Saturday, October 07, 2017

a rebuttal to a Ta-nehisi Coates piece about Trump as the first white president

If we wanted to look back to racists presidents we could easily look back a century ago to Woodrow Wilson but in the current political climate presenting  Trump as a racist has currency.  If he is a racist he can't be the first racist president who's been white, since, again, Woodrow Wilson.  But Coates was willing to write of Obama that "he was my president", despite Obama, by Coates' account, saying he hadn't seen any compelling evidence that reparations actually worked.  If government funding in reparation for past wrongs led to economic revitalization in and of itself would the state of Native American tribes on reservations be a potential proof for Coates' advocacy that reparations can and should be done? 

But at another level, if the establishment is as racist as Coates has sometimes indicated it seems to be then wouldn't reparations be interpretable as ultimately being some kind of blood money?  It could be a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation for a polemicist working with Coates' argument whether or not Coates himself might reach such a conclusion.

But despite not liking Trump at all, the bromide that Trump's administration represents fascism even though Obama's administration didn't seem like it was a fascist regime with the same basic set of executive powers seems hard to buy.  It's not that we might not be living in a giant surveillance state, mind you, it's that blue and left partisans have a history of only granting the reality of this when there are too many red partisans in seats of power.  It's why even though I think the libertarian approach to the human condition is ultimately idiotic they at least have some points when some of them say that maybe the central government has too much power regardless of who happens to be wielding it.

In the last month The Atlantic ran a rebuttal from an author who saw fit to question the nature of Coates' public polemic regarding Trump and white supremacist ideologies.


Yet none of these points actually demonstrate that the dominating force behind the success of Trump’s campaign was white supremacy. The answer to Coates’s rhetorical question of whether Barack Obama could have gotten into office after a record of sexual assault is obviously no. But Coates does not contemplate the possibility that what made people willing to excuse Trump’s boorish behavior was not his whiteness, but his status as a celebrity entertainer in which his vulgarity was a widely accepted aspect of his persona. So when Coates asks whether we can “imagine a black felon running in a primary against an incumbent white president doing so well,” the proper parallel would be imagining a well-known entertainer whose social capital has accrued in the past few decades of television and digital media. Kanye 2020 anyone? [WtH  or would R. Kelly be a better example?]

But the broader issue with the essay is that in the world that Coates has constructed for his reader, it is impossible for the source of the problem to be anything but whiteness, [emphasis added] “that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them.” Maybe the majority of Trump’s white supporters wanted to repeal the former president’s legislation because of actual policy disagreements; or, maybe they, like others, harbored deep dislike for Hillary Clinton. After all, Clinton lost critical states like Michigan and, as Omri Ben-Shahar wrote in Forbes, Clinton did so less because Trump gained new voters in these states than because registered Democrats did not show up on Election Day, possibly due to voter-ID laws and other factors. “Wisconsin tells the same numbers story,” he wrote. “Trump got no new votes. He received exactly the same number of votes in America’s dairyland as Romney did in 2012 … But Clinton again could not spark many Obama voters to turn out for her: she tallied 230,000 votes less than Obama did in 2012. This is how a 200,000-vote margin for Obama in the Badger State became a 30,000-vote defeat for Clinton.
The distribution of minority votes tells a similar story. National Public Radio’s Domenico Montanaro points out that although Latinos made up a greater share of the electorate than in previous elections, “a significant share … went third party.” Indeed, that 6 percent may have made a significant difference. In North Carolina, black voters made up 20 percent of the electorate in 2016, a 3 percent decline from their share in 2012. Charles Ellison of the Philadelphia Tribune notes that between 2012 and 2016 there was “an alarming 11.4 percent reduction in Black votes.”

At the very least, this demonstrates that decreased democratic turnout had as much if not more of an impact in the election than Trump’s ability to rally supporters. Of course, none of this is to absolve Trump supporters for making unwise voting decisions, but if Coates wants to prove that white supremacy was the dominating force fueling the rise of Trump, he must demonstrate that all other possible motives are implausible—which he doesn’t. [emphasis added]


Coates writes that since among working-class Americans, 61 percent of whites—but only 24 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of blacks—supported Trump, only “whiteness” can be the culprit. But why did any percentage of working class blacks and Hispanics vote for Trump? Do they also secretly harbor white-supremacist viewpoints? Did they too inherit the all-powerful white heirloom? Or is it possible that all of these groups were motivated by a variety of factors, not least among them a visceral and uncompromising dislike of Hillary Clinton? [emphasis added]

Beware the deceptive allure of binary choices that masquerade as arguments. Coates’s failure to imagine complexity in human motives yields the assumption that such complexity cannot possibly exist.

Coates is at his best when he confronts the shortcomings of his progressives peers like Mark Lilla and George Packer who do not consider the possibility of intricate motives fueling voting blocs. Packer “offers no opinion polls to weigh white workers’ views on ‘elites,’ much less their views on racism,” Coates writes, critiquing his reductionist impulse to say Trump’s rise is only or mostly due to economic grievance. But Coates himself is equally reductive in concluding that it is due to white supremacy.

His essay contributes to a politically toxic environment in which challenging the orthodoxies of the left and the right becomes heresy. Echo chambers are fortified. An us vs. them mentality becomes the only possible explanation for what’s going on.

White supremacism was basically how and why the Pacific Northwest got settled, a historical fact that people in Portland, for instance, can never afford to forget.  It's also something people should not ignore in Seattle.  No matter how blue-state the electoral tendencies up here the legacy of racism and white supremacist utopianism hasn't gone away.  But Coates' polemics are not necessarily going to help improve things if he distills the rise of Trump down to just white supremacism.  Sure, it no doubt played a role but the left and liberals have begun to be easier to distinguish since Trump got elected and while people at Slate are aghast still that Trump one folks at The Baffler have come up with ways to explain the rise of Trump that don't involve just invocations of racism and white supremacist ideologies.

In the wake of OscarsSoWhite it's not really clear that the entertainment industry doesn't favor whites disproportionately.  If Trump hadn't been made into a reality television show star would he have had as much of a platform from which to make a bid to be the President of the United States?  There's a sense in which Hollywood being aghast that Trump became president could represent a case study in being upset that a man they helped keep a C-list at best star in the spotlight long enough for him to seize it.  White supremacist ideologies may have played a part in Trump's rise, but should the media industries scapegoat white racism at the expense of examining how and why they let him stay a reality television star long enough to go for political office? 


Cal of Chelcice said...

Votes are totalized acts. They are all for one person or another. The complex motivations, for and against, are sublimated in the single act. So, why do liberal literatti assume people voted Trump 'because' of his sleaze and reticence to distance himself from white supremacists/nationalists, and not 'in spite of' it? It's the same tape from Fox News, saying all these trouble-makers and anti-Americans voted in Obama for Jeremiah Wright and the Weather Underground.

There's a significant portion of people who voted Obama in '08 and '12 that voted Trump in '16, and a huge percentage of those people still support Trump. I take issue with stupid east-coast liberals who don't understand that Trump's campaign swirled with excitement as soon as he tied his name to economic protectionism and the promise of jobs.

If only people studied Marx! The cloud of ideology is thick. I know it's your schtick to talk about red and blue civil religions, I'd say it's a tactical diversion. It's the same cult, one establishment with many factions and wings. And while people stay woke, the rest of the world is crushed under American hegemony. But, hey, at least we have a racially and gender diverse empire that builds its throne of skulls and tower of Babel.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I do keep forgetting to emphasize that where I've been going with the red and blue distinction is that these are ultimately just the food colorings in the same sugar-water beverage that people treat as being substantially different.