Friday, November 18, 2016

Trump and Racism

It's been a little quiet here lately, so how about something controversial? Scott Alexander has had enough of people saying that Trump's election is all about white backlash:
Trump made gains among blacks. He made gains among Latinos. He made gains among Asians. The only major racial group where he didn’t get a gain of greater than 5% was white people. I want to repeat that: the group where Trump’s message resonated least over what we would predict from a generic Republican was the white population.

Nor was there some surge in white turnout. I don’t think we have official numbers yet, but by eyeballing what data we have it looks very much like whites turned out in equal or lesser numbers this year than in 2012, 2008, and so on. . . .

There is no evidence that Donald Trump is more racist than any past Republican candidate (or any other 70 year old white guy, for that matter). All this stuff about how he’s “the candidate of the KKK” and “the vanguard of a new white supremacist movement” is made up. It’s a catastrophic distraction from the dozens of other undeniable problems with Trump that could have convinced voters to abandon him. That it came to dominate the election cycle should be considered a horrifying indictment of our political discourse, in the same way that it would be a horrifying indictment of our political discourse if the entire Republican campaign had been based around the theory that Hillary Clinton was a secret Satanist.
After several thousand words arguing that Trump is definitely weird but not particularly racist, Alexander ends with a plea:
Stop responding to everyone who worries about Wall Street or globalism or the elite with “I THINK YOU MEAN JEWS. BECAUSE JEWS ARE THE ELITES. ALL ELITES AND GLOBALISTS ARE JEWS. IF YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT THE ELITE, IT’S DEFINITELY JEWS YOU SHOULD BE WORRIED ABOUT. IF YOU FEEL SCREWED BY WALL STREET, THEN THE PEOPLE WHO SCREWED YOU WERE THE JEWS. IT’S THE JEWS WHO ARE DOING ALL THIS, MAKE SURE TO REMEMBER THAT. DEFINITELY TRANSLATE YOUR HATRED TOWARDS A VAGUE ESTABLISHMENT INTO HATRED OF JEWS, BECAUSE THEY’RE TOTALLY THE ONES YOU’RE THINKING OF.” This means you, Vox. Someday those three or four people who still believe the media are going to read this stuff and immediately join the Nazi Party, and nobody will be able to blame them.

Stop saying that being against crime is a dog whistle for racism. Have you ever met a crime victim? They don’t like crime. I work with people from a poor area, and a lot of them have been raped, or permanently disfigured, or had people close to them murdered. You know what these people have in common? They don’t like crime. When you say “the only reason someone could talk about law and order is that they secretly hate black people, because, y’know, all criminals are black”, not only are you an idiot, you’re a racist. Also, I judge you for not having read the polls saying that nonwhites are way more concerned about crime than white people are. . . .

Stop calling Trump voters racist. A metaphor: we have freedom of speech not because all speech is good, but because the temptation to ban speech is so great that, unless given a blanket prohibition, it would slide into universal censorship of any unpopular opinion. Likewise, I would recommend you stop calling Trump voters racist – not because none of them are, but because as soon as you give yourself that opportunity, it’s a slippery slope down to “anyone who disagrees with me on anything does so entirely out of raw seething hatred, and my entire outgroup is secret members of the KKK and so I am justified in considering them worthless human trash”. I’m not saying you’re teetering on the edge of that slope. I’m saying you’re way at the bottom, covered by dozens of feet of fallen rocks and snow. Also, I hear that accusing people of racism constantly for no reason is the best way to get them to vote for your candidate next time around. Assuming there is a next time.

Stop centering criticism of Donald Trump around this sort of stuff, and switch to literally anything else. Here is an incompetent thin-skinned ignorant boorish fraudulent omnihypocritical demagogue with no idea how to run a country, whose philosophy of governance basically boils down to “I’m going to win and not lose, details to be filled in later”, and all you can do is repeat, again and again, how he seems popular among weird Internet teenagers who post frog memes. In the middle of an emotionally incontinent reality TV show host getting his hand on the nuclear button, your chief complaint is that in the middle of a few dozen denunciations of the KKK, he once delayed denouncing the KKK for an entire 24 hours before going back to denouncing it again. When a guy who says outright that he won’t respect elections unless he wins them does, somehow, win an election, the headlines are how he once said he didn’t like globalists which means he must be anti-Semitic.

Stop making people suicidal. Stop telling people they’re going to be killed. Stop terrifying children. Stop giving racism free advertising. Stop trying to convince Americans that all the other Americans hate them. Stop. Stop. Stop.
The most intelligent criticisms I have seen of this boil down to saying that Alexander is too young to remember a really racist America, and that if Trump is just as racist as Reagan that is awful, because we thought we had made a lot of progress over the past 36 years.

I do agree with Alexander about two important things. First, I think it is a mistake to boil the whole outlook of disaffected white voters down to "racism." I think racism is a component of that disaffection, but then race issues are a component of just about everything in America. Many voters saw Hillary as representing an establishment that scorns and exploits them, and to call that racist is both a terrible oversimplification and a route to electoral failure. People want to be heard and understood, not belittled. They want someone to feel their pain.

Second, I think Trump's supposed racism and definite sexism are not anywhere near his biggest problems, and I think it is downright weird to worry about Trump's attitude towards Jews when his closest adviser is his Jewish son-in-law. Trump is a narcissistic, emotional, unthinking buffoon, and who knows what he might do. I hope he doesn't manage to get it together to do much of anything. But whatever he does is likely to be bad for white men, too.

1 comment:

David said...

There's something in what Alexander says, and Mark Lilla has an interesting piece in the Times that makes a similar point in more temperate and constructive fashion. But--the events are so complex and so protean, and at the same time so large, that one editorial on one subject only scratches the surface. Maybe the left is too identity-conscious. But would a nuanced tweak of the liberal message make a difference when another part of the story is the spread of alternative news and a basic disagreement on what constitutes the truth?

Imagine the scene when Trump starts trying to shape the government's statistical reportage. Half the Bureau of Labor Statistic resigns, the new Trumpified Bureau reports that under Obama 93 million were unemployed (Trump's preferred figure during the election), and Breitbart breaks the story that Trump is bringing truth where before there were only liberal lies. One year later, we will learn that Trump's first year in the White House saw a 40% increase in employment.

And meanwhile, it looks to me like the Trump transition is all about payback, positive and negative, of the most personal sort.

No single issue or approach can encompass what is happening.