Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Donald Trump and Dog Whistles

I have very mixed feelings about Donald Trump. I loathe the man personally. I think he's an ingrown hair on the ass of society. On the other hand, I couldn't have sat down with a magic spawner and designed a more perfect troll for the Republican party.

The conservatives have gotten away with "dog whistling" bigotry for many decades now. Google "dog whistle politics" or "dog whistle racism" if you're unfamiliar with the term. It means to advance a bigoted cause by using misdirection language and policies so that you're not talking directly about the bigoted cause itself. When a politician wants to tell everyone that Black people are lazy thieves, he doesn't come right out and say it. He uses terms like "Welfare Queen," and lets the imagery do the subtle work for him. The "War on Drugs" was and is a dog whistle for painting Black people as criminal. "States Rights" is a dog whistle for "We want to maintain our ability to oppress these people we object to." It is a means of being a bigot without using the language of bigotry, and thereby incurring public wrath.

Most people fall for it. Some, like Donald Trump, fall for it so hard that he doesn't even realize that the dog whistle is an essential part of the game. Polls tell him that most people support "states rights" or "tough drug enforcement." He doesn't even realize that most people don't realize that these are dog whistles. So he assumes that most people support the views of White Evangelical Christian Republicans, and figures, "why not just tell it straight?" And he tells it straight.

He is ripping the mask off of the party, and everyone is horrified. Especially the candidates who are left suddenly standing naked-faced in the spotlight. They still have to walk that narrow line of appeasing the hard-right bigots without offending the moderate majority, but Trump has just whipped out a saw and is cheerfully severing their high-wire. They need a back-up plan, stat, and find themselves frantically denouncing Trump and his plainly-spoken bigotry, even while they secretly agree with him.

The result will not make the far-right happy, of course. You will see further splits in the party as the unapologetic bigots turn up their own candidates and split the ticket. The politicians are forced to the center, which changes the national discourse towards progressive ideals.

Donald Trump is to the Republican Party as the portrait is to Dorian Gray. They would love to hide him beneath a cloth in an abandoned room, of course. But he is wealthy, powerful, and inevitable. So while I despise him personally, I can't help but see him as a sort of unconscious catalyst for progress.

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