Good Friday Morning! It’s a week dominated by the mass shootings last weekend. As I’m writing this, police in Missouri reported they arrested a man in a Wal-Mart parking lot who had body armor, multiple guns, and plenty of ammo. An off-duty firefighter with a concealed carry permit held the man at gunpoint until the police arrived after three minutes. By all indications, it appears a copycat got stopped — praise God. But we’re still in the contagion window:
Researchers at Arizona State University analyzed news reports of gun-related incidents from 1997 to 2013. They hypothesized that the rampages did not occur randomly over time but instead were clustered in patterns. The investigators applied a mathematical model and found that shootings that resulted in at least four deaths launched a period of contagion, marked by a heightened likelihood of more bloodshed, lasting an average of 13 days. Roughly 20 to 30 percent of all such violence took place in these windows.
Also, quietly reported, a mass knife killing happened in California. My Monday and Friday columns this week both deal with these events, so I decided to pivot to another topic I’ve been mulling. Jane Coaston at Vox wrote a thought-provoking piece on race and the right, and I’m putting my thoughts together below. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
California passed a law that requires all Presidential candidates to submit the last five years of tax returns before getting on the ballot. The problem is that this law is unconstitutional and go through the case law that explores this topic.
The immediate social media reactions in the wake of a mass shooting are horrific.
Into the vacuum steps conservative nationalism
It’s tough to find a good conversation on race — especially between people who are across the aisle on most issues. And when you do encounter a healthy discussion on the topic, it’s like spotting a unicorn. The past couple of weeks there’s been three unicorns on this front.
Jane Coaston (the liberal side) wrote a piece in Vox entitled, “A question for conservatives: what if the left was right on race? – On the right, race and racism, and the possibility that it’s been a big problem all along.” The conversation started after Donald Trump’s series of tweets directed at the “Squad” that allegedly had racial overtones.
Jonah Goldberg (the conservative side) responded in his G-File (which you should sign up for here), in a piece entitled, “Racism and the Right – Conservatives don’t have a perfect record on race. But it’s nowhere near as simple as liberals want to believe.”
Finally, the two of them recorded an episode on Goldberg’s podcast and talked it out, “How to think about racism.” The podcast was great, civil, and highly engaging for this topic. Coaston is one of the few Vox authors worth reading, and Goldberg is excellent in just about everything he does.
On the issue, I tend to side more with Goldberg, but I see Coaston’s overall point.
Taken as a whole, I can’t take two criticisms on race seriously: 1) that the left is right on race regarding the right, and 2) that Trump is a white nationalist/supremacist.
On the first point, if you take the left’s position on race serious, you have to come to the absurd conclusion that Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, etc. were all racist somehow. Every single Presidential election for the past three decades has had the left presenting that same critique. To Coaston’s credit, she doesn’t offer this argument, but it is the overall thing you hear from the pundit left.
You obviously can’t swing the other direction and say there’s no racism on the right either, because there obviously is (more on this in a moment), and it’s pretty quickly found out.
On the second point, calling Trump a full-on racist in the vein of white nationalism or white supremacy requires one thing: Trump to have thought through a coherent idea on race and come down on one side. Trump is a lot of things, he’s not a thinker, and he has no worldviews on any topic from what I can tell. He’s utterly instinctual. And this is where Goldberg mostly has Trump nailed:
For what it’s worth, as I wrote this week, I don’t think you can successfully defend Trump from the charge of racism (or xenophobia or nativism). But his racism isn’t some fully hatched ideological point of view; it’s the parochial racism of 1970s New York City, which still viewed race through the prism of a kind of Tammany Hall-style tribalism. You can imagine him reading the New York Post in 1979 saying, “Look at what the blacks want now!” And given that he toiled in the kind of transactional swamp where people like Al Sharpton claimed to speak “for the blacks” in his various shake-down efforts, you can kind of understand it, without necessarily forgiving it. He sounds like some cops, cab drivers, and doormen from my youth, not Oswald Spengler or E.A. Ross. In his views, he’s closer to Andy Sipowicz in the early seasons of NYPD Blue than George Wallace. I’m not defending it; I’m just noting it’s not what defines him. And even if you could convince millions of Trump supporters that he is racist to one extent or another, that doesn’t flip a switch in everyone’s minds the way it does for the race-obsessed.
Trump’s not alone on that front. You can find plenty of boomers in red and blue states who speak and say the same things. You can throw a dart on most family trees and find it. That’s not excusing it; it’s just not a world view of white nationalists or supremacists — they’re far more vile and violent.
In a way, it’s similar to the main problem of the whole collusion narrative depended on Trump being able to actually… you know… collude. He’s not even capable of doing that with his staff or family on infrastructure week.
Trump can go from making stupid, racist remarks on Twitter to then passing criminal justice reform and meeting with Kanye West. None of this is intellectually outside him because there’s no worldview grounding anything. He does what’s next.
But back to Coaston’s main point:
What if, in truth, the conservative movement’s inability to self-police itself against racism and establish firm guardrails against racists in the movement has resulted in an American right increasingly beholden to racism and racist arguments?
And what if, in truth, it’s the left that has seen this most clearly and that has been pointing it out again and again? Perhaps, if your movement has ultimately rallied around a racist, allegedly in response to being called racist, that’s evidence that the people who saw the power racist arguments held in your movement, and the frequency with which those views were referenced, were onto something all along.
On the first point, I’d answer that there aren’t guardrails any more — for either party. I’ve written that I think there are more guardrails on the right in the past, and that may be true, but the more reactionary politics plays out, the fewer guardrails that persist. The parties have weakened beyond any resemblance to their past selves. Pelosi is enforcing some discipline right now, but I don’t expect it to last. I suspect someone like Tim Alberta will be able to write a similar book on the left that’s gotten written on the right.
Where I differ with Goldberg somewhat is that where he sees tribalism, I see reactionary politics. Nothing about our current political moment is about policy or ideas — it’s a pure reaction. And as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, until the reactionary politics cycle gets fixed, this issue isn’t going anywhere.
Nothing about Trump now was unknown about Trump pre-primaries (I know, I remember, I was there). And Democrats weren’t arguing that Trump was a threat or bad, they were supporting the opposite. They were arguing that Trump was fine; the real problems were Cruz and Rubio.
Never forget — Trump got $3 billion in free publicity from liberal journalists. They loved him and happily boosted his signal. They turned on him when winning became possible.
If you go back in history, the Bircher movement, various segments of libertarianism, Pat Buchanan, and the birther movement around Obama were all either explicitly racist or played on racism to make their points. How much opposition to Obama was racial versus angry blowback to Bush and the bailouts? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s as bad as Coaston suggests, but there is more than I was willing to admit at the time.
And yes — the left has this identical problem when it comes to Jews. And if you play out some of the weirdness of intersectionality, there’s considerable racism and straight-up segregation. This problem doesn’t excuse what is happening on the right.
The question I keep coming back to is this: is racism something endemic to modern conservatism, or does the size of conservatism end up roping in racists?
I don’t see there’s anything that makes racism endemic to conservatism — nor do I see it with liberalism. I’m less sure about progressivism, especially when you factor in the eugenic thought that’s never really left that movement.
Solving the issue involves befriending people of different races and making America the “great melting pot.” The more people are separated, the easier it is to see them as an “other.” In the book, “Culture Code,” by Daniel Coyle, he describes building work communities by, among other things, creating collisions between people to cause unlikely people to interact. The more collisions, the more society is built. Ending racism starts there. Can it ever end for good? I suppose not — but there’s hope in a place like America.
Links of the week
Meet the hero soldier who saved children’s lives during the El Paso Walmart shooting – Jared Keller, Task and Purpose
Yes, the GOP Should Worry About Texas – Sean Trende, Real Clear Politics
America is sick, and both liberals and conservatives are wrong about the remedy – Jonah Goldberg, The LA Times
The New York Post’s ‘Assault Weapons’ Editorial Is Nonsensical – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
Guam’s Catholics reckon with decades of ‘horrific’ sex abuse – Associated Press
Why I’m Not a Liberal – Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review
Red-Flag Laws — Yes, We Limit Liberty When There’s Evidence of a Threat – David French, National Review
The Washington Post just published the worst error-riddled disaster you’ll probably read all year – Becket Adams, The Washington Examiner
Reporters Dismiss Dayton Shooter’s Politics: A new journalistic standard. – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
Democrats’ frustration with the news media boils over: Beto O’Rourke channeled the discontent best with an exasperated reaction to a question about what Trump could do in response to the deaths of 22 people in El Paso. – Michael Calderone and Alex Thompson, Politico
Revealed: The Secret Scripts Amazon Gives to Cops to Promote Ring Surveillance Cameras: Documents obtained by Motherboard reveal that Ring provides 46 standardized comments that cops can post on social media and several documents with scripted responses to possible questions from the public. – Caroline Haskins, Vice
CRISPR Gene Editing Is Being Tested in Human Patients – Alice Park, Time Magazine
Nicolas Cage on Acting, Philosophy and Searching for the Holy Grail – David Marchese, New York Times Magazine
The NBA’s secret addiction (It’s PB&J) – Baxter Holmes, ESPN
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire piece of the week
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CA — Parents of students in Ms. Kellerson’s 4th-grade class at Fox Gully Elementary School have become concerned over the recent school supply list she sent home with new students. The list required 16 items be brought to school with the child or they may not attend classes.
The items on the list include things like crayons, whiteboard erasers, some “nice-smelling candles,” and dark chocolate.
“How does she expect us to bring so much stuff?” parents complained in emails sent to the e-mail address provided on the hand-out. “Doesn’t the school pay for anything?”
Thanks for reading!