Trump is no Racist

Shelley called poets the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Auden, who was never as full of sauce as some prosody scribes, rejoined mordantly: “'The unacknowledged legislators of the world,’ describes the secret police, not the poets.”

Auden’s portentous bon mot is truer now than when he wrote it, albeit with one difference. “The secret police” no longer refers to collectivist stormtroopers tracking down intrigants but, rather, something subtler but no less perverse. Don’t misinterpret my meaning: The target is still the grey matter between your ears. Only the remedy for offense has changed. Rather than convince you of your crime with the snub-nosed barrel of a Korovin, the preferred weapon is language corruption in service to emotional manipulation.

The most galling example of this tactic of late has been the high dudgeon reaction to President Trump’s suggestion that four congresswoman, all Democratic women of color, go back to their country of origin before describing the United States in calumnious terms. Trump’s half-joking entreaty, delivered, as usual, through the hair-trigger forum of Twitter, was all but ignored for its substance. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump suggested to the progressive posse known as the Squad, following up with an additional directive. “Then come back and show us is done.”

Strictly speaking, Trump’s proposition contained one erratum: his mistaking three of the four lawmakers’ homeland for anywhere other than America. Rep. Omar Ilhan of Minnesota is the only member of the far-left cadre to not be born on U.S. soil, hailing originally from Somalia. The rest are American, born and bred. 

Still, it doesn’t take a four-year degree from Trump University to grasp what the President was expatiating: that Rep. Omar, who comes from a war-torn, anarchic piece of sod we generously called a nation-state, should, perhaps, show a little gratitude for the country that took her and her family in. 

Call it a knee-jerk nationalism. Call it jingoistic. Call it reactionary, graceless, unwelcoming, or just plain mean-spirited. Trump’s remark, however, wasn’t racist, at least by the term’s essential definition. This is a pedantic point, but a necessary one, because the term itself – racism -- is so irresponsibly bandied about that it has effectively been nerfed of the moral force it once contained.

To repeat, Trump’s tweets were not racist. Nothing of what the President said referenced skin color or indicated racial superiority. He was speaking only in terms of nationality. Somalia is majority black, but, by liberals’ own lights, the U.S. is demographically dynamic, progressively losing its white-majority character. Somali refugees aren’t tainting our already muddied racial pool.

That hasn’t stopped most major media outlets from labeling Trump’s comments “racist” as a linguistic truth in headlines. CNN, PBS, and CBS didn’t hesitate to characterize the tweets as racially malicious. The only holdout was NPR V.P. Keith Woods, who propounded the idea that journalists should “not be in the business of moral labeling in the first place.” Poor Keith clearly hasn’t logged on to Twitter lately. 

Reading racism into Trump’s tweets isn’t about applying the word’s meaning to the President’s language.  When journalists call his rhetorical suggestion of self-deportation racist, what they’re really doing is conjecturing about his motivation. “President Trump wishes America was whiter, hence his urging of non-white immigrants to leave,” is the through line of thought that occurred in many reporters’ heads. It’s the assumption of thoughtcrime, the kind of practice that would be home in a Philip K. Dick-imagined dystopia or any real-life oppressive regime.

There is no semantical point to all of this. It’s a smear exercise that makes use of language’s slippery essence to invoke emotion. That’s why a CNN reporter asked large retailers like Target and Walmart to weigh in on the President’s comments. No American business wants to be seen as soft on racism, or even tacitly supportive of racial bias. So, their corporate H.R. division issues a bland statement about not countenancing racism. Newsrooms leap into a flurry of action, producing headlines about how the Target dog just took a bite out of Trump’s rampant bigotry.

The entire production is classified as “news,” which is another term that increasingly lacks precise definition. Charles Cooke calls the national press “obsequious asbestos salesmen” but he’s being too kind. Asbestos has a purpose in construction. The dreck journalists produce today is deconstructive, tearing at the already feeble foundation of our shared language and understanding.

“[T]o think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration,” Orwell wrote.  When our elected leaders, or journalists charged with keeping them aboveboard, abuse language to solicit charged reactions, they’re inhibiting our ability to see and think objectively.

At this point,  every Republican president since Calvin Coolidge has been called racist. The term has already become watered down to the point of irrelevancy. You can thank the serial users of the word for draining it of its potency. Would that pedants, not poets or the police, were the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

If you experience technical problems, please write to