marches on Washington and speeches in front of Congress. All these efforts were promoted and supported nationally because of the sympathy the nation had for the victims of these crimes. But something was different with the shooting in Santa Fe.

You could argue that the Royal wedding stole the show. CNN and other news outlets had put so much time and effort into preparing for day or week-long coverage of the event that the shooting at Santa Fe simply had no space to breathe within the news cycle. But I could not have been the only one struck by the muted coverage of the Santa Fe shooting in comparison to Parkland. After the first couple of days and a quick shuffle of the story to the back page, the message was clear: school shootings are still a story, just not THE story. Relative to the last 19 years of these horrible events, it was first one where there did not seem a coordinated and sincere national outpouring of sympathy. Without constant national sympathy towards the victims of these awful crimes, gun-control advocates have lost perhaps their greatest asset: guilt through shame.

Shame

Regardless of the destruction and pain that these events have caused, national sympathy for the victims can only go so far in creating the foundations for a significant legislative change in gun laws. Gun control activists have always known this and have seized on these moments for the greatest promotions of their message on the national stage. Lobbying, victim’s testimonies in front of congressional panels and committees, and heart wrenching interviews of survivors on the news, have come to symbolize the ‘second phase’ of national responses to these sorts of catastrophes. If the ‘sympathy stage’ is typified by the question, “how could this happen?”, then the next revolves around the question, “how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again?” For gun control activists the goal of this stage is to shame those with the power into making legislative changes. Although rarely successful, it has become a key stage in the overall national grieving process.

Aalayah Eastmond, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, testifying to the House Judiciary Committee. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The Santa Fe shooting did not include this stage at all. Parkland was a high-water mark for an energized and focused anti-gun lobby seeking to shame politicians into substantive legislative change. It was a broad attempt to leverage experiences of victims and survivors as moral collateral against those in the gun rights lobby. The result was that rather than shaming gun rights supporters into changing their position, they embraced what is the political mantra of the day: “never show shame in your beliefs, especially if someone tells you that you should.” Gun rights advocates doubled down and through a variety of tactics blunted and eventually stopped the wave of national outrage that had grown against guns following Parkland. Simply put, they expressed their condolences for the victims, but refused to be ashamed of their support for gun rights.

The response to the Santa Fe shooting was the result of the successful tactics of the gun lobby during Parkland. The community of Santa Fe asked the same questions and offered the same sympathies as each of the previously devastated communities had. But there was no national discussion or cry for change. There have been no deep introspectives on the victims, the shooter, or all the families that have been irreparably torn apart. There were no marches or congressional hearings, and certainly no organized calls for changes to gun laws.

The truth is that the country is no longer responding to the ‘shame stage’. From the perspective of the news media ratings decline quickly as people are less and less susceptible to sharing national shame for mass shootings. From the legislative perspective, the parades of young Americans begging for changes to gun-control following the Parkland shooting failed to shame politicians into changing laws. In the end, I think the media concluded that if the bodies of dead students and voices of survivors won’t shame the country into changing gun laws, why continue to cover mass shootings the same way? What we have left is a brief period of coverage where people are given time to sympathize with the victims if they wish to. But we’ve seen the end of the attempts to shame the country into substantive changes to gun laws.

Postmortem

Mass shootings are no longer moving the needle of the gun debate in America. This reflects America’s exhaustion with the issue, the extremely strong and well-organized activities of the gun rights lobby, and a more general belief that ‘things are what they are’ when it comes to guns in America. As with any other hot button issue in American politics there will always be dedicated activists “fighting the good fight”. But it seems clear from the recent history of mass shootings in the country that the level of violence, and subsequent levels of sympathy and shame, are not enough to affect change in the country’s gun laws.

The diminishment of mass shootings to ‘just another news story’ in America will not be lost on future perpetrators. There have been more than a few instances to this point where the perpetrator of the mass shooting was explicitly trying to capture their five minutes of fame. As these stories become less and less the center of America’s attention those committing the crimes will seek to make a larger impact. As we recognize the end of the gun debate in America, we need to consider a future with even greater levels of destruction and death due to mass shootings. A personal fear is that we may start using the term ‘mass casualty incidents’ more frequently as guns are no longer the primary weapons in the attacks. And all these considerations may just depend on how busy the news cycle is when the next attack takes place.

_____

Dr. Darius Watson, PhD is a professor of international relations, political theory, and security studies. He is also the primary contributor to the news and analysis website drillbitnews.com, as well as the senior consultant for Watson Consulting & Analysis, LLC. Dr. Watson is an active scholar, analyst, and instructor with a record of commitment to publication, professional presentations, and most importantly his students.