Trump responds to the demand that he apologize for calling Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas."For those unaware, Democrat stalwart Elizabeth Warren accelerated her early academic legal career by gaining selection to Harvard Law School as a professor in the late seventies or early eighties when affirmative action was at its highest tide, under the guise of being of Native American heritage. It turned out later that this was a specious claim, based on nothing more than family lore and "high cheekbones". But not before Harvard had Warren listed as a Native American law professor, proving their affirmative action bona fides.
I watched the rally live last night and have that in my handwritten notes as something I wanted to blog, but I'm cutting and pasting it from a Fox News article that, as you can see from the headline, highlights something else: "Trump claims Maxine Waters' IQ in 'mid-60s,' slams 'fake Pocahontas' Elizabeth Warren in rally to unseat Jon Tester."
The reason for putting those 2 things together is obvious: He's attacking a particular individual — in both cases, it's a Democratic Party woman — and he's saying something that will make his antagonists feel he's being racist. His supporters will probably say, no, he's going after the individual, and Elizabeth Warren really did seek advantages by making claims about her probably nonexistent Native American ancestry, and Maxine Waters is being judged to be unintelligent because of actual stupid things that she has said. Trump knows all that, I assume, and he means to go right there and create political energy by enlisting supporters and antagonists into that endless argument.
An antithetical, manipulative gaming of a racist system of preferences for personal benefit or a simple naive error are the two ends of the interpretation spectrum for this erroneous representation, Republicans preferring the former and Democrats the latter.
But that's just background. I want to focus on Althouse's last paragraph quoted above. She steps right up to an idea and then does not fully identify the idea.
He's attacking a particular individual — in both cases, it's a Democratic Party woman — and he's saying something that will make his antagonists feel he's being racist. His supporters will probably say, no, he's going after the individual, and Elizabeth Warren really did seek advantages by making claims about her probably nonexistent Native American ancestry, and Maxine Waters is being judged to be unintelligent because of actual stupid things that she has said.Setting aside all claims of civility and appropriate communication etiquette, there is an interesting idea buried in there.
Democrats are the party strongly wedded to the ideology of race categories and group identities. It is their raison d'etre. Republicans are the party strongly associated with the idea of individualism. It is their cri de cœur.
Part of the Trump phenomenon is that the same words and actions are interpreted differently by different people, each party assuming the other party is lying.
Part of it is simply partisanship. When Democrats are shown a list of policy goals that are identified as those of Trump, they roundly denounce those policies as racist and misogynistic, even though they are policy goals from the Obama administration. That is simply partisanship.
Part of it is simply the frame. As Salena Zito famously put it, "The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally." One audience is comfortably tolerant with loose language that is conveying a broader message, the other audience is narrowly focused on the minutiae of the words and claims, finding nefarious inaccuracies.
What Althouse brings to mind is a third filter which stands in the way of common comprehension. If you understand the world in terms of individuals and how they behave and act, and only use group identities in the absence of specific data about the individual, then all Trump is doing is making fun of the foibles and vulnerabilities of two questionable characters who have made choices and claimed things that respectively make them appear exploitively self-dealing and stupid. The fact that they are a white woman and a black woman are incidental to what they have said and done. From the perspective grounded in individualism, there is nothing controversial here. They have indisputably said and done invidious things and he is making appropriate fun of them for those selfish and stupid actions.
If you understand the world in terms of group identities, then it is natural to see Trump as dog whistling racists and misogynists. The facts of these individuals and their particular actions and deeds are irrelevant to their status as place-holders for a group. Attack the individual and you are, to the group-identity crowd, ineluctably attacking the group.
Same words, different interpretations based on one's worldview.
But as I heard someone suggest the other day, for those who only hear racist and misogynistic dog whistles, you have to consider the possibility that if you keep hearing a dog whistle, perhaps you are the dog.