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“Crime, Fear, And The Republicans”: Moving Toward The Traditional Toxic Brew Of Race, Ethnicity And White Middle Class Insecurity

From Nixon to Reagan to the first President Bush, Republican campaigns were run like campaigns for sheriff. Nixon ran against unprecedented lawlessness and promised law and order to the silent majority. Reagan remained consistent in his view that “the jungle is waiting to take over. The man with the badge holds it back.” And George H.W. Bush rode the menacing image of Willie Horton, the furloughed rapist, to victory over Michael Dukakis. Then, in 1992, Bill Clinton took time out from his chaotic comeback in New Hampshire to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally disabled man who had shot out most of his frontal lobe.

Clinton not only took the crime monkey off the back of the Democratic party, he also enacted draconian legislation that has been a key driver in making the United States by far the most heavily incarcerated society in the world: 2.2 million men and women behind bars, disproportionately African-American, Latino, addicted and mentally ill, at an estimated annual cost of $73 billion. Yet over the last quarter century, violent crime rates have been falling, dramatically.

Of course, it can be argued that the decline is the product of mass incarceration, but a recent study by the Brennan Center shows that the effect of increased incarceration on crime rates since 1990 has been limited, and has been non-existent since 2000. Although the Times recently reported “a startling rise in murders after years of declines,” Bruce Frederick, analyzing the statistics for the Marshall Project, found that only 3 of 20 cities have a “statistically reliable increase” in homicide rates.

In an age of hemorrhaging costs and declining crime, fiscally responsible Republicans have begun to make common cause with Democrats to start to shrink the prison-industrial complex. The Brennan Center recently published a collection of essays entitled “Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice Reform.” In his contribution, Rand Paul called for investigation of racial disparities in sentencing and argued against imprisonment for non-violent drug offenders, who make up the largest single group behind bars. Ted Cruz decried mandatory minimum sentences, which vests too much power in prosecutors. Marco Rubio declared there were too many federal crimes that were too poorly defined, and too poorly disclosed. Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee all called for compassion for drug offenders and showed interest in drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration.

Then along came Trump, blowing the old Republican dog whistle on race and crime. Ronald Reagan’s “jungle” was encroaching again, this time from the south. Mexicans are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Doubling down when the statistics showed otherwise, Trump said “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” but reiterated that Mexicans coming here “are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” His website section on issues does not address crime, or indeed any other issue, except one — immigration.

The conservative National Review sees the potential here for a Republican renaissance on fear of crime. In a recent paean to Nixonian nostalgia, “Revive Law and Order Conservatism,” Stephen Eide writes, “So long as the New York Times and anti-cop activist groups continue with their provocations, we can be reasonably confident that more violent unrest is to come. The spectacle of chaos descending on cities long dominated by Democrats obviously plays to the GOP’s advantage.”

He decries conservative attitudes on crime as “notably softer now than they have been in many decades.” Acknowledging that “New York City’s murders hit a 50-year low,” he observes, “there were still more than three times as many as in London, which has about the same population.” Surely that could have nothing to do with robust Second Amendment rights, another cornerstone of the Republican platform. Eide counsels Republicans that a key to victory in 2016 is to “emphasize that we still have a serious crime problem.”

Republican candidates are taking note. On Hot Air, a conservative web site, Scott Walker properly lamented a recent spate of tragic police shootings but blamed them on President Obama. “In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.” And Chris Christie threw Bill de Blasio under the bus as well, “It’s the liberal policies in [New York] that have led to the lawlessness that’s been encouraged by the president of the United States,” he said. “And I’m telling you, people in this country are getting more and more fed up.”

Republicans are increasingly positioning the issue as a rift between Black Lives Matter and police unions, between Sanctuary Cities and thousand mile anti-rapist walls. The constructive discourse in recent months about the crushing costs of incarceration, the waste of mandatory minimum sentences, the twin crises of mental health and addiction in prison, the endless cost and delay in enforcing the death penalty has all but ended. In its place, Republicans are moving toward the traditional toxic brew of race, ethnicity, white middle class insecurity and panic about crime.

Get ready for the return of Willie Horton.

 

By: Eric Lewis, Chairman of Reprieve US, a Human Rights Organization; The Marshall Project, Brennan Center for Justice, September 15, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Crime Rates, Criminal Justice Reform, GOP Presidential Candidates, Race and Ethnicity, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hundreds Of Thousands Of Bad People”: Fact-Checking Bill O’Reilly’s Dumb, Hateful Lies; Fox News Propaganda Breaks New Ground

When Bill O’Reilly got his start on Fox News, he was charmingly irreverent, a moderating factor on a right-leaning news network; and I liked him for it.  I was 14 years old, and would go on, in my teen years, to read one of O’Reilly’s early books, along with Christopher Hitchens’ “Letters to a Young Contrarian,” and eventually Dinesh D’Souza’s “Letters to a Young Conservative” and Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil.”  I was hashing out a political identity into my 20s, and, as this awkward reading list suggests, it was complicated.  It’s perhaps a shame that today’s O’Reilly is not complicated.

In the segment where O’Reilly calls Salon a “hate site,” and his program ambushes a handful of San Francisco civil servants, I was struck more by the “talking points memo” working in conjunction with O’Reilly’s monologue than with the breach of decorum or even the comparison of Salon to white-supremacist outlet Stormfront.  The real danger of that O’Reilly segment isn’t so much the ambush tactics or the sensationalism as the sloppy thinking O’Reilly performs for his viewers, which gives the appearance of justifying that sensationalism.

For this reason I’ve decided to work through that O’Reilly segment, which Salon’s Scott Eric Kaufman has reported on, paying close attention to those moments when O’Reilly uses both rhetorical tricks and logical fallacies to convey a provocatively hateful message about undocumented immigrants, a message that, ironically, comes a lot closer to hate speech than the simple act of advocating on either a conservative or progressive media outlet like National Review Online or Salon.

O’Reilly kicks off the segment by addressing the “evil” of the coldblooded murder of Kate Steinle before airing a clip of an interview with Steinle’s parents, who speak of the “battle of evil and goodness.”  I mentioned Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” above because it’s a powerful critique of Manichaeism, the belief in a dualistic moral struggle of good versus evil.  Manichaeism makes it easy to oversimplify conflicts and tragedies by defining actors as pure good and pure evil.  This is exactly what O’Reilly will go on to do in his “talking points.” He writes, “Every sane person knows that gunning down a 32-year old woman in the street is an act of pure evil.”  The memo goes on: “There are many Americans who will not act to prevent that kind of evil from taking place.”

Here we can see two important rhetorical moves designed to bring audiences to the conclusion that, despite the culpability of the evil man who murdered Steinle, we are to identify that murderous evil both with undocumented immigrants and with people who don’t agree with O’Reilly’s hard-line immigration views.  O’Reilly first sets up the scenario as though it’s as simple as good people versus evil people (as opposed to, for example, a more complicated policy nexus of immigration and gun control issues).  Then he swiftly aligns “the Americans who will not move to act to prevent that kind of evil from taking place” with the evil itself.  In these steps O’Reilly effectively conflates the evil of coldblooded murder with the evil of some Americans who will fail to act on some measure that O’Reilly will assign as a cure for that evil.

What, then, is that measure?  O’Reilly begins by blaming the media, which “does not oppose sanctuary cities,” “sanctuary city” being a term with no legal meaning that refers generally to cities that don’t spend city funds and resources to enforce certain federal immigration policies.  O’Reilly claims that the “sanctuary city policy” (it’s not a coherent policy at all) “is supported by people who believe that poor illegal immigrants should not be held accountable for violating immigration law,” “folks cloaking themselves in compassion, thinking they’re being humane to the poor who want better lives.”  Crucially, however, O’Reilly goes on to re-label these people “hundreds of thousands of bad people.”

Here we can see, again, O’Reilly invoking the Manichaean framework with which he started, only this time, the “evil” one isn’t simply the individual who murdered Kate Steinle, but the “hundreds of thousands” of undocumented immigrants, whom O’Reilly lumps together as “bad people.”  This is the point of O’Reilly’s slippage from the evil of murder to the evil of being an undocumented immigrant, to use a negative example of one to stand in for the whole.  O’Reilly completes the slippage by claiming that “it is insulting when pro-sanctuary city people equate poor immigrants with violent criminals,” going on to further conflate all undocumented immigrants with violent criminals with one phrase: he calls them “brutal undocumented people.”

From this point, O’Reilly moves onto San Francisco city supervisors, holding them up as an example of the next link in a tenuously constructed chain of evil that begins with a murderer, who, by his undocumented status, becomes a stand-in for all undocumented immigrants, and ends with the civil servants of San Francisco and the broader left, presumably the kind of people who “will not move to act to prevent that kind of evil from taking place.” O’Reilly states unequivocally that Kate Steinle “is dead because of policies that endanger the public,” conflating once again the act of murder with the refusal to support O’Reilly’s specific vision of border security.  O’Reilly’s closing judgment is that “it’s a damn shame that all Americans cannot support a policy that would protect people like Kate Steinle … if you saw the heartbreaking interview with her parents last night, how could you not support tough measures against criminal illegal aliens?”

In all of this we should note three tactics of distortion.  First, by framing the entire issue of Steinle’s murder as a Manichaean problem of good versus evil, O’Reilly is able to pretend for his viewers that there can only be one problem (lax immigration law), which is itself a manifestation of evil.  Both gun control and wider issues of how to distribute limited city funds and resources (O’Reilly isn’t exactly a fan of higher taxes) are as significant factors in this tragedy as immigration law.

Second, O’Reilly’s entire argument relies on the fallacy of composition, which presumes that if something is true of a part of a whole, it must then be true of the whole.  This is why, because an undocumented immigrant is alleged to have committed a murder, O’Reilly goes on to call all undocumented immigrants things like “bad people,” “brutal undocumented people,” “violent criminals” and “criminal illegal aliens.”

Third, O’Reilly avails himself of the fallacy of false equivalence in two ways.  He equates the culpability for murder with the politically mainstream disagreement between San Francisco city officials and O’Reilly on immigration policy; and he equates sites like Salon and MediaMatters with the self-proclaimed white-supremacist outlet Stormfront, confusing yet again mainstream, partisan media outlets with neo-Nazis.  A simple test to reveal the fallaciousness of the comparison would be to ask yourself how long a site like Salon or MediaMatters would exist, drawing articles from prominent policymakers, politicians, artists, academics and journalists, if any of these sites regularly proclaimed white supremacy as its reason for being.

Though it’s a little laborious to go through talking points like O’Reilly’s in this manner, it’s important to reverse-engineer them from time to time to expose what lies at the heart of the machine.  In this case we find that the source of hatred isn’t a side of a mainstream political debate about immigration policy, but a desire to paint all undocumented immigrants as murderous villains, “bad people,” “brutal undocumented people” on the side of evil who threaten to put out the white light of America.

 

By: Aaron R. Hanlon, Salon, July 17, 2015

July 19, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Immigrants | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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