November 21, 2018

Despite a Year of Anxiety, a Note of Hope

As 2017 comes to a close, the weariness and exhaustion generated by the Donald Trump presidency seem everywhere. Dinner conversations inevitably come around to dreary discussions of Trump’s latest tweets, his disregard for democratic norms or his fantasyland distortion of demonstrable facts. Family gatherings have a pall cast over them as people contemplate three more years of disarray and mendacity.

It is easy to be depressed and assume the achievements of past decades — under both Democratic and Republican administrations — on issues of tolerance and intergroup relations are being undone by a president who has no shame in targeting minorities and the most vulnerable in overt, insensitive and mocking ways.

Despite Trump, I remain hopeful that, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. observed, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” If one steps back a bit, it seems that America has banked enough goodwill and broadly inculcated notions of tolerance that the body politic can withstand the fevered emanations from the Oval Office.

The vote in Alabama is one indication that even in the reddest of states, Trump’s act is wearing thin. His disdain for the norms of modern American modes of conduct helped sink the Roy Moore candidacy. Despite Trump’s entreaties, some 350,000 to 400,000 Alabama evangelicals did not show up at the polls this month to support Judge Moore in his bid for the Senate.

Evangelicals are the core of Trump’s support. If they are seeing through his pseudo-religious veneer, many others will, as well.

Despite his distancing of himself and his office from minority groups and his assault on them during his campaign and since his election, Americans haven’t forgotten what work remains on the intergroup front.

In summarizing a recent poll, the Pew Research Center said that “growing shares of the public say more needs to be done to address racial equality and see discrimination against Blacks as an impediment to this.”

Sixty-one percent of the public (81 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans) say the country needs to continue making changes to give Blacks equal rights with whites. Support for that proposition among Democrats is at a high mark since 2010 and within 3 points of the Republican high of support from 2015. The Trump effect hasn’t blinded Americans to the work that remains.

Even on the local level, racial groups get along, despite the Trump effect. A study earlier this year by the Center for the Study of Los Angeles found that 76 percent of Angelenos believe that “racial groups in Los Angeles are getting along well.” That compares with 37 percent in 1997 (five years after the riots), 48 percent in 2007, and 72 percent in 2012. Angelenos have equaled the most positive assessment of race relations at any point in the last 25 years.

In terms of particular groups in L.A., African-Americans think we are getting along “well or somewhat well” at 73 percent, Asians at 79 percent, whites at 81 percent and Latinos at 72 percent.

The barrage of bad news is rarely contextualized and set in its historic context.

These findings, though taken early in the Trump presidency, suggest that groups can distinguish between the rhetoric of a president who cares not a whit about whom he ostracizes, condemns or harms and the real world. They have figured out that their lives are independent of the show in Washington, D.C. Even Latinos, a particular target of Trump, have a positive assessment (at 72 percent) of how we are getting along in L.A.

On a more global scale, there is reason for optimism. In a post-Trump election interview posted on Vox, Harvard’s Steven Pinker (author of “The Better Angels of Our Nature”) warned about getting too concerned with the headlines of the day and the media’s “given wisdom.” The fact is that well-established trends and attitudes transcend the vagaries of one election.

“More generally,” Pinker said, “the worldwide, decadeslong current toward racial tolerance is too strong to be undone by one man. Public opinion polls in almost every country show steady declines in racial and religious prejudice — and more importantly for the future, that younger are less prejudiced than older ones. As my own cohort of baby boomers (who helped elect Trump) dies off and is replaced by millennials (who rejected him in droves), the world will become more tolerant.

“It’s not just that people are increasingly disagreeing with intolerant statements when asked by pollsters, which could be driven by a taboo against explicit racism. [Seth] Stephens-Davidowitz has shown that Google searches for racist jokes
and organizations are sensitive indicators of private racism. They have declined steadily over the past dozen years, and they are more popular in older than younger cohorts.”

If you want to see the dark clouds on the horizon, there are plenty. The next three years will continue to be very rocky. The nightly news will stream awful stories and troubling facts. Yet, the barrage of bad news is rarely contextualized and set in its historic context. By most measures we and the world are doing better than we ever have, if not as well as we might.


David A. Lehrer is president of Community Advocates Inc., which is chaired by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Al Franken Announces His Intent to Resign

U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) arrives at the U.S. Senate to announce his resignation over allegatons of sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced on Thursday that he plans on resigning from his Senate seat in wake of the multiple sexual harassment allegations against him.

On the floor of the Senate, Franken said he was “shocked” and “upset” by the allegations.

“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” said Franken. “Others, I remember very differently.”

Despite the allegations, Franken declared that he is “a champion of women.”

“I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside everyday,” said Franken. “I know there’s been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks, but I know who I really am.”

And yet, Franken said he would resign “in the coming weeks.”

“I of all people am aware there is some irony in the fact I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said in a clear jab toward President Trump and Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. “But this decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota.”

Franken added, “It has become clear that I can’t both pursue the ethics committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for them.”

The Minnesota senator concluded by stating that he would be an advocate for progressivism outside of the Senate and that he took pride in his record as a senator.

“I know that the work I’ve been able to do has improved people’s lives,” said Franken. “I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

One of Franken’s accusers, U.S. Army veteran Stephanie Kemplin, told MSNBC that she was “sad and appalled” that Franken didn’t apologize and take responsibility for his actions.

“He just keeps passing the buck and making it out to be… that we took his behavior the wrong way, or we misconstrued something, or just flat-out lied about what happened to us,” said Kemplin. “Justice to me would be him owning up to what he did and him to stop trying to pass the buck to individuals who possibly committed the same things, possibly more heinous, than what he’s done.”

Kemplin is one of eight women who have leveled sexual harassment allegations against Franken, which include groping and forcing a kiss onto various women.

As the accusations have mounted against Franken, Senate Democrats eventually called on him to step down. Some believe that it was a political tactic by the Democrats to corner the GOP on their support of Trump and Moore.

Roy and Al

Photos from Reuters.

So, now we know.

We know that credibility of accusers is less important than political identity of the accused.

We know that the extent of criminality is less important than how the accused criminal votes on matters of key importance. We know that standards don’t apply to our elected officials. That’s the clear and transparent message from elected officials and commentators of both political sides this month.

On the right, the refusal to hold Alabama Senate Republican nominee Roy Moore accountable for highly credible allegations of molestation of underage girls has captured national headlines. And it should: Top members of the party that suggested that Bill Clinton had to leave office thanks to his sexual misconduct are suddenly coy about whether Moore ought to step down.

Make no mistake: He should. His female accusers haven’t just told their stories, they’ve provided verifiable details, and Moore has offered no serious defense other than half-hearted accusations of forgeries and suggestions that he’s never even met the women.

Were the situation reversed, there’s little doubt that Republicans would be calling for Moore’s head.

In fact, the situations are reversed. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), it turns out, was photographed years ago as he apparently groped a woman named Leeann Tweeden as she slept. He also used a rehearsal to allegedly ram his tongue down her throat. Franken, who has sounded off routinely on the evils of sexual harassment, allegedly wasn’t above engaging in some of that himself.

And the same Democrats who have called for Moore to step down are defending Franken — or at least tacitly letting him off the hook. Most Democrats have suggested a Senate ethics committee investigation, the political version of a toothless tiger: From 2007 to 2016, despite 613 matters referred to the committee, zero sanctions have been put in place by that body. There’s a reason Franken himself has called for such an ethics committee investigation.

The defenses for Moore and Franken are identical — they’re both too valuable to their parties to go. Moore’s defenders will sometimes admit, in moments of clarity, that they don’t care about the allegations against him; he’ll be a vote in favor of their priorities. And Franken’s defenders do the same. They say that if Franken goes, that may pave the way for the ouster of other Democratic politicians — and it’s not worth fighting sexual assault and harassment just to turn over the Senate to those Neanderthal Republicans.

On both sides, the only people we’re comfortable condemning are those who are no longer useful to us politically. You haven’t heard any right-wing defenses of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert or former Sen. Larry Craig lately. And on the left, it’s little trouble to admit that Ted Kennedy was evil in his treatment of women — eight years after his death. And it’s no trouble for Democrats to finally come around to the conclusion that Bill Clinton was a cad and a probable sexual assailant — he lost his utility right around the time Hillary Clinton lost her election bid.

Sure, Democrats of the time called Republicans puritanical for suggesting that Clinton had somehow mistreated Monica Lewinsky, and protested deafeningly when Donald Trump brought up Juanita Broaddrick during the 2016 cycle. But now we’re supposed to take them seriously — if they could do it all over again, they would have stood against Bill’s sexual malfeasance.

Are we defending politicians because we believe they’re innocent, or because it’s convenient for us to think they are?

Riiiiight.

So, what should we, Americans who purportedly care about morality, do? We need to examine our motives. Are we defending politicians because we believe they’re innocent, or because it’s convenient for us to think they are? Are we willing to take a temporary political hit on behalf of a better country — and, yes, better candidates? Or are we so ensconced in the false binary of momentary politics that we’re willing to have a Senate full of alleged child molesters and sexual assaulters?

The answer is probably the latter. If so, let’s be big enough to admit it, instead of using mistreatment of women as a club to beat our enemies, while ignoring it to suit our friends. Otherwise, we’re not just part of the problem — we’re hypocrites, to boot.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”