Tag Archives: Phil Robertson

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Working Classism at Work

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The Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Phil Robertson Racism Trials

Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Phil Robertson have more in common than dumb opinions about blacks. They’re examples of working classism at work.

The billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, the grazing fee refusenik Nevada rancher and the hillbilly patriarch in the TV reality show “Duck Dynasty” are bit players in a familiar drama.

After being embraced by the establishment — right-wing Republican politicians and media figures in the case of the last two, the NAACP for the former — their not-so-previously-secret racism exposes itself through their big mouths. After which said establishment proclaims shock and surprise, runs away screaming, and gets rid of their once-favorite racists faster than a chick-turned-chicken after Easter.

The racism trifecta is very 2014, but there’s nothing new about this overall dynamic.

The Reverend Jeremiah Wright was so close to the Obamas that he officiated their wedding. However, when Wright’s sermons criticizing American foreign policy came to light during the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama quit his church and publicly insulted him.

Unlike Sterling, Bundy and Robertson, Wright’s controversial comments came from the Left of the corporate “mainstream.” As a progressive, Wright identifies with African-Americans, the poor and working class.

Nevertheless, it was the same basic theme in action: an establishment figure defining himself as “mainstream” by ostracizing an erstwhile ally, one who is identified with or as a member of the working class.

Sterling and Robertson are both very wealthy; by most measures, Bundy is rich. Culturally, however, Bundy the rancher and Robertson the redneck automatically go into the outsider box along with their hick accents. Ditto for Sterling, née Tokowitz, a self-made man who hustled in the trenches as a crass L.A. divorce lawyer—and offended polite society by slutting around with hookers and age-inappropriate courtesans.

Only in America can you be worth a billion bucks yet still be classified as white trash.

Even if your accents are northeastern and your diplomas issued by the Ivies, political identification with the plight of the underclass makes you a target for the first-we’re-friends-next-not-so-much rug-pull.

Also in 2008 and also in reaction to attacks from the right, Obama shunned former leftie activist Bill Ayers — formerly a member of the revolutionary Weather Underground in the late 1960s — and disavowed their previous interactions in local Chicago politics. Obama’s campaign strategists believed it was important for a candidate who sought to become the country’s first black president to reassure the white power elite that he was one of them, or at least not enamored of the underclass whose wrath they reasonably feared, and so were quick to jump at the chance to exploit Ayers and Wright to achieve double “Sister Souljah moments.” (More on Souljah below.)

Obama’s Republican rival that year, John McCain, similarly embraced “Joe the Plumber” as an embodiment of salt-of-the-earth America, taking the Ohioan on the campaign trail with him. Inevitably, their public bromance soured, and McCain distanced himself after his working-class buddy turned out to be a bit of a liar concerning his tax status, a gun nut and, well, just too lumpen to establishment tastes. (Joe’s 2012 assertion that Germany’s Jews were doomed by gun control under the Third Reich is a classic example of widely-believed historical manure.)

It isn’t necessary for the establishment big-shot to personally know his working-class-identified victim in order to betray her. All that’s needed is to point out someone with dangerously antiestablishment ideas and smear her for personal gain.

Sister Souljah, the hip-hop artist and author after whom the term “Sister Souljah moment” was coined, got lambasted by Governor Bill Clinton during the 1992 primaries for musing: “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?” Clinton, who played golf at a no-blacks-allowed country club, played the punk card, opting to beat up someone who couldn’t hit back: “If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black,’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech.” The media didn’t give Souljah a platform to reply.

Souljah’s career foundered for years as a result, but Clinton—personally suspect by major donors and the political class because he’d grown up poor, and continued to exhibit picayune tastes in such signifiers as fast food and big-haired Arkansan women—won the White House, where he used his power to push through NAFTA, the WTO and other free trade agreements that decimated workers.

In 2000, GOP primary contender John McCain shot for the ultimate Sister Souljah moment by saying: “Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.”

Farrakhan and Sharpton were identified with black militancy; Robertson and Falwell were leaders of the Christian evangelist movement, which was predominantly poor and working class. In U.S. corporate politics, defending the downtrodden—whether progressive or reactionary—is defined as “extreme” and bizarre.

Even family isn’t exempt from working classism. As President, Jimmy Carter—former governor, agribusiness entrepreneur and Naval Academy graduate—distanced himself from his brother Billy, targeted by the press as a hard-drinking embarrassment.

Why do the 31% of Americans who self-identify as working class put up with working classism?

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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: 54% of the Time, Americans Aren’t Protected by the First Amendment

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Of Hicks, Duck Dynasty and Free Speech

“Don’t talk about politics or religion.” It’s boilerplate advice, especially this time of year when family members and friends with varying cultural outlooks gather to break (if you’re a California liberal, gluten-free) bread.

Keeping your opinions to yourself is smart if your priority is conflict avoidance. But keeping the peace makes for seriously boring holiday meals.

Aside from the tense tedium of forced blandness, all that self-censorship accomplishes is to paper over conflicts and differences everyone knows or suspects are there anyway. Nothing gets resolved.

To the contrary, self-censorship enables bad ideas. Unchallenged year after year, the stupid people at the table return to their stupid homes as confident as ever in their stupid opinions, no matter how indefensible.

We are seeing the no-politics dictum play itself out with increasing frequency on a national level, with dismaying implications for freedom of expression.

This week we’re talking about “Duck Dynasty,” a reality TV show I haven’t watched. Phil Robertson, the ZZ Top-bearded patriarch of a Louisiana clan who struck it rich with a gadget that calls ducks, is the show’s star. He’s also a hick. Like many other hicks, Robertson holds stupid opinions about gays and blacks, which he expressed in media interviews.

After people complained about Robertson’s stupid thoughts, A&E “suspended” Robertson. He may or may not come back to the show.

Right-wingers, including ferret-faced Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and intellectual beacon Sarah Palin, played to their bigoted Republican base, issuing strident electronic missives decrying Robertson’s maybe-firing on the grounds of free speech. MSNBC and other Democratic Party mouthpieces responded in kind with a talking point that many Americans remember conservatives using against lefties during the Bush years: the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you the right not to be fired.

“Yes, everyone is entitled to express his or her views,” Jill Filipovic wrote in The Guardian. “Not everyone is entitled to keep their jobs, though, if they decide to express views that are entirely odious and potentially costly to their employer.”

The same (used to be right-wing) left-wing talking point, cacophonously defending the capitalist “right” of bosses to shut up their workers, cropped up all over mainstream liberal outlets.

We’re again witnessing an odious truism: Americans defend free speech they agree with and sign on to the suppression of that they dislike. What if, instead of filling GQ magazine in on his far-right bigotry, Phil Robertson had gotten himself maybe-fired over an interview in which he expressed views that put him to the left of “mainstream”? What if, for example, he’d said instead that all Republicans are racists and homophobes? It’s a safe bet that joints like MSNBC and The Guardian would have denounced A&E for censoring him, and that Rush Limbaugh et al. would be the ones trotting out the “you can say whatever you want but you don’t have a right to get paid for it” bromides.

These free speech battles inevitably break down along partisan lines — but it’s dumb and hypocritical and needs to stop.

Let’s dispense with this sophistry that prevents us from getting to the meat of the matter. Yes, obviously, the First Amendment doesn’t apply. There is no legal issue. Under the law, A&E can fire Robertson.

The question is: should he be fired/suspended?

Should any employer be able to fire you because they dislike what you say?

On that point, my answer is 100%, unequivocally, no way.

“The right to freely speak your mind without government interference is crucial,” allows Filipovic in her essay. “But few of us are permitted in the course of our employment to say whatever we want without consequence from our employer.”

Legally, that’s true. To which I ask: why the hell not?

Americans spend 54% of their waking hours at work. What good is a First Amendment that ends at the keycard door? (Maybe we should rename it the Half Amendment.)

As someone who has lost gigs because I said something that someone didn’t like — usually about politics or religion — I’ve spent a lot of time imagining an America in which workers could express themselves freely. Try as I might, I don’t see the world falling apart if — I’m going to go extreme here — the bald guy at the hardware store turns out to be a Nazi skinhead — after all, the dude was a Nazi all along, right? If anything, it would be good to see him wearing a Nazi badge because, assuming I have the guts to confront him, there would then be a chance that someone could argue him into a better political place.

If you can be fired for expressing yourself at work — or, as in Robertson’s case, not at work, in an interview, which means that for him, 100% of waking hours are an A&E censorship zone — then free speech is a meaningless abstraction that applies only to the tiny fraction of superrich Americans who don’t have to worry about getting fired.

“It sounds nice in theory to say, ‘Walk away, and look for another job,’ ” says Lewis Maltby of the National Workplace Institute. “But in practice, most people just can’t take that risk. They just put up with it.” Which is why the American workplace is a fascist state. “In Arizona, you can be fired for using birth control,” noted The Guardian in 2012. “If you live in any one of 29 states, you can be fired for being gay. You can be fired for being a fan of the Green Bay Packers if your boss roots for the Bears.” Many workers have gotten fired for off-the-cuff tweets.

Because it’s legal to fire louts like Robertson for mouthing off, it’s legal to fire you too, for saying just about anything, no matter innocuous. In his 2007 book “Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression in the American Workplace,” Bruce Barry documents countless examples of people losing their jobs over banal political speech — for example, having a John Kerry bumpersticker on their car.

Any judgment about A&E’s action on “Duck Dynasty” has to consider the result.
What, exactly do the “social justice warriors” who led the charge against Robertson win if they succeed in getting him fired, or “Duck Dynasty” taken off the air?

I doubt they’ll change Robertson’s mind about gays or blacks. You can’t bully someone into political correctness. The cure to the illogic of bigotry is logical argument. Which requires more effort than organizing an Internet pile-on. All that PC bloggers get out of Robertson’s suspension is a “victory” that makes them feel good. But it diminishes society’s racism and homophobia not one iota.

Bigotry can also give way to experience — like the time a vanload of big black guys with gang tatts emerged from their vehicle, carrying tire irons, while my car was broken down in bad-old-1980s-days Bedford-Stuyvesant. They fixed me up and sent me on the way — after refusing a tip. Robertson obviously needs to spend some time with some LGBT people and people of color.

Getting someone fired, on the other hand, isn’t exactly a recipe for making new friends.

For Robertson and everyone else, the message is clear: keep your politics to yourself, and you’ll be OK. Unless, of course, your politics happen to coincide with whatever happens to be acceptable to whatever happens to be mainstream at a given time — which can, and eventually will, change — and bite you on the ass. So yeah, if you value your paycheck, shut up.

A society in which the workplace is a zero free speech zone is not free. A nation without the free exchange of ideas, where everyone can express themselves without fear of economic retribution, is not — cannot be — a democracy.

The First Amendment should be amended to include the workplace.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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