Tag: Wisconsin

Bubbles

Hey, remember when I said that too many liberals were genuflecting to Trump and insisting that he was all presidential and shit now, just because he successfully gave a mediocre speech? And remember when I said that was nonsense, and that Trump hadn’t changed and never would?

Yeah, that was last week. And I was right.

So now that we’ve further established that liberals are acting like a bunch of abused spouses, how do we focus on creating a new mindset — one that doesn’t play into conservatives’ hands?

There are, of course, a number of strategies. But I would rather focus on what not to do.

For starters, let’s drop the ludicrous suggestion that progressives need to “get outside their bubbles.”

“But wait,” my fellow progressives wail. “We lost the white working class, and it’s because we’re just a bunch of spoiled, condescending, pampered elitists. We need to kiss their boots and tell them how great they are, in the desperate hope that they’ll vote for a democrat.”

Sorry, but when it comes to reasoning with a hardcore Trump supporter, there is very little return on investment.

First, the truth is that most Americans live in bubbles — defined as clusters of like-minded individuals who tend to line up on politics, culture, religion, etc. In fact, there are apparently up to 11 different Americas, which makes sense when one considers how vast this country is. Furthermore, Americans have always lived in bubbles. It’s just more obvious now with the rise of social media and academic studies.

And yet, it is only now that we’re hearing “get out of your bubbles.” And it is only liberals who are being told to do this (despite the fact that the Democratic candidate actually got millions more votes).

I rarely hear the reverse. That is, how come nobody ever says that people in the Midwest and the Deep South live in their own bubbles, and that perhaps they should try to understand the viewpoints of the dreaded coastal elites?

In fact, one could make the case that “rural and exurban people need to see more of America. People do not understand the depths of how little rural America travels and sees other people and cultures.”

And if I haven’t mentioned this in the last nine minutes, I’m from Wisconsin, and I’ve probably spent more time in rural America than the vast majority of liberals. So I can tell you, the rural conservative bubble is much stronger and more impenetrable than the urban progressive bubble.

Yet it is liberals who are told to “stop ranting and seek out” Trump voters for their opinions. However, when a progressive actually attempts this, it’s all shouting and insults, and nobody ever changes his/her mind. Or Trump supporters don’t bother to show up to the conversation — because they don’t have to.

In fact, I have yet to see one of those “opposing sides come together” kind of stories where the instigator was a Republican. And the reason is obvious.

Conservatives have the default setting of being “the real Americans,” and asking them to do anything to upset their world is political suicide and culturally shameful. Meanwhile, liberals would rather be punched in the face than get accused of being elitist, so we had better bend over backward.

In essence, conservatives who refuse to compromise are principled and strong. But liberals who do the same are smug.

It’s all enough to make you want to stay inside your own little bubble.

 

 


Are You Being Nice Enough to Racists?

So mere days away from Armageddon — I mean, Trump’s inauguration, excuse me — we’re all wondering how Democrats are going to rebound in 2020.

Will they seek to rebrand themselves with the white working class by appealing to its concerns? Or will they double down on their base, and nominate a truly progressive candidate?

Ha, we’re just kidding.

We all know Democrats will run like hell from the “liberal” label. They will strain to convince Pennsylvania factory workers and Wisconsin farmers that the Democratic Party has learned its lesson and is abandoning “identity politics.” And then Democrats will ask white rural voters to grab a beer with them and talk about the Packers before heading out to the deer stand.

There are, of course, numerous issues with this approach. Let’s skip the obvious one for now, which is that Democrats will once again take the Latino vote for granted while dismissing progressives as silly elitists.

 

Instead, let’s analyze a very real problem, which is that many people who voted for Trump weren’t just being loyal Republicans, or looking to drain the swamp, or getting bamboozled by a con man.

No, many of them are damn racists who knew exactly what they were voting for. In fact, the link between racism and Trump mania is disturbingly clear.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it’s morally ok to court such voters. So how does one persuade them to abandon the Republican Party and its blatant xenophobia? How can we convince a person feeling white resentment or white anxiety (or whatever term euphemizes prejudice) that his attitude is not cool?

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Don’t Say a Word

Americans have received more than a fair amount of post-mortem analysis and 20/20 hindsight into how the country got stuck with that malignant clown for president. Despite this, it remains astonishing to note how the media tries to avoid stating the obvious.

For example, CNN recently unveiled its 24 theories why Trump won. Here are a full two dozen rationales — some astute, some questionable — in which the word “bigotry” does not appear.

Yes, a couple of CNN’s theories allude to it in euphemistic terms (e.g., “white male resentment”). But the nearest any of its reasons comes to acknowledging real prejudice among Trump supporters is to discount the very idea. In fact, theory #22 clearly states, “Not because of racism.”

By the way, the words “misogyny” and “sexism” do not appear on CNN’s list at all. So apparently, “Trump that bitch” was just a catchy slogan.

In any case, here we have a major news outlet listing dozens of reasons why Trump emerged victorious, and heaven forbid they acknowledge the well-documented fact that a significant number of Trump supporters are white supremacists. Or perhaps I just imagined that whole thing about the KKK throwing a victory parade.

klannn

Now, racism certainly wasn’t the only reason for Trump’s ascendency, and it probably wasn’t even the main reason. But to imply that it was no reason at all, and to sidestep this most unpleasant of factors, is disingenuous at best and cowardly at worst.

Another CNN piece states “this election was for the forgotten among the American people…. When Donald Trump came on the scene, for the first time, they had a voice.

Yes, thank god someone is finally speaking up for white men!

However, it is not just CNN that is embracing this soothing narrative that bigotry is miniscule among Trump supporters.

For example, a professor at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin — Madison, recently published a book based on her months of talking to rural voters of that swing state. In a Washington Post interview about Trump’s popularity in the heartland, the professor acknowledged that many of her interview subjects expressed bigoted sentiments, but she quickly dismissed this by stating, “it’s not just resentment toward people of color. It’s resentment toward elites, city people.”

Ah, I see. So to the professor, whenever a Midwestern farmer snapped that blacks are lazy criminals, it was justifiable irritation with all those fancy urban types.

Good thing it wasn’t racism.

By the way, I am from Wisconsin and have spent more time in small towns and on dairy farms than the vast majority of “coastal elites.” The people there are overwhelmingly polite and hardworking. But yes, I’ve been slurred a few times. And I assure you that it wasn’t because I was too cosmopolitan.

Again, all this dancing around and justifying and flat-out ignoring is jarring to both our knowledge of the world and our sense of decency.

For some delusional reason, we remain deathly afraid of calling out racism in a large swath of people, as if doing so might acknowledge that bigotry still lingers in our “post-racial” society. And we can’t have that.

Or maybe we just can’t offend white people.

After all, as some writers have noted, “to call out voters for falling for damagingly racist and sexist messages is viewed [as] dangerously snobby by the media, as though working-class people are precious toddlers who must be humored and can’t possibly be held responsible for any flawed thinking.” We should also be aware that “only the white working classes are accorded this handwringing and insistent media empathy.”

It’s all about white fragility, which often mixes with a toxic helping of male insecurity. When that happens, we get the idea that “if white men are not living the American Dream the system must be broken. For everyone else, failure is a sign of individual failure, cultural failure, and communal shortcomings, but if white men ain’t winning, the game is rigged.”

So we remain highly sensitive about making any accusations of prejudice. And we embrace the lie that blatant xenophobia had little to do with Trump winning — anything but that.

By the way, hate crimes against ethnic minorities surged after the election. But I’m sure it was just a coincidence.

To summarize my point on this topic, please allow me to share an email I received the morning after the election. It was from a Trump supporter, identified only as Nmslr1. He had read my articles and was rather displeased with my conclusions.

I have edited his email for length because, quite frankly, it went on and on. But I have not corrected any of the grammatical errors (yes, I’m aware of the irony that this person has a horrific grasp of English).

In any case, here is my fan mail from Nmslr1:

Well, it seems White People have seen and heard about all they are gonna take from the ingrates called hispanics.

Did you really think we were just going to turn the other cheek while you all pilfer our resources and hard work? Did you?

Well you all are going to get whats coming, thats for sure.

The joy! The absolute joy to think we banded together and finally said “enough”. The only solution left is to round them up and send them back where the hell they came from.

Oh, and don’t forget little ole abuela, poor thing.

Now its our turn to gloat.

Get this straight: your raping, thieving shit cultures will respect our culture when you’re on the next bus to the living hell holes you all created and where you all ran from.

Oh, are you an anchor baby? Just to make clear when that insane and abused statute is voided out there will be an amendment to make it retroactive.

Gone. Gone. All gone.


Gemütlichkeit

Don’t tell me about Oktoberfest.

I’ll tell you about Oktoberfest.

You see, I’m from Wisconsin (specifically, Milwaukee, as I’ve written about). And because I hail from a city that is synonymous with beer and a state that is awash in Germanic culture… well, let’s just say that I’ve partaken a few times in the festivities.

Hint: When you’re drinking from the glass boot with your friends, avoid gulping the heel. It just bubbles up in your face.

beer-boot-funny-square

 

Of course, the tradition of Oktoberfest has spread across America.

Hey, just yesterday, I saw a dozen people dressed in lederhosen, sprinting down the street outside my apartment, in some kind of bizarre footrace for beer. And I live in Los Angeles, far better known for its Latino, Asian, and Armenian influences than its German ones.

In any case, Oktoberfest has become Americanized, just like — yes, it’s true — Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos.

The difference is that there is no movement to sever Oktoberfest from its Germanic roots. And nobody views Oktoberfest as an affront to American values, or complains that everything was fine until those damn Bavarians showed up.

You get the picture.

For some mystical reason, it is fine — even glorious — to celebrate Oktoberfest or St. Patrick’s Day. And there will be no political backlash.

Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos, however, are likely to get at least a few people all huffy.

When we acknowledge Germanic and Irish culture, no one claims that doing so “divides us” or undermines the quest for a colorblind society (whatever that means) or somehow cheapens the label of “American” because we’ve put “German” or “Irish” in front of it.

This is not the case with any holiday that has committed the grievous sin of having a Spanish name.

Well, I’m sure it’s simply an unfortunate coincidence.

So let’s all just relax and have a beer.

 


What’s the 414?

I was a teenager a million years ago.

OK, it was the late 1980s.

In any case, once you cross 40, a lot of your teen memories start to fade, or get augmented in unintentional ways, or just get merged with John Hughes movies.

One truly unpleasant memory that I had not conjured up in years came back to me recently.

The catalyst for this flashback was an article by Sarah Hoye, who wrote about her childhood in Milwaukee, the city that recently suffered a fall-blown race riot and which CNN implied was the worst place in America for black people.

 

milwakee-riots

Hoye wrote that “more times than not, when I tell people that I am from Milwaukee, I get a sympathetic head tilt followed by, ‘I’m sorry.’ And that was before the recent protests.”

OK, I relate to that. Because I too am from Milwaukee. And it might pain my Wisconsin crew to know this, but I’ve often received that exact same “I’m sorry” reaction from people when I mention where I’m from. My hometown’s reputation is not a good one.

Now, I haven’t lived in Milwaukee since I graduated high school, but I go back often to visit friends and family.

I spent my childhood in the Latino section of town, an enclave on the South Side that is still heavily Hispanic to this day. Yes, I’ve written about this era and place more than once.

When I was a teenager, we moved to a quasi-suburban area (still within the city’s limits), where all of our neighbors had German or Polish or Serbian ancestry. Our house was all the diversity you were getting for many blocks in any direction.

To be clear, I have fond memories of this time. However, even then I knew that all was not right in my city. You see, Milwaukee has long been the most segregated municipality in America. Growing up, I assumed all cities had stark lines separating the ethnicities (and indeed, to some degree, they all do). But I had no idea Milwaukee was such an extreme case.

And this brings me back to the creepy memory that I had long ago shifted to my brain’s attic.

No, it’s not about the many times I was called spic or wetback or had someone “joke” that I had jumped the border. Hell, I remember those things just fine.

The memory I had forgotten was about my friend J.

I won’t use his full name out of respect for his privacy, even though we lost touch after high school, and it’s highly unlikely he’s reading this right now.

Just in case, however — hey J!

J and I were teammates on our high school football team. We weren’t close friends, but we got along well, and one day after practice, I invited him back to my house to play video games.

Later that evening, he walked to the bus stop for the long journey home. Yes, he was African American, and as such, he lived on the North Side — several miles away and a whole other world socioeconomically, politically, culturally, etc.

I kept him company at the bus stop. We were talking the usual teenage shit — girls, school, football — when we noticed a car slow down as it approached us.

I’m sure both of us considered the odds that the car’s driver was lost and needed directions, or that the vehicle was stuffed with hot cheerleaders just roaming the city looking for a couple of hunky football players to keep them company.

But come on, we both knew what it was.

As the car passed, a young white man leaned out of the window and yelled, “Fuck you, nigger!”

J rolled his eyes, like he had gone through this a million times already that day, and such bullshit no longer fazed him.

The car stopped at the corner, as if preparing to turn around. J and watched to see what the driver would do. After a moment, the car sped off, leaving us in peace.

J’s bus arrived a minute later, and we high-fived, and he left. On my walk home, I realized that I had never, not even for a moment, been afraid that some thugs would jump out of a car and take a swing at me just for being brown.

As I said, I had received my fair share of insults and vague threats. But the real potential of physical violence was alien to me.

After all, it’s not like I was black in Milwaukee.

Instinctively, J and I both knew, without discussing it, that a black kid couldn’t stand around in that neighborhood for more than a few minutes without someone yelling an epithet at him or the cops being called.

And we just accepted it as normal.

I doubt J even remembers this incident, because it was most likely among the milder forms of verbal abuse that he has received in his life.

Indeed, in Sarah Hoye’s article, she writes that “in the Milwaukee I know, I have been called nigger more times than I can count.”

Hoye ends her story with a burst of optimism, saying that “I truly believe, as idealistic as it may sound, that there is hope for a city in pain, and hope for a way forward.”

I share that hope.

 


Family Far and Wide

So I was at the ophthalmologist’s office, getting my yearly exam to make sure glaucoma hasn’t kicked in, or that my retina hasn’t detached (again).

In any case, the nurse looked at my chart and said, “Hey, we have the same last name.”

Now, the only people I’ve ever met with my last name are cousins or aunts or some other semi-immediate family member. So this was a little surprising.

The nurse made me go through my family history, and we discovered that we have the same great-grandfather (!). Yes, I too am impressed that I was able to remember the name of my great-grandfather. Try it sometime — it isn’t easy.

According to my subsequent Google research, the nurse and I are second cousins. She was California-born, which makes sense in that the largest population of Salvadorians (outsider of El Salvador, of course) is right here in Los Angeles. And she assumed, naturally, that I was also a SoCal native.

“No,” I said. “I’m from Wisconsin.”

Consider her mind blown.

Yes, the nurse was impressed that our family name had made it all the way to the American Midwest. But then she added that some of her cousins (my third cousins?) moved to Melbourne a decade ago.

“I talked to them on FaceTime a few weeks ago,” the nurse said. “They have these El Salvadorian kids who have thick Australian accents.”

Well… crikey.

nw-gal-aus-20140125214254582223-620x414

 

Later, I told my mom about running into my second cousin, the nurse. Mi madre really wasn’t that surprised.

“Your great-grandparents had eighteen children,” my mom said.

“I’m guessing they were very Catholic,” I said.

“Yes, so you were bound to run into a cousin someday.”

OK, that’s true. But I still thought it was kind of cool.

 


Born in the US of A

Not so long ago, life was easy for xenophobes. They could slander Latinos and immigrants simultaneously, because they were thought of as one and the same. Also, there weren’t that many Hispanics around, so one could spew within the comfort of an imposing majority.

Well, the Pew Research Center just made everything more difficult for the narrow-minded among us. The organization recently announced that the U.S.-born Latino population is growing at a faster rate than the immigrant population. This means that Hispanics are now more likely to be born and raised in America, as full-blooded American citizens.

This also means bigots will have to supplement their rants about undocumented immigrants with plain old racist tirades, thus doubling their effort.

At the very least, when told to “go back where you came from,” Latinos are likely to deflate the assertion with something like, “You mean, go back to Wisconsin?”

bucky-badger-wallpaper

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Oy Vey

I’ve written before about the bond between Latinos and Jews. There’s even an official alliance to foster this connection.

And now we have statistical evidence that this bond is growing stronger. According to a study by the Anti-Defamation League  (ADL), anti-Semitism is on the decline among Latinos. About 14 percent of American-born Hispanics hold anti-Semitic views, which “represents a welcome decline” from 2011, when 20 percent of Latinos had issues with people named Goldstein and Silverman.

Of course, 14 percent is still way too high, but at least it’s moving in the right direction.

Now, if you had any doubts that Latinos and Jews are strongly linked, consider this related news story out of my home state of Wisconsin. Apparently, a few weeks ago, a severely inebriated man in Janesville exited a bar late one night and “overheard two men on the street speaking Hebrew. He confronted them, demanding they speak English.”

The drunk guy then hit both men “because he believed they were speaking Spanish.” This member of the English-only league has since been charged with two counts of battery with a hate crime enhancer.

No, it’s not an uplifting story. In fact, it sounds like an Onion headline. But clearly, to some Americans, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or Latino — you’re marked for a beat down.

It’s a good thing, then, that Hispanics and Jews have each other’s backs.

mymexicanshivah


Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Many Americans take great satisfaction, sometimes bordering on maniacal pride, in claiming that their European ancestors came here and learned English quickly. According to some, these immigrants’ boots were still wet from the spray of the Atlantic when they ditched German, Swedish, or Dutch. The thinking is that European immigrants rapidly mastered English in a sink-or-swim environment that demanded that they leave their mother tongues behind. The follow-up to this assertion is inevitably, “Why can’t Latin American immigrants do the same and learn English quickly?”

It’s a fair question. There’s just one problem. The central thesis – that European immigrants swiftly adopted English – may be wrong.

Two researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison have published a study showing that America has a long history of (dare I say it?) multiculturalism. The researchers are Joseph Salmons, a German professor, and Miranda Wilkerson, a Ph.D. graduate in German.

Their study shows that until the late nineteenth century, and even into the early twentieth century, many German immigrants to that fine state still had not mastered English.

Germans made up that era’s largest immigration wave to Wisconsin, which is the chief reason that the researchers focused on them. The researchers add, however, that another factor for this emphasis was because the Germans “really fit this classic view of the ‘good old immigrants’ of the nineteenth century.”

The researchers plowed through census data, court information, school records, newspapers, and all the other minutia that academics salivate over. When they were done, they had a linguistic record of German immigration to Wisconsin from the 1830s to the 1930s.

Their conclusion was that many immigrants felt no need to learn English at all, much less quickly, and that some of them, in the words of the researchers, “appeared to live and thrive for decades while speaking exclusively German.”

In fact, as late as 1910 – decades after the initial wave of European immigration – German speakers still accounted for more than 20% of the population in several Wisconsin counties. Some second- and even third-generation residents (yes, even many born and raised in the United States) still spoke only German as adults.

The researchers point out that “after fifty or more years of living in the United States, many speakers in some communities remained monolingual.” The researchers added that “this finding provides striking counterevidence to the claim that early immigrants learned English quickly.”

So apparently, whole swaths of America’s heartland were overrun by people speaking devil languages (i.e., all languages except English) for decades. This is not exactly the instantaneous assimilation that we have been led to believe took place.

By the way, my lovely wife is descended from German immigrants, so I’m not exhibiting anti-Prussian bias or indulging in Bavarian bashing. My point is that Hispanic immigrants are constantly told that they’re not as bright or as determined as European immigrants who mastered English in a week, tops. The additional implication is that speaking Spanish is – if not illegal – certainly an affront to American values.

The irony is certainly powerful. Right wingers claim that their ancestors needed to learn English quickly to survive, and that modern immigrants have been coddled and refuse to adapt. However, the reverse may actually be true: European immigrants could keep speaking their original languages with few negative effects, but contemporary immigrants are economically screwed if they don’t pick up the local dialect as soon as possible.

According to the researchers, many of those hard-working Gunthers and Schultzes of the past were “committed Americans. They participated in politics, in the economy, and were leaders in their churches and their schools. They just happened not to conduct much of their life in English…. There was no huge pressure to change.” Speaking only German “did not act as a barrier to opportunity in the work force.”

It’s a different story today. People who come to America and don’t learn English are doomed to perpetual lower-class status. Certainly, every effort should be made to ensure that residents get a grasp of English as soon as possible. I would argue, however, that insulting contemporary immigrants, indulging in fear mongering by claiming they won’t learn, and mythologizing a past that may not have existed are not the most effective ways to do this.

By the way, if it worries you that a church in your neighborhood has occasional services in Spanish, take another look at Salmons and Wilkins’ study. There, you can find out about the Lutheran Church in Wisconsin that, after much debate, added services in English.

They did it in1929.


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