White House

Trump and the ‘Racist Tweets’

President Donald Trump answers questions on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 15, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
There’s a difference between racist and just stupid.

What does “racist” even mean anymore?

Racism is the headline on President Trump’s Sunday tweets — the media-Democrat complex assiduously describes them as “racist tweets” as if that were a fact rather than a trope. I don’t think they were racist; I think they were abjectly stupid.

Like many Americans, I am tired of being lectured about racism by racists and racialists, individuals whose full-field explanation for all life’s issues is this matter of genetic happenstance that should be increasingly irrelevant in a pluralistic society.

Is it “racist” to tell people who have contempt for the country — who abhor the common culture that makes us American — that they ought to go back to where they came from? It has nativist and reactionary overtones, but I don’t think it is racist. I’ll grant this much, though: It is closer to actual racism than the Left’s usual demagogic claim: I am a racist if I extend to a non-white nincompoop like Ilhan Omar the courtesy of taking her seriously as an individual and a public official, as if it were her race rather than the idiocy of what she says that moves me to dissent.

It would be racist to tell the progressive “Squad” that they don’t belong in our country because of their race or ethnic roots. I don’t understand Trump to have done that. He is attacking their radicalism, which they wear like a badge of honor.

I don’t believe Trump is a master strategist who did this to force Speaker Pelosi and other mainstream Democrats, at their electoral peril, to embrace the radicals. That’s just the lemonade that Trump supporters are trying to make of the president’s never-ending supply of lemons. In any event, while it is beneath a president to carp in Trump’s juvenile way, I have less heartburn in principle with a president’s attacking radicalism than I do with a congresswoman’s claim that any criticism of her is an implicit criticism of immigrants, women, black people, etc.

The real problems here, in 2020 terms, are the stupidity and insensitivity of the president’s Twitter twaddle.

To tell people who are natural-born Americans that they ought to go back to the country where they originally came from is so ignorant that I would be humiliated if it were said by a child for whom I was responsible. Three of the congresswomen Trump was clearly alluding to (despite his craven insistence on Monday that he hadn’t mentioned any names) are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from Yorktown Heights by way of Parkchester (the Bronx neighborhood where I grew up); Rashida Tlaib of Detroit; and Ayanna Pressley of Chicago by way of Cincinnati. They are Americans born and bred. Representative Omar is a naturalized American from Somalia, who appears to have dabbled in some immigration and tax fraud (you’re evidently a racist if you mention that), but whose politics, like those of the rest of the Squad, ooze the post-sovereign, post-citizenship, blame-America-first-ism that students imbibe on typical American college campuses.

Yet, Trump said they were from “countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they have a functioning government at all).” This is indefensible jackassery. It is not an excuse that the president would have been on solid ground if he had said the congresswomen were apologists for such countries. He said they were from such countries and ought to go back to them.

Presidents can’t make mind-blowing errors like that and expect to remain politically viable. Trump so basks in the huzzahs of his blindly loyal base that he appears blind himself to the fact that even people who support many of his policies, and who find today’s Democrats unacceptable, do not want to be embarrassed — do not want to be put constantly in the position of trying to rationalize his antics.

Sensitivity is a more subtle issue, but it is important. People such as your humble correspondent can rail all day about the Left’s race obsession, its identity politics, and its policy inanities. That does not make the acceptance of these things by a disturbingly large plurality of Americans any less a fact of life.

It is a fact of life because the mainstream of America, without a fight, has handed over the institutions of learning and opinion to anti-American leftists for going on three generations. That is how you end up with Trump. Most Americans — though it is not the clear majority it used to be — still love the country. For all his flaws, the president calls out anti-Americanism publicly. Particularly compared with Democrats, Trump appeals to people who love the country, not because it was founded by white Judeo-Christians, but because its colorblind ideals are worth loving, even if we have frequently failed to live up to them.

The result of the Left’s inroads in the culture is that, for many, victimhood is the glue of their identity-politics ideology. They are on a hair trigger to perceive racism. Yes, they are being hypersensitive, either for political advantage or because they actually feel that way. Still, that does not make their wayward beliefs any less real.

The president is president of those people, too, regardless of whether they accept him as such. Of course he won’t be able to bring most of them around. In terms of his viability, though, he needs to be seen by the broad middle of the country as wanting to be everyone’s president. The thing many of us most despise about the Left is its divisive politics, its determination not just to win but to destroy opponents — for the in terrorem effect or, it seems at times, for sheer sport. To me, it is not a selling point that Trump is willing to do to the Left what the Left does to us. I want to fight them; I don’t want to be them.

Convincing one’s opponents that they should rethink their positions is the hard work of persuasion. You are not going to get there, especially as president, by insulting them, by making them political piñatas for your base. That is simply going to harden the opposition of the people already opposed — when the president should be using an improved economy to woo them. Worse, it is going to drive to the opposition people who despair over whether we can ever be a unified country again.

I am not saying those people are going to find solace in opposition. I am saying some percentage of them, maybe a large one, will be so incensed that voting for Trump will not be an option for them.

I don’t pay much attention to Trump’s tweets anymore. Like most people I’m inured to them. Plus, as I’ve said a million times, two words explain why — by what is a near miracle of the electoral map — he won in 2016: Hillary Clinton. It looks like Democrats are even crazier now than they were then, so the president has a chance to be reelected. But his policy successes are discounted by his personal flaws. He can’t afford to lose the potential supporters his barroom-brawler routine is alienating.

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