Blog 77b Why is Trumpeting Trump so Appealing


Blog 77b Why is Trumpeting Trump so appealing to so many (including himself)?

The facts of Blog 77a seem very clear, and ought to be the matter of much greater public knowledge and analysis than it is. But there is another aspect to the relationship between the Trumpeting Trump and Real Trump, one that is more speculative, but worthy of reflection. Granted that those talks and ides directly benefit Real Trump in his fundamental business activities, which in turn define his life, there is still a vehemence in the way in which Trumpeting Trump is conducting himself in public which goes beyond play-acting or deliberate self-deception.

This all deserves exploration

Real Trump may even believe at least a part of what Trumpeting Trump is telling him. But Real Trump is smart, understands the world, can see what he is and is not doing. Can he really believe that terrorism is responsible for all of what ails the world, or that keeping Muslims and Mexicans out is a good direction for public policy in the United States (he employs many Mexicans himself)?

And how can it be that so much of what he trumpets receives such an enthusiastic welcome from so many Republican voters and even some Democrats, when the evidence and logic both show that it does not serve them well. Trump says little that would help poor people or non-union workers or the elderly, or student, and yet demographic studies of his supporters show many support him Why?

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One answer may be that those ideas appeal particularly to those who are discontented with their own positions in real life, who see Trump’s withering complaints about the status quo as reflecting and indeed justifying their own situations. Bigotry is thus a possible reaction to material problems: laying the blame on others, different from themselves, immigrants, black and brown people, intellectuals, and government administrators, for their own difficulties. Having a candidate for President articulating similar views legitimates their own reactions. Hence Trump’s apparent success in the polls so far. (Although rich people also support Trump because he’s good for them.)

Both Trumpeting Trump and his followers are using their rhetoric – let us call it, admittedly oversimplified, bigotry – as a substitute for revealing other feelings, reactions, circumstances with which they are deeply unhappy. It may be a stretch, but is it not possible that, deep inside, Real Trump has doubts about what he is doing, about how satisfying pursuing ever more wealth accumulation is, what he can do with all that money except acquire more? Is it not possible that ultimately he has a need, as a human being, for feelings of solidarity, of support, of compassion, of kindness, perchance of love, values that go beyond the brute pursuit of wealth, of greed, which one might unkindly term the dominant value being pursued by Real Trump and endorsed and validated by Trumpeting Trump?

And might not Trumpeting Trump ’s vehemence in the expression of his ideas be, oddly enough, an upside-down form of the same bigotry and scapegoating, blaming all he looks down on for his own having to be so hurtful, so scathing, to those that make him act as he does, legitimating his own self-serving exploitation of others?

Or, perhaps less naively, might it not be that, just as Trump’s bigotry serves him as a legitimation of greed and the power that successful greed brings, .e.g. to say “you ’re fired” to even more people, by escalating the quest for not only private but also public powerIn a society in which the open defense of wealth accumulation – “greed is good” – is frowned on by most, the pursuit of political power is still accepted asa perfectly natural driving force for aggressive action, can serve as a moral cover for actions that, in reality, are driven by greed, a greed for money and for both as inseparable twins?

As to the Trumpeters enthusiastic followers, might it not be that they find in it an explanation and legitimation of their own difficulties, real difficulties in making a living, in finding rewarding work, in finding security, in finding desirable housing, getting an affordable education, enjoying life as they would like to life it? Then hearing Trumpeting Trump blame blacks, or Mexicans, or those of minority sexualities, for what is keeping America from being great is in a sense a validation of their own fears of others, of the way things are, of the government, validating their own tendencies at the blaming bigotry because here this eloquent forceful widely heard and shown and listened to leader, is saying what they are themselves tempted to say but are afraid to?

Material conditions, specifically the facts of class, race, gender, determine what Trump does in real life and has his façade say, and they produce a need for a legitimating vision, a rationale, for doing what he does: blame it on the world. In parallel fashion, the facts of class, race, gender for many of Trump’s followers underlies own their frustrations and insecurities, and hearing Trump express his views legitimates their own holding of those views as a way to endure and justify their position –blame it on the world. . Trump’s bigotry covers his need to defend the greed and lust for power, with their lack of morality in Real Trump’s real life , and Trumpeting Trump’s follower’s bigotry covers their need to a rationale for why they do not have the lives that their own visons would lead them to desire.

The material and the social-psychological come together to produce what we see every day on our screens. It is not the product of an aberrant mind nor are his followers stupid, but what both he and his followers say and do results from a very painful and very real material historical logic.

 

 

 

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Blog #75 – “Blaming an Un-named “System” for Police Shooting Blacks


This Blog #75 – “Blaming an Un-named “System” for Police Shooting Blacks Is A Cop-0ut,” argues responsibility rests in three areas: Individual perpetrators (the policeman, in the case of the killing of minorities ), the social institutions (police departments, the criminal justice system, and the underlying social, economic, and political system. All need to be named and addressed. They will not all be resolved at once, but transformative measures may begin to address them within the existing system
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In a recent The New York Times opinion piece ii, Professor Mullainathan, in “Police Killings of Blacks: What the Data Says” seems to be joining liberals, and even radicals. He argues that the data shows that, although African-Americans are only 13.2% of the population, they are 28.9% of those arrested by the police, and 31.8% of those shot by police. As possible explanations he points to the risks of living in “a high-poverty neighborhood,” the social institutions that “tie race to crime,” the economic policies that limited opportunities.” He concludes “removing police racial bias will have little effect on the killing rate,” presumably because of all these other factors.
“. . [After]… accounting for why some of these encounters [of police with blacks] turn into killings, [racial bias] is swamped by other, bigger problems that plague our society, our economy, and our criminal justice system.”
So far so good.
But he ends the piece with
“…there are also [my italics] structural problems underpinning these killings. We are all responsible for those. “
“We are all responsible.” What started out as a fairly radical move to enlarge the approach to the problem beyond the mere bias of individual policemen, ranging over a whole set of social institutions, and finally pointing to the bigger problems that plague our society, ends up with no idea about what is to be done, no conclusions about what it is that produces these plagues, no allocation of responsibility to any human agency. If we are all responsible, no one, no group, no interests, are responsible, no specific forces “plague our societies.” The system is not wrong; it is plagued by a disease. The disease is not named. The sub-headline for the piece summaries it as “finding some blame in persistent systemic issues.” The system is to blame. The system remains anonymous, incorporeal, inhuman, somehow natural, just there. It is not named or addressed. Blaming it is a cop-out.
The formulation “we are all responsible” is simply wrong. Some benefit from it; others suffer under it. It is man-made (less woman-made), defined by those with power, power which is very unevenly distributed. The 99% are not responsible for it, the 1% are. The formulation “blame in persistent systemic issues” is not a radical criticism of the system, but rather a cop-out,iii undercutting efforts to identify who is actually responsible, avoiding identifying the real changes that might address the roots of the problem the data identifies.
Going beyond the cop-out of blaming “the system,” three actions are needed: first, the actors that implement it need to be specified, second, the institutions that are the framework of their actions need to be confronted, and thirdly the system that underlies their actions needs to be named. Finally, of course, the purpose of all this is to formulate a viable political responses to change he present patterns.
We may look at the human agents responsible for these killing of blacks at three levels:
1) the individual perpetrator, the policeman firing the shots in our case;
2) the social institutions which directly produce, promote and constrain the individual perpetrator’s behavior, in our case the police departments, the criminal justice system, the schools, the housing, and
3) the underlying system, economic, social, political, cultural, which for present purposes I would name the racist/capitalist system (more on its definition below).
1. Firstly, as to the individual responsibility:
it is true that it is “too large a problem to pin on any specific individual officers.”iv But it is individual officers that do the shooting. They are at the flashpoint where the damage is done. Do they have the intent to kill blacks? Perhaps not. They are indeed constrained and subordinate to the system. Yet they have a certain amount of free will. But it is not a matter of an intent to kill blacks, but rather of the actual and predictable and known impact of they actually knowingly dov. In Fair Housing legislation, the law prohibits not only actions undertaken with the “intent to discriminate” but also actions “having a disparate impact” on members of the protected group. The standard for a police officer should be no lower than the standard for a planner or zoning administrator or developer. Certainly, the individual police officer is also subject to the social institutions and agencies– the courts, the legislatures, the schools, and the overall set of criminal justice policies, budget cuts, and social patterns. And is further moulded by the underlying system, with its inequalities, its insecurities and fears and perverse incentives. But holding the single individuals responsible for the direct result of their actions when they have in fact a realistic choice would surely be fair and a major help in avoiding those results. The courts are an appropriate institution to do the fact-finding and the balancing of individual choice against the social and constitution constraint required to deal with the specifics of individual situations, and if they are biased, the tools to deal with that bias are certainly known and in general available.
2. Secondly, as to the social institutions:
If, as Mullainathan and many others properly argue, more or better education is required, it should be provided, if the courts are not doing their jobs as they should, then the judicial system should be reformed; if police departments were reformed and trained, controlled, incentivized, not to shoot and kill, there would be less killing; if a gun culture is partly responsible, it should be addressed by appropriate legislation and civil society condemnation. Such reforms will certainly not be adopted without conflict. There are vested interests, both public and private, behind the institutions as they are, and serious reforms will meet serious opposition from powerful opponents. The distribution of power, rather than the search for justice, makes the fair resolution of these issues difficult. But these institutions have been made by human beings, and they can be changed by them.
While underlying systemic factors mould both the actions of specific actors and of specific institutions, placing some blame for their result properly points to the complexity of the problem, “blaming the system” is no reason not press for remedial actions and reforms, which could ameliorate even the most difficult of the issues involved .. They are not all structural systemic, and it is counter-productive to assume they are, or to think they cannot be significantly alleviated even with the existing underlying system.
3. But, thirdly, as to the underlying systemic issues
Systemic structural issues clearly are involved. There are some problems arising from the underlying system that cannot be solved by simple piece-meal reforms, problems such as inequality, poverty, exploitation, and oppression along class or racial or national or cultural lines, perhaps climate change and environmental degradation. The difficulties even of piece-meal reforms, reformist reforms, are immense as the conflicts about racial segregation reveal.vi
Even the Catholic Church, to the extent that Pope Francis today speaks for it, acknowledges that
If the system is to be properly blamed and then addressed, it must first be named and its key characteristics understood. Karl Marx had a comprehensive analysis, and would simply call the system capitalism. In today’s discussion, movements such as Occupyvii and Pope Francis have somewhat similar approaches:
“While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.viii.”
“When money, instead of man, is at the center of the system, when money becomes an idol, men and women are reduced to simple instruments of a social and economic system.”ix
“[S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system.”x
The issues raised here, and underlying the Occupy movements 1%/99% cry, are truly systemic: the level of inequality, the ideology of the free marketplace, the limits on the power of democracy over the state, the role of economic power, the lack of inclusiveness among peoples and groups, are deeply embedded in the system, whichever name is used for it. It is not any old “system” that has the characterisitics of ours today, and should be blamed, but a very specific one that is responsible..
It might take an old-fashioned revolution really to get at the roots of these problems, to do it comprehensively, for they are all interlocked, as the current discussion of intersectionality stresses.
And a revolution is perhaps a theoretical possibility in this period. The new left of the 60’s certainly thought it was fifty years agoxi; the Black Panthers saw themselves as “Vanguards of the Revolution”. Many social activists and their theoretical supporters, from anarchists to Marxists, believed that the seeds of profound change were here then, and their reasoning might well apply today. Today’s systemic economic crisis would provide some grounds for such an expectation. But a revolution does not seem exactly in the cards right now; indeed, one from the right seems much more likely than one from the left, in many places in the world.
The reason revolution is not likely deserves extensive examination, much more than there is room for here xii Those with a vested interest in the present underlying system are powerful, and have convinced many, probably the majority, that they benefit from lt also. The system seems to be producing the goods, as Herbert Marcuse formulated it. But it does not follow that, because we can’t have a revolution right now, nothing can be done to change things as they are, and perhaps even move today to a point in time where the radical changes implied by a revolution could indeed be brought about.
Nor does it help to say: “We are all responsible” for these system-based ills that we are all to blame for them. “We”xiii are not all to blame, at least not in anything like equal measure, and ignoring that fact is both wrong and counter –productive in dealing with the issues. There are specific interests , specific groups, perhaps classes, perhaps the 1% or the .1%, that stand behind the institutions needing change that block that change, block reform. Ignoring their identity undercuts the process of dealing with those who are in fact responsible and to blame for the problem: Their identities are not obscure: the anti—regulators, the low-wage employers in manufacturing and services, the real estate ghetto builders and maintainers, the politicians still seeing advantage in their bigotry, hedge funds and financial speculators. Yes, “we” certainly need to act to change the system, but to get there we need to hold accountable those that are in fact responsible for it’s being the way it is. Much can be reformed within the existing underlying system, even if it is not easy to do and inevitably will be controversial
4. Formulating Responses: Transformative Goals.
But the system is not God-given, nor a natural beast, but one of a number of alternate systems, which may have their own pros and cons, be variably achievable and sustainable, but can be actively pursued here and now by those ill served by the present system. It may take a revolution to achieve the major changes necessary to go to one or another of the alternatives, but it can be done. Legislatures are likely to be the sites of many of these
battles, and the normal mechanisms of liberal democracy, including particularly the electoral procedures, which would need to be used strategically to the fullest extent possible.
“Transformative” is a useful term for the kinds of demands and approaches that bridge the need to deal with all three levels of responsibility outlined above.xiv Two complementary avenues might be envisioned: one pursuing loaded reforms, the other exemplary reforms.
Loaded reforms address directly individual perpetrators and social institutions but stressing their connection with the underlying causes and pointing in the direction of change, pointing out causes, exposing, not only what is happening but why it is happening, who the actors are for and against, what the lines of struggle ultimately are, just who the 1% are, what power they hold and how they benefit from the system, who the 99% are and how they suffer from it. Their hallmarks are seeking the immediately feasible within the system but naming the obstacles to real success: the remaining inequalities and the long-orange systemic alternatives that are ultimately needed for real success.
Such reforms are loaded in the sense that they acknowledge their own limitation, at the same time pointing to the further changes that would be required for substantial structural change. In the shootings of African-Americans by police, reforms in the training of police, in the punishment of offenders, in the availability of guns, etc; but reforms acknowledging that poverty, frustration, misunderstood but real grievances, a search for security as well as safety in the system as a whole, are causes of the police actions and the judicial systems responses that also need to be addressed.
Exemplary reforms bring into existence relationships among individuals and groups , patterns of organization and doing business, rules of behaviour, that pre-figure within the existing system possibilities that can only be fully developed beyond it, but can have real if limited impact within it. Projects such as worker-owned cooperatives, community land trusts, radical educational offerings, participatory budgeting, will not produce structural change by themselves, but will show that real alternatives are available to existing structures and behaviours.
Again, in the police treatment of minorities, projects such as community control of the piece, Planned diversity in housing, full citizenship rights for all residents, are examples that can support movements for more wide-spread and deeper extensions of such approaches.
Blaming “the system,” without naming it, without going beyond addressing individual ills as isolated unrelated problems, will not do. It will not go far to address underlying social issues. Seeing who is responsible for social ills, who benefits from their existence, what institutions need change, are all necessary, and beyond that, pressing for solutions that are transformative, policies that are loaded progressively and exemplary in reality, are needed.

—references

ii October 18, 2015, The Upshot, p. B6
iii I only realized the pun after I used the term: it lets the cop out of responsibility…
iv Mullainathan, supra.
v A paraphrase of the general sense of what creates liability in civil law, on a continuum with culpability in criminal law. For a concise discussion, see Paul H. Robison, Mens Rea, at https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0ahUKEwjmuZCs1L7JAhVKcT4KHfEpB0gQFggvMAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.law.upenn.edu%2Ffac%2Fphrobins%2Fmensreaentry.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFnYj1gAqCw_JFTrIBZBVXDr4MtVQ&cad=rjt
vi See blog #70 – The Causes of Discrimination. And they are global in scope, on segregation alone see most recently https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/02/how-the-rise-of-american-style-segregation-is-feeding-division-in-europe/
vii See Blogs #1-10, supra
viii https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/may/documents/papa-francesco_20130516_nuovi-ambasciatori.html
ix https://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/pope-francis-catechism-for-economics/
x http://fortune.com/2015/09/14/pope-francis-capitalism-inequality/. And quotes collected at http://gawker.com/here-are-11-top-screw-capitalism-lines-in-pope-franci-1471888334
xi See Herbert Marcuse, Essay on Liberation, and Peter-Erwin Jansen and Charles Reitz, eds. 2015, Herbert Marcuse’s 1974 Lectures at Vincennes University.
xii See also, even more briefly, Blog #74 – On the Relevance of Herbert Marcuse
xiii See Blog #35 – Watch your Language, Krugman, and the Rest of Us, and Blog #37 – Lopsided Language.
xiv See Blog #30: Transformative Proposals in Nine Areas, at pmarcuise.wordpress.cm.

Blog #71 – Fair Housing – Remedies and Solutions


Fair Housing – Remedies and Solutions

This Blog #71 – Fair Housing – Remedies and Solutions, then proposes some immediate remedies, and then some principles for real solutions.

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Turning to remedies and solutions, one way of looking at the reasons to be restrained in celebrating the Court’s decision and the new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Regulation is to ask the question:

“If the Federal government itself were obligated by law to do everything within its legal power to affirmatively further fair housing, what would it be doing?”

There are some immediately available and known policies that could be of substantial help.

They are immediately practicable ideas that might be politically viable even today.

They include, just for instance:

  1. closing the loopholes in the new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Regulation,
  2. requiring a fair housing impact statement analogous to an environmental impact statement for all actions affecting housing provision;
  3. a housing speculation provision in the income tax law denying capital gains treatment or imposing progressively steeper taxes on profits from speculation in land ;
  4. expansion of public housing, housing directly and permanently owned by government, with increased roles for tenant participation in management;
  5. a federal housing trust fund, available to provide subsidies for location actions necessary to prepare and implement fair housing plans;
  6. legislative endorsement of the various Declarations of Rights of the UN;
  7. model local legislation on building codes, affordability, zoning, tax policies, eviction policies, comprehensive planning;
  8. Specific financial and technical support for the preparation of comprehensive local master plans covering land use and the key sectors of public engagement,[1]

[1] The new AFFH Regulations already contain provisions for such assistance, but are focused on data provision and analysis, not a comprehensive planning process.

But these are remedies; they operate in a situation in which discrimination in housing is recognized as part of the existing landscape. To be effective, however, such actions need to be based on a recognition of the causes of that situation, and incorporate specific substantive prnciples so that they do not become simply empty paper-work bureaucratic requirements. The next Blog, E. suggests what such further action, looking to solutions rather than just remedies, might look like.

To be effective, however, such actions need to be based on specific substantive principles so that they do not become simply empty paper-work bureaucratic requirements.

At least ten concrete principles could address the six weaknesses of the present court decision and governmental regulations:

  1. Close the loopholes in the law and the regulations and the Supreme Court decision that leave open to undesired interpretation terms such as “adverse,” “disproportionate ,” “legitimate purpose,” “reasonable alternative,” “racial” and “ethnic,” etc. Perhaps a blanket provision stating the constitutional priority to be given to the goal of eliminating discrimination in housing might suffice.
  2. Recognize the unjust and discriminatory way in which the housing system as a whole now operates, face up to the limitations of the private market as the mechanism for determining land uses and more broadly the direction of urban development, as matters of fundamental public policy., limiting the perks of private property[2] standing in the way of the development of alternatives.

Apply the standard used in defining fair housing, and the consequent affirmative obligations of government, to the other major policy areas involved in urban life, acting in recognition of the intersectionality of housing, education, environmental quality, accessibility, aesthetics, economic development, health care, security, the administration of justice, campaign financing, electoral procedures, essentially all sectors that ought to be under public control in a democracy.

Plan comprehensively, re-examining and expanding on the tradition of master planning and the experience in making such planning participatory and democratic. Intersectionality might suggest separate “sections” interacting; the reality is that each “section” is from the beginning entwined with all others from the beginning, and they should be planned jointly, not separately.

Provide the funds to implement fair housing goals. If the major problem creating unfair housing is the inequality of wealth and income, we have the power at least to ameliorate its consequences by redistributing some of that wealth and income, and the tax code is can be a major way to do that. By taxing at the top, with a steeply progressive tax system perhaps in this case focusing on income and wealth created within the housing system and redistributing the proceeds, perhaps through a targeted federal Low Income Housing Trust, adequately funding programs such as public housing which permanently take housing out of the profit -driven housing market, could go vastly further than it has – perhaps from 3% of all housing to 30-70%, in spirit from the 1% to the 99%.

Use the tax code to attack directly the maldistribution within the housing sector at its source by confiscatory taxation of speculative profit in the buying and selling of land and interests in land, monopoly profits from the ownership and management of housing, steeply progressive real property taxation of megahomes and ultra-luxury apartments.

Power must be explicitly taken into consideration. Given the obvious pre-existing inequalities in wealth and political, only exacerbated by the Communities United decision, any remedy for local governmental action must deal with the relations of power of the various groups involved, and minorities will generally , in the large picture , be near the bottom of the totem pole. If the undiluted warm welcome given the new Regulation is to be earned, the actions of the Federal government under the provisions of the FHA must deal with the distribution of power. It must be clear that the Federal government is indeed interfering in local matters, is indeed imposing standards of conduct meeting national priorities and national values. Indeed local input is vital, and necessary for effective implementation, but Federal rules must govern. Choices among decisions not contradicting the intent of the Federal law should indeed be left as fully local as reasonably possible, but it is entirely consistent with the distribution of powers among branches of government in the Constitution that issue of national concern, such as the full implementation of the 14th and 15th Amendments, be in the hands of the Federal government.

Recognize and welcome as positive the dominant role of the Federal government in setting the guidelines   for how housing should be produced, financed, managed, located, and distributed, and enforce those guidelines aggressively. Local discretion (but not autonomy.) is desirable within the framework of national if not global principles, e.g. an enforceable Declaration of Human Rights in Housing.[3]

Spell out, in theory and as implementable guides to practice, what values are intended to be covered by the general concepts of “fair”. Concepts such as justice, democracy, equity, diversity, growth, and sustainability are clearly involved, but their meaning and applicability to action public actions needs to be publicly debated and become ever present considerations in public and private actions.[4]

  1. Require social justice impact statement of all public actions affecting housing and land use, learning from the environmental movement the possibilities of having such statements, as well as an awareness of their limitations with enforcement measures behind them

These nine actions could virtually constitute an agenda for future fair housing and civil rights activity.

Such actions are recognizably not on the immediate political agenda of any social movement, political party, or advocacy group. They sound very theoretical and very idealistic, whether that term is used pejoratively or literally.

But these are actually radical proposals, if their implications are thought through. They call into question fundamental assumptions and values taken for granted in capitalist society, such as the sacrosanct rights of private property, the importance of growth, especially measured in economic terms, as a priority for governmental action, the profit motive as the most effective vehicle for securing efficiency in production and service provision, , the desirability of the market as a mechanism for the allocation of housing or any of the necessities of civilized life, the meaning of equality in the satisfaction of needs.

In Andre Gorz’s phrase, there are reformist reforms and non-reformist reforms. These are reformist reforms; the six concrete principles suggested before them tend towards non-reformist reforms. Even more radical reforms, such as public ownership of all land, income based on need, work based on ability, government based on direct democracy, while perhaps still theoretically attractive, are hardly imaginable in countries such as the United States today.

Making the transition from principles to practice, from reforms to non-reformist reforms , is a major challenge to those critical of the status quo, and goes beyond the discussion here. But one simple suggestion might be useful. The difference between the two is essentially that reform still leave much more to be done; no-reformist reforms are more comprehensive, seek to address the roots of our problems, not just the branches – although those branches are what immediately hurts, and must be addressed before the roots can be gotten at. Making this point, and make it continually and emphatically, is perhaps a way of opening a door to the consideration of more, of non-reformist reforms   whose need is made apparent by the limitations of the reformist.

Some reforms lend themselves to opening the door more than others:[5] a speculative property tax on land begs the question of why profit should be made on the sale of land to begin with, zoning issues implicitly raise the question of the priority of exchange over use values, social welfare programs lead to the question of what standard of living we after all want to have everyone be able to have. How far this can be done in any given situation is a question of strategy; its desirability seems to me apparent.

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This Blog is part of a set of five:

[Blog #68 – Evaluation of Recent Developments, examined the reception the Court’s decision and the AFFHR have received and their respective roles in dealing with housing discrimination.

Blog #69 – Fair Housing: Limitations of Supreme Court decision and AFFHR, took up the limited scope of the AFFHR, the weaknesses in the Court’s decision and the problems of implementation for both.

Blog #70 – The Causes of Discrimination, opens an analysis of the current causes of discrimination, and the attribution of causes to both the legacy of slavery and to the present actors behind discrimination, and then the structural context in which they operate.

Blog #72 – Beyond Fair Housing: Some Elusive Principles for Societal Change, will raise some questions about elusive general principles for societal change.]

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[1] The new AFFH Regulations already contain provisions for such assistance, but are focused on data provision and analysis, not a comprehensive planning process.

[2] Michel Sorkin’s striking phrase.

[3] Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could be the beginning of such a process. For a comprehensive survey, see: United Nations Housing rights legislation, Review of international and national legal instruments, publications in support of the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure No. 05. Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Nairobi, 2002 available at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/HousingRightsen.pdf

[4] Susan Fainstein’s The Just City and David Harvey’s Social Justice and the City are current major steps in this direction. See also Peter Marcuse, James Connolly, Johannes Novy, Ingrid Olivo, Cuz Potter, Justin Steil, eds. 2009. Searching for the Just City: Debates in Urban Theory and Practice. Oxford: Routledge.

[5] Nancy Fraser has termed such reforms “transformative,” and I have used that term also from time to time. Susan Fainstein, in the opening chapter to her The Just City, has an insightful general discussion of a similar approach.

Blog #52 – Place, Not Race: The Slippery Slope of Non-Affirmative Action


Place, Not Race: The Slippery Slope of Non-Affirmative Action

Sheryll Cashin argues that “we should use place, rather than race, in diversity programming” – specifically, in admissions policies to higher education.[1] She admits that that there is “an achievement gap that has made race-based affirmative action necessary,” but, because ”affirmative action is on life support” in the present Court, she argues that “the use of place, rather than race, in diversity programming will better approximate the structural disadvantages many children of color actually endure.” But she is on a slippery slope, where justified disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Schuette case and efforts to get around it lead acceptance of it as permanent public policy and to a questionable legal strategy of injecting place, seeing it as race at one remove as a substitute, mistaking a spatial indicator of the existence of racism for racism itself, and in the process abandoning the political recognition of racism as an ongoing evil still needing to be fought by all possible means, including affirmative action itself. A possible legal ply because rationalized as an empirically justified retreat from the recognition of racism as an evil in itself.

Cashin’s suggestion of the greater emphasis on place, theoretically by-passing the Supreme Court’s objects to using race per se, is certainly a possibility lawyers can explore where affirmative action is actually the goal but seems legally blocked. But it is itself a vulnerable approach. Logically, if racial composition of an applicant’s place of residence is i one of the factors considered in defining what characteristics of a place should give be given extra weight in judging an application of admission, then race is indeed still being taken into account, and the approach will fall victim to the Supreme Court’s present slim majority’s apparent dedication to color-blindness. Indeed, HUD’s interest in mapping that “combines basic demographic data (age, race, disability status, English proficiency, and poverty)” is explicit in the reference to race, and may yet be successfully challenged before the present Supreme Court.[2]

The very title of Cashin’s book and subsequent article reveals the problem: “Place, not Race.” “Place Reveals Race” would be defensible, added to an already substantial body of scholarship showing the ongoing existence of discrimination and segregation by race in shaping geographic patterns. Instead, the proposal substitutes place equity for racial equity. Inequity of place is certainly statistically correlated to inequities of race, but the causal path goes from racism to spatial pattern, not vice versa.[3]

The issue of racism, and of affirmative action as among possible remedies, is not simply a legal issue. It is inherently political. Cashin’s defense for dropping consideration of race in college admissions is that including it “raises the question of whether the marginal benefits of getting more blacks into elite institutions… are worth the political costs of continued racial division.”[4] She advocates “race-neutral reforms” as the path to creating a racially diverse politics in which “white working class whites and people of color share a common agenda,” an eminently desirable goal, but until it is reached ducking the question of racism is not race-neutral, but supports the status quo.

To suggest that it can be avoided by measures dealing with poverty, “neighborhood characteristics,” “oppositional culture,” or other characteristics of place, should be recognized as questionable policy. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in the Schuette case is eloquent testimony to the continued importance of race. Taking race out of the equation diminishes the opportunity to address racism. Cashin’s implicit legitimation of the practice is counter-productive.

A New York Times story,[5] seen after I wrote the above, reinforces the point. It compares an “economic diversity” approach with a “racial diversity” approach, favoring the latter as an alternative to affirmative action in college admissions, and citing the Cashin book as a source. The article doesn’t pretend to compare either approach to an affirmative action approach. In the figures it presents, black/Hispanic comes out at 10% of admissions, in “racial diversity”, using income as a factor, and 16% with “economic diversity,” using income as a factor. Even completely randomizing, Black/Hispanic are at least 30%. There’s no doubt affirmative action would produce a much higher result.

But beyond that, the logic is treacherous. The “economic diversity” approach includes “parents’ income education, and occupation.” Blacks and Hispanics are of course disproportionately in the low end of those categories include a majority of whites. If race were also taken into account, the proportion of blacks admitted would be substantially higher, and if race were the sole factor, even much higher.

Logically, the argument is strange. It is in the first place passing strange to hold that race, a constitutionally protected category, cannot be considered and positively addressed in admissions policies, but parentage or occupation, not constitutionally protected, can.[6] And if the standard of success is indeed measured by the proportion of black/Hisp in the student body under the different approaches, and if it is accepted, as it should be, that race enters clearly into parents’ income, education, and occupation, then if one wants to remedy the injustices of racism, one has to isolate it as a factor in income, education, and occupation as well as in applications for college admission. The best indicator of how racism has affected the lot of applicants to college is to look at the percentage of black/Hisp admissions compared to their percentage in the population as a whole. Assuming the good will of college admissions officers, using parents’ incomes as a criteria in admissions indeed favors blacks/Hisp, because race affects income, but so do other factors; it’s not a 100% correlation. If one want to deal with the impact of race, one needs to deal with race, not just with one partial correlative of race. Adding other partial correlatives, e.g. place, or occupation or education, helps only marginally.

Lawyers in constitutional litigation of course have to deal with Justice Roberts’ vacuous proclamation:

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stoop discriminating on the basis of race” [1].

as best they can. But perhaps the court will one day go back to Justice Blackmun’s “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.” [8]

In the meantime, it should be remembered, certainly by social scientists and professors, that the purpose of affirmative action is not simply to get more black/Hispanic applicants into universities, but to help end racism, the unconstitutional discrimination against individuals because of their race.

[1] “Place, Not Race: Affirmative Action and the Geography of Opportunity.” Poverty and Race Research Action Council, vol. 23, No. 3, May-June 2014.

[2] Indeed, another well-reasoned argument for “Community-Driven Exclusion Mapping” by Peter Gilbert, in the same issue cited above, is explicit in its advocacy of racial composition and segregation in viewing patterns of housing use.

[3] It is unclear if Cashin shares this view. She writes: “…racial and economic segregation beget racial inequality,” p, 2. “Beget” may simply be an unfortunate choice of words.

[4] Op. cit., p. 10.

[5] David Leonhardt, “If Affirmative Action is Doomed, What’s Next?” New York Times, June 17, 2014, p.3.

[6] Countless anti-discrimination laws explicitly list race as a protected category, and a statistical evidence showing impact by race is widely allowed in evidence to help judge the existence of an impermissible disparate racial impact.

[7] Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 551 U.S. 701 (2007).

[8] Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (11978)