Thursday, November 17, 2016

Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex: You Are Still Crying Wolf (About Trump and Racism)

This guy is really, really good, and every time I run across his stuff, I resolve to read more of it.
Anyway: he's right on the money about this.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could it be reasonably argued that, despite gains among minority groups, and a lack of gains among white people, that a non-trivial amount of white people voted for Trump because a considerable amount of his policies are consistent with an at bottom minimally racist view of the world? That is, the kind of racism that's implicit the desire for mass deportations for illegal immigrants, rather than the kind of racism that amounts to yelling slurs or threatening violence at a given racial group, for instance?

Even if this type of argument is plausible, it does seem difficult to explain the gains among minorities away, but I take it there are some plausible explanations for this as well. For instance, perhaps the uptick in latinos voting republican comes from a prejudice against illegal immigrants for not going through the naturalization process.

In this case it appears that the uptick for latinos could also be explained via a prejudice of some kind (although, I don't know if it's possible for one to be racist against his own race..). A similar type of explanation could be used for blacks as well. I take it that the most charitable interpretation of the "Trump is racist" card is that *a sizable portion of his voter base voted for him because his policies are consistent with a prejudicial worldview* (as this is a more general formulation than the "he's racist" hypothesis). Of course, this isn't a mark against Trump. If he has any responsibility for this, it's that he didn't do much to quash the most prejudicial rationalizations for voting his ticket, but this is not what's at what's issue here.

Just to be clear, the presentation of these explanations is mostly speculation as these arguments largely depend on empirical data that we do not seem to possess. But would we be justified in rejecting these explanations outright without that data? I admit that my own explanation(s) seem like a bit of a stretch at first glance.

Also, I mean only to show that a *non-trivial amount* of Trump voters *might* be racist (or prejudiced). This in no way means that all of his supporters, nor even a majority of his supporters are racist. This also in no way demonstrates that Trump himself is racist.

I suppose this argument would only go to demonstrate that there exist an amount of prejudice in America that can swing an election to an unqualified buffoon, whether he is racist or not. And that's sort of worrisome, if true.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Lorenzo said...

Yep. This piece by Scott Alexander should be regarded as an internet classic.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I have not read that--will do so.

Those seem like possible explanations...but the real question here is: why does the left strain so hard to explain thoughts and actions on the right in terms of prejudice?

One might suggest that it itself is a kind of prejudice...though I hesitate to go down that road...

8:28 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Sorry, A, I read your comment on my moderation page and it cut off the last half of it.

I don't think that anyone would deny that there's some racism on the right. There's some racism on the left, as well. But more on the right. Conservative policies, even when well-motivated, just tend to be the kind racists like more.

Personally, I'm just (a) skeptical of and (b) fed up with (1) semi-constant, knee-jerk accusations of racism by the left and (2) the view that giant swaths of conservatives are racist.

Anyway, I think just showing consistency with racism isn't enough. Racists would, presumably, be against illegal immigration from Mexico. But, IMO, so would all reasonable people, who should be against illegal immigration from *anywhere.*

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Yeah, the conservatives are probably largely right on this issue. My explanation was only tried as a synthesis of the liberal and conservative positions. I wanted to provide an explanation such that it prevents the liberals from calling everything that the right does racist, while still giving them the ability to diagnose racism and prejudice on the right, and even under some of their frameworks for identifying it. The conservatives are saved from being incorrectly labeled a racist, but they seemingly have to take the left seriously on *some* matters of race (not that we can expect them to due to the frequent misuse of the term 'racist' by the left).

2. It's duly noted that we can't really expect conservatives to take liberal cries of racism seriously because the move is used too frequently...I don't have too much more to say about this..

3. The illegal immigration example might have been a poor one. Perhaps the call for a temporary ban on muslims from entering the country would serve as a better one? Then again, if I didn't have to stretch myself thin to locate an example for this explanation...

4. The left strains itself because either (i) (as a psychological point) it dislikes ordinary white people, and wishes to portray them in a terrible light, (ii) it is possession of an unfalsifiable theory of how race is in western civilization, (iii) it's a sneaky partisan attack on the right being done for political reasons, (iv) some combination of i-iii.

5. If, say, 1/20 people held some pernicious belief about race such that it compelled this person to vote a particular party on the basis of their platform's consistency with his belief, then that party has to denounce that 5% voter margin that is capable of swinging an election to its respective candidate. I'm honestly not sure if 5% is a reasonable estimate, but that amounts to about 16 million people who have some pernicious belief about race. Of course, as you said, not all of these belong to the right, so the democratic party should do its part in denouncing the race-baiters on its side as well. Without these denouncements it appears that both parties are willing to accept a non-trivial amount of prejudice/racism/whatever as a factor in elections.

6. It is worth noting that the charges of racism seemed to be levied harder and more frequently against Trump than against Romney or McCain. It isn't clear, as the article points out, how much more racism really affected Trump's campaign than anyone else's. Yet, the charges of racism seem disproportionate to this fact.

7. I don't know, I was just trying to give everyone what they want! Nah, the conservatives are probably right on this one.

10:01 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I think there are some simple observations here about which most would probably agree:

1) The left does cry wolf regarding racism way, way too much.
2) The fact of (1) implies a reduction in the capacity to identify and challenge actual racism.

3) There were unquestionably, irrefutably racist statements made by trump during his campaign.

Regarding 3, one example that stuck with me was when trump stated that a judge, merely by being of Mexican descent, is incapable of providing trump with a fair trial. That is about as flatly racist as it gets. Though I think it's more an example of trump's willingness to say and do anything in order to get what he wants than an example of a fundamental racism in trump's behaviors and beliefs, it is racist nonetheless.

So with those simple points in mind, we could decide how to focus the discussion. The following thoughts come to mind:

A) We can't argue that trump shouldn't be called out for racism because, well, he did do racist things.
B) On the other hand, we might argue that his racism is not likely evidence of the degree of racism about which he is being accused, or
B2) We might argue that the ratio of false or presumptuous accusations to obvious and true accusations is far too high, but
B.A) The counter-argument there would likely be something of the nature: we know he says/does racist things, so why should we give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to determining plausibly racist actions as non-racist in nature?

In my estimation, this is starting to get to an unwarranted level of precision for most purposes. If we're just interested in really figuring out how someone ought to think about the situation, that's one thing, but I don't think at this point it is obviously unreasonable for people to declare trump a candidate for racists.

However, I think also the following is fairly obvious:

4) He's not a white supremacist. That's right out, so we can freely and strongly rebuke such claims.
4.1) It's also worth noting as the piece you've linked shows that actual white supremacists are, in actuality, extremely low in numbers.
5) Opposition to illegal immigration is not equivalent to opposition to legal immigration, and the false equivocation among the American left must be stopped.
5.1) Opposition to any kind of immigration is not necessarily racist or prejudiced, but could be purely pragmatic in nature.

Just thought I'd throw some organization into this if I could.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Lewis Carroll said...


I was pretty convinced that Trump was not a racist, but had just been willing to instrumentally use underlying racism in a lot of the electorate, but now I'm not so sure.

Someone reminded by of how he was sued in 1973 by NIXON'S Justice Department for housing discrimination.

That, and his apparent nomination of Sessions for AG, have me wondering...

10:26 AM  
Blogger Pete Mack said...

... and the Trump moots Jeff Sessions for AG. He sure likes flirting around the edges.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

These comments are all really helpful to me, I want to point out.

I think this is a hard question.

And, yeah, the Sessions thing ain't good.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Pete Mack said...

And don't forget the birtherism. Playing footsie with folks who think Obama is a Muslim foreigner lacks a little je ne sais quoi

1:44 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I don't think birtherism is racist, just crazy. I didn't even realize that people thought it was racist until pretty late in the game. I think it's because his father was from a Very Distant Place and he (BHO) is maybe a secret Mooslim, and he spent a bunch of time in Indonesia, and Hawaii...well...that's only *kinda* 'Merka anyway...

Or God knows.

But I've never understood why it was supposed to be about race.

1:57 PM  
Blogger Pete Mack said...

Strangely, there were no Ted Cruz birthers worth mentioning, despite his mother being Canadian. I am sure the race and nationality of Obama's father had nothing to do with this coincidence.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Cruz is a Republican, for one thing.
For another, he didn't spend his childhood in strange and exotic lands.

They're really very different cases.

Racism *might* play a role in birtherism, obviously. I expect that it *is* a driver for a fair number of individuals. But it's clear that we can't conclude--as many on the left do--that it's *obviously the main driver for most birthers.* There's just nothing about birtherism *per se* that links it to race.

It's a largely different kind of crazy, IMO.

11:32 PM  

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