This one is not a fill-in-the-blank question. It is very serious. Serious because William Barr is a serious guy who had immense education, training, and experience and clearly sees himself, anyway, as a patriotic American. So why is he defending Trump’s betrayal of our country the way he is?
Let’s get one thing clear: Barr does not march with the Klan or the Neo-Nazis. That is important to say because a very subtle sort of what many would call racism inhabits his head, IMHO. It is not the belief that Blacks or Hispanics are mentally or morally inferior to Whites. It is more a equation with Euro-American civilization with Whiteness and the origins of Whiteness need to be explored and exposed here in order to understand people like Barr. And that makes it easy to think I am accusing him of outright racism. Racism of a sort espoused by Charles Murray is not something Barr would embrace but it is something in the back of his mind, IMHO. And a portion of my addressing Barr derives from his position high up in the firmament of movers and shakers in American conservatism.
What does Barr see when he looks out at the world? To answer that we first have to confirm what lens he is looking through. Who is he?
Knowing next to nothing about Barr personally and not even bothering to google him, I would assume he went to “good” schools, i.e. schools where the leadership of our society is educated. I would also assume that the majority of Trumpers have not gone to those schools. Let me correct that to “the vast majority.” What does that mean for them. They do not know how Barr thinks about them. So, back to Barr.
Barr knows his position in society. He is at the top though above him are the superduperrich who control, or try to control, everything. We would have to see how he was raised, what his antecedents are before entering public life or even higher education. I’m not going to peek yet but I doubt we’ll find he shined shoes on the street corner. My guess is that he was raised in a White enclave known as Middle America, like most of us his age. Blacks were a rarity in my life although there were a couple of Hispanics in my high school. No Blacks except a Black teacher who had come over from the old Black high school, Carver….. and he had been Teacher of the Year and was a top track coach. We can’t know what Barr’s parents told him about America unless he tells us.
His schooling probably reflected the teaching of the time, so minutely illustrated in Lies My Teacher Told Me, the American history without Blacks in any significant roles and Native Americans only as extras. Jews had a walk on part as jurists or entertainers. But my bet is that his world was very WASPish. Any visceral hatred of minorities would have been considered crude and backward in his world; after all, why even think about them since they played no role? But then along came the 60s and the Civil Rights Movement with its attendant social upheaval.
In that upheaval the most upsetting or “upheaving” part for a person like Barr would be the undermining of authority and order. When the order benefits you because you and yours constructed it, disorderliness can be threatening and the 60s were nothing if not disorderly. Rock and roll, short skirts, protests, etc. Even the Catholic Church was roiled with its Vatican II business. My god, if you can’t count on The Church to remain rock steady, what can you depend on? As we move into the seventies, guys like Barr became intent on restoring order and authority, overcoming the bad reputation Johnson and Nixon had given authority. “Trust us” should be resurrected as the mantra of the elders issued to the young.
Nevertheless, that did not seem to stick as change kept occurring and perhaps Barr, like so many conservatives, was constantly stunned to see something change. What I imagine going through his mind is, “How can we keep young girls chaste if they can get The Pill or an abortion?” Then, “Why are so many young people in college risking their careers at prestigious law firms to protest a war they don’t even fight in? What’s the point?” Not to mention, “Where did all these Blacks come from?” I recognize that shock because I felt it the first time I walked into that little Pentecostal church in South Phoenix: everybody was Black! Yes, the salad chef at the hotel where I was a busboy and who had invited me was Black, but so many Black people! When you have never seen more than 3 or 4 Black people together and that only a few times in your life, it is stunning to suddenly realize that there are Black people in large numbers and they live where I do. …. kind of.
So poor Barr, newly minted as an up-and-coming young man, was confronted on a daily basis with truly massive changes in the society he had grown up in within a bit of a cocoon. Due to his already relatively high position in society he probably did not feel threatened the way a blue collar worker in a defended i.e. ethnic neighborhood felt threatened but he saw on the horizon a degree if not of chaos then of disorderliness. That is why I like Chris Hayes’ use of the term disorderly to describe the impression Blacks make on Whites. What is disorderly about Blacks? It is when they are somewhere doing something Whites are not used to them doing. Like anchoring the nightly news or marrying someone in the family. Oddly enough, the days when a Black person in a White neighborhood can have the cops called on him are not over, are they?
I tend to focus on the issue of race, what we call race. That is because that has been such a big part of my own life being in an interracial marriage. However, Barr was concerned I would think to a greater degree with other large issues like labor law, tax law, foreign policy debates, the military and its defense contractors, donors to political parties, and this growing clamor for rights coming from all sides: woman, minorities, immigrants, homosexuals, the disabled and on and on, all elements of society swept under the rug in Barr’s childhood – and in mine. Many anecdotes from my life can I tell to illustrate all of these phenomena. My own grandparents were from the Old Country. We had homosexual friends and students who were. I worked in social services where lots of disabled people struggled to get educated and where old people could not get medical care and women could not get loans. I recall my uncle’s brother in a room alone in a high tower (no, it really was a high tower) because he was retarded. No Special Ed, no laws protecting women’s right to credit, no laws protected Blacks’ right to home ownership, and on and on. Many of my anecdotes can be found on this blog.
So as the seventies and eighties wore on, Barr wanted society to retrench, go slow, reassess, and society was only accelerating. At some point, maybe something snapped in Barr or more likely it was a slow growth in consultation with like-minded people, forming societies and organizations and tanks. It was during that time that conservatives began to emulate liberals by going on media, founding think tanks and PACs, a good deal of which had been initiated in the Goldwater campaign in the early 60s.
We may be inclined to feel sorry for Trump, clearly a severe personality disorder who did not wish for his condition. Barr, like so many others, knew what he was getting into. He knew where Trump was going, what those rallies portended, and who was going to get hurt. He did not necessarily relish this the way so many Trump supporters do but he did feel that some eggs had to be broken in order to serve up the omelet. And just what does that omelet consist of? The City on the Hill? America the Exceptional? The America of our Founders? The America of Mayberry R.F.D.?
My formulation of that is based on the sort of education Barr received, at least in my imagination. It was an education heavy on European diplomatic history and law with an ascending arc of progress and power. In all of that, other civilizations seldom entered except as bit-players or supporting actors to powerful White men. As more and more African-Americans moved into positions of power and influence clearly requiring ability and character, Barr might have wondered what perspective they would bring to the table. Would they be easily coopted? Of course, because they stood to gain so much. But then the flood began and strong Black voices arose.
Women saw that their destiny need not be tied to a man. They began taking the reins of government, industry, even the military, serving in the ranks and then climbing to the pinnacle. Why was this disorderly, all these women, Hispanics, Blacks and immigrants from India, the Middle East, the Far East founding companies and occupying high posts in the law, the military, and finance? It was because Barr had swallowed unawares the essentially racist belief that rationality, intelligence, ambition, and honor belonged to people who looked like those in the portraits in his textbooks, in a word: White men. Since these new people’s appearances did not match his internalized image of what a leader is, he felt disturbed and that led to a general sense of malaise, that things just were not right.
Religion may play no part in Barr’s world view. Religion has been infiltrated by all those Others: women, people of color, immigrants, the disabled, people who do not resemble the divines and potentates of the great churches of Christendom, where all the action was. So religion was just one more area of Barr’s world to fall into disorder. Who were these people?
I googled him. He is very Catholic. His father was a convert from Judaism. His father directed elite private schools and his mother taught at Columbia. So not far off.
Oct. 12, 2019 Very timely. Barr delivered a speech at Notre Dame from which excerpts were played on A.M. Joy this morning. In it he recited the usual Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody where all the pathologies are at an all-time high, the usual suspects: drugs, crime, disaffected youth, family break-down, depression, mental illness, suicide, violence, thuggish behavior, angry and alienated young men, all completely disconnected from sociological data and connected to secularization promoted by more usual suspects: media, entertainment, and so on, all an organized destruction of the moral order and religion. It has led to unparalleled misery. There can be no moral renaissance with the presence of moral relativism aka my way or the highway. He was addressing Notre Dame law students.
Pinpointing Barr’s complaints, a panelist cited a New Jersey law he attacked which said school textbooks had to tell the truth (how anti-Christ is that?) about our heroes who were gay.
Much more chilling was Col. Wilkerson’s, another panel and former aide to Gen. Colin Powell, revelation that evangelical chaplains in the military, large numbers of them, were targeting soldiers at their most vulnerable, e.g. Boot Camp, Ranger School, for proselytizing. That doesn’t surprise me because the Air Force Academy had just such a scandal years ago. This aggression by religious proselytizers is nothing new. Where did the term “rice Christian” come from, after all?
Barr proposes a solution just as chilling: religious freedom. That term is a perfect example of Communist-style double-think. Normal people think of religious freedom as the freedom to worship whatever religion you want and do worship any way you want within the criminal and civil law, i.e. no fraud like turning the collection plate into the pastor’s pocket or flogging back-sliders. But the Fascists, Communists, religious fanatics, dictators, autocrats, and demagogues reshape the meanings of words to fit their purposes. Therefore, religious freedom comes to mean practicing in my daily life the freedom to be undisturbed by people, acts, things, art, whatever that do not conform, in my mind, to my “faith.” Of course, when you point out to those who champion businesses that don’t want to serve gays that many Christians quote their bible to justify racism and therefore they should not have to serve Blacks, they brush you off.
With any luck, Barr will wind up in jail with the rest of the Trump traitors and conspirators.