This Week: Nygaard Notes #639: Spring Pledge Drive!

This is Issue #1 in the Spring 2019 Nygaard Notes Pledge Drive!

What is Nygaard Notes to you, anyway?
Unique? Thought-provoking? Good writing? [Fill in the blank]?

Well, then… It’s Time To Donate to Nygaard Notes!

Making a Pledge to Nygaard Notes: How To

April is the month to make your 2019 Pledge of support to Nygaard Notes! Not coincidentally, it’s also the month to Renew your Pledge. If you’re not sure when your renewal is due, you can relax; you will get a personal reminder to renew when 12 months have passed since your last Pledge was received.

In any case, whether you are a first-time Pledger or Renewing Pledger, it’s pretty easy.

You can always make out a check to “Nygaard Notes,” and mail it to:

Nygaard Notes
P.O. Box 6103
Minneapolis, MN 55406

The SECOND WAY is the paperless way. It works like this:

1. Go to the Nygaard Notes website at
2. At the top of the page you’ll see the word “Donate.” Then you just click on that and follow the extremely simple directions. You can use your debit or credit card, or donate directly via PayPal.

If you already have made a Pledge, or already know that you want to, then there’s nothing else you need to know. Just skip the following Pledge stuff and read my new essay “Let’s Not Call Donald Trump a Racist,” which appears below. Then send me a note telling me why you agree. Or not.

Where the “Pledge Drive” Comes From

I work two paying jobs. One is my job at a radical art studio called RLM Arts, run by Ricardo Levins Morales. I make buttons. Political buttons, art buttons, social justice buttons, you name it.

My other paying job is the writing and publishing of the newsletter you are reading: Nygaard Notes.

I couldn’t possibly live on button-making income alone. That’s where YOU come in! For the first year or so of Nygaard Notes, it was free to everyone, and in fact it didn’t occur to me to ask for any money. But, when the novelty wore off and I began to realize how much WORK it is to produce the type of publication to which my readers had become accustomed, I decided that it was too much. I was about to fold up the tent when someone—I honestly do not remember who—suggested that maybe Nygaard Notes itself could generate some of my income. “What?!” I said. It could be like Public Radio, they said, where they have Pledge Drives and ask people to donate to the project. So I thought, “Could I ask people to make donations periodically which would allow me to cut back on my other paid work and devote the time to researching, writing, and editing this newsletter?”

And thus was born, on August 18th of the Year 2000, the Nygaard Notes Pledge Drive. My “day jobs” at that time were bicycle courier and artists’ model. Now the day job is different but the fiscal reality remains the same: If I am to continue producing the radical, readable, sometimes-amusing and always brain-worthy newsletter called Nygaard Notes, I need your support.

Of course, you can donate any time, but it’s easy to put it off unless you get a special edition in your inbox labeled “Nygaard Notes Pledge Drive.” A Pledge Drive is supposed to provoke a Pavlovian response in you, the reader. No, not THAT Pavlovian response—I don’t want you to start salivating! I want you to get out your checkbook, or your credit card, and make a Pledge of support to Nygaard Notes!

Subscriptions to Nygaard Notes are free, as I believe that news and information are the lifeblood of democracy and should be freely available to all who want to engage with the world. But, in order to keep it free, from time to time I ask those who read the Notes to make a Pledge of support.

Don’t think about it individualistically. That is, your individual subscription does not depend on you making a Pledge. But the continued publication of Nygaard Notes DOES depend on a certain number of people donating a certain amount of money every year so I don’t have to find another way to earn enough money to live, which would endanger Nygaard Notes. Only so many hours in the day, y’know.

Remember that Nygaard Notes survives by virtue of direct reader support alone. I get no grants, no corporate support, and you’ll never see a commercial in these pages. No robo-calls either. ONLY Pledges from readers. You, that is, along with many others. And this has been going on for 20 years! Which is really remarkable, if you think about it.

Almost all of the money you send in goes to buy time for me to do my work. It also pays for stamps, subscriptions, internet connection… and sometimes I hire a friend to help with the clerical/accounting aspects of the business, at which I am terrible. That costs money.

Each issue of Nygaard Notes requires tons of research. I do my own fact-checking. I take time to decide on the focus and tone of each issue. I sit and think, making connections where connections are not obvious. I talk to people, I read and listen to the news. For all of these reasons, every issue of Nygaard Notes takes a great deal of time to produce.

I hope I have inspired you to make a Pledge of support to Nygaard Notes! Now, how much to pledge? Keep reading…

How Much to Pledge?

I never know what to say about this. Pledges have ranged from $1.00 up to $3,500! Most fall in the range of $25 to $100.

I appreciate them all, in any amount! And that’s because your donation tells me that there is one more person out there who values what Nygaard Notes has to offer.

In Part II of this Pledge Drive I’ll suggest a couple of methods you can use to come up with a Pledge amount that is just right for YOU.

Let’s Not Call Donald Trump a Racist

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, speaking of the President in testimony last month before the House Oversight Committee, said, “He is a racist.” This got me thinking about white people calling other white people racist. As a white guy myself, I want to say a few things about this labeling, which apparently was seen by some Trump critics as a good thing—perhaps a welcome bit of truth-telling.

I personally never refer to Donald Trump as a racist. Actually, I have tried to stop calling anyone a racist. It’s a tough habit to break, but important on a number of levels.

First of all, name-calling is not useful in any context. It reduces a complex individual to a single attribute which is intended to assign them to a group. This assumes that, when it comes to racism, there is a group of “racists” and, logically, a group of “non-racists.” If you think about it, this is precisely what racism does: It robs people of their complexity and individuality, reducing them to one side in a socially-constructed and simplified “us/them” world. A world set up to benefit white people and justified by dehumanizing people who are classified as “not white.”

And, where are these “non-racists,” anyway? Presumably, when a person labels someone as being a member of a group—in this case, the group of “racists”—the person does not place themself in that same group. It’s possible that they would place themselves in the same group, I suppose, but I think it is far more likely that this labeling is done for the purpose of letting the labeler off the hook. The unconscious self-talk, if made conscious, might go something like this:

“A racist looks like that. I don’t look (sound, act, feel) like that. Therefore, I am not a racist.”

I have no doubt that something along these lines went through the minds of many white people, especially anti-Trump white people, when Michael Cohen so clearly labeled Donald Trump a racist. There’s a certain logic to it, but that logic depends on a big, and widely-shared, misconception.

The Big Misconception

Back in August I quoted the anti-racist educator Robin Diangelo responding to a question about “the biggest misconceptions white people have about … themselves and their racism.” She said,

Misconception number one is what a racist is. Most white people believe that a racist is: 1, an individual; 2, one who holds conscious and aware dislike of people based on race, and; 3, intentionally seeks to be mean to them. Individual, conscious, intentional. And by that definition, virtually all white people are exempt from racism. We do not understand that this is a system that is infused across all institutions, traditions, politics, practices, language, norms. It is the system we are all in and none of us could be exempt from its forces.

I think the misconception has to do not only with what a racist is, but also with what racism is. It’s not Individual, Conscious, and Intentional. Rather it is Systemic, Institutional, and Useful (to the dominant white racial group). Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has written a book called “Racism Without Racists” that explores this dynamic. I would also recommend in this regard the book “The Racial Contract,” by Charles W. Mills.

Look at Outcomes, Not Intentions

The labeling of Donald Trump as a racist reinforces the idea that racism is the result of hateful people deciding to do hateful things. Certainly that’s a part of it. But the more we focus on Donald Trump The Racist, the more we rely on The Big Misconception, and the less we focus on the social and political context from which Donald Trump emerged and in which the racial ideology known as Trumpism thrives and grows. A person—even a president—who sounds and acts like a white nationalist, or a hateful bigot, or an anti-immigrant zealot is only as dangerous as the social context allows him or her to be.

Consider the phenomenon of an invasive species. An invasive species is a nonnative organism that causes ecological harm after being introduced to a new environment. However, not every nonnative organism that shows up will cause a problem. A non-native animal, for example, won’t get far unless all sorts of conditions exist. An absence of predators is one. Sufficient food is another. The correct climate—neither too hot nor too cold—is necessary as well. If any of these conditions are absent, the elevation of the species to “invasive” status will likely fail. It may cause some damage, but it will not become a threat to the larger ecosystem.

And so it is with racism. Rather than trying to figure out whether or not Donald Trump is a racist, or what kind of racist he is, we should be asking a whole other set of questions. Questions like: What sort of conditions must exist in the culture for someone like Donald Trump to ascend to the Presidency? How can we alter the current sociopolitical environment so that it is hostile to Trumpism and fertile for liberation? That’s what we should be talking about, not “Is Donald Trump a racist?” Systems theory tells us to look at the outcome, not the intention. And whatever racist ideas are or are not in the heart and mind of Donald Trump, he has become a powerful symbol of white supremacy with which a sizable minority appears to resonate.

Whether he does it out of racist intent or political calculation, Trump’s framing of his policies and his “brand” relies on a racialized interpretation of reality. His Wall is aimed at keeping out brown and black people. His travel restrictions are aimed at brown and black people. His call to “Make America Great Again” harkens back to a time before the civil rights era and its challenge to the racial ideology of white supremacy.

I argued in the last Nygaard Notes that the demographic changes that will soon reduce white people’s numbers in the U.S. to less-than-majority status are causing a terror to sweep through the white population. This terror is based on a deep-seated fear of what racism has defined as the sub-human “other.” The Trump presidency is all about reinforcing that dehumanizing narrative while suppressing, denying, and fortifying against the coming less-white reality.

We need to imagine a society in which a person who regularly spouts racist ideas finds no audience for those ideas. No sympathetic media, no adoring crowds at huge rallies, no bull market for MAGA caps. We need to imagine a country where the overwhelming majority sees an increasing number of people of color as a harbinger of a new and inclusive rainbow reality instead of as an invasion of a hostile other.

Once we’ve imagined such a country—and stimulating such imagining is a big part of the work of Nygaard Notes—we need to start thinking and talking about what we can do to change the current political environment in this country. We can imagine a better, less racist country, but it won’t just happen. We’ll have to make it happen. We have our work cut out for us. Let’s get to it.