“Expect to be called a demagogue, but don’t be a demagogue.” -Calvin Coolidge

I have responded to the bulk of Aaron’s well-written piece on the Trump insurgency elsewhere, so I will not be rehashing most of it here. Rather, I wanted to focus on one of the arguments within:

Conservatives believe, rightly or wrongly it doesn’t matter, that the media is biased against them. This shows up in such ways as: how any opposition to the ACA is painted as racist; accusations that even when the job they have is legislating, they aren’t governing; or, claims that if the branches of government that the Republicans have just taken back use the checks and balances that the constitution provides them, it must be because they aren’t serious senators. Couple this with accusations that every Republican running for President is akin to Hitler, and that opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants being solely motivated by racism. (A claim supported by the one of the party elite no less!)

Some of what I have to say was articulated by Trizzlor in the comments:

The problem is when a party collectively says “Oh you don’t like me because I’m [BLANK], well let me show you how [BLANK] I can be” they are collectively doomed. And that holds when BLANK is racism or when BLANK is SJW privilege checking. There’s a reason civil rights activists put on their Sunday best and went to church before staging a sit in: an insurgency is effective when it highlights the commonalities, not the differences.

14034615627_d0c72c5a8f_racistI would, however, take it a step further. What this reasoning suggests to me is that at the end of the day, blank is what the speaker wants to be. And that, to a degree, the only reason not to be blank is the degree of social condemnation that comes with it. This is, controlling for blank, quite reasonable. If I want to blank, but blank makes people dislike me, then I might blank anyway if people are going to accuse me of blanking no matter what I do. Why not?

When blank is being racist, though, that ought to cause incur a pause. If your response to being called a racist no matter what you do is to become racist, that says something about you. It demonstrates to me that either (a) you really want to be a racist but are merely held back by social convention, or (b) you are cool being racist if it pisses the right people off. Neither of these is a flattering look, perceptively or morally. If we assume, at any rate, that racism is bad.

Now, if you’re not a liberal, and maybe if you are, being called a racist is something you’re likely to be confronted with. Regardless of what you say or do. It’s something that’s out there. Often, it’s because many on the left lack any sense of perspective or nuance. They find a racial dimension to whatever your view is, and they pounce on it. It’s just how they view the world. Not without reason, of course, but taken to excess. For others it is more blatantly a vehicle for self-righteousness, or a way to win an argument. A lot of people on the left have an awful lot invested in the notion of their enlightened superiority on such matters.

How we respond to this matters. One way of doing so, of course, would be simply never to dissent from their perspective on any issue which could be construed as a racial one (which is virtually any issue). If you’re conservative – and even if you’re not – that’s not a tenable position. It’s also not an intellectually honest one, for the most part. But the question that we ought to ask ourselves is not whether or not we will be accused of racism, but whether (a) the charge will stick, and (b) the charge is actually justified. We want to avoid situations where (a) occurs as a practical and political matter. But really, though, the most aggressive accusers end up doing most of the work for you in this regard. When everything is racist, then virtually nothing is, except to the most devoted. We want to avoid (b) as a moral matter, if we agree that racism is undesirable.

Now, defining racism is hard. I’m honestly not sure how to do it myself. In my view, it can be defined extremely broadly to the point where we are all guilty and even very defensible policy qualifies, or we can define it narrowly and with a great moral weight. I don’t know which one is correct, though I tend to approach accusations of racism according to defensibility. Sometimes something can, in my view, be called racist with accuracy, and yet still be the right course of action. (This comes up a lot with immigration.) I am rarely called racist myself, though things I believe are called racist with varying degrees of frequency. The good and proper response to this is to determine whether it’s not racist, whether it may be racist but is defensible anyway, or whether it is racist and I need to re-evaluate the whole thing. The good and proper response is not, and cannot be, “You want racist? I will show you racist!”

If you’re supporting the guy who calls Mexicans rapists, that’s on you. Not them. And except insofar as you are being “true to yourself” by doing so, you’re more or less playing the role that many of your adversaries want you to play anyway. Especially those in the last aforementioned category: The ones that have a strong investment in their enlightened superiority on racial matters. Most cynically, many of them really do want you to take the most extreme position possible. I thought myself cynical, but even I’ve been surprised by how many people on the left seem to relish the things that Trump says and does because he proves them right. He takes what they see and puts it out there for everybody else to see. Then they further accuse anti-Trump people on the right of only being anti-Trump on that basis. For the least earnest, most divisive sort, this is catnip.

To go in the other direction, let’s talk about anti-Trump protesters. Specifically, let’s talk about the anti-Trump protesters in New Mexico who were throwing rocks and waving the Mexican flag. Now, waving the Mexican flag is not really comparable to hurling either rocks or racist insults, but it is in the eyes of many divisive. It also plays into stereotypes about immigrants, Mexican-Americans, and anti-Trump people of being unpatriotic. It’s somewhat detrimental to the cause. This was noticed, as it happens, by Mexican-Americans:

Observers said that during the anti-Proposition 187 rallies of 1994, the flying of the Mexican flag may have increased support for the initiative, which would have denied public services to immigrants here illegally. It was passed by voters but overturned by the courts.

Protesters carrying Mexican flags during the 2006 protests also sparked debate, though as those protests continued, there were fewer Mexican flags and more American flags. That happened in part because Spanish-language DJs who promoted the demonstration during their radio shows urged participants to carry American flags to show their patriotism.

“If we want to live here, we want to demonstrate that we love this country and we love the American flag,” DJ Eddie “El Piolin” Sotelo said at the time.

More recently, during the Comprehensive Immigration Reform and DREAM debates, the advocates made the switch and it seemed to correspond with a change in public perceptions on the debate. There was a good article about this in Slate, but unfortunately I can’t find it. Whether they should have had to do this or not, it was nonetheless good for their movement that they didn’t decide “Haters gonna hate.”

Some will, of course, just as some liberals will believe that anyone that disagrees with them on a broad buffet of issues are racist. But haters aren’t the target audience. First and foremost, they like you good and hateworthy.

Photo by Matt From London

Category: Newsroom

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