[Content warning: hate crimes, Trump, racism. I have turned off comments to keep out bad people who might be attracted by this sort of thing. Avoid sharing in places where this will attract the wrong kind of attention, as per your best judgment. Please don’t interpret anything in this article to mean that Trump is not super terrible]
[Epistemic status: A reduction of a complicated issue to only 8000 words, because nobody would read it if it were longer. I think this is true but incomplete. I do not deny that Trump is being divisive and abusing identity politics in more subtle ways. I will try to discuss missing parts at more length later.]
A New York Times article from last September that went viral only recently: Crying Wolf, Then Confronting Trump. It asks whether Democrats have “cried wolf” so many times that nobody believes them anymore. And so:
When “honorable and decent men” like McCain and Romney “are reflexively dubbed racists simply for opposing Democratic policies, the result is a G.O.P. electorate that doesn’t listen to admonitions when the genuine article is in their midst”.
I have a different perspective. Back in October 2015, I wrote that the picture of Trump as “the white power candidate” and “the first openly white supremacist candidate to have a shot at the Presidency in the modern era” was overblown. I said that “the media narrative that Trump is doing some kind of special appeal-to-white-voters voodoo is unsupported by any polling data”, and predicted that:
If Trump were the Republican nominee, he could probably count on equal or greater support from minorities as Romney or McCain before him.
Now the votes are in, and Trump got greater support from minorities than Romney or McCain before him. You can read the Washington Post article, Trump Got More Votes From People Of Color Than Romney Did, or look at the raw data (source)
Trump made gains among blacks. He made gains among Latinos. He made gains among Asians. The only major racial group where he didn’t get a gain of greater than 5% was white people. I want to repeat that: the group where Trump’s message resonated least over what we would predict from a generic Republican was the white population.
Nor was there some surge in white turnout. I don’t think we have official numbers yet, but by eyeballing what data we have it looks very much like whites turned out in equal or lesser numbers this year than in 2012, 2008, and so on. [EDIT: see counterpoint, countercounterpoint]
The media responded to all of this freely available data with articles like White Flight From Reality: Inside The Racist Panic That Fueled Donald Trump’s Victory and Make No Mistake: Donald Trump’s Win Represents A Racist “Whitelash”.
I stick to my thesis from October 2015. There is no evidence that Donald Trump is more racist than any past Republican candidate (or any other 70 year old white guy, for that matter). All this stuff about how he’s “the candidate of the KKK” and “the vanguard of a new white supremacist movement” is made up. It’s a catastrophic distraction from the dozens of other undeniable problems with Trump that could have convinced voters to abandon him. That it came to dominate the election cycle should be considered a horrifying indictment of our political discourse, in the same way that it would be a horrifying indictment of our political discourse if the entire Republican campaign had been based around the theory that Hillary Clinton was a secret Satanist. Yes, calling Romney a racist was crying wolf. But you are still crying wolf.
I avoided pushing this point any more since last October because I didn’t want to look like I was supporting Trump, or accidentally convince anyone else to support Trump. I think Trump’s election is a disaster. He has no plan, he’s dangerously trigger-happy, and his unilateralism threatens aid to developing countries, one of the most effective ways we currently help other people. I thought and still think a Trump presidency will be a disaster.
But since we’re past the point where we can prevent it, I want to present my case.
I realize that all of this is going to make me sound like a crazy person and put me completely at odds with every respectable thinker in the media, but luckily, being a crazy person at odds with every respectable thinker in the media has been a pretty good ticket to predictive accuracy lately, so whatever.
First, I want to go over Donald Trump’s official, explicit campaign message. Yes, it’s possible for candidates’ secret feelings to differ from their explicit messages, but the things they say every single day and put on their website and include in their speeches are still worth going over to see what image they want to project.
Trump’s official message has been the same vague feel-good pro-diversity rhetoric as any other politician. Here’s Trump on African Americans:
It is my highest and greatest hope that the Republican Party can be the home in the future and forevermore for African-Americans and the African-American vote because I will produce, and I will get others to produce, and we know for a fact it doesn’t work with the Democrats and it certainly doesn’t work with Hillary.
When I am President, I will work to ensure that all of our kids are treated equally, and protected equally. Every action I take, I will ask myself: does this make life better for young Americans in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Ferguson who have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child in America?
African-American citizens have sacrificed so much for this nation. They have fought and died in every war since the Revolution, and from the pews and the picket lines they have lifted up the conscience of our country in the long march for Civil Rights. Yet, too many African-Americans have been left behind.
No group in America has been more harmed by Hillary Clinton’s policies than African-Americans. No group. No group. If Hillary Clinton’s goal was to inflict pain on the African-American community, she could not have done a better job. It’s a disgrace. Tonight, I am asking for the vote of every African-American citizen in this country who wants a better future.
And at the end of four years I guarantee that I will get over 95% of the African-American vote. I promise you. Because I will produce for the inner-cities and I will produce for the African-Americans.
America must reject the bigotry of Hillary Clinton who sees communities of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future.
I have just landed having returned from a very important and special meeting with the President of Mexico…we discussed the great contributions of Mexican-American citizens to our two countries, my love for the people of Mexico, and the close friendship between our two nations.
I employ thousands and thousands of Hispanics. I love the people. They’re great workers. They’re fantastic people and they want legal immigration. I’ll take jobs back from China, I’ll take jobs back from Japan. The Hispanics are going to get those jobs, and they’re going to love Trump.
On his campaign:
It’s a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds and beliefs who want and expect our government to serve the people, and serve the people it will.
Trump’s campaign photos are consistent with a desire to present the same message:
This wasn’t a scripted appearance forced by his campaign staff. According to the Washington Times:
Trump walked on stage in Greeley, Colorado to a large cheering crowd when he spotted a rainbow flag in the audience. As the music blasted through the speakers, Mr. Trump pointed to a supporter as if to ask if he could see his flag and then motioned for a campaign worker to help retrieve the LGBT symbol of equality from the attendee.
Within seconds, Mr. Trump was walking around the platform with the rainbow flag in his hands and moments later unfurled it in full display. You could see a huge smile on Mr. Trump’s face as he walked to both sides of the stage to proudly hold up the rainbow flag announcing support from the gay and lesbian community.
Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller told me, “Mr. Trump is campaigning to be President for ALL Americans and was proud to carry the ‘LGBT for Trump‘ rainbow flag on stage in Greeley, CO yesterday.
This is just a tiny representative sample, but the rest is very similar. Trump has gone from campaign stop to campaign stop talking about how much he likes and respects minorities and wants to fight for them.
And if you believe he’s lying, fine. Yet I notice that people accusing Trump of racism use the word “openly” like a tic. He’s never just “racist” or “white supremacist”. He’s always “openly racist” and “openly white supremacist”. Trump is openly racist, openly racist, openly racist, openly racist, openly racist, openly racist, openly racist. Trump is running on pure white supremacy, has thrown off the last pretense that his campaign is not about bigotry, has the slogan Make American Openly White Supremacist Again, is an openly white supremacist nominee, etc, etc, etc. And I’ve seen a few dozen articles like this where people say that “the bright side of a Trump victory is that finally America admitted its racism out in the open so nobody can pretend it’s not there anymore.”
This, I think, is the first level of crying wolf. What if, one day, there is a candidate who hates black people so much that he doesn’t go on a campaign stop to a traditionally black church in Detroit, talk about all of the contributions black people have made to America, promise to fight for black people, and say that his campaign is about opposing racism in all its forms? What if there’s a candidate who does something more like, say, go to a KKK meeting and say that black people are inferior and only whites are real Americans?
We might want to use words like “openly racist” or “openly white supremacist” to describe him. And at that point, nobody will listen, because we wasted “openly white supremacist” on the guy who tweets pictures of himself eating a taco on Cinco de Mayo while saying “I love Hispanics!”
A rundown of some contrary talking points:
1. Is Trump getting a lot of his support from white supremacist organizations?
No, because there are not enough organized white supremacists to make up “a lot” of anyone’s support.
According to Wikipedia on KKK membership:
As of 2016, the Anti-Defamation League puts total Klan membership nationwide at around 3,000, while the Southern Poverty Law Center puts it at 6,000 members total
The KKK is really small. They could all stay in the same hotel with a bunch of free rooms left over. Or put another way: the entire membership of the KKK is less than the daily readership of this blog.
If you Google “trump KKK”, you get 14.8 million results. I know that Google’s list of results numbers isn’t very accurate. Yet even if they’re inflating the numbers by 1000x, and there were only about 14,000 news articles about the supposed Trump-KKK connection this election, there are still two to three articles about a Trump-KKK connection for every single Klansman in the world.
I don’t see any sign that there are other official white supremacy movements that are larger than the Klan, or even enough other small ones to substantially raise the estimate of people involved. David Duke called a big pan-white-supremacist meeting in New Orleans in 2005, and despite getting groups from across North America and Europe he was only able to muster 300 attendees (by comparison, NAACP conventions routinely get 10,000).
My guess is that the number of organized white supremacists in the country is in the very low five digits.
2. Is Trump getting a lot of his support from online white nationalists and the alt-right?
No, for the same reason.
The alt-right is mostly an online movement, which makes it hard to measure. The three main alt-right hubs I know of are /r/altright, Stormfront, and 4chan’s politics board.
The only one that displays clear user statistics is /r/altright, which says that there are about 5,000 registered accounts. The real number is probably less – some people change accounts, some people post once and disappear, and some non-white-nationalists probably go there to argue. But sure, let’s say that community has 5,000 members.
Stormfront’s user statistics say it gets about 30,000 visits/day, of which 60% are American. My own blog gets about 8,000 visits/day , and the measurable communities associated with it (the subreddit, people who follow my social media accounts) have between 2000 – 8000 followers. If this kind of thing scales, then it suggests about 10,000 people active in the Stormfront community.
4chan boasts about 1 million visits/day. About half seem to be American. Unclear how many go to the politics board and how many are just there for the anime and video games, but Wikipedia says that /b/ is the largest board with 30% of 4Chan’s traffic, so /pol/ must be less than that. If we assume /pol/ gets 20% of 4chan traffic, and that 50% of the people on /pol/ are serious alt-rightists and not dissenters or trolls, the same scaling factors give us about 25,000 – 50,000 American alt-rightists on 4Chan.
Taking into account the existence of some kind of long tail of alt-right websites, I still think the population of the online US alt-right is somewhere in the mid five-digits, maybe 50,000 or so.
50,000 is more than the 5,000 Klansmen. But it’s still 0.02% of the US population. It’s still about the same order of magnitude as the Nation of Islam, which has about 30,000 – 60,000 members, or the Church of Satan, which has about 20,000. It’s not quite at the level of the Hare Krishnas, who boast 100,000 US members. This is not a “voting bloc” in the sense of somebody it’s important to appeal to. It isn’t a “political force” (especially when it’s mostly, as per the 4chan stereotype, unemployed teenagers in their parents’ basements.)
So the mainstream narrative is that Trump is okay with alienating minorities (= 118 million people), whites who abhor racism and would never vote for a racist (if even 20% of whites, = 40 million people), most of the media, most business, and most foreign countries – in order to win the support of about 50,000 poorly organized and generally dysfunctional people, many of whom are too young to vote anyway.
Caring about who the KKK or the alt-right supports is a lot like caring about who Satanists support. It’s not something you would do if you wanted to understand real political forces. It’s only something you would do if you want to connect an opposing candidate to the most outrageous caricature of evil you can find on short notice.
3. Is Trump getting a lot of his support from people who wouldn’t join white nationalist groups, aren’t in the online alt-right, but still privately hold some kind of white supremacist position?
There are surprisingly few polls that just straight out ask a representative sample of the population “Are you white supremacist?”.
I can find a couple of polls that sort of get at this question in useful ways.
This poll from Gallup asks white Americans their support for school segregation and whether they would move out if a black family moved in next door. It declines from about 50% in 1960 to an amount too small to measure in the 1990s, maybe 1-2%, where it presumably remains today.
(this graph also seems relevant to the stories of how Trump’s father would try to keep blacks out of his majority-white real estate developments in the late 60s/early 70s – note that at that time 33% of white families would move out if a black person moved in next door)
Here’s a CBS News poll from 2014 asking Americans their opinion on the Civil Rights Act that legally prohibited discrimination. Once again, the number of whites who think it was a bad thing is too small to measure meaningfully, but looks like maybe 1-2%. Of note, whites were more convinced the Civil Rights Act was good than blacks were, though I guess it depends on the margin of error.
Another Gallup graph here, with the percent of people who would vs. wouldn’t vote for an otherwise-qualified black candidate for President. It goes from 54% in 1968 to 5% in 1999; later polls that aren’t included on the graph give numbers from 4% to 7%, which sounds probably within the margin of error.
This is a Vox poll asking how many people had favorable vs. unfavorable views of different groups. 11% admit to “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” views of blacks, which sounds bad, except that 7% of people admit to unfavorable views of heterosexuals by the same definition. This makes me think “have an unfavorable view about this group” is not a very high bar. If we restrict true “white supremacists” to those who have only “very unfavorable” views of blacks, this is 3%, well in line with our other sources.
(of note, 1% of respondents had “never heard of” blacks. Um…)
Maybe a better way of looking for racists: David Duke ran for Senate in Louisiana this year. He came in seventh with 58,000 votes (3%). Multiplied over 50 states, that would suggest 2.5 million people who would vote for a leading white supremacist. On the other hand, Louisiana is one of the most racist states (for example, Slate’s investigation found that it led the US in percent of racist tweets) and one expects Duke would have had more trouble in eg Vermont. Adjusting for racism level as measured in tweets, it looks like there would be about 1 million Duke voters in a nationwide contest. That’s a little less than 1% of voters.
So our different ways of defining “open white supremacist”, even for definitions of “open” so vague they include admitting it on anonymous surveys, suggest maybe 1-2%, 1-2%, 4-7%, 3-11%, and 1-3%.
But doesn’t this still mean there are some white supremacists? Isn’t this still really important?
I mean, kind of. But remember that 4% of Americans believe that lizardmen control all major governments. And 5% of Obama voters believe that Obama is the Antichrist. The white supremacist vote is about the same as the lizardmen-control-everything vote, or the Obama-is-the-Antichrist-but-I-support-him-anyway vote.
(and most of these people are in Solid South red states and don’t matter in the electoral calculus anyway.)
4. Aren’t there a lot of voters who, although not willing to vote for David Duke or even willing to express negative feelings about black people on a poll, still have implicit racist feelings, the kind where they’re nervous when they see a black guy on a deserted street at night?
Probably. And this is why I am talking about crying wolf. If you wanted to worry about the voter with subconscious racist attitudes carefully hidden even from themselves, you shouldn’t have used the words “openly white supremacist KKK supporter” like a verbal tic.
5. But even if Donald Trump isn’t openly white supremacist, didn’t he get an endorsement from KKK leader David Duke? Didn’t he refuse to reject that endorsement? Doesn’t that mean that he secretly wants to court the white supremacist vote?
The answer is no on all counts.
No, Donald Trump did not get an endorsement from KKK leader David Duke. Duke has spoken out in favor of Trump, but refused to give a formal endorsement. You can read the explanation straight from the horse’s mouth at davidduke.com: “The ZioMedia Lies: I Have Not Endorsed Donald Trump” (content warning: exactly what you would expect). If you don’t want that site in your browser history, you can read the same story at The International Business Times.
No, Donald Trump did not refuse to reject the endorsement. From Politico.com:
Donald Trump says he isn’t interested in the endorsement of David Duke, the anti-Semitic former Ku Klux Klan leader who praised the GOP presidential hopeful earlier this week on his radio show.
“I don’t need his endorsement; I certainly wouldn’t want his endorsement,” Trump said during an interview with Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. He added: “I don’t need anyone’s endorsement.”
Asked whether he would repudiate the endorsement, Trump said “Sure, I would if that would make you feel better.”
From Washington Post:
ABC NEWS: “So, are you prepared right now to make a clear and unequivocal statement renouncing the support of all white supremacists?”
TRUMP: “Of course, I am. I mean, there’s nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have. You take a look at Palm Beach, Florida, I built the Mar-a-Lago Club, totally open to everybody; a club that frankly set a new standard in clubs and a new standard in Palm Beach and I’ve gotten great credit for it. That is totally open to everybody. So, of course, I am.”
“David Duke is a bad person, who I disavowed on numerous occasions over the years,” Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“I disavowed him. I disavowed the KKK,” Trump added. “Do you want me to do it again for the 12th time? I disavowed him in the past, I disavow him now.”
The concern comes from a single interview February 28, where Trump was asked to renounce support from David Duke and the KKK, where he gave a non-answer:
“I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about,” Trump said. “You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong. You may have groups in there that are totally fine — it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups and I’ll let you know.”
This is pretty bad. But the next day Trump was saying that of course he denounced the KKK and blaming a “bad earpiece” for not being able to understand what the interviewer was saying.
Trump’s bad earpiece explanation doesn’t hold water – he repeated the name “David Duke” in his answer, so he obviously heard it. And his claim that he didn’t know who David Duke was doesn’t make sense – he’s mentioned Duke before in various contexts.
But it’s actually worth taking a look at those contexts. In 2000, Trump was already considering running for President. His friend Jesse Ventura suggested he seek the Presidential nomination of Ross Perot’s Reform Party. Trump agreed and started putting together a small campaign (interesting historical trivia: he wanted Oprah Winfrey as a running mate). But after some infighting in the Reform Party, Ventura was kicked out in favor of a faction led by populist Pat Buchanan, who had some support from David Duke. Trump closed his presidential bid, saying: “The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep.” Later he continued to condemn the party, saying “You’ve got David Duke just joined — a bigot, a racist, a problem. I mean, this is not exactly the people you want in your party.”
So we have Trump – who loudly condemned Duke before February 28th, and who loudly condemned Duke after February 28th – saying on February 28th that he wanted to “look into” who David Duke was before refusing his (non-existent) endorsement. I’m not super sure what’s going on. It’s possible he wanted to check to see whether it was politically advantageous to officially reject it, which I agree is itself pretty creepy.
But notice that the evidence on the side of Trump being against David Duke includes twenty years of unambiguous statements to that effect. And the evidence of Trump not being against David Duke includes one statement along the lines of “I don’t know who he is but I’ll look into it” on an interview one time which he later blamed on a bad earpiece and said he totally disavowed.
This gets back to my doubts about “dog whistles”. Dog whistling seems to be the theory that if you want to know what someone really believes, you have to throw away decades of consistent statements supporting the side of an issue that everyone else in the world supports, and instead pay attention only to one weird out-of-character non-statement which implies he supports a totally taboo position which is perhaps literally the most unpopular thing it is possible to think.
And then you have to imagine some of the most brilliant rhetoricians and persuaders in the world are calculating that it’s worth risking exposure this taboo belief in order to win support from a tiny group with five-digit membership whose support nobody wants, by sending a secret message, which inevitably every single media outlet in the world instantly picks up on and makes the focus of all their coverage for the rest of the election.
Finally, no, none of this suggests that Donald Trump is courting the white supremacist vote. Anybody can endorse anybody with or without their consent. Did you know that the head of the US Communist Party endorsed Hillary, and Hillary never (as far as I know) “renounced” their endorsement? Does that mean Hillary is a Communist? Did you know that a leader of a murderous black supremacist cult supported Donald Trump and Trump said that he “loved” him? Does that mean Trump is a black supremacist? The only time this weird “X endorsed Y, that means Y must support X” thing is brought out, is in favor of the media narrative painting Trump to be a racist.
This, to me, is another form of crying wolf. One day you might have a candidate who openly courts the KKK, in the sense of having a campaign platform saying “I like the KKK and value their support”, speaking at Klan meetings, et cetera. And instead, you’ve wasted the phrase “openly courts the KKK” on somebody with a twenty year history of loudly condemning the KKK, plus one weird interview where he said he didn’t know anything about it, then changed his mind the next day and said he hates them.
6. What about Trump’s “drugs and crime” speech about Mexicans?
Trump said that:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. Their rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Note how totally non-racist this statement is. I’m serious. It’s anti-illegal-immigrant. But in terms of race, it’s saying Latinos (like every race) include both good and bad people, and the bad people are the ones coming over here. It suggests a picture of Mexicans as including some of the best people – but those generally aren’t the ones who are coming illegally.
Compare to eg Bill Clinton’s 1996 platform (all emphasis mine):
We cannot tolerate illegal immigration and we must stop it. For years before Bill Clinton became President, Washington talked tough but failed to act. In 1992, our borders might as well not have existed. The border was under-patrolled, and what patrols there were, were under-equipped. Drugs flowed freely. Illegal immigration was rampant. Criminal immigrants, deported after committing crimes in America, returned the very next day to commit crimes again. President Clinton is making our border a place where the law is respected and drugs and illegal immigrants are turned away.
Or John McCain in 2008:
Border security is essential to national security. In an age of terrorism, drug cartels, and criminal gangs, allowing millions of unidentified persons to enter and remain in this country poses grave risks to the sovereignty of the United States and the security of its people.
Trump’s platform contains similar language – and, like all past platforms, also contains language praising legal immigrants:
Just as immigrant labor helped build our country in the past, today’s legal immigrants are making vital contributions in every aspect of national life. Their industry and commitment to American values strengthens our economy, enriches our culture, and enables us to better understand and more effectively compete with the rest of the world.
We are particularly grateful to the thousands of new legal immigrants, many of them not yet citizens, who are serving in the Armed Forces and among first responders. Their patriotism should encourage all to embrace the newcomers legally among us, assist their journey to full citizenship, and help their communities avoid isolation from the mainstream of society. We are also thankful for the many legal immigrants who continue to contribute to American society.
When Democrats and Republicans alike over the last twenty years say that we are a nation of immigrants but that illegal immigrants threaten our security, or may be criminals or drug pushers, they’re met with yawns. When Trump says exactly the same thing, he’s Literally the KKK.
7. What about the border wall? Doesn’t that mean Trump must hate Mexicans?
As multiple sources point out, both Hillary and Obama voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which put up a 700 mile fence along the US-Mexican border. Politifact says that Hillary and Obama wanted a 700 mile fence but Trump wants a 1000 mile wall, so these are totally different. But really? Support a 700 mile fence, and you’re the champion of diversity and all that is right in the world; support a 1000 mile wall and there’s no possible explanation besides white nationalism?
8. Isn’t Trump anti-immigrant?
He’s at least anti-undocumented immigrant, which is close to being anti-immigrant. And while one can argue that “anti-immigrant” is different than “racist”, I would agree that probably nobody cares that much about British or German immigrants, suggesting that some racial element is involved.
But I think when Trump voters talk about “globalists”, they’re pointing at how they model this very differently from the people they criticize.
In one model, immigration is a right. You need a very strong reason to take it away from anybody, and such decisions should be carefully inspected to make sure no one is losing the right unfairly. It’s like a store: everyone should be allowed to come in and shop and if a manager refused someone entry then they better have a darned good reason.
In another, immigration is a privilege which members of a community extend at their pleasure to other people whom they think would be a good fit for their community. It’s like a home: you can invite your friends to come live with you, but if someone gives you a vague bad feeling or seems like a good person who’s just incompatible with your current lifestyle, you have the right not to invite them and it would be criminal for them to barge in anyway.
It looks like many Clinton supporters believe in the first model, and many Trump supporters in the second model. I think this ties into deeper differences – Clinton supporters are more atomized and individualist, Trump supporters stronger believers in culture and community.
In the second model, the community gets to decide how many immigrants come in and on what terms. Most of the Trump supporters I know are happy to let in a reasonable amount, but they get very angry when people who weren’t invited or approved by the community come in anyway and insist that everyone else make way for them.
Calling this “open white supremacy” seems like those libertarians who call public buses Communism, except if “Communism” got worn out on the euphemism treadmill and they started calling public buses “overt Soviet-style Stalinism”.
9. Don’t Trump voters oppose the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves?
This was in New York Times, Vox, Huffington Post, Time, et cetera. It’s very misleading. See Snopes for full explanation.
10. Isn’t Trump anti-Semitic?
I feel like an attempt to avoid crying wolf might reserve that term for people who didn’t win an Israeli poll on what candidate would best represent Israel’s interests, or doesn’t have a child who converted to Judaism, or hasn’t won various awards from the American Jewish community for his contributions to Israel and American Judaism, or wasn’t the grand marshal of a Salute To Israel Parade, or…
11. Don’t we know that Trump voters are motivated by racism because somebody checked and likelihood of being a Trump voter doesn’t correlate with some statistic or other supposedly measuring economic anxiety?
Although economic issues are only one part of Trump voters’ concerns, they certainly are a part. You just have to look in the right places. See also:
12. Don’t we know that Trump voters are motivated by racism because despite all the stuff about economic anxiety, rich people were more likely to vote Trump than poor people?
I keep hearing stuff like this, and aside from the object-level question, I think it’s important to note the way in which this kind of thing makes racism the null hypothesis. “You say it’s X, but you can’t prove it, so it’s racism”.
Anyway, in this particular case, there’s a simple answer. Yes, Republicans are traditionally the party of the rich. What’s different about this election is that far more poor people voted Republican than usual, and far more rich people voted Democrat than usual.
Poor people were 16 percentage points more likely to vote Republican this election than last time around, but rich people (well, the richest bracket NYT got data about) were 9 percentage points more likely to vote Democrat. This is consistent with economic anxiety playing a big role.
13. Doesn’t Trump want to ban (or “extreme vet”, or whatever) Muslims entering the country?
Yes, and this is awful.
But why do he (and his supporters) want to ban/vet Muslims, and not Hindus or Kenyans, even though most Muslims are white(ish) and most Hindus and Kenyans aren’t? Trump and his supporters are concerned about terrorism, probably since the San Bernardino shooting and Pulse nightclub massacre dominated headlines this election season.
You can argue that he and his supporters are biased for caring more about terrorism than about furniture-related injuries, which kill several times more Americans than terrorists do each year. But do you see how there’s a difference between “cognitive bias that makes you unreasonably afraid” versus “white supremacy”?
I agree that this is getting into murky territory and that a better answer here would be to deconstruct the word “racism” into a lot of very heterogenous parts, one of which means exactly this sort of thing. But as I pointed out in Part 4, a lot of these accusations shy away from the word “racism” precisely because it’s an ambiguous thing with many heterogenous parts, some of which are understandable and resemble the sort of thing normal-but-flawed human beings might think. Now they say “KKK white nationalism” or “overt white supremacy”. These terms are powerful exactly because they do not permit the gradations of meaning which this subject demands.
Let me say this for the millionth time. I’m not saying Trump doesn’t have some racist attitudes and policies. I am saying that talk of “entire campaign built around white supremacy” and “the white power candidate” is deliberate and dangerous exaggeration. Lots of people (and not just whites!) are hasty to generalize from “ISIS is scary” to “I am scared of all Muslims”. This needs to be called out and fought, but it needs to be done in an understanding way, not with cries of “KKK WHITE SUPREMACY!”
14. Haven’t there been hundreds of incidents of Trump-related hate crimes?
This isn’t a criticism of Trump per se (he’s demanded that his supporters avoid hate crimes), but it seems relevant to the general tenor of the campaign.
SPLC said they have 300 such hate incidents, although their definition of “hate incident” includes things like “someone overheard a racist comment in someone else’s private conversation, then challenged them about it and got laughed at”. Let’s take that number at face value (though see here)
If 47% of America supports Trump (= the percent of vote he got extrapolated to assume non-voters feel the same way), there are 150,000,000 Trump supporters. That means there has been one hate incident per 500,000 Trump supporters.
But aren’t there probably lots of incidents that haven’t been reported to SLPC? Maybe. Maybe there’s two unreported attacks for every reported one, which means that the total is one per 150,000 Trump supporters. Or maybe there are ten unreported attacks for every reported one, which means that the total is one per 45,000 Trump supporters. Since nobody has any idea about this, it seems weird to draw conclusions from it.
Oh, also, I looked on right-wing sites to see if there are complaints of harassment and attacks by Hillary supporters, and there are. Among the stories I was able to confirm on moderately trustworthy news sites that had investigated them somewhat (a higher standard than the SLPC holds their reports to) are ones about how Hillary supporters have beaten up people for wearing Trump hats, screamed encouragement as a mob beat up a man who they thought voted Trump, knocked over elderly people, beaten up a high school girl for supporting Trump on Instagram, defaced monuments with graffiti saying “DIE WHITES DIE”, advocated raping Melania Trump, kicked a black homeless woman who was holding a Trump sign, attacked a pregnant woman stuck in her car, with a baseball bat, screamed at children who vote Trump in a mock school election, etc, etc, etc.
But please, keep talking about how somebody finding a swastika scrawled in a school bathroom means that every single Trump supporter is scum and Trump’s whole campaign was based on hatred.
15. Don’t we know that Trump supports racist violence because, when some of his supporters beat up a Latino man, he just said they were “passionate”?
All those protests above? The anti-Trump protests that have resulted in a lot of violence and property damage and arrests? With people chanting “KILL TRUMP” and all that?
When Trump was asked for comment, he tweeted “Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country”.
I have no idea how his mind works and am frankly boggled by all of this, but calling violent protesters “passionate” just seems to be a thing of his.
16. But didn’t Trump…
Whatever bizarre, divisive, ill-advised, and revolting thing you’re about to mention, the answer is probably yes.
This is equally true on race-related and non-race-related issues. People ask “How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that Obama was born in Kenya, if he wasn’t racist?” I don’t know. How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that vaccines cause autism? How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that the Clintons killed Vince Foster? How could Trump believe the wacky conspiracy theory that Ted Cruz’s father shot JFK?
Trump will apparently believe anything for any reason, especially about his political opponents. If Clinton had been black but Obama white, we’d be hearing that the Vince Foster conspiracy theory proves Trump’s bigotry, and the birtherism was just harmless wackiness.
Likewise, how could Trump insult a Mexican judge just for being Mexican? I don’t know. How could Trump insult a disabled reporter just for being disabled? How could Trump insult John McCain just for being a beloved war hero? Every single person who’s opposed him, Trump has insulted in various offensive ways, including 140 separate incidents of him calling someone “dopey” or “dummy” on Twitter, and you expect him to hold his mouth just because the guy is a Mexican?
I don’t think people appreciate how weird this guy is. His weird way of speaking. His catchphrases like “haters and losers!” or “Sad!”. His tendency to avoid perfectly reasonable questions in favor of meandering tangents about Mar-a-Lago. The ability to bait him into saying basically anything just by telling him people who don’t like him think he shouldn’t.
If you insist that Trump would have to be racist to say or do whatever awful thing he just said or did, you are giving him too much credit. Trump is just randomly and bizarrely terrible. Sometimes his random and bizarre terribleness is about white people, and then we laugh it off. Sometimes it’s about minorities, and then we interpret it as racism.
17. Isn’t this a lot of special pleading? Like, sure, you can make up various non-racist explanations for every single racist-sounding thing Trump says, and say a lot of it is just coincidence or Trump being inexplicably weird, but eventually the coincidences start adding up. You have to look at this kind of thing in context.
I actually disagree with this really strongly and this point deserves a post of its own because it’s really important. But let me try to briefly explain what I mean.
Suppose you’re talking to one of those ancient-Atlantean secrets-of-the-Pyramids people. They give you various pieces of evidence for their latest crazy theory, such as (and all of these are true):
1. The latitude of the Great Pyramid matches the speed of light in a vacuum to five decimal places.
2. Famous prophet Edgar Cayce, who predicted a lot of stuff with uncanny accuracy, said he had seen ancient Atlanteans building the Pyramid in a vision.
3. There are hieroglyphs near the pyramid that look a lot like pictures of helicopters.
4. In his dialogue Critias, Plato relayed a tradition of secret knowledge describing a 9,000-year-old Atlantean civilization.
5. The Egyptian pyramids look a lot like the Mesoamerican pyramids, and the Mesoamerican name for the ancient home of civilization is “Aztlan”
6. There’s an underwater road in the Caribbean, whose discovery Edgar Cayce predicted, and which he said was built by Atlantis
7. There are underwater pyramids near the island of Yonaguni.
8. The Sphinx has apparent signs of water erosion, which would mean it has to be more than 10,000 years old.
She asks you, the reasonable and well-educated supporter of the archaeological consensus, to explain these facts. After looking through the literature, you come up with the following:
1. This is just a weird coincidence.
2. Prophecies have so many degrees of freedom that anyone who gets even a little lucky can sound “uncannily accurate”, and this is probably just what happened with Cayce, so who cares what he thinks?
3. Lots of things look like helicopters, so whatever.
4. Plato was probably lying, or maybe speaking in metaphors.
5. There are only so many ways to build big stone things, and “pyramid” is a natural form. The “Atlantis/Atzlan” thing is probably a coincidence.
6. Those are probably just rocks in the shape of a road, and Edgar Cayce just got lucky.
7. Those are probably just rocks in the shape of pyramids. But if they do turn out to be real, that area was submerged pretty recently under the consensus understanding of geology, so they might also just be pyramids built by a perfectly normal non-Atlantean civilization.
8. We still don’t understand everything about erosion, and there could be some reason why an object less than 10,000 years old could have erosion patterns typical of older objects.
I want you to read those last eight points from the view of an Atlantis believer, and realize that they sound really weaselly. They’re all “Yeah, but that’s probably a coincidence”, and “Look, we don’t know exactly why this thing happened, but it’s probably not Atlantis, so shut up.”
This is the natural pattern you get when challenging a false theory. The theory was built out of random noise and ad hoc misinterpretations, so the refutation will have to be “every one of your multiple superficially plausible points is random noise, or else it’s a misinterpretation for a different reason”.
If you believe in Atlantis, then each of the seven facts being true provides “context” in which to interpret the last one. Plato said there was an Atlantis that sunk underneath the sea, so of course we should explain the mysterious undersea ruins in that context. The logic is flawless, it’s just that you’re wrong about everything.
This is how I feel about demands that we interpret Trump’s statements “in context”, too.
Why am I harping on this?
I work in mental health. So far I have had two patients express Trump-related suicidal ideation. One of them ended up in the emergency room, although luckily both of them are now safe and well. I have heard secondhand of several more.
Like Snopes, I am not sure if the reports of eight transgender people committing suicide due to the election results are true or false. But if they’re true, it seems really relevant that Trump denounced North Carolina’s anti-transgender bathroom law, and proudly proclaimed he would let Caitlyn Jenner use whatever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower, making him by far the most pro-transgender Republican president in history.
I notice news articles like Vox: Donald Trump’s Win Tells People Of Color They Aren’t Welcome In America. Or Salon’s If Trump Wins, Say Goodbye To Your Black Friends. MSN: Women Fear For Their Lives After Trump Victory.
Vox writes about the five-year-old child who asks “Is Donald Trump a bad person? Because I heard that if he becomes president, all the black and brown people have to leave and we’re going to become slaves.” The Star writes about a therapist called in for emergency counseling to help Muslim kids who think Trump is going to kill them. I have patients who are afraid to leave their homes.
Listen. Trump is going to be approximately as racist as every other American president. Maybe I’m wrong and he’ll be a bit more. Maybe he’ll surprise us and be a bit less. But most likely he’ll be about as racist as Ronald Reagan, who employed Holocaust denier Pat Buchanan as a senior advisor. Or about as racist as George Bush with his famous Willie Horton ad. Or about as racist as Bill “superpredator” Clinton, who took a photo op in front of a group of chained black men in the birthplace of the KKK. Or about as racist as Bush “doesn’t care about black people!” 43. He’ll have some scandals, people who want to see them as racist will see them as racist, people who don’t will dismiss them as meaningless, and nobody will end up in death camps. He probably won’t do a great job fighting to end voter suppression, or helping people caught in the criminal justice system, but I’m not sure that makes him too different from the average member of the Republican Congress we have already.
Since everyone has been wrong about everything lately, I’ve started thinking it’s more important than ever to make clear predictions and grade myself on them, so here are my predictions for the Trump administration:
1. Total hate crimes incidents as measured here will be not more than 125% of their 2015 value at any year during a Trump presidency, conditional on similar reporting methodology [confidence: 80%]
2. Total minority population of US citizens will increase throughout Trump’s presidency [confidence: 99%]
3. US Muslim population increases throughout Trump’s presidency [confidence: 95%]
4. Trump cabinet will be at least 10% minority [confidence: 90%], at least 20% minority [confidence: 70%], at least 30% minority [30%]. Here I’m defining “minority” to include nonwhites, Latinos, and LGBT people, though not women. Note that by this definition America as a whole is about 35% minority and Congress is about 15% minority.
5. Gay marriage will remain legal throughout a Trump presidency [confidence: 95%]
6. Race relations as perceived by blacks, as measured by this Gallup poll, will do better under Trump than they did under Obama (ie the change in race relations 2017-2021 will be less negative/more positive than the change 2009-2016) [confidence: 70%].
7. Neither Trump nor any of his officials (Cabinet, etc) will endorse the KKK, Stormfront, or explicit neo-Nazis publicly, refuse to back down, etc, and keep their job [confidence: 99%].
8. No large demographic group (> 1 million people) get forced to sign up for a “registry” [confidence: 95%]
9> No large demographic group gets sent to internment camps [confidence: 99%]
10. Number of deportations during Trump’s four years will not be greater than Obama’s 8 [confidence: 90%]
If you disagree with me, come up with a bet and see if I’ll take it.
And if you don’t, stop.
Stop fearmongering. Somewhere in America, there are still like three or four people who believe the media, and those people are cowering in their houses waiting for the death squads.
Stop crying wolf. God forbid, one day we might have somebody who doesn’t give speeches about how diversity makes this country great and how he wants to fight for minorities, who doesn’t pose holding a rainbow flag and state that he proudly supports transgender people, who doesn’t outperform his party among minority voters, who wasn’t the leader of the Salute to Israel Parade, and who doesn’t offer minorities major cabinet positions. And we won’t be able to call that guy an “openly white supremacist Nazi homophobe”, because we already wasted all those terms this year.
Stop talking about dog whistles. The kabbalistic similarities between “dog-whistling” and “wolf-crying” are too obvious to ignore.
Stop writing articles breathlessly following everything the KKK says. Stop writing several times more articles about the KKK than there are actual Klansmen. Remember that thing where Trump started out as a random joke, and then the media covered him way more than any other candidate because he was so outrageous, and gave him what was essentially free advertising, and then he became President-elect of the United States? Is the lesson you learned from this experience that you need 24-7 coverage of the Ku Klux Klan?
Stop using the words “white nationalist” to describe Trump. When you describe someone as a white nationalist, and then they win, people start thinking white nationalism won. People like winners. This was entirely an own-goal and the perception that white nationalism is now the winning team has 1% to do with Trump and 99% to do with his critics.
Stop responding to everyone who worries about Wall Street or globalism or the elite with “I THINK YOU MEAN JEWS. BECAUSE JEWS ARE THE ELITES. ALL ELITES AND GLOBALISTS ARE JEWS. IF YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT THE ELITE, IT’S DEFINITELY JEWS YOU SHOULD BE WORRIED ABOUT. IF YOU FEEL SCREWED BY WALL STREET, THEN THE PEOPLE WHO SCREWED YOU WERE THE JEWS. IT’S THE JEWS WHO ARE DOING ALL THIS, MAKE SURE TO REMEMBER THAT. DEFINITELY TRANSLATE YOUR HATRED TOWARDS A VAGUE ESTABLISHMENT INTO HATRED OF JEWS, BECAUSE THEY’RE TOTALLY THE ONES YOU’RE THINKING OF.” This means you, Vox. Someday those three or four people who still believe the media are going to read this stuff and immediately join the Nazi Party, and nobody will be able to blame them.
Stop saying that being against crime is a dog whistle for racism. Have you ever met a crime victim? They don’t like crime. I work with people from a poor area, and a lot of them have been raped, or permanently disabled, or had people close to them murdered. You know what these people have in common? They don’t like crime When you say “the only reason someone could talk about law and order is that they secretly hate black people, because, y’know, all criminals are black”, not only are you an idiot, you’re a racist. Also, I judge you for not having read the polls saying that nonwhites are way more concerned about crime than white people are.
Stop turning everything into identity politics. The only thing the media has been able to do for the last five years is shout “IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS!” at everything, and then when the right wing finally says “Um, i…den-tity….poli-tics?” you freak out and figure that the only way they could have possibly learned that phrase is from the KKK.
Stop calling Trump voters racist. A metaphor: we have freedom of speech not because all speech is good, but because the temptation to ban speech is so great that, unless given a blanket prohibition, it would slide into universal censorship of any unpopular opinion. Likewise, I would recommend you stop calling Trump voters racist – not because none of them are, but because as soon as you give yourself that opportunity, it’s a slippery slope down to “anyone who disagrees with me on anything does so entirely out of raw seething hatred, and my entire outgroup is secret members of the KKK and so I am justified in considering them worthless human trash”. I’m not saying you’re teetering on the edge of that slope. I’m saying you’re way at the bottom, covered by dozens of feet of fallen rocks and snow. Also, I hear that accusing people of racism constantly for no reason is the best way to get them to vote for your candidate next time around. Assuming there is a next time.
Stop centering criticism of Donald Trump around this sort of stuff, and switch to literally anything else. Here is an incompetent thin-skinned ignorant boorish fraudulent omnihypocritical demagogue with no idea how to run a country, whose philosophy of governance basically boils down to “I’m going to win and not lose, details to be filled in later”, and all you can do is repeat, again and again, how he seems popular among weird Internet teenagers who post frog memes. In the middle of an emotionally incontinent reality TV show host getting his hand on the nuclear button, your chief complaint is that in the middle of a few dozen denunciations of the KKK, he once delayed denouncing the KKK for an entire 24 hours before going back to denouncing it again. When a guy who says outright that he won’t respect elections unless he wins them does, somehow, win an election, the headlines are how he once said he didn’t like globalists which means he must be anti-Semitic.
Stop making people suicidal. Stop telling people they’re going to be killed. Stop terrifying children. Stop giving racism free advertising. Stop trying to convince Americans that all the other Americans hate them. Stop. Stop. Stop.