Bad Faith In Our Times

On Friday January 31, 2020 the Republican-controlled US Senate chose to vote on the guilt or innocence of one Donald J Trump without the introduction of vital and incriminating direct evidence from sequestered documents or from eye witnesses to the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors. The Senate’s profile in cowardice underscores the ugliest social truth in American society: namely, that racism and ethnic and religious bigotry have long formed the foundation of our society. This inconvenient truth makes the Senate’s feckless abdication of principle all the more devastating. Yes, they follow their dear leader like sheep, which brings to mind these prophetic words.

“The Party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” -George Orwell, 1984

The Senate’s endorsement of Soviet-style justice compels me to re-post a slightly updated blog, originally published in the Huffington Post on August 17, 2017. The blog describes how hate has produced a pervasive social rot that threatens to erode our social contract and damage irrevocably our social institutions and quality of life.

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Two days ago, we learned the true nature of Donald Trump’s beliefs. He is an apologist for the KKK and American neo-Nazis. He defends people who marched in Charlottesville chanting “The Jews will not replace us.” Trump’s very un-presidential comments bring into a relief the deep vein of hate that winds its way through the very foundation of American society. Trump’s defense of the alt-right brings to the surface the ugly truths about our society: millions of white people continue to hate difference. They consider themselves superior to African Americans, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, Asians, immigrants of any persuasion, gays and lesbians—groups that have to be put back in their place so they can “take back our country.” As reported by Chloe Angyal in the August 16 edition of HuffPost, consider what the hate mongers at the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, had to say about Heather Heyer, who was killed by a white nationalist in Charlottesville:

Andrew Anglin, the editor of the Daily Stormer, wasted no time in defaming Heyer, writing an editorial shortly after her death in which he excoriated her appearance and called her “drain on society.” Anglin also noted Heyer’s marital and parental status, calling her a “fat, childless, 32-year-old slut,” claiming that her failure to marry and have children meant that she had “no value.”

“The neo-Nazis at the Daily Stormer have nothing nice to say about Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was killed by a white supremacist protester in Charlottesville last weekend.

These are the ideas and the kind of people that President Trump defended during his press conference. His ignorance of history, his specious use of false equivalency and his absence of even a smidgen of moral sensitivity is not only embarrassing, but also quite scary. During the presidential campaign, Trump unabashedly revealed his racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic beliefs. Even so, 63 million Americans voted for Trump— a monumentally ignorant and emotionally unfit person to lead our nation. Despite his disastrous and scandal-filled tenure in the White House, millions of Americans still support his cult of personality.

We now know that the burdens of the presidency have not changed his sick beliefs and until he is removed from office he will remain a divisively dangerous force in America. Given the uptick of white hate crimes since his inauguration, as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Trump’s indirectly articulated belief in “blood and soil” is likely to unleash white nationalist forces that could tear our society apart.

If you are white, the specter of white nationalism may be abhorrent, but it won’t affect you directly. As a white person you probably have not been the target of racial, ethnic or religious prejudice. You might be the kind of person who believes that racial, ethnic or religious bigotry is a thing of the past. You might even think white supremacy is nothing more than an extremist movement of little consequence. How could a racist society, you might think, elect and re-elect Barack Obama? And yet in November of 2016, the American people elected Donald J. Trump, an openly racist, misogynistic, and homophobic candidate. Was his campaign simply a insincere show to win trust and votes? Was your vote for Trump, as millions of people believed, simply a way to lower your taxes? Are you really surprised that Trump has defended some of the “good people” in these violent, hate mongering groups?

If you’re an African American, a Latino, a Muslim, a Jew, or a gay, lesbian or transgender person, your experience in American society gives you a different perspective. Every day you experience some form of hate—a social slight, a suspicious stare, the gaping expression of ignorant incomprehension, a racial, ethnic or religious epithet, or worse yet, an encounter with a white nationalist in a position of authority—perhaps a county clerk, an officious bureaucrat, a violently racist police officer, a prejudiced judge, a high-ranking government official who implements discriminatory policies, or a US president who indirectly defends the likes of the KKK and neo-Nazi groups.

Remembering the Victims of White nationalism in Germany (Photo by Paul Stoller)

If you are “other” in America (not white, not native-born and not Christian) you know that at any moment something terrible can happen to you just because you are different. I am Jewish and have lived long enough to have experienced open anti-Semitism. In the 1950s and 1960s students in my middle school and high school punched me, made fun of the way I looked, forced my head into a toilet and flushed it, and called me “kike” and “Christ killer.” My classmates also wondered if I could teach them how to “Jew” someone down to get a better price on a car or a home. These hateful circumstances, which were widespread and frequently experienced, compelled my grandparents and my parents to live in Jewish enclaves where Jewish children might enjoy a degree of protection from prejudice and violent behavior. Fear of prejudice compelled many of us to behave like white folks, to blend in and become part of the mainstream. As for me, I studied hard, went to college and graduate school, and trained to become an anthropologist. Eventually I became a college professor. I live in a nice house. I travel widely for work and pleasure. I like introducing college students to the important insights of anthropology. I write books and articles which are discussed in classrooms and the public sphere. And yet, given the prejudicial realities of my childhood, I still fear that at any moment an ignorant white supremacist, empowered by Trump’s politics of hate, might orchestrate a smear campaign against me, harass me, or even physically attack me for being an academic Jew—-all to “take his country back.”

I wonder if the Jewish people—Stephen Miller, Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn—who are or have been high officials in Trump’s administration, share these deep-seated experiential fears? Even after Trump’s defense of white nationalism, which is decidedly anti-Semitic, I wonder if they think that they are somehow different from other Jews, Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, or gay, lesbian and transgender people? Perhaps they think that their positions of power will spare them the anti-Semitic wrath of “real Americans” like David Duke, Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin.

I wonder if they understand the depth and danger of what philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called “bad faith,” the practice of self-deception.

I wonder if they will soon wake up and ask themselves how they can work for a man who defends beliefs that triggered the deaths of six million of their brothers and sisters.

If they continue to work for and support Trump, how long will they be able to maintain their “bad faith?” When in time their “bad faith” dissipates, what will they say when they realize what they have done.

The shame…the horror.

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As for the Republican Senators, your day of reckoning will also come. One day you will be forced to confront yourselves with unabashed honesty. Alas, what will you say when they come for you?

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