Culture

No, Calling the Baltimore Rioters ‘Thugs’ Does Not Make You a Racist

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news” letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (including foreign donors who’d like to hide their direct support of this “news”letter by giving money to the Goldberg Global Initiative),

#ad#I was going to write about the latest Clinton stuff but, frankly, I can’t muster the energy. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. The Clintons are to sleazy behavior what Joe Biden is to craziness and inappropriate backrubs. Sure, they get criticized or mocked, but ultimately it gets discounted because that’s just the way they are. Biden could divulge his sacrofricosis addiction on national television while explaining how the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor and within a week it would be “old news.”

“Oh, that’s just Joe!”

But at least Biden’s behavior is contained to himself and perhaps whoever is foolish enough to get in his bitch’n TransAm. The Clintons run a vast enterprise which at this moment is in the finishing stages of taking over the Democratic party and, if it has its way, the United States government. No serious person of any ideological stripe denies — privately, at least — that what the Clintons have been doing over the last 15 years has been unseemly. Legitimate debates can be had as to whether it was criminal. But if the standard is the appearance of corruption, tax-status abuse, influence-peddling, access-selling, money laundering, greed, self-aggrandizement, arrogance, non-transparency, or simply flat-out lying, then no serious person can deny the Clintons have fallen short of that standard.

The Clintons are to sleazy behavior what Joe Biden is to craziness and inappropriate backrubs.

Sure, the foundation spends a few pennies on the dollar for latrines and textbooks. But its real purpose is to serve as a super–super PAC with better branding.

But what really rankles is that the Clintons began their post-presidency in reputational shambles. Bill Clinton sold pardons, or at the very least didn’t care that it seemed like he did. That’s not my characterization; it’s Barney Frank’s, E.J. Dionne’s, Jimmy Carter’s and Patrick Leahy’s, just to name a few. Oh and Hillary’s brother was in on it as well. Hugh Rodham, a Haitian gold-mining expert of late, took $400,000 dollars to shop for pardons, too.

Many people thought that Bill Clinton created his foundation in an effort to repair his reputation. And that’s probably true. But that’s just part of what makes Bill Clinton such a spectacular sleaze-ball. He created a foundation to restore his good name and then used the foundation to do precisely the kind of things that gave him a bad name. It’s like Tony Soprano doing volunteer work at an old-age home just so he can rob money from little old ladies while they’re at bingo. Win-win!

But where is the sense of betrayal from liberals? Sure, a few people have been noticeably embarrassed, but for the most part they are acting like Clinton deserves the benefit of the doubt or that the appearance of impropriety is a fair standard to apply to every politician except ones named Clinton.

It’s like having an addict in the family (something I know a bit about, alas). Everyone agrees in principle that you shouldn’t enable bad behavior, but no one has the stomach to actually live by that principle. The Clintons left the White House having used up every second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth chance they had.

And their behavior never changed!

Only their public-relations strategy changed. In Aesop’s fables, the scorpion must sting the frog because, much to the frog’s foolish surprise, that’s what scorpions do. The Tudors of the Ozarks must do what they do. I get that. Indeed, I sometimes feel like I’m one of the only ones who does. But we are long past the point of blaming the scorpions for being scorpions. Frankly, I don’t expect better from the Clintons and their ability to arouse anger in me is pretty limited at this point. But it’s time to point fingers at the frogs who insist on playing the part of the fool. If you ever find yourself saying something like, “I don’t understand how the Clintons could let us down like this,” understand this: You’re the frog.

 I don’t think Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States, but if she is, her enablers will have no right to be shocked by any of the inevitable embarrassing scandals that will follow. Heck, they lost that right a long time ago.

Thug Strife

I don’t get it.

I feel like Tom Hanks in Big when all the executives are excited about the toy buildings that turn into robots. Hanks just doesn’t get it. He asks, “What’s fun about that?”

Except I’m asking, “What’s racist about that?”

The mayor of Baltimore, who will spend the rest of her days living light-years from the word “Churchillian,” recently apologized for two gaffes. First, she walked back her statement that she gave rioters space to “destroy.” That’s not what she meant, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.

It sure sounded like it to me, and the facts on the ground seemed to line up with the rhetoric (this new video of Baltimore cops fleeing rioters is pretty compelling). But fair enough. People often say things clumsily in stressful situations.

But then the mayor apologized for calling the destroyers “thugs.”

“There are no thugs in Baltimore,” she added. “Sometimes my own little anger translator gets the best of me.”

Really, there are no thugs in Baltimore? It’s a thug-free zone?

RELATED: Riot-Plagued Baltimore Is a Catastrophe Entirely of the Democratic Party’s Own Making

A Thug by Another Name Still Stinks . . .

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there were plenty of non-thug kids pretending to be thugs in the mobs in Baltimore. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in New York City, I knew, or at least met, dozens of kids who said they were in gangs. The number who were actually in anything like an actual gang was much, much lower. Long before we hunted the woolly mammoth to extinction, young men were acting like they’re tougher than they really are.

But here’s the thing. Someone torched those stores. Those looters weren’t holograms or masked Scooby Doo villains looking to get those good-but-meddling kids in trouble. At least one actual carbon-based life form is responsible for burning down a community center and apartment complex that was being built by the Southern Baptist Church for low-income old folks.

RELATED: What Are Baltimore’s Rioters Trying to ‘Communicate’?

Now, if there’s some reason we can’t use the word thug to describe these people, I’m all ears. I’ve written about the etymology of “thug” many, many times and if the issue is lexicological exactitude, I’m up for that conversation.

Someone torched those stores. Those looters weren’t holograms or masked Scooby Doo villains looking to get those good-but-meddling kids in trouble.

Others argue that the word has now taken on too many racial connotations. Barret Holmes Pinter writes that “thug” is the new “ni**er.” Baltimore city councilman Carl Stokes bullied CNN’s Erin Burnett the other day. “These are children who have been set aside, marginalized, who have not been engaged by us. No, we don’t have to call them thugs,” Stokes said. “Just call them ni**ers. Just call them ni**ers.”

First of all, it seems to me there’s no small amount of racial paranoia here. I use “thug” all of the time with no racial intent at all (I started calling Robert Gibbs a “thug-dufus” after I heard someone else use the phrase). At the dog park, my wife and I will sometimes call bullying dogs (including, alas, our own) “thugs.” One time when Zoë pinned a standard poodle on the ground, I grabbed her, and said, “Don’t be such a thug.” I’ll canvass for witnesses to be sure, but I don’t recall everyone in the park gasping in horror the way they would if I’d yelled at my dog: “don’t be such a ni**er.”

RELATED: Black Thugs Hammer Black Citizens

Pinter argues that the word was imposed on blacks and that Tupac Shakur and others boldly appropriated and embraced it. I’m not sure I buy the first part. It seems to me the term “thug” was mostly imposed on, you know, thugs. But the second part is pretty obviously true. After all, Shakur tattooed “thug life” across his stomach. Which, according to Pinter, he did for really complex reasons:

Tupac’s embracing of the word, in effect, said that black Americans have been unfairly called this word for far too long, and that now we need to start employing the word so that we can impact the discussion and the word’s usage. It is not a justification for non-black voices to refer to blacks as thugs, but rather the appropriation of insult as a mechanism for social discourse.

Well, maybe.

Maybe there’s something to this “mechanism for social discourse” thing. Or maybe Tupak Shakur was part of a broad transracial fad in American popular culture to glamorize criminality.

Whatever the case, I’m not an absolutist here. If it’s really true that a significant share of blacks hear “ni**er” when someone says “thug,” I’m totally open to the idea of using a different word.

But here’s the real problem, even after we expunge this now-hateful word: We will still need a negative word for people (of any race!) who riot, rob, torch and act like [insert non-racially loaded term to replace “​thug”​ here].

RELATED: Baltimore, Charlie Hebdo, and the Weaponization of Cultural Politics

I don’t want to be racist. So, please, give me the shaming word for people who behave horribly that lets me condemn the content of their character without referencing the color of their skin.

You can be a transgender half-Hmong half-Swede in a pinstripe suit, an albino Norwegian in a Bentley, or a poor black kid from West Baltimore, but if you burn down a home for poor old people there still has to be some bad word available to us to describe you.

Excuses vs. Explanations

Where is the acknowledgement that some of the so-called thugs aren’t so-called, they’re simply thugs?

Pinter is outraged about the fact that some tough football players get called thugs. Okay that’s one conversation. But getting offended when gangsters who loot mom-and-pop stores are called thugs strikes me as a completely different conversation.

A society that refuses to distinguish between people who behave criminally and people who don’t won’t be a society for very long.

Before he insinuated that Burnett is a racist, Stokes waxed eloquent about how these kids have been marginalized, etc. Translation: The punks setting cars on fire and looting stores are the real victims.

First of all, it’s not only plausible, but obviously true, that many of these punks had rough starts in life. Unlike the largely bogus claim that poverty and powerlessness is what creates terrorists, the root-causes argument has explanatory power for street criminals. No serious conservative disputes that poverty, joblessness, crime, family breakdown, crappy schools, etc. help explain why young men make bad choices. But explanations aren’t excuses, even if they overlap at the margins from time to time. Bad choices are still choices, and if we don’t judge people by their choices we can’t judge people at all.

#related#If a sane man rapes and kills a little girl but, when caught, explains how terrible his own childhood was, the civilized response of the criminal justice system must be “we don’t care.” Some crimes are moral gray areas — the man who steals bread to feed his starving family, etc. But, other crimes aren’t. Nonetheless, a society that refuses to distinguish between people who behave criminally and people who don’t won’t be a society for very long.

And by the way, how exactly it helps the black community to say that th*gs cannot be singled out from the rest of the black community completely mystifies me. I thought the antidote to racism was judging people individually, based upon their behavior. I don’t discriminate against people because of the color of their skin, but I will freely admit I discriminate against people who burn down senior centers. But that’s just me.

Various & Sundry

Thanks to everyone at NRI for making the Ideas Summit such a big success, and thanks to everyone who stayed up for the night-owl podcast last night. I don’t think it quite fired on all cylinders, but I blame that on an audience not properly lubricated. Anyway, it should be up over at Ricochet soon.

In May, I am hosting two events at AEI. The first, on May 11, is a book event for The Dadly Virtues. This is sort of like a sequel to the Seven Deadly Virtues book. Panelists will include: yours truly, Tucker Carlson, Stephen F. Hayes, Jonathan V. Last, James Lileks, and P. J. O’Rourke.

Then on May 14, I will be having a conversation with Charles Murray on his new book By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission. It’s quite a humdinger of a book, as you can tell from my blurb.

Zoë Update: The Dingo’s behavior continues to improve steadily. She’s still too eager to scrap with other dogs and get a bit thuggish brutish with other dogs. But she comes when called, gets in the car when asked and looks for Aldrich Ames when commanded to.

Oh, here’s something that’s equally depressing and encouraging. We have new software at NR that allows me to tell how far into an article readers have actually read. I always know that most readers rarely get past the first couple paragraphs, but it’s another thing to see the drop-off by sentence. The good news is that this “news”letter, at least when it appears on the website on Saturdays, retains more readers than most. The surprising news is that the vast majority of you don’t read all of the way to the V&S section and weird links. I always put the weird stuff at the end on the assumption that people will stick around for the dessert. Anyway, it raises some interesting issues if most of you really aren’t reading the stuff at the end. First of all, my angry dismissals of many of your complaints may have fallen on deaf ears. Second, some of these announcements really are important to me. I may have to figure out how to front load some of them. I also may have to downgrade my level of effort on this section from half-assed to quarter-assed.

This is why we can’t let computers take over journalism

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