He Said What?

I liked Donald Trump when he was a reality TV star (which he arguably still remains), but that was precisely because I wanted to be entertained. The bluster and the occasional -- ok, frequent --vulgarity didn't hurt, and everybody enjoyed watching a caricature of what some big, important CEO acts like. Now, we have to reckon with the fact that he is no longer just a televised caricature, and that what the President of the United States says does and should matter.

This is precipitated, obviously, by what would be an astonishing quote were it from any other president, reported yesterday by the Washington Post. Mr. Trump questioned the usefulness of protections for immigrants from "shithole" countries, which, by his definition, basically encompasses nations where the population isn't tall, white and rich. I wouldn't normally publish profanity, at least on CPR, but if the president says it, it's news.

I have honestly put as much mental effort as possible into not calling the president a racist. It really is tedious, and I commend those who are able to partition that much of their mental energy into rationalizing what he says and does, and then concluding from it that he doesn't harbor ill thoughts toward "others." His words tend to speak for themselves, so whether or not you might consider him a racist doesn't change what he says or what it means. His apologists and professional rationalizers were quick to defend him.

There are, of course, tiers to the obeisance. The bottom is always the best place to start: Tucker Carlson. I love to watch clips of Tucker for the same reason I enjoyed watching Trump early in the primaries (before anyone took him seriously). It's because you have to understand Tucker as an entertainer first, before you even consider that he hosts an entirely subjective opinion program. Tucker isn't there to tell you the news, he's there to explain how you should think about the news, and how, no matter what, this is actually good for the president.

So the MO on Tucker Carlson Tonight is that he poses cunningly simple questions to guests in an effort to stump them or otherwise lampoon their position. Last night, he addressed the comments Trump made about the countries in Africa using that same method. Nothing is complex in Tucker's world, and everything is conveniently black or white. Either these countries are in fact terrible, or they aren't and everyone from there should return. Easy right?

The show wants to appear as if it distills things into simpler terms, but muddying the waters is the real goal. Instead of digging into what the president said and the meaning behind it, he turned to criticizing the critics. And don't think there isn't value in exploring Trump's mindset on the issue -- there has to be some rationale behind the comment, but Tucker doesn't want us to focus there. He mentions that Joan Walsh on CNN couldn't say whether she would rather live in Haiti or Norway, which is a stupid thing to ponder. But her refusal to answer a simple question is fodder for him and shows why Tucker actually has enough validity to continue this charade of analysis -- people are moving the focus away from what the president said and imparting some credence to a thought process he may or may not have.

That's where we transition to a different tier, albeit one shrouded behind more legitimacy. Tucker jumps past the fact that the president said something awful and forces us to reckon with whether African countries are indeed fine or terrible places. What people like Ben Shapiro do, on the other hand, is to develop some odd intellectual rigor to the statement.

For example, last night Shapiro tweeted about his confusion on how calling certain countries "s***holes" turned into "the press saying he called immigrants from those countries s***." Now, maybe from some profound orator we could dive into the minutiae of wording and phrasing, trying to divine meaning. I don't think that's useful for Trump, and someone as intelligent as Shapiro knows this. When he goes in and picks apart Trump's comments, it is under the guise of intellectual scrutiny. The problem there is that it assumes an intentional, intellectual construction behind the statement. When intellectual elites try to defend what the president says, they sometimes overcorrect in defending their side of the aisle. If you enter into an analysis of his statements with an inclination that you partially agree, you can likely draw out nuance where none actually exists.

That leads us to the final tier, with Rich Lowry in particular. Lowry is the editor of the National Review, the gold standard of intellectual conservatism. But Lowry appeared on CNN to address what Trump said, and seems to have bent himself into a defense of the statements by attacking "elite" hysteria around immigration. Instead of only denouncing something Trump should not have said, Lowry pivots to a critique of the media. A little media scrutiny is always fair and necessary, but it's obvious when he's just covering for the home team.

Jonathan Katz offered a fascinating thread on the insincerity of arguments against certain immigrants, which may use more colorful language in describing the conservative positions than I would, but nonetheless paints an interesting picture. When they suggest that the immigrants from certain countries are less useful to the United States, it really glosses over any acknowledgment of historic conditions which led to them being unsuccessful nations.

An historical conservative position might have focused on the American Dream, believing that any individual who works in a hard and honest way can succeed, regardless of their birth. Clearly, now, those without a degree and a bank account need not apply.

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Kirk KovachComment