Heading into the Storm

Implicit association tests (IATs) suggest a bias in America favoring Whites over people of color

With the Election next Tuesday, America is about to see how well the “glue” holds. Can our courts and police forces provide a sense of justice being impartially served? Or will we descend into bleak partisan chaos if the voting is close?

My concerns focus on the political divide between Democrats and Republicans with regard to the Supreme Court. A majority of the current Supreme Court Justices were appointed by presidents George W. Bush, Jr. and Donald Trump, who both lost the popular vote. Chief Justice John Roberts, Brett Kavanagh and Amy Coney Barrett were all part of the legal team that aided Bush in the fight to count or not count votes in Florida. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in Bush’s favor and the Florida recount ceased, giving the Presidential victory to Bush.

Recently the Washington Post reported that white nationalists were attempting to infiltrate law enforcement . Since wide-spread racial bias seems to exist across our society, aided by stereotypes, what are the odds these extremists could find fertile soil, at times, in trying to recruit allies that give them elbowroom? 

Let’s hope for the best. But if legal maneuvering delivers an Electoral College victory to Trump, despite Joe Biden winning the popular vote, protests could erupt that will make the Black Lives Matter marches seem tame by comparison. Then how will the police respond?  Will fears of racial strife, lost lives and looting make the perversion of democracy seem like the lesser “evil”? Over the next days and weeks leading up to Inauguration Day in January, we’re about to find out.

How to Promote Peace in the Streets

Released today: episode #26 of “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight,” featuring Thomas Abt, the author of Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence – and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the StreetsListen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Abt is widely considered to be America’s foremost expert on the use of evidence-informed approaches to reduce urban violence. He is a Senior Fellow with the Council on Criminal Justice in Washington, DC. Prior to the Council, he held posts at Harvard University and in the U.S. Department of Justice.  Other media outlets that have covered Abt’s work include the Atlantic, the Economist, Foreign Affairs, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio.

In this episode, the topics range from the human and economic costs of violence, to how a focus on a limited number of bad people, bad places and bad behaviors can improve situations that may otherwise look hopeless. The interview’s final question raises the specter of whether police bias in favor of gun-toting white vigilantes could ever become a serious issue or not.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

Open to Sorrow vs. Open for Business

Empathy in Presidents Bush and Obama but not Trump

First, the overwhelming statistic: an American died from Covid-19 every 42 seconds in April. Now for the underwhelming statistic: over the course of three weeks of daily coronavirus press briefings in April, only four minutes of Donald Trump’s 13 hours of remarks directly acknowledged the pandemic’s victims. In other words, verbal mourning only took up about 0.05% of Trump’s time and even less of his emotional energy.  Note his smirking smile as he uses the daily briefing to preen and joust with reporters.

 Contrast that lack of empathy with this photo of George W. Bush offering somebody a consoling hug after 9/11 and of Barack Obama openly weeping after the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Reliable signs of sadness are that a wince creases our cheeks and our inner eyebrows rise, creating a puddle of wrinkles across our foreheads. The difference between Trump fervently wanting America “open for business again” while being so un-open to the sufferings of anybody other than himself couldn’t be greater. We’re enduring a marathon of unknown length with a leader who, in terms of compassion, has barely crossed the starting line.

George H. W. Bush’s Funeral – The Words and So Much More

With shorter life spans and the absence of airplanes to ease the logistics, having five living U.S. presidents together for an event never happened in American history until the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 1991. Then it was Reagan, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, along with Jimmy Carter as the one Democratic president in attendance. Now for George H. W. Bush’s funeral, Donald Trump found himself in the front pew alongside three former Democratic presidents he’s disparaged as illegitimate (Barrack Obama), as guilty of assaulting women (Bill Clinton), and as the supposedly second most worst president ever (Jimmy Carter), behind Obama. Did that make for a fun greeting between them all when Donald and Melania joined the other presidents and their spouses for the service at the Washington National Cathedral?

Hardly, as everyone’s facial expressions made evident then and in the immediate aftermath of Donald joining the group. Barrack Obama managed an aggrieved smile, with an upwardly pushed chin expressing disgust, anger and sadness at least as prominent as the happiness conveyed on enjoying the sitting (truly sitting) president’s presence. After a smile for Melania Trump, Michelle Obama became far grimmer and more subdued, eyes lowered, than before the Trumps crashed the party. Most notable of all, though, was how Bill Clinton only slightly turned his head Donald’s way, with neither man making any attempt to exchange a handshake—while Hillary Clinton stared straight ahead, eyes wide and lips firmly set in anger. As for the Donald, well, he soon crossed his arm and was pouting as usual: a man without friends.

George W. Bush making his way down the cathedral’s main aisle led to still more interesting body language. The Donald (mouth agape with a modicum of surprise) had hardly stood up to greet Bush ’43 before W. had moved on to greeting the Obamas. Michelle and Jimmy Carter gave the grieving son the biggest, most reassuring smiles among those assembled there in the front pew. (Hillary didn’t get the memo to be cordial, and barely managed a smile.)

Next it was on to the formal remarks. For the first time since LBJ’s funeral when Nixon was in office, the current president wasn’t invited to eulogize a predecessor. That’s probably a good thing given how Donald’s most memorable words as his own dad’s funeral had been to say his father’s greatest achievement in life had been his “fantastic son.” Instead, George W. Bush and family showed us what true grief looks like in remembering the man he called “the best father a son or daughter could have.” Eyes closed, head down, eyebrows knitted together in concentrating on not totally “losing it,” W. nearly crumpled in sorrow. Family members in the opposite front pew from the former presidents weren’t far behind. Want to know what sadness looks like? Note the puffy eyelids, the wince across the cheeks, and the corners of the mouth drooping among the expressions from those assembled there.

Was George H. W. Bush as decent a man as his son recalled him being? Largely so, I’d say.  Sure, there were shortcomings from invoking Willie Horton to nominating Clarence Thomas to joining Reagan in being a slow train in addressing the AIDS epidemic that was the leading killer of young men in America by the time that Bush ’41 left office.  But the sadness George H. W. Bush often showed in life was more in the reflective, pondering mode—a mode that the impulsive Donald Trump isn’t even vaguely familiar with. It’s as if Trump feels sadness in that he wants his greater glory to be more widely, even universally acknowledged. So he feels disappointed when that’s not the case. In contrast, Bush ’41 came as humbly close as someone who achieves the Oval Office could ever most likely come to not wanting any attention bestowed on himself at all.

Michelle Wolf at the White House Press Dinner

At least three analogies come to mind.  Pick your favorite. When the comedian Michelle Wolf gave the keynote roast at last Saturday’s televised White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington, D.C., was her performance a matter of speaking-truth-to-power, humor-as-torture or humor-as-colonoscopy? (Check out Youtube for the full performance.) Certainly, President Donald Trump’s stand-in, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was not amused by the proceedings. Sitting on the dais just a few feet from Wolf, what did Sanders’s face reveal when the comedian aimed her barbed jokes at the press secretary starting at about the 13-minute mark of what proved to be a 19-minute performance?

  • “I love you as Aunt Lydia in ‘The Handsmaid’s Tale’” Wolf puckishly said on stage, alluding to the terrifying re-education maestro at the center of the book, film, and now Hulu television series. In response, Sanders did more than flinch. Lips pressed in anger, with a slight disgust sneer, was Sanders’s first response, followed by the slightest of grimace smiles, closed eyes, and a raised eyebrow, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding shrug of dismissal.
  • As to the evening’s perhaps most notorious line about the press secretary, “she burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye,” how did Sanders respond? A wide-mouth shudder of fear followed the reference to “burns facts.” Then Sanders settled back into coping with the pointed criticism by resorting to a combination of a slight smile, firm lips, and eyes momentarily closed in disappointment.

It wasn’t only Sanders who was disappointed. When Wolf moved from alluding to Aunt Lydia to rhetorically asking, “What’s Uncle Tom for white women who disappoint other white women?” the audience responded with both laughter and jeers. Did Wolf know she was pushing the edge? Absolutely, as Wolf’s rejoiner (“Oh, I know: Ann Coulter”) was one of the few times on stage that Wolf managed a true, eyes-crinkling smile of joy. Otherwise, Wolf tended to display a mixture of mouth-pulled-wide fear, fairly slight smiles, and a lower lip pulled down and out in disgust.

Some pundits have compared Wolfe’s performance to Stephen Colbert’s roast of George W. Bush at the 2006 White House press dinner. But after re-watching that earlier performance by Colbert, I can tell you the similarity is limited. Colbert mostly displayed eyes wide in mock surprise at his own jokes, delivered with numerous smiles amid mock consternation at what he had to tell the president seated beside him. Yes, Bush wasn’t always amused but at evening’s end he shook Colbert’s hand with a smile. This year after the roast was over, Sanders refused to participate in a photograph on the dais that would have brought her and Wolf together.

What’s the big take-away here? In 2006, the Iraq war fiasco and the aftermath of Katrina were ugly enough. But the country’s mood nowadays is, if anything, even uglier amid so much partisan rancor. When Wolf began to warm up for “ribbing” Sanders, she started by saying “We should definitely talk about the women in the Trump administration” and showed both a raised upper lip and a down-ward twisting lower lip at the same time: a double dose of disgust. Sanders on stage and Trump on a daily basis are likewise given to showing disgust, in turn, for those denouncing them. As an emotion, disgust signals that something tastes bad, smells bad; rejection results, and a loss of intimacy.

There is nothing congenial left in how Americans are interacting, politically, in the age of Trump. Many people found Wolfe’s remarks in poor taste, vulgar, and far more mean-spirited than funny, and they have a point. The president gleefully joined in, tweeting that the dinner was “DEAD as we know it.” But for anyone objecting to Wolf’s tone and content – given Trump’s own demeanor and antics – that’s a little bit akin to imagining Al Capone complaining back in the day about John Dillinger’s behavior. Being “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius,” Trump promised us he would hire the “best people” to join his administration. A year and a half after Trump won the election, I’m voting for humor-as-colonoscopy to explain Wolf’s performance.