The President is Not a Duck

Some people are never going to use the R-word to describe Donald Trump. No matter what.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 16, 2018 • Politics

Martin-Luther-King

W

ERE HE ALIVE, Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned eighty-nine on Monday. It seems a mercy that he isn’t, and didn’t, because a nearly nonagenarian King would be captive with the rest of us in a world where no one need ask How are things going on the “race relations” front? The question answers itself. Race relations are in the shithole, as the President might say.

After dropping the s-word, the President was praised by David Duke and the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, and by some other “very fine people,” and not for the first time. Peter Barker, in a New York Times article, “A President Who Fans, Rather Than Douses, the Nation’s Racial Fires,” catalogues a number of occasions on which Mr. Trump and his staff have been asked whether the president is racist. Well, I mean. If saying he’s not a racist is in your boilerplate …. Barker asks Jesse Jackson if the president is a duck and Mr. Jackson notes that the president indeed quacks, “but to categorize him by a name [duck] does not quite address the issue [that the president is using his webbed feet to bottom feed].” Got it.

Next, from Barker’s column, Dr. King’s nephew, Isaac Newton Farris Jr., thinks that “President Trump is racially ignorant and racially uninformed. But I don’t think he is a racist in the traditional sense.” Now try and imagine Martin Luther King speaking this way. “Hate cannot drive out hate, and by hate I mean not hate in the traditional sense but rather a condition marked by a state of insufficient emotional information.” Eight years ago a chunk of America thought they’d entered the Age of Post-Racialism, and now we live in an age that is almost exclusively characterized by tribal identitarianism. Yet notice how many people today cannot bring themselves to use the R-word, resorting instead to equivocation and whataboutism. King no doubt would have regarded “not racist but racially ignorant” as a distinction without a difference, if not a tautology. And he would have had something more interesting, and less ridiculous, to say.

But Trump! You have to give him credit for generating memorable quotes. Mexicans? Those people are rapists. Nigerians? Those people live in huts. Haitians? Those people have AIDS. Norwegians? Those people should come to America. Donald Trump is a Thoser who sees human beings in categorical terms. Every black neighborhood is a war zone, sustained by welfare cheques—”TRUMP THINKS ONLY BLACK PEOPLE ARE ON WELFARE,” says a Newsweek headline from last week—and every Iranian is an ayatollah, a foreigner with a nuclear bomb in their turban. Why else prevent Iranians, en masse, from coming to America? This broadbrush way of thinking discloses ignorance and racism, racism by definition being the habit of viewing people in categorical terms. (Note to the President: there are Norwegian rapists.)

It’s remarkable in retrospect how few infamous King quotes have to do explicitly with race. Even as he developed a radical critique of capitalism, his themes were freedom, hope, struggle, faith, solidarity, love, justice, brotherhood, dignity—in short, universal themes of our shared humanity. On the occasions in which he uses racial terms (“I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.”) it’s to push the notion of unity. But of course he knew the face and mind and methods of racism intimately, and targeted its foundation. His most famous quotation, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” could be a @realDonaldTrump subtweet. And it’s depressingly easy to imagine President Trump angrily quacking back a Twitter insult, in all-caps, while the usual suspects find a way to tell us he’s not a duck.

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