Sunday, July 21, 2019

"Trump's Racist Tweets"

The WaPo has been cramming 'racist' into their headlines and stories as much as possible over the last couple of days. I actually had a rather hard time figuring out how the tweets were supposed to be racist, though I ultimately concluded that the accusation was plausible. Though, as it turns out, what I'd concluded is completely different than what the Post says.
   Of course this all happens against the backdrop of the rolling national train wreck that is Trump... But also against repeated distortions of what he's actually said--e.g. the blatant lie to the effect that he said that all Mexicans are rapists. (Actually, that one lasted for years, and you can still find people asserting it.) And, of course, more immediately: the four Congresswomen in question had been right in the very midst of flinging absurd accusations of racism against both the Blue Dogs and the Speaker for having the temerity to criticize them at all. They (apparently like many Democrats) seem inclined to believe that any criticism against them by someone white is racist.
   So--as is obvious--Trump's tweets were a train wreck. I find myself using that phrase over and over with respect to Trump. Absolutely unbelievable. What the hell goes on in that guy's head? What he actually wrote was right up next to a bit of cartoon anti-immigrant-ism, that latter being Go back to where you came from. Now, that's not exactly what he wrote, of course. But it was in the vicinity.
   So, basically, Trump expressed something damn close to an anti-immigrant trope. In a sane world, a normal person should be able to do such a thing accidentally, and then say "no--that's not what I mean and I apologize and reject the idea." But (a) Trump doesn't admit error, and (b) he's the president. So such errors are hugely magnified when he makes them. Then, of course, there's the question: to what extent does he actually mean it (whatever it is)?
   One weird thing: after years of pretending that being against illegal immigration is anti-immigration / anti-immigrant per se, progressives finally get something that's plausibly actually anti-immigrant...but they zoom right over it in their rush to get the holy grail of accusations of prejudice: racism...
   I've been thinking about this stuff off-and-on the last couple of days, and it seems to me that the (roughly) anti-immigrant aspect of this is kind of interesting. Suppose somebody said to, oh, say Lindsay Graham: "Go back to Scotland" (or wherever). Or even just "Go to Scotland...ya...Scott..." That's idiotic...but it doesn't have the same shitty zing that it has to tell an immigrant from x to go back to x. Though I'm not exactly sure why. Anyway, it's shitty.
   Though I'm not sure it's really more than a cartoon anymore. Does anyone actually say such a thing? I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone say such a thing except in the movies.

   Oh and: one weirdly mitigating fact: in the movies, when someone says such a thing, they say it with pure evil intent, out of the blue, in one of those this-guy-is-pure-evil (or at least: pure asshole) movie moments. Like, kid from Germany is just walking down the street minding his own business (perhaps tellingly: in the late 19th or early 20th century...). He gets into some minor dust-up with asshole native-born American guy. Latter guy says, apropos of nothing really: Why don't'cha go back to Ireland, ya Mick. No, wait...that'd be a weird thing to say to a German my prejudices mixed up... You know what I mean.
   Of course none of that is what happened in the Trump case. He was responding to a group of Congresswomen who are known for being outspokenly and not-entirely-rationally critical of the U.S.--e.g. misrepresenting border detention centers as "concentration camps." He responds to the unfair criticisms by saying, roughly: Hey, if you really hate it here that much... etc.  Bad and wrong--but hardly a paradigm of the Go-back-where-you-came-from trope.
   I'm not sure how much those details matter when this kind of asshattery by a president is at issue. It's such a big, stupid pile of crap that it's not clear how much the details matter. Though, to whatever extent the left/media is dedicated to making it seem that Trump was just being the pure asshole guy in the trope, it might be worth thinking about the actual details. Though, again, any mitigation is swamped by this having been something said/done by the goddamn POTUS...
   But anyway: anti-immigrant is not racist.
   Oh, right: but first: let's not forget unAmerican. The suggestion that anyone, especially a citizen, isn't entitled to criticize the country is just about as unAmerican as you can get. Screw that shit. Claiming that it's unAmerican to criticize America is weirdly basically the opposite of true. Criticizing America is an American's God-given right. And, second perhaps only to baseball, basically, as our national pastime. To suggest otherwise it to kinda misunderstand the whole damn enterprise.
   Though, again, I have to add a caveat: Trump didn't suggest that criticizing the U.S. is wrong; his clear indication is that criticizing the U.S. excessively or unfairly is wrong. And that's an entirely different matter. That's probably true. I mean: criticizing anything excessively or unfairly is wrong in some way.
   Though, in response: you have to have fairly wide parameters about what counts as excessive and unfair in this case. It's so easy to slip into chauvinistic, jingoistic bullshit...that you've got to basically err on the side of allowing more criticism rather than less to count as reasonable. AOC is wrong to claim that the border detention facilities are concentration camps...and she's dumb to do so. And it's hard to believe that the mistake is honest... But she's within the relevant parameters--by quite a lot, I'd say.
   Anyway: Trump's tweets are in the vicinity of expressing bad ideas about immigrants and unAmerican ideas about criticism of the country. And that's very bad--especially, as should go without saying, for the president.
   So already a massive, stupid train wreck.
   Oh and, yeah: we can add that to the pile: unpresidential. As if presidential were even anywhere in the possible picture anymore for Trump.
   So bad, bad, bad...but not yet racist, actually.
   The Washington Post says this:
Like others, Graham urged Trump to reframe away from the racist notion at the core of the tweets — that only European immigrants or their descendants are entitled to criticize the country. [my emphasis]
But...uh...I've heard plenty of racist stuff in my life...and I've never, ever heard anyone say anything like this. We're largely operating at the level of tropes/cartoons/paradigms here...and if you're going to do that, you need to get them right--not make them up. And, so far as I can tell, the Post is just flat-out making this one up.
   There's the idea that immigrants ought to go back to where they came from, presumably because they aren't real Americans...and there's the idea that criticism of America is unAmerican...and there's the idea that people who aren't of European descent aren't real Americans...and if you mix and match them in certain ways, I guess you get something in the rough vicinity of what the Post says...but I've never heard anyone say nor suggest the very idea that the Post is claiming is the ground for the accusation of racism.
   Not sure how directly relevant this is, but the Post's characterization of the alleged trope doesn't even make enough sense to slip by whatever passes for the conceptual QC of racists. It seems to mean that a Belgian straight off the boat gets to criticize the U.S., but a black or Asian whose family's been here for 300 years can't do so. It also entails that American Indians can't criticize the U.S. If this is a real idea floating around out there, I've certainly never heard of it.
   One of the problems with the progressive approach to such things is that they're so impressionistic and interpretive. And, when left up to people who already see racism everywhere, the approach is disastrous. There's a lot to criticize Trump for here--some pretty serious shit, actually, by my lights. And it's perfectly legitimate to hypothesize that he was motivated by racism. But if the grounds for claiming that the tweets were racist is what the Post said...then I'm not buying it.
   The contrary hypothesis is: progressives were already in the midst of making omnidirectional, indiscriminate accusations of racism...and this is more of the same. I have no doubt that progressive over-obsession with racism is in play. The question is: is any actual racism in there as well?
   Look: many progressives (including, apparently, the Congresswomen in question) already think that any criticism of them is racist. And it's reasonable to hypothesize that this is more of that.
   But: not every criticism of someone non-white is racist. And: not even every shitty, irresponsible, morally wrong criticism of someone nonwhite is racist. In particular: not every anti-immigrant, unAmerican, unpresidential criticism of someone nonwhite is racist. Trump was engaged in more stupid, irresponsible, unpresidential, possibly bigoted Trumpery--but it simply isn't at all obvious that it was stupid, irresponsible, unpresidential, racist Trumpery.
   To get the racist bit, you'd need to have good reason to believe that Trump was motivated by racism. And that would involve, e.g., having good reason to believe that he wouldn't have said such things about similar whites. Which means: he wouldn't have said such things about a group of extreme left-wing white progressives who'd made prominent and unfair criticisms of him and of the country. And that seems extremely unlikely to me. There's never been any sign of Trump being particularly critical of nonwhites. He spastically flings juvenile criticisms around him more-or-less indiscriminately. He seems to be an equal opportunity asshole.
   Now, I actually think that there are defensible grounds for arguing that the tweets are racist--but they're not at all like the ones identified by the Post. Trump's never exhibited any of what we might call strong racism--that is, he's never indicated that he dislikes or disrespects people because of their race. But there's something we might call weak racism: making (certain kinds of?) generalizations about people because of their race. And one might argue that's what Trump did when he assumed-or-concluded that OAC, Tlaib, and Pressley were immigrants. This weak racism is obviously much less morally reprehensible than racism proper--but I think it still plausibly counts as racism. It's also a sign of Trump's disengagement and ignorance that he didn't know and didn't bother to find out whether or not those three really were immigrants.
   Of course, well shy of the any-criticism-by-whites-is-racist view is the hypothesis that Trump was motivated to criticize the Congresswomen by racist attitudes that made him quicker to criticize them (and: in the way he did) than he would have been had they been white. That's entirely possible, but merely possible. There's not significant reason to believe that it's true, rather than merely possible
   I don't really see any reason to leap over the much more obviously true, and extremely damning, criticism of Trump's words and actions in order to score the more hypothetical, but rhetorically more damning, accusation of racism. I mean, aside from the left's obsession with racism--and its obsession with always saying the worst possible thing about Trump. My own view is that he's a disaster, and his words and actions (in particular: basking, Mussolini-like, in the chant of "send her back.") have been disastrous. I find the obsession with pinning racism on him too to be just more of the ridiculous same by progressives. 
   Of course he could be a racist, and, if he is, he should be nailed for it. Since I already think there's way more than sufficient reason to want him as far away from the Oval Office as possible, the additional complaint doesn't matter that much to me. Against the backdrop of the left's obsession with racism and penchant for throwing the charge around, I'm inclined to stick with the objections I think are more likely. The left's non-stop geyser of false and irresponsible accusations of racism are becoming nearly as dangerous as racism itself, as they're being used to squelch objections to leftism--which is, of course, out of control. In fact, squelching objections without answering them has basically become the left's main mode of argument. In addition to all the other things we can criticize Trump for, he plays right into that dangerous tactic. Rational people are, of course, caught between racists and the racism-obsessed cult of progressivism. Actual data shows that actual racism isn't all that common in the U.S.--progressives definitely blow it out of proportion. Of course it's a shitty thing, and one can't be happy that as much of it remains as does. But that's rather a different subject for a different time.
   Finally, there's nothing to be gained by writing an essay like this. Anything less than full-throated accusations of racism will just, eventually, be used against you. Screeching racism! at the top of your lungs probably won't ever much count against you, even if you turn out to be utterly, irrationally wrong--e.g., if you're Smolletted. Did anyone pay a price for screeching about that obviously made-up case that turned out to be, yes, made up? Not really. Did anyone on the left pay a price for their lunatic attacks against the Covington kids? Not really. But defending someone--especially Trump--will just get you branded a racist yourself, pretty much regardless of how things turn out--no matter of how fallibilistic about it you might be. If I've missed something, it'll be put down to moral blindness or obtuseness. So I'm not sure why I bother, especially given that I'm not terribly sure about any of it. I actually think Trump treads too close to the edge on this stuff. That itself is the kind of thing that makes progressives conclude that he must be racist--repeatedly treading close to the edge means that he must not care much about going over that edge. Many other people take it to be a kind of sign of non-racism: progressives betray their guilty consciences by fleeing from the edge, thus treating nonwhites differently. Many conservatives believe that, to be anti-racist, you must resolutely treat whites and non-whites the same, even when that is uncomfortable or makes you seem as if you might be racist. I think it's relevant (if true) that progressives seem to talk down to and patronize nonwhites, whereas conservatives seem not to...but that's a whole 'nuther can of worms (and just one study), thus providing me with a good opportunity to end this thing and do something productive like playing with my puppy.


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