Plus ça Change

It surprises me the extent to which people recoil at the idea of a President Donald Trump.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Donald Trump would be a terrible president. But to hear the way some people talk about it (and I don’t just mean David or Adam), he’s an entirely new level of monster. He’s something we’ve never before encountered in American politics, at least not recently. One Sweet Talker even suggested to me that those who vote for Donald Trump are more morally culpable than those who don’t.

And it’s not just us. Everywhere you go in the media, there’s some dumb article about which public figure recently vowed to move to Canada (or wherever) if Donald Trump wins the election. Many of my personal friends – especially the Muslims among them – think that The Donald’s rhetoric toward practitioners of Islam is many orders of magnitude over and above what we’ve seen in politics up to now.

Forgive me, I just don’t see it. But let’s be clear: I’m not saying Donald Trump isn’t terrible, I’m saying all those other politicians that nobody ever worried about have been exactly as terrible as Donald Trump all this time, and nobody really batted an eye at that. And they’re still not batting any eyes.

We don’t disagree about Trump. We disagree about everyone else. While everyone seems shocked and scandalized by Donald Trump’s ideas, I’m not seeing anything new or alarming that I haven’t been witnessing for the past twenty years. (Incidentally, I see that David R. Henderson has scooped me on this by a few hours.) So, I must ask: What makes Donald Trump uniquely morally reprehensible here?

Consider the proposed wall. We’re supposed to believe that building a wall along the US-Mexico border is a “Donald Trump thing.” If so, how would we explain the fact that recent interest in such a wall seems to have peaked almost ten years ago?

gtrends
Source: Google Trends, search term “immigration wall”

Doubtless Trump has been a large part of recent interest in the topic, but this is not a new idea. Arizona lawmakers were tackling this issue two years ago. Mike Huckabee was calling for such a wall as early as 2007, for example. Arnold Schwartzenegger was criticizing border wall proposals from the U.S. House of Representatives a year earlier. I could go on, but I won’t. Donald Trump doesn’t own the border wall issue, and any recent indignation thrown at Trump for his taking a stance no different than Mike Huckabee’s or the 2006 U.S. House of Representatives is silly. Trump’s bad, but this issue has always been bad. Trump isn’t adding anything new here.

Or, consider the question of banning Muslim immigration to America. To articulate such a thing is to make most Americans’ skin crawl, but one has to wonder about the intellectual honesty of many of those whose skin is crawling. Before my wife got a new passport and started using my last name, she was subject to more “random” airport security checks than I’ve ever seen. Her father, a well-traveled man, an expert in his field, and a Fulbright Scholar, was placed on the “no-fly list” for sharing the name of a suspected terrorist; but if you know anything about Muslim names, you know that virtually every Muslim shares the name of a “suspected terrorist,” because there are over two billion Muslims worldwide and only several thousand Muslim names. Do the math. Anyone comfortable with the state of Muslim profiling in America, but uncomfortable with Trump’s immigration ban, isn’t thinking straight.

But let’s set aside my personal experience any appeals to logic and look at the facts. Three years ago, The Atlantic reported:

The Associated Press brought the NYPD’s clandestine spying on Muslims to the public’s attention in a series of vital stories. Starting shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, officers infiltrated Muslim communities and spied on hundreds or perhaps thousands of totally innocent Americans at mosques, colleges, and elsewhere. These officers “put American citizens under surveillance and scrutinized where they ate, prayed and worked, not because of charges of wrongdoing but because of their ethnicity,” the news agency reported, citing NYPD documents. Informants were paid to bait Muslims into making inflammatory statements. The NYPD even conducted surveillance on Muslim Americans outside its jurisdiction, drawing a rebuke from an FBI field office, where a top official charged that “the department’s surveillance of Muslims in the state has hindered investigations and created ‘additional risks’ in counterterrorism.”

The author of that piece ends his article with a good question:

What does it say about American liberalism today that two of the most significant municipal programs abrogating the civil liberties of racial and ethnic minorities thrive in a deep blue city that also happens to be the media capitol of the country … and the guy presiding over it remains popular?

He’s talking about Bloomberg, and let’s make this as clear as possible: Bloomberg isn’t popular among alt-right racists; he’s popular among the urban elite who see themselves as tolerant, diverse, and enlightened. The very people who react with indignation at hearing Donald Trump’s proposed ban have virtually no problem at all with local law enforcement enacting a ubiquitous surveillance apparatus to ensure that innocent American citizens who happen to be Muslims aren’t actually up to something. And that’s not even considering the profiling that has been done to blacks and Latinos for decades. Trump is beyond the pale?  Not hardly.

We could take a long look at the semblance of economic policy Donald Trump seems to espouse and poke all kinds of holes in it. But: trade restrictions, investments in domestic  manufacturing, lukewarm support of minimum wage increases, and so on… Would it really be shocking to discover that this set of policies is common to a fairly large swath of both Democrat and Republican politicians?

Wrack your brain, pore over the platforms, the advertisements, the interviews, the media articles, and the research. Once you set aside Trump’s rather abrasive personality – an abrasive personality that is not only no secret to anyone (nor has it been at any time over the past 40 years of Trump’s fame), but that has succeeded in creating a rather successful brand of business for him – the actual policies we’re left with really aren’t that different from what we’re getting from any other politician in the landscape.

So what is everyone complaining about?

Nota bene, my point here is not to suggest that there aren’t people out there who have disagreed with these policies all along. Of course there are. But the visceral reaction against Donald Trump is many orders of magnitude above and beyond our reaction to politicians who support Trump’s policies (or worse) in deed, even if they fall short of doing so in words.

Regular readers will understand why I choose to focus on this: It’s because, in my opinion, results matter much more than words. That politicians lie is nothing new, and the results of our politics are there for all to see. Why, then, all the indignation over a politician whose rhetoric is, for once, consistent with the results?

What do we make of a society that reacts angrily to being told the truth? Is the problem that it prevents them from being able to lie to themselves about what’s going on out there? This isn’t a politics problem; it’s an ego problem. The solution here is not to lambaste Trump, but to lambaste ourselves and our own failure to recognize any of these horrors when they come out of the mouths of pretty much anyone else. If it takes someone like Donald Trump for you to recognize how abominable these policies are, then perhaps a re-calibration of your abomination-detection-device is in order.

Until we realize that, it’s plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s