Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Privilege of Not Being Scared by Trump

Something can be correct and yet corrosive to discourse.  This is basically how I feel about "privilege talk," or at least, the promiscuous resort to it.  Quite often, instead of productively shifting a conversation toward the unstated assumptions that underly a point of view, talking about your opponent's privilege marks the end of rational discussion.  I want to emphasize, it's not that talk about privilege should be verboten, it's that it should be used judiciously.  Also, I observe that it is a rara avis in terris who can't profitably examine his own privilege, as we are reminded by Luke 6:41:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
 But nothing is more unedifying than a discussion about discussants' relative degrees of privilege.

Anyway all of that having been said, let me be the kind of hypocrite everyone despises and make a point about privilege.  Arguments have recently sprung up that might be categorized as anti-anti-Trump.  That is, they are not really pro-Trump, but they defend him along some dimensions.  Two recent examples have been provided by Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) and Bill James (of sabermetrics fame).  Here is Adams:

Trump’s immigration plans are scary business for sure. His call to deport illegal Mexican immigrants and to temporarily ban Muslim immigration sound racist on the surface. But one layer below the surface you can see that he is consistent about protecting U.S. Citizens from non-citizens. That’s the job description of the President of the United States. If you are a citizen, Trump has the strongest immigration plan for keeping YOU safe, even if it is bad news for non-citizens.
. . . .
You can hate Trump’s sense of humor and his insensitive ways. But you will also get used to it. And when you do, you’ll no longer see it as a lack of empathy. Because it isn’t.
And here is James (and here is an allegedly more readable version using x's as paragraph breaks) [update:  here is the most readable version yet!):

The slogan “make America great again” has two parts: (1) It implies that America used to be something that it no longer is, and (2) It argues that the responsibility of the President is to stand up for America, and not to worry about what the Europeans or the Mexicans or the United Nations delegates think about this. Trump is implicitly saying that we have lost touch with certain values that used to characterize America, and I think that that is absolutely true. I think it is always true; every generation loses touch with certain virtues from the past, and then re-discovers those virtues only after the consequence of losing them becomes visible. We have lost touch with the virtue of toughness. We despise toughness, not as individuals but as a collective, and we sympathize with whiners when we should ignore them. The consequences of this are becoming visible, and they will become more visible until we realize that toughness is a real thing, a real virtue, and that we need more of it. And I believe that it is true that the responsibility of our elected officials is to stand up for America, and I believe that we have had many failings in this regard.
In fairness to both Adams and James, they (especially James) spend a lot of ink criticizing Trump for his intolerance and other negative attributes.  My point here is to observe that it is very easy for a middle-aged white man to make the claim that Trump is "consistent about protecting U.S. Citizens from non-citizens" or that Trump will "stand up for America" or that his sense of humor does not reflect "a lack of empathy."  It is not so easy for a Muslim or a Mexican-American or a black person or a gay person to see things that way.  And this is the essence of privilege, this blindness to the specificity and contingency of your own point of view.

Sure, Trump will "stand up" for Americans, so long as they look like Scott Adams or Bill James.  (Or at least you can make an argument that he will.  I tend to doubt it.)  It is precisely because Trump is spreading venomous bigotry about Americans who do not look like Adams and James that he is to be regarded as dangerous, scary, and not remotely interested in "standing up for America," at least not in a sense that we should find laudable or even acceptable.


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