Monthly Archives: May 2020

Farrakhan and the Jews

Louis Farrakhan just turned 87 and his Nation of Islam still represents the best of old-fashioned racism and anti-Semitism. He has more in common with the white racist right then he does mainstream African Americans. Farrakhan takes his battered wrecking-ball beliefs to the sweet spot of anti-Semitism; that is, he blames the Jews  for everything. The Jews, as Farrakhan tells it, have an elderly cabal of leaders who have made the destruction of black children their goal in life. Black economic progress, damage to black communities by Jews, and Jewish secret relationships are all a result of this conniving cabal that meets and plots on a regular basis.

Farrakhan is a magnetic trickster. He has been successful at exploiting individuals and bringing them under his spell so he can manipulatively interpret the history of slavery (that the Jews were the biggest participants in the slave trade) and other historical and sociological distortions.

These tropes about Jewish dominance and secretiveness have been around a long time and they resonate for certain groups of people. Such anti-Semitic conspiracy claims land on receptive ears. In Muslim and some Christian communities such claims serve important psychological purposes.

Farrakhan’s publication The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews, which contains his charges against the Jews, serves as a comforting reassurance for some. And while he says that the white race is culpable it is the Jews who are to blame. He consistently tells groups that the Jews were at the rotten core of the slave trade. He goes on to hold the Jews responsible for the Ku Klux Klan (a truly creative point given the relationship between the Jews and the Klan).

Blaming United States for slavery, racism, Jim Crow laws, and the educational and employment structural variables that have discriminated against African Americans for generations, is understandable and defensible. But blaming the Jews! Farrakhan seems to have little use for something as trivial and apparently as malleable as reality. But all this appears to serve Mr. Farrakhan well because once reality is ignored or irrelevant then there is room for new conclusions even facts that better serve private purposes. Mr. Farrakhan, I ‘am sure to his horror, sounds like someone else is currently leading a great nation.

Fortunately, Farrakhan is not a builder. And something like the Million Man March doesn’t count because although he managed to rally enough people to gain some attention he used his speaking time to ramble on about a mystical number when there are so many more important things to talk about.. The march had no follow-up organization and resulted in little more than a momentary pleasure.

It actually is astonishing Farrakhan has the following that he does. But his natural charisma follows him as he is able to attract followers to his doctrine – wait a minute, what doctrine?

 

We Probably Need to Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine

 

The problem of polarization continues and is likely to be the defining political characteristic of contemporary United States. The US populace has been polarized before but it is typically over a single issue. Slavery, for example, in the 19th century. Below is some data from the Pew Foundation on the increasing tendency toward rigid opinions and polarized values.

As the Pew report concluded, the fault is structural; it is not the sort of problem that can be solved by an individual or piece of legislation. Political parties are more ideologically coherent than they’ve been probably at any time since the Civil War. As citizens spend more time talking to those who are like them – which is intensified in the current social media environment – they become more easily reinforced for their particular perspective. The literature by Sunstein and others conclude that this mediated world of interaction with others who hold the same opinion as you do causes those opinions to become rigid and increasingly unmovable. And the dynamic of polarization is increasing. But with the realignment of ideologies that started over the issue of civil rights in the 20th century, ideological purity became a bigger factor in American elections.

Ideological purity is a dangerous form of essentialism. One’s beliefs become so strong, and the sense of ingroup and outgroup become so clarified, that perceptions of the outgroup are assumed to be biologically natural.

Some data suggest that the problem of bias is characteristic of both liberals and conservatives (Baum and Groeling, 2008, Political Communication) are responsible for polarization because both parties have media outlets that are biased in one direction or the other, and attract large audiences. It might be time to reinstate the “Fairness Doctrine”, which legally guarantees equal time and presentation of both sides of an issue. And although such a political policy would be difficult if not impossible to institute, it is a step in the right direction with respect to the benefits of hearing both sides and suppressing the power of money in campaigns.

 

The Table above shows that from 1994 to 2014 a larger percent of Republicans became consistently conservative. And a larger percent of Democrats were consistently liberal. The two groups – liberals and conservatives – consistently drifted toward more rigid ideological opinions that do not vary and are less subject to moderation and persuasive influences.

 

The data reflected in the bar graph above shows that the two parties have increasingly unfavorable attitudes about the other. From 1994 to 2014 the unfavorable attitudes about the other party has more than doubled. I don’t need to reiterate the danger of these data. They make working together and solving problems in any sort of bipartisan way almost impossible.

Note: An earlier version of this posting was October 30, 2019.

 

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