My White People Problem—And Ours
Plus, a riff on Donald Trump's 'disinfectant' word salad.
Dear Reader (even those who would, ironically, pretend to know the definition of “ultracrepidarian”),
One of the great things about white people—well, not the people themselves, but their place in society—is that it’s totally fine to crap on them from a great height in ways that would be incontrovertibly bigoted about virtually any other group (save perhaps Christians—white Christians). You can rant about white privilege, white uncoolness, white customs and culture (real and alleged), white bigotry (real and alleged), white bread, white dancing skills, white food, white music, white sexual inadequacies, white whatever, and, at least among certain cultural elites, be celebrated for it. When non-whites do it, it’s courageous, speaking truth to power or just funny. When whites do it, it’s a manifestation of self-awareness, atonement, or solidarity with the oppressed (and, less often, just funny).
I have no scientific data to support this, but I am pretty confident that one of the few veins of humor a stand-up comic can still get away with on an (overwhelmingly white) progressive college campus is white-bashing.
Now, I should say, not all of the criticisms are without merit, and many of the jokes are actually pretty funny. This isn’t some alt-right bleating about white victimology, it’s just an observation. Of course, opponents of whiteness will tell you the freedom to not think in such terms is a form of “white privilege,” and, to be honest, I think they’ve got something of a point. Part of being a minority—black, Hispanic, gay, Jew—is having your outsider status remain a bigger part of your self-understanding. When you define “normal” or “mainstream,” you can take certain norms for granted, and that really is a form of privilege. A parallel argument is equally true about women. When a lot of the rules of the game are “male,” women will be more aware of their outsider-ness than men. Don’t worry, I’m not going all intersectional on you. I’m just willing to concede that people who make these arguments have a point, even if I don’t think it’s as important or all-explanatory as they do.
But the good news is that I’m not writing about how ethnic or racial minorities view white people; I’m writing about how certain white people think about white people. A recent Pew poll finds that white Democrats are much more concerned that their presidential nominee is an old white male than black and Hispanic Democrats are. Almost half of white Democrats don’t like it, while less than a third of Hispanic and black Democrats are bothered. Derek Thompson posted the cross tabs and they’re even more interesting:
All Dems: 41%
Under 30: 54%
White college-educated under 50: 64%
White college-educated women under 50: 69%
One of the big takeaways from that “Hidden Tribes” study from a few years ago was the “rich, white civil war” (David Brooks’ words) between upscale white progressives and upscale white conservatives. The blue checkmark arguments on Twitter are the frontlines of that civil war. The conservatives are more conservative than your average Republican, and the progressives are way more liberal than your average Democrat. But the parties aren’t symmetrical, because while the overwhelming majority of Republicans are white (83 percent in 2017), the share of non-Hispanic whites in the Democratic Party has been shrinking, fast. “In 2017, 59% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters were non-Hispanic whites,” according to Pew, “down from 75% two decades earlier.”
As working-class whites leave the Democratic Party, the remaining whites are way more ideologically progressive, and the affluent ones even more so. That’s why when Ralph Northam stumbled into his blackface mess, the blue checkmark crowd was adamant that he had to go, while the average Virginia Democrat wasn’t—and black Democrats were less supportive of his ouster than white Democrats.
This is a huge political transformation. Blacks once dominated the left wing of the Democratic party; they are now forces for moderation, and it looks more and more like the same holds for Hispanics. It would be very premature to say that Hispanics are poised to become Republicans in large numbers any time soon. But it is worth noting that the standard talking point from the most rabid immigration opponents that immigration imports Democratic voters is a bit more complicated than they’d let you believe.
But that’s a subject for another day. What interests me is the assumption held by so many woke white Democrats that their performative anti-whiteness is a virtuous expression of their anti-racism. No, I’m not about to argue that “Progressives are the real racists.” I’ve learned that there’s plenty of racism on the right, more than I once appreciated. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something racist, or if you prefer, bigoted, in the way white progressives think.
First and foremost, they’re bigoted against whites, particularly downscale whites who won’t practice the same performative rituals. It’s bigotry derived from guilt and self-hatred, not animosity. But that doesn’t make it any less real.
It’s also directed outward. The white journalists, academics, and politicians who opine about “white privilege”—and occasionally behave like disfavored Chinese Communists forced to wear dunce caps as they denounce themselves for ideological deviationism—talk about minorities as if they know their interests and concerns better than they do. A poll last year found that 98 percent of Hispanics rejected the label “Latinx.” Meanwhile, I am sure that the numbers are close to reversed in Elizabeth Warren’s office or among the ranks of Beto O’Rourke’s biggest supporters. Think about it this way: When white liberals led the cause to switch from words like “negro” or “colored” to “African-American” or “black,” they were doing so in response to demands from normal black people. There is no comparable bottom-up demand from Hispanics to be called “Latinx.” It’s a wholly top-down phenomenon, and if I were Hispanic I’d find it remarkably condescending.
When I talk to college students, I often try to explain that not all political correctness is bad. Some of it is just an effort to treat people with respect in an increasingly diverse society. Think of it as good manners. You should call people what they want to be called. Good manners don’t become any less valuable or legitimate just because they can be described as political correctness. The bad kind of political correctness is the attempt to manipulate language and norms so as to dominate and humiliate people who don’t know the latest codes and shibboleths. It’s a form of gnosis where a guild polices the ideologically and professionally disloyal. This is not primarily a racial thing—language is one of the most powerful social enforcement mechanisms in any society.
As I discussed on a recent episode of The Remnant, the Asian students being discriminated against at places like Harvard aren’t victims of anti-Asian bias (even if the disparate impact of their discrimination is objectively anti-Asian). The stellar students being turned away tend to come from immigrant homes. Kids from that background, like Jews and other ethnic groups in the past, want “real” jobs in STEM or business. They are less steeped in social justice grievance peddling. Their parents or grandparents came here because they think America is, on balance, a great place to be and affords opportunities for immigrants they couldn’t find at home. These schools are horrified by the idea of a student body unversed in, or unpersuaded by, the woke narrative of American perfidy.
Think of it this way: I’m sure there is a faculty lounge where people would gasp if you said “Hispanic” instead of “Latinx.” But there probably isn’t a Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican diner or barber shop anywhere in the country where that would happen. But there are probably thousands where people would have no idea what you were saying if you said “Latinx”—or even more likely, they’d think you were some kind of officious dweeb for using it.
What I find fascinating is that some of this is no doubt the result of elite white progressives being misled by elite non-white progressives. Just as political correctness is used by whites to dominate and exert influence over less progressive whites, many elite woke professionals do the same thing to their white counterparts. No one is more susceptible to being bullied into wokeness than an already-woke white progressive.
I actually find this to be a cause for hope. While predictions of America’s white majority disappearing are premature and exaggerated—on the left and the right—the real story of America in the coming decades may in fact be one where woke white condescension becomes a thing of the past.
Paging Dr. Trump
So I partially violated the Golden Rule of this “news”letter. I allowed my critics to influence how I wrote this thing today. When I sat down to write this, all I wanted to do was riff on the glorious Veep homage yesterday at the White House. But I let some of you get in my head. I feared I would get a “there he goes again” dismissal. But if you got this far, it’s too late.
President Trump had a habit of ticking off all the “all-time highs” of the stock market on his watch, and there have been a lot. Yesterday may have been an all-time-high in Trumpism, and there have been many of them.
By now, you know he floated the idea of using light inside the bodies of COVID-19 patients to kill the virus. He also suggested that doctors explore the possibility of using the virus-destroying power of disinfectants internally, perhaps by injecting it to kill the disease.
Before I continue, I should clarify: “Peak Trumpism” isn’t simply about what the president says and does, but how the people around him and supporting him react. Dr. Birx’s kill-me-now expression as the president mused is part of it. And so was the near instantaneous “fact check” (since “reframed” as an opinion piece) from Breitbart editor Joel Pollack:
“Trump used the word 'inject,' but what he meant was using a process — which he left 'medical doctors' to define — in which patients’ lungs might be cleared of the virus, given new knowledge about its response to light and other factors.”
This is one of the greatest examples of Adam White’s observation that we aren’t supposed to take the president literally or seriously but hypothetically. There was literally nothing in what Trump said that supports Pollack’s interpretation. But, by the magic power of turd-polishing hypothesizing, a face-saving explanation is conjured from thin air.
But it gets better. While everyone in Christendom was dunking on Pollack’s clean-up effort, Trump “clarified” his remarks today. He now says that he was being “sarcastic” when he suggested that maybe people could inject disinfectant or get some kind of UV flashlight enema to kill COVID-19. In other words, Trump is admitting that he said precisely what Pollack says he didn’t say, he just didn’t mean it seriously, which as anyone who watched it knows is ridiculous. But this is what Trump does to his most ardent defenders all the time. He lets them march the plank and then saws it off (just ask Brian Kemp).
But it gets better. He then went on to say that he still wants his scientists to investigate whether sunlight and disinfectants can be used internally (relevant word salad here). So what, exactly, was he being sarcastic about?
But it gets better, or more accurately, worse. Trump’s explanation for suggesting we go one shade shy of full Tide Pod is that he was being sarcastic. It’s not true. But how is this a defense? We crossed the grim threshold of 50,000 American deaths, and we are already in an economic depression, and he thinks that this is the time for playful sarcasm about injecting Lysol (or some generic-brand disinfectant)? Why would you think this is a defense? And why on earth would you want to defend that?
Here’s what I think is going on: First, Trump has a bad screenwriter’s or destructive toddler’s idea of how science works. He thinks he understands technical matters because his uncle was a physicist and he has a good brain. Small children playing doctor think swallowing disinfectant cures things. Bad screenwriters love stuff like shiny lights fixing things.
Second, Trump isn’t just frustrated with this pandemic, he’s bored by it. He won’t do even minimal homework. Put aside his weird theories—Trump seemed genuinely surprised that sunlight and disinfectant kills the virus, something we always knew.
Third, his impatience causes him to yearn for an easy fix, and his narcissism compels him to be the one who discovers it. That was a big part of his hydroxychloroquine fixation. He wanted to be the one who could claim credit for delivering us from all of this with an easy fix. The same compulsion drives him to impulsively suggest a ridiculous solution off-the-cuff without thinking it through.
And here’s the last part of my theory. You’d think he would have asked about these magic remedies when he was briefed on this stuff before he approached the podium. My suspicion is that he did. But because it’s such an amazingly stupid idea, Birx or someone else didn’t want to anger him with bluntness. So they probably told him something like, “That’s never been tried,” or, “I’ve never heard of anyone doing that.” Their understandable need to be diplomatic left him with the impression that he stumbled onto a brilliant idea that never occurred to the fancy-pants experts around him. So he freelanced his miracle cure nonsense in front of the whole country.
It’s axiomatic that you go to war with a pandemic using the commander-in-chief you have, not the one you want. What I cannot fathom at this point is why anyone still thinks this is the president you would want to fight a pandemic.
Various & Sundry
Canine Update: The girls are doing okay, though we think both of them are just starting to show their age a bit. Pippa still loves her tennis ball, but more often she carries it like a security bl… well a security ball. Pippa is also just a bit more creaky, and having the experience we had with Cosmo (of blessed memory), we’re inclined to lean into that a bit. At the end Cosmo was two surgeries shy of being fully bionic. Zoë is maturing as well. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she chased some deer yesterday, and she’ll never pass up an opportunity to chase a bunny or get in a knife fight in Reno (the bunnies are just so damn hoppy, and that guy in Reno needed killing). But she now understands that running full tilt at a squirrel at a great distance is a waste of energy. It’s a bit sad. The catch in the deal with dogs is that they give you unconditional love, companionship and pure doggy entertainment, but not for nearly long enough. I’m not getting morose. They’ve got, by my admittedly sentimental math, several more decades with us. But it’s just becoming clear that the escaped-monkey-from-a-cocaine-study energy is starting to ebb and they are regressing to the mean of normal high-energy-dog energy. The exciting news is that this weekend we are leaving to quarantine in a new undisclosed location where both of them can be rejuvenated by chasing new critters and swimming in restorative waters. More details about that later.
A special note for members of The Dispatch: Be on the lookout tomorrow for an email with details about a special live-streaming edition of the GLoP podcast on Sunday at 6. It will have information about how to get into the Zoom. This is for paid members only, so if you’ve been thinking about joining and would like to watch me riff with Rob Long and John Podhoretz, now might be the perfect time.
And now, the weird stuff
Photograph of Joe Biden by Michael Brochstein/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media/Getty Images.