I debated on whether or not to even address Governor LePage’s revisitation of his racist outburst because I fundamentally believe, as Adrienne Bennet implied of his implied appointment of himself as Education Commissioner, that his theatrics are architected to divert the press from paying close attention to his governance, leadership, and lack thereof. As such, I am uninterested in making points about the governor specifically, and more interested in addressing what he means to evoke when he “screams at the top of his lungs” about “black drug dealers” or whatever it is he does.
To clarify, I am not interested in his engagement at all, specially because I don’t believe that he engages at all; Governor LePage runs interference by way of creating distraction. It is not that I don’t care; I care deeply. Some of what he says is dangerous and abhorrent. At present, LePage brings race into the conversation maybe because he fundamentally maintains ignorance about how and why drugs enter the state. This itself is a scary and dangerous thought, that someone so obtuse could be in charge of this state. But what is more startling is the likelihood that he knows these are anxieties that can easily be stoked among many in the state.
I am not interested in engagement about this issue with LePage because the governor is a liar. He is a liar because he suggested he needed to say racist things to move the legislature to action around the drug problem, but the legislature was already moving and it was LePage who had dug his heels in regarding an exclusively law enforcement approach to addressing the problem. That the legislature was doing nothing is a lie, that they required bigoted statements to move was a lie. Specifically, that lie served to distract from the fact that the drug problem is rooted in so many things, included but not limited to an unhinged pharmaceutical industry creating an appetite here, cheap heroin, failure of a social safety net (including LePage’s commitment to preventing Medicaid expansion) and, related, a total failure of every anarchic anti-government policy that LePage has advocated for generally. We have a drug problem in part because a white executive made it his mission to gut the state of even the most basic of services, all while similar cuts happened at the federal level, but sure, D-Money.
The tea party experiment has failed and its leader blames some of the resultant problems on imaginary black dudes.So I’m not interested in engaging a person so clearly unmoved by honesty, authenticity, or capable of reflecting on his own failures. I do, though, want to make clear to those nodding along that scapegoating a race of people for a very clearly complicated systemic problem is wrong, and if you are one of these people I want to do so so that you know this. And I want to make it clear so people outside of the state know that many acknowledge that what LePage is saying is wrong. I would say that “this is not us,” but it very much is and we have a heap of damage to undo. The only bright side that comes of it was pointed out by my friend Samuel James, who has written a great deal about his experiences being black in Maine. When LePage says this stuff, and people agree, at least it reminds Sam “that I’m not being paranoid whenever I perceive hostilities against me.” He’s been told by many that he’s imagining the racism directed against him. LePage’s commitment to this outlook makes it clear that paranoia has nothing to do with it.
Silver linings aside, I want to make clear that it is dangerous when he suggests drug dealers are black in one breath and encourages lethal enforcement against drug dealers in the next. This is irresponsible, particularly for black people who already feel uneasy as odd folks out in a homogenous state, and when we Americans have been known to be a terrified, trigger happy people.
More specifically, though, I want to tell the country to look at us and take seriously this trend toward the popularization of shooting from the hip, and a brazen commitment to anti-intellectualism. The trend is not new, with Richard Hofstader writing his treatise on the sublet in the early 1960s, but among a particular and startling few it feels as though it’s on the rise.
While I am not the first person to draw this parallel, it’s imperative to consider. In 2010, when this shift started to emerge, many thought that LePage was a joke and by the end of the year, by way of a mixture of populist rage and technicalities, he was governor. LePage now takes credit for paving the way for Trump’s campaign and success. Trump, who we also feel is a joke—or at least we hope this is the case—advocates for policies that feel and sound wildly hateful and dangerous because that’s exactly what they are. Look at us and take heed, America. Today’s far-fetched outlier could be tomorrow’s executive who, in our case, needs to be reminded that racism is unacceptable in all cases, but particularly so and dangerous at his level.
EDIT: Due to a proofreading error on my part, an earlier draft of this essay mistakenly referred to Medicare expansion rather than Medicaid expansion. It has since been corrected.
IMAGE CREDIT: BDN file photo