Thursday, March 9, 2017

On Setting the Wrong Terms for Debate

It's annoying when Breitbart calls you on your hypocrisy and wins. Here is Barack Obama talking about the African-American immigrant experience in 2015:

"And perhaps, like some of you, these new arrivals might have had some moments of doubt, wondering if they had made a mistake in leaving everything and everyone they ever knew behind. So life in America was not easy. It wasn't always easy for new immigrants. Certainly it wasn't easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves. There was discrimination and hardship and poverty. But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them. And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more."

Barack Obama is a very smart man, and this quote, like most of his speeches, has a precise sense of diction and a lovely rhythm. But substantively it's every bit as stupid as what Ben Carson said the other day. The incident reminds me of the moment in the campaign when Donald Trump asked African-American to vote for him, asking them how much they had lose, painting the bleakest of bleak portraits of black life. Intellectually, I knew the problem. I knew that he was denying the range of African-American experience, that he was in a way dehumanizing African-Americans by suggesting they were a joyless people. But to the average white guy, he sounded no different than Richard Wright or Grandmaster Flash. A person whom I dislike and who always seems to say that which will help his own career, called the speech a form of violence. If that speech had been given by other politicians, including many Republican politicians, I doubt this person would have said the same.

Donald Trump opened his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. He spews misogyny. I've been chilled to the bone by much of what he says, but even more important are the things that he does. Concentrate on the things that matter most, like stopping deportations, accepting refugees, protecting the Standing Rock people, making sure that transgender people get treated with a modicum of decency. Stop the extreme language policing. Many Americans who didn't see anything wrong with Trump's African-American speech think you're just crying wolf. It's only a matter of time before you slip up with your language and you become the target. By all means acknowledge the ugliest language he spews, but don't overreach.

You don't look like one of the good people to me when you roll your eyes at Kellyanne Conway's feet-on-the-couch controversy. You look like someone obsessed with being one of the good people, as well as one of the smart people. When you start ripping into Carson for his clumsiness with speech and not for his horrible policies, you are setting the wrong terms for the debate, one which you are sure to lose, because, frankly, you aren't as smart as you think you are. No one is.

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