Notes from the US: From hate speech to violence

Louis Further looks over the racist rhetoric and damaging actions which have been carried out in the land of the free over recent weeks.

Shortly after last month’s Midterm elections in a state with a history of racial killings, Mississippi, candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith made an astonishing comment when praising a supporter: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row”. Her opponent was a black Democrat. Less than a fortnight after that, an image emerged of her dressed in Confederate clothing with Confederate artifacts; it had the caption ‘Mississippi history at its best!’ The use of Confederate imagery and references, of course, is considered racist and provocative because the 11 US Confederate States were those who seceded from the Union effectively in support of slavery during the Civil War in the 1860s. On November 27th a majority those in Mississippi who voted — in a higher-than-usual turnout – did so for Hyde-Smith. Another racist, white supremacist bigot was thus elected to the Senate.

We reported last month on the re-election of racist congressperson Steve King (Iowa). Days after his victory, the conservative media outlet The Weekly Standard released audio of which the following is a transcript rife with racial slurs:

King: “So, I guess I’m going to have to go get some dirt from Mexico to grow the next batch.

“Unidentified: “Trust me, it’s on its way.”King: “Well, yeah, there’s plenty of dirt. It’s coming from the West Coast, too, that and a lot of other places besides. This is the most dirt we’ve ever seen.”

Trump’s encouragement of hate, racism and the rejection of everything and anything with which he does not agree is turning out — after two years — to be one of his presidency’s defining attributes. In mid-November the FBI published its annual report on hate crimes. For obvious reasons this is unlikely to exaggerate the scale of the trends. In 2017 crimes defined by the FBI as having hate as the only or as a major motivation rose by 17%. The majority of reported major incidents (7,175, or just under one each hour around the clock) targeted African-Americans and Jews.

Whether Trump can and should be blamed for creating increasingly racist atmospheres is only part of the story here. But the growth of intolerance is and its implications are frightening: Louis Klemp is the County Commissioner for Leavenworth in Kansas. The County Commission is a body of elected officials who both enact and administer local ordinances; it usually consists of three, four or five officials who approve budgets, oversee spending and hire county employees. In mid-November Klemp made the following remarks when officially addressing a black city planner, Triveece Penelton, as she appeared presenting a study about local land use to the Commission: “I don’t want you to think I’m picking on you because we’re part of the master race.” He added — oddly — “You know you got a gap in your teeth, you’re the masters. Don’t ever forget that.”

Klemp has made similar comments before. In 2017 while approving the town’s calendar for public holidays, he commented that Robert E. Lee was a “…wonderful part of history… It bothers me that if we’re going to have Martin Luther King Day, why don’t we have a George Washington?” Klemp was inaccurately suggesting that there was no holiday for Washington. In fact there used to be one until it was amalgamated into Presidents’ Day, which commemorates the birthdays of Washington, Lincoln and other such figures. Klemp added that his own great-great grandfather owned a slave.

As Yemenis die in their tens of thousands from disease and famine in the war fuelled and funded by the United States, its legislature turned its back on its complicity yet again. In mid-November (Republican) lawmakers in the House of Representatives stopped a debate on a resolution which would have ended US military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen; they voted 201 to 187 on a bill to approve a provision blocking Democrats from forcing a vote on the role of the United States in Yemen under the War Powers Act.

As Trump’s border patrol agents shot at the refugees approaching the US border in Mexico in the days after the Thanksgiving holiday, in Tucson, Arizona, a jury found one specific Border Patrol agent, Lonnie Swartz, not guilty of the ‘involuntary manslaughter’ charge of shooting and killing 16-year-old José Elena Rodríguez through the US-Mexico border fence seven years ago.

Shortly after this atrocity, it emerged that the Trump administration has now waived rigorous background checks for all staff at a detention centre (‘tents in the desert’) outside El Paso in Texas. A memo from the Health and Human Services department’s inspector general reveals that the Office of Refugee Resettlement approved the removal of requirements for fingerprint checks and measures to detect possible child abuse by the FBI for over 2,000 officials working with the imprisoned children at Tornillo tent city. Although the rules require one mental health clinician for every 12 children, Tornillo has just one clinician for every 100 children.

The environment 

One of the Propositions (referenda) passed in last month’s Mid-terms was one in California to curb the horrors of factory farming. Proposition 12 establishes ‘minimum space requirements based on square feet for calves raised for veal, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens (including chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl). The measure bans the sale of veal, pork, and eggs from livestock from other states that are confined in spaces deemed too small under California’s standards. Although the vote (by 61% of voters) obviously retains the same system that promotes and tolerates massive suffering by animals for human indulgence, it is now being claimed by some animal rights activists as the world’s ‘strongest animal welfare law for farmed animals in history’.

A recent report from the United Nations explains how quantifiable damage caused by extreme weather events has cost the United States US$2.9 trillion (or about £300,000 a day) in economic losses over the last 20 years.

The otherwise safe and clear waters off the Alaskan coast are under threat again: Trump announced recently that he has approved a plan by Hilcorp Energy to drill for oil in the Beaufort Sea. This would be the first oil and gas production facility in federal waters off Alaska. His own personal powers to do such things seem larger than many people realised.

As wildfires killed dozens if not hundreds of people in California, the words of Sophia Zaia of the Sunrise Movement (one of also 50 people arrested for protesting at the office of House Democratic leader and Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi recently) were very telling: “Back in Nancy Pelosi’s home state, 42 people were just burned alive by wildfires, that are described as fire tsunamis, that we literally do not know how to fight. And she’s come to that crisis with a water gun, saying that she’s going to revive a committee to talk about evidence of climate change? That maybe would have been helpful back in 1968, when Exxon first learned about climate change. But that, today, is so, so far from what we need.”

This took place as doubt remains over the outcome of what at first looked like a promising lawsuit brought by young climate activists in the Pacific NorthWest. They originally approached Obama with the argument that the federal government has not done what was and is needed to diminish fossil fuel emissions; this violates their constitutional rights. Earlier in November the Supreme Court allowed the case to proceed. But at the same time the Court potentially neutered this ruling by directing that lower courts could continue to play a part in determining the suit’s fate. Sure enough, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals then put a temporary stay on the case so as to be able to hear a challenge – from Trump.

Trump’s White House predictably dismissed as ‘inaccurate’ the government’s own fourth National Climate Assessment, which points out that actions on climate change being taken (or not taken) now will – unless changed – result in ‘…annual losses in some economic sectors …projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century – more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many US states.’

Oppression

In a little-noted but positive development, in October the state of Washington became the 20th state to ban the death penalty. Washington’s Supreme Court ruled that state killing is unconstitutional because it ‘…is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.’

Trump issued a thinly disguised threat in the middle of last month against the Antifa protesters. He said: “These people, like the Antifa — they better hope that the opposition to Antifa decides not to mobilise… Because if you look, the other side, it’s the military. It’s the police. It’s a lot of very strong, a lot of very tough people. Tougher than them. And smarter than them… Potentially much more violent. And Antifa’s going to be in big trouble.”

As the chaos surrounding the mid-term election results continued, a group of protesters from Black Lives Matter held balloons in front of the Capitol building in Georgia spelling out ‘340,134’. This is the number of voters believed to have been wrongly purged from Georgia voter rolls by the then Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is now the Republican candidate for governor. They were arrested.

Many sections of the American public and press have become desensitised to Trump’s narcissism, incompetence, bullying, destructiveness, lies, distortions – and vulgarity. When he misspelt (questioned at subsequent press conferences whether this was deliberate were dodged) the name of a senior Democrat and prominent member of the Intelligence Committee (also its presumptive chair and a vocal critic of Trump), Adam Schiff as ‘Schitt’ in a tweet, it didn’t cause much of a stir. The most powerful man on Earth, the president of its most powerful country, hurling obscene insults at a senior lawmaker raised few eyebrows.