Pur Autre Vie

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Few Quick Thoughts

A few quick thoughts on our situation.

First, I wonder how helpful it is to make specific, clear arguments about what Trump did wrong. Specifically, he lied about why he took so long to speak quasi-forcefully about neo-Nazis, and he inexplicably claimed that there were "very fine people" who joined marchers chanting "Jews will not replace us!" by torchlight. He also did less than the bare minimum to express outrage at white supremacist terrorism on U.S. soil.

Many people criticizing Trump chose to be fairly vague about what he had done wrong. Since most of the audience is probably not paying enough attention to draw fine distinctions, this may have been harmless. But I wonder if it obscured the stakes—now Trump is attacking straw men and defending the existence of Confederate statutes, which, while offensive, are not nearly as unpopular as neo-Nazis. I think I would have preferred for people to put a little more work into clearly defining Trump's violation.

Second, I'll have more to say about this later, but Trump is displaying two of his signature moves. First, he is playing the role of protector of the "common man" against elite consensus. Second, he is defying near-universal condemnation and demands for apology. So far he has not paid much of a material price for this practice, and by shifting the conversation away from neo-Nazis and toward Confederate statues he clearly hopes to escape unscathed yet again. (I'm not saying he hasn't paid a price, just that it hasn't been realized in any electoral results.)

And this is exactly how norms fall. Norms exist because people fear to violate them. When someone violates them with impunity, it basically calls society's bluff. Unfortunately it often is a bluff, for a variety of reasons.

Anyway I am afraid of what happens next. Trump is clearly trying to inflame racial divisions to protect himself, and this is one area where he has actual skill.