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“The Old Rules Are Out The Window”: America’s Political Parties Are Just Tribes Now

When it comes to politics, in 2015 we witnessed nothing less than a paradigm shift. The old rules are out the window. Technology and changing mores have conspired to lower barriers of entry—and acceptability. Gatekeepers no longer exist. What we have right now is closer to direct democracy than we’ve ever seen, and our civilization is regressing as a result.

One party (the Democrats) already represents the liberal half of the nation. The other half seems to consist of modern, Buckleyite conservatives, but also an increasingly large horde populist, nationalist, individualistic Americans—who now have a megaphone and a vessel in the form of Donald Trump.

Times change, and political parties adapt or are replaced. And make no mistake; if the Party of Lincoln becomes the Party of Trump, it would essentially redefine what it means to be a Republican. Conservatism, a coherent political philosophy, looks as if it’s being replaced by messy right-wing populism.

Just as the political parties sorted themselves out so that there are no more “conservative Democrats” or “liberal Republicans,” I fear we may be entering a new stage where there are essentially two distinct political tribes: One tribe consists of minorities and educated elites, while the other tribe increasingly consists of working-class whites.

The trends that brought us this situation have been in existence for decades, but 2015 may be remembered as the year when we broke apart, and political differences became primary cultural signifiers. Disagreements about ideological principles, or even policy preferences, seem to be taking a back seat to identity politics. It doesn’t matter what you believe in so much as what grouping you belong to, and how willing you are to fight for the sliver of America you represent. 2015 was the year of tribalism. Our politics are less high-minded than ever.

If tribes strike you as primitive, it’s not just you. Tribes tend to assign leadership, not based on experience or wisdom, but based on strength. Much of what we are witnessing today is very base (no pun intended) and essentially comes down to machismo: The other guys are out to get us so we need our toughest guy to get them first. This is the major rationale for Trump supporters, who see him as an “alpha” in a sea of wishy-washy Beltway insiders.

Conservatives once hated identity politics and victimhood—but then again, we once supported free trade, too. Perhaps our disdain for tribalism was always a high-minded, yet doomed, effort to suppress the natural, carnal state of a fallen humanity. You and I may view politics as being about ideas and human flourishing, but a lot of people believe it’s really about power—about making sure scarce resources are allocated to “our” people.

Although I didn’t see the Trump phenomenon coming, I think I sensed the populist zeitgeist that led both to him and to this larger breakdown into tribes. Here’s something I wrote back in April for the Beast—long before Trump was in the race:

…I think there is a huge underserved constituency in the GOP—and that constituency is what might best be termed populist conservatives. These folks tend to be white and working-class and who feel they’ve been left behind in America. They are culturally conservative—but they also want to keep government out of their Medicare.

Mitt Romney was arguably the worst candidate Republicans could have ever nominated to appeal to this constituency. But while candidates like Huckabee and Rick Santorum flirted with going full populist, something always seemed to keep them from really doubling down on it.

… The last time someone really tried this was when “Pitchfork” Pat Buchanan, and then Ross Perot, ran in 1992. It resonated then, but that was before the “giant sucking sound” really kicked in. Whether it’s globalization or immigration—or whatever “-ation” might have taken your job—it stands to reason that the same grassroots phenomenon that helped Buchanan and Perot tap into an underserved constituency might be even more potent today

I still think there’s a decent chance that this fever—which has been aided by an economic downturn, Obama’s election, and the rise of ISIS—will break. And I think that the rules governing the way the GOP allocates delegates will probably benefit someone who is a more mainstream and thoughtful conservative, like Marco Rubio.

It’s easy to see how a Rubio presidency could help reorder things in a different way—in a way that I believe would be healthier both for America and in terms of making sure conservatism can survive and thrive in the 21st century. A Rubio presidency would have the potential to grow the conservative movement by modernizing (not moderating) it—to make it more appealing to Hispanics, urbanites, and millennials. If conservatism is about ideas like freedom and entrepreneurship, not merely cultural signaling (the stereotype being that the definition of a conservative is a white guy with a gun rack), then there’s no reason the guy who orders an Uber shouldn’t be a conservative.

But this only works if the conservatives want to actually grow their numbers by choosing a modernizer. The last CNN/ORC poll I saw suggested that if you add Trump’s supporters together with those of Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, you were at about two-thirds of the national GOP primary voters. The rejection of candidates favored by the GOP establishment this past year has been unprecedented. The Republican base, at least right now, is rallying to the candidates who embrace this new tribalism.

Earlier, I said the rules have changed. And, indeed, they have. Conservatives used to care about electing men and women who have wisdom, experience or expertise, and will comport themselves in an appropriate or “statesmanlike” manner, and who have a conservative temperament. They were deeply invested in defending abstract concepts like a culture of life, the rule of law, and religious liberty, while also worrying about things like unintentional consequences. They wanted to unleash the power of a free market (of products and ideas) to encourage human flourishing.

These are the hallmarks of conservative philosophy, consistency, and a coherent worldview—something that looks increasingly passé to Republican voters.

In some cases, much of today’s GOP base is skeptical or even hostile to these conservative values. For example, they believe a conservative temperament is an antiquated concept guaranteed to produce weak leaders who won’t fight, and that conservatism as a temperament was essentially designed to fail. How else can you explain the near-triumph of contemporary liberalism, and the fact that the GOP has only won the popular vote in a presidential election once since the end of the Reagan era?

It’s hard to summon people to their better angels when those people feel aggrieved. It’s hard to advise those people to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs”—when there are literal beheadings taking place around the globe. The problem is that people like me are calling for civilized behavior and for modernization at a time when Republican voters want to get medieval. 2015 belonged to Donald Trump. But the real question is this: who will own 2016?

 

By: Matt K. Lewis, The Daily Beast, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Democracy, Donald Trump | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Angrier And More Toxic”: Donald Trump And The Revenge Of The Radical Center

The GOP may soon recover from the Donald Trump scare. Despite his maddeningly persistent lead in the polls, Trump isn’t building the normal campaign operations that are usually needed to win. He won’t get key endorsements. His voters may be the ones least likely to be active. It’s unclear how much, if any, of his fortune he’s willing to spend on advertising himself.

Nonetheless, Trump’s continued presence in the race is a danger to other viable candidates. Trump’s campaign may discredit the party in the eyes of many voters who are disgusted with Trump’s presence in the GOP, or other voters who are disgusted with the treatment of Trump’s supporters by the party apparatus.

And that brings us to the big lesson the GOP should take from the entire Trump affair: There is another side to the Republican Party, one that the GOP has tried to ignore, and can ignore no longer. It’s a side of the party that has learned to distrust its leaders on immigration, to be suspicious of a turbo-charged capitalism that threatens their way of life. And it may be a side of the party that is needed to return the GOP to presidential victories. It is the forgotten part of the Nixon-Reagan coalition. And by being ignored, it has turned angrier and more toxic.

The winning Republican coalition may still be the Nixon and Reagan coalition, old as it is. This is a coalition that includes conservatism, and is “anti-left,” certainly. But it also includes a huge number of people to whom the dogmas of conservatism are as foreign to their experience as Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville. The piece of the Nixon coalition that Trump has activated cares not for the ordered liberty of conservatism, nor the egalitarian project of progressivism. It cares about fairness, and just rewards for work and loyalty. There is nothing moderate about it. This is the radical center. And it explains why when Trump’s support is measured, it is almost always found to be strongest among “moderate” or “liberal” Republicans.

These are the voters who hate modern, tight-suited, Democratic-style liberalism not because it offends God, but because it is “killing” the America they knew. It threatens their jobs with globalization and immigration. They hate tassle-loafered right-wingers who flippantly tell them to get retrained in computers at age 58, and warn that Medicare might be cut. They built their lives around promises that have been broken and revoked over the past two decades. Trump looks like their savior. Someone who can’t be bought by the people who downsized them. Or at least, he is their revenge.

It is frustrating for most conservatives to take Trump seriously as a presidential candidate. He’s a ridiculous troll. He talks about renegotiating the global order with China based on “feel.” He also says he can “feel” terrorism about to strike, perhaps the way an arthritic can feel a storm coming. This is idiotic. But the Republican Party needs to learn a lesson from it. And learn it fast. Few have Trump’s resources, his can’t-look-away persona, or his absurdly high Q-rating among reality TV viewers. But many are watching him divide the GOP in twain, on issues like trade, jobs, and immigration. It would be surprising if no one tried to campaign on his mix of issues again after seeing his success.

This should have been obvious from the politics of the past two decades. Pat Buchanan’s challenge to the GOP in the mid-1990s focused on some of the same issues, though Buchanan was also a tub-thumping social conservative. Buchanan won four states in 1996, while suffering the same taunts about fascism that are now aimed at Trump. His race was premised on finding the “conservatives of the heart.” His 1992 convention speech begged Republicans to get in touch with “our people” who “don’t read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke,” like the “hearty” mill worker of New Hampshire who told Buchanan, “Save our jobs.”

And it is not just populists. Even conservative wonks have been warning for years that the GOP was offering little of economic substance to their base of voters, save for the vain hope of transforming them into an ersatz investor class by privatizing Social Security, and making them manage health savings accounts. In the mid-2000s, there was the plea for a new Sam’s Club Republicanism, a harbinger of the so-called reform conservatism to come later. This was an attempt to connect with the middle American voter, really the Trump voter.

Republicans need to understand this not just to repair their coalition, but to head off Trump in the here and now. Flying banners over his rallies that say, “Trump will raise your taxes” is counterproductive. His supporters correctly perceive the burden of higher taxes will likely fall on those who already have more than they do. Similarly, all the attacks on Trump’s cronyism, or his relationships with Democrats, will fail as well. His supporters are weakly attached to the Republican Party. They won’t blame him for being the same way.

Trump’s candidacy is teaching the GOP that it has to deliver for voters who feel economic insecurity. If they don’t, the radical middle will rise not just to embarrass them, but to wound them as well.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty; The Week, November 30, 2015

December 5, 2015 Posted by | Conservatism, GOP | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Hostility Is Clarifying”: Conservatives To Pope Francis: Stick With Salvation; We’ll Handle Politics

In a 1979 column, George Will quoted Chekhov describing a character in these terms: “He was a rationalist, but he had to confess that he liked the ringing of church bells.” To Chekhov’s lovely words, Will added his own smarmy endorsement, writing, “Me too.” In his column, Will was affirming the quote in the most literal way possible: He was writing to celebrate bells. But it’s not hard to discern in the quote a larger attitude toward religion. Will is, as he told an interviewer from this magazine, an atheist, yet as a conservative he finds religion to be socially useful and often praises it for that reason. Like the political philosopher Leo Strauss, who has shaped much of his broader outlook, Will has a utilitarian attitude toward religion: Christianity might not be true, but it helps create a cohesive society. To put it another way, Will believes in philosophy for the elite and religion for the masses.

Not surprisingly given this attitude, Will has been at the head of the conservative chorus denouncing Pope Francis’s advocacy for the environment, for migrants, and for the poor—a chorus that has grown more vehement in the run-up to Francis’s U.S. journey. In a syndicated column published on Saturday, Will came out firing: “Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony. With a convert’s indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false, and deeply reactionary.”

Seeing religion as a tool for political ends, Will quite naturally praises religious figures he sees as politically simpatico (like Pope John Paul II) and savages those whose politics he finds politically unpalatable (like Pope Francis). It’s not surprising that Will is so nakedly partisan in his evaluation of religious leaders. What is perhaps more noteworthy is that the same pattern can be found among conservatives who claim to be genuinely devout. Some of these critics voice the objection that Francis is too political, but on closer inspection their real problem is the same as Will’s: They don’t like his politics.

In a 2005 column, for instance, Will praised John Paul II as one of the great heroes of the 20th century because he made common cause with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in fighting communism. Enthusiastically voicing a theme common to conservatives, Will marveled that “[i]n an amazingly fecund 27-month period, the cause of freedom was strengthened by the coming to high offices of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and John Paul II, who, like the president, had been an actor and was gifted at the presentational dimension of his office.”

Yet if John Paul II’s political interventions were held up as crucial in the battle against the enemies of civilization, then his successor Francis, seemingly embodying very different politics, stands condemned as a menace who threatens the very survival of capitalism. As one of America’s foremost climate change deniers, Will has nothing but contempt for Francis’s calls for environmental responsibility. In a 2014 column, Will condemned the Pope as a sanctimonious interloper whose ignorance of worldly matters threatens to leave millions impoverished. “He stands against modernity, rationality, science and, ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources,” Will thundered. “Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.”

In taking up the cause of the environment, Will argued over the weekend, the church was abandoning its “salvific mission.” Since Will doesn’t actually believe that the salvation the church offers is real, his polemic amounts to a call for the church to continue to offer consoling lies to parishioners and ignore real problems so that the social system continues to work the way Will wants it to. Continue ringing those church bells, Will is saying, so they’ll drown out the protests of environmentalists.

The cynicism of Will’s position hardly needs to be underlined. Yet it is broadly shared by others on the right. Writing at the Federalist, Joy Pullmann, managing editor of the publication and a fellow at the lavishly funded climate change denialist think tank The Heartland Institute, makes many of the same arguments that Will does: that in voicing concern for the environment, the Pope is overstepping his proper duties as a religious leader, and that serious efforts to combat climate change would lead to an economic catastrophe that would have its worst impact on the world’s poor. In an extremely confusing line of argument, Pullmann seems to suggest that an environmental apocalypse might actually be a welcome outcome from a Christian point of view:

We will never achieve utopia in this world. That’s kind of the central story arc of the Bible: How humans screwed themselves and the whole world up, and how Jesus has and will ultimately put things to right. Getting all the way to a perfect eternity, however, requires first an apocalypse.

So maybe Pope Francis should welcome the environmental apocalypse he thinks is coming. That’s partly a joke and partly serious, because every time I see another Planned Parenthood butchering video I am ready for Jesus to take me and my kiddos right up to Paradise and end this sick, mad world.

Pullmann’s words might seem lurid and even nonsensical, but they follow the basic contours of Will’s: The church should stick to saving souls and leave the job of running the world to big business. She also upholds John Paul II as an example of a pope whom it was possible “to respect and admire”—further proof that what is wanted is not an apolitical pope but a pope who aligned with the Republican Party.

Pat Buchanan, the legendary conservative columnist, takes the right-wing hostility toward Francis to its logical conclusion and sees the current Pope, along with President Obama, as being emblematic of the deep sickness in Western civilization. In a breathtaking recent column, Buchanan opines that Francis is promoting “moral confusion,” and argues that both Putin’s Russia and Communist China show much greater cultural health than either Obama’s America or Francis’s church:

America is a different country today, a secular and post-Christian nation on its way to becoming anti-Christian. Some feel like strangers in their own land. And from the standpoint of traditional Catholicism, American culture is an open sewer. A vast volume of the traffic on the Internet is pornography.

Ironically, as all this unfolds in what was once “God’s country,” Vladimir Putin seeks to re-establish Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the basis of morality and law in Russia. And one reads in The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Xi Jinping is trying to reintroduce his Chinese Communist comrades to the teachings of Confucianism.

The world is turned upside down. Every civilization seems to recognize the necessity of faith except for the West, which has lost its faith and is shrinking and dying for lack of it.

Will is a religious skeptic, while both Pullmann and Buchanan are believers. Will’s prose is elegant and measured, while both Pullmann and Buchanan write shrill screeds. Yet despite these surface differences, they are making the same argument: that the proper role of the church is promoting individual salvation and social morality, a mission Francis is jeopardizing by advocating for political change.

The hostility conservatives of all stripes have toward Francis is clarifying. It shows that issues of belief and non-belief are less important to conservatives than adherence to an ideological party line. Despite their different metaphysics, Will, Pullmann, and Buchanan can unite in opposing Francis as a political enemy. Theology serves merely as a convenient cloak for politics.

 

By: Jeet Heer, Senior Editor, The New Republic; September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, George Will, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Good, The Bad, And The Donald”: Just Beneath The Spectacle Is A Very Ugly Message

Donald Trump’s political rallies are, if nothing else, an event. While you wait for the Donald to appear—and even during his off-kilter and meandering talk—you can buy snacks. On Monday evening, American Airlines Center wasn’t just a venue for Trump’s next speech: It was open for business, and attendees could grab popcorn, peanuts, nachos, and plenty of beer. This was a spectacle, and the assembled embraced it. People dressed in Trump memorabilia—including one woman in a Trump-branded dress—took selfies in front of Trump signs, and cheered in anticipation of the billionaire’s arrival.

“This is actually my first rally I’ve ever been to, period,” said George Lanier, a well-built personal trainer from nearby Carrollton, Texas. “I was like—what better way to start it off than by seeing Donald Trump, you know? He’s very exciting, it’ll be very entertaining.” Lanier liked Trump’s ideas, but he was much more drawn to the candidate’s affect and style. “I love that he’s talking in everybody else’s language. He’s not trying to be politically correct—he’s just speaking to us like how we’re talking here, or how you talk to your friends.”

We associate Trump with the Republican right wing, but this wasn’t a Tea Party rally. The crowd was diverse, or at least more diverse than you might assume. Chris Nieves was a transplant from New York City who studied at Texas Christian University and came as an undecided voter, interested in Trump as a businessman who could bring jobs and opportunity to minority communities. “He’s not a politician, and I think that’s huge for us minorities, because a lot of politicians like to exploit us,” said Nieves. “I think that he’s an independent voice, and I think that would be especially good for minorities who are in need of that, because of the establishment that has failed us.”

“I wanted to see what this was all about,” explained Lawrence Badih, a real estate agent who lives in Fort Worth but was born in Sierra Leone and immigrated to the United States. “I’ve been registered Republican for a long time, and we need a change. I see Trump is rising in the polls—he’s No. 1. He’s saying things that no one else wants to say—they’re being politically correct.”

For all the Trump-curious voters, however, there were just as many Trump supporters, who were clear-eyed and enthusiastic about their candidate. “We absolutely love Donald Trump, and we are supporting him 1,000 percent,” said Marilu Rumfolo, a retired investment banker who came all the way from Spring, near Houston. Rumfolo thinks Trump will be a strong conservative on immigration. “He hit a home run with immigration,” she said. “People who just walk in and take our country by force, they really don’t have the same values. We want immigrants, but we have to make sure the law is followed.”

She also thinks Trump will be a less divisive leader than President Obama. “I don’t feel like he’s going to create that kind of animosity that we see with Black Lives Matter,” she explained. “Because honest to God, all lives matter, and it’s really an insult to see a person working 40 to 60 hours a week and be told, even if they’ve struggled their whole life, that if they’re white, ‘Your struggle doesn’t count because your skin color isn’t a certain way.’ ”

At 30 minutes after its scheduled time, the event began. An estimated 16,000 people were packed in the center waving American flags and signs for Trump. First onstage: A megachurch pastor who thanked God for Trump’s “selfless public service.” Then, a local Tea Party activist who railed against Republican leaders—citing the Mississippi Senate primary where incumbent Thad Cochran worked with Democrats to beat his challenger, Chris McDaniel—and declared her belief that, with Trump on the ballot, “2016 may be more historic than the election of Barack Obama.” (At that, the crowd went wild.) Finally, Trump sauntered on stage to whoops, hollers, and cheers.

Trump gave the usual. He gestured toward policies and issues (the Iran Deal, China, Mexico); attacked his opponents (“Jeb Bush,” he said to boos, before mentioning Hillary Clinton to even louder ones); praised himself (he was leading the polls, unlike everyone else, he didn’t need the “blood money” of rich people, and if elected president, he was going to win so much “your head will spin”); and leaned in to his anti-immigrant rhetoric. “Many of these gang members are illegal immigrants,” he said to huge cheers. “They’re rough dudes.” He complained about trade with Japan—“They send us millions of cars. Millions. We send them beef. They don’t even want it.”—and promised to make a deal that will force Mexico to “build that wall.” After more than an hour of speaking, he concluded with his slogan: “You’re going to say to your children, and you’re going to say to anybody else, that we were part of a movement to take back our country. … And we will make America great again.”

At this point, the speakers blared with “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and the crowd filed outside in the glow of Trump’s unabashed nationalism. There, in the plaza outside the center, they were met by demonstrators from the League of United Latin American Citizens. Carrying Mexican and American flags, they protested Trump’s presence and his message. “No more Trump,” chanted a group of activists wearing shirts that said “Latinos Stand Up” on the front and “Fuck Donald Trump” on the back. “We want them to know we’re united,” said Maira Medina, a manager at a local restaurant who was holding an anti-Trump sign. “If this state is going to be united, we have to unite with everybody and put the hatred and derogatory terms aside.”

Most of the Trump rally’s attendees walked by without incident. But some couldn’t resist a confrontation. “Deport illegals! No more illegals!” yelled one older woman who got into a shouting match with a group of protesters. A bald, bearded young man—wearing a T-shirt with the words “Commies aren’t cool”—almost got into a fight with one of the demonstrators before police officers separated the two. And another young man—this one wearing a navy blazer, a pink patterned bow tie, and a pair of gray dress pants—was surrounded by media and bystanders as he argued with a young Mexican American man about “illegals.”

Trump is a sideshow, and in the presence of his personality, it’s easy to overlook the ugliness behind his campaign. But it’s there, a debased successor to the nationalist white resentment of Pat Buchanan and George Wallace. And although spectators may miss it, it’s more than clear for the targets of his xenophobia, and the people who hate them.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, September 15, 2015

September 17, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Minorities, Trumpeteers | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Money Can’t Always Buy Respectability”: Sterling Shielded His Racism With Wealth, Until People Finally Couldn’t Take It Anymore

Pat Buchanan had an interesting column about Donald Sterling and his long history of racism, often self-proclaimed. His point: follow the money.

For years, Sterling has been in court for discrimination and he has made racist comments on the record. He was fined nearly $3 million by the Justice Department for discriminating against blacks and Hispanics in his housing units. Yet, because of his vast wealth, people seemed to look the other way. The Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP was even about to give him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

I don’t often agree with Buchanan on such matters, but he had a point. Why do the Duck Dynasty boys continue to skirt any serious repercussions from racist comments? Why does A&E keep them on and others ignore the racism? Follow the money.

Big, wealthy franchise owners often don’t pay for their outrageous comments and actions. Take Donald Trump – his buffoonery knows no bounds. It really is only when wealth and power with good sense confront wealth and power with bad sense that we see change.

A friend sent me a review of the court case from 1970 when the Kenwood Country Club in Bethesda, Md., was forced to change its discrimination policies. I remember it because my old boss, Sen. Frank Church, along with others such as former Republican Sen. Robert Griffin, Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Nicholas Johnson and Rev. Richard Halverson (later Senate chaplain), filed a suit against Kenwood.

The tony neighborhood of Kenwood had a long history of covenants prohibiting sales of homes to anyone who was not “Caucasian” – no blacks, no Hispanics, no Asians, no Jews. Not only was membership denied in the Kenwood Club, but as a member you could not even bring a non-white guest to the club. Many were unaware of this until a women member wanted to have a Wellesley College lunch in 1968 and invited the then-Mayor Walter Washington as the speaker. No can do, said the club.

The result was the successful lawsuit and the resignation of members such as Secretary of State William Rogers, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, former Postmaster General Edward Day and the President of George Washington University, Lloyd Elliot. Wealth and power confronted wealth and power. But that was more than 40 years ago and maybe it is time that we don’t just ignore the slights and side comments and behavior of the Donald Sterling’s of the world, but rather stand up to those who think they are untouchable because of their bank accounts.

Many still believe they can buy respectability. Many believe they can accumulate great wealth and escape responsibility for their actions. It is a shame that we still have to follow the money, even if it finally was successful with Donald Sterling.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, May 1, 2014

May 4, 2014 Posted by | Donald Sterling, Racism, Wealthy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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