Dear Reader (Including those of you who found Madison Cawthorn’s transformation into comedic soft-porn character so gradual you didn’t even notice),
So I’ve spent the week talking about abortion, and frankly I’m exhausted. Discussing such an emotionally radioactive issue can be exhausting. So let’s take a break from that and talk about race instead.
In Rocky II, Mickey comes up with a strategy to beat Apollo Creed in their rematch: Rocky should fight right-handed. The strategy has three advantages to it. First, it’ll surprise Creed because Rocky is a southpaw. Second, changing his stance will help protect Rocky’s bad eye. And third, they had to come up with something to make the movie different from the first one.
So Rocky trains with his left arm tied at his side, to build up his right arm.
And with that, I have introduced this week’s Official G-File Outdated Pop Culture Metaphor®—tune in next week to learn how the video game in The Last Starfighter is like the Gutenberg Bible.
In Wednesday’s “news”letter, I wrote about the Roe leak and abortion. Again, don’t worry, I’m done with that for now. But while writing that, I came across an interesting statistic. Last September, American support for interracial marriage hit an all-time high. Ninety-four percent of Americans approve not merely of interracial marriage, but specifically of marriages between white people and black people.
I’m not sure it’s necessary for my purposes, but I’m happy to concede that the “real” number might be a bit lower. Polling on such questions is always open to “social desirability bias”—people say what they think they’re supposed to say. But even if there’s some of that at work—and there probably is—that too is a good thing. In 1958, when Gallup first asked the question, only 4 percent of Americans said they approved of interracial marriage. I’m sure some of those people were lying, too. In other words, what is considered socially acceptable to say—even to a stranger on a phone—has moved massively against racism.
Racial progress, a good news story.
As I’ve written many times, this is hardly the only data point about how America has become less racist since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. For starters, we had a two-term black president and currently have a black vice president. In 1965, there were no black senators or governors and only five black members of the House of Representatives. In 2021, there were 57 black members of the House of Representatives, a statistically proportionate number to the black population (13 percent). State legislatures are somewhat below that benchmark—about 9 percent in 2015—but even so, there are hundreds of them, most notably in the Old South. Georgia has 66, Mississippi 51, South Carolina 44, North Carolina 37, Alabama 31, etc.
“In 1942,” Marian Tupy, who runs the invaluable HumanProgress.org, wrote a few years ago, “some 68 percent of white Americans surveyed thought that blacks and whites should go to separate schools. By 1995, only 4 percent held that view. In 1958, 45 percent of white Americans would ‘maybe’ or ‘definitely’ move if a black family moved in next door. By 1997, that fell to 2 percent.” In surveys asking whether you would be opposed to a neighbor of a different race moving next door, America doesn’t come out as the least racist country in the world, but we do far better than many countries. We beat Germany and France (3.7 percent), Spain (12), Italy (11.7), Mexico (11.4), Russia (14.7), China (18), Turkey (41.21!), and even Finland (6.8).
Anyway, you get the point. Or maybe you don’t. So let me be clear: We have not solved the problems with racism in this country. Even though black Americans themselves report that race relations have improved, they also report that they run into significant levels of racism in their lives, and as a general proposition, I believe them. The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is real, and even though we can have good faith disagreements about the scope and nature of that legacy or how to redress it, it would be foolish and to some significant extent immoral to pretend racism is no longer a real problem. My only point is that America has made monumental and, to a significant degree, historically unprecedented racial progress.
The unified field theory of racism.
And yet, for many progressives, racism and “white supremacy” have become if not bigger problems then at least more powerful and exhaustive explanations for America’s woes. Put another way, as racism has shrunk in American life and politics, racism as an explanatory theory for American life and politics has expanded.
Eddie Glaude Jr., a very nice and smart guy, is a fixture on MSNBC and a go-to explainer of America’s racial crisis. Glaude is a tenured professor at Princeton University, a once thoroughly racist institution, particularly under Woodrow Wilson’s leadership. Indeed, not only did Wilson refuse to admit African American students, he adopted a policy of airbrushing past black students from the historical alumni record. Anyway, here’s what he writes in his book Begin Again about James Baldwin. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, he writes:
I asked myself: What do you do when you have lost faith in the place you call home? That wasn’t quite the right way to put it. I never really had faith in the United States in the strongest sense of the word. I hoped that one day white people here would finally leave behind the belief that they mattered more. But what do you do when this glimmer of hope fades, and you are left with the belief that white people will never change—that the country, no matter what we do, will remain basically the same?
Now, it’s always fraught and a little uncomfortable to say that a black person is wrong in their understanding of race in America. It’s a deeply personal and highly subjective matter, loaded with opportunities for both insensitivity and accusations of insensitivity. But as an empirical matter, Glaude is simply wrong. As an objective matter, even when accounting for lamentable backsliding, various controversies, and enduring problems, the idea that “white people” have not changed and “will never change” is simply untrue. Unless, of course, all notions of objective measurement are meaningless.
And that’s basically what some people argue. Ibram X. Kendi has gotten rich explaining to guilty white liberals that they are on the numinous side of the Manichean struggle against white supremacy.
This version of America is very close to a religious dogma among many progressive elites. Melanie D’Arrigo, a (white) congressional candidate in New York, said yesterday that Republicans “are only out to reinforce systems of white supremacy at the expense of everyone else. This is the lens through which every Republican statement should be viewed.”
“Every Republican statement”—really? Support for military aid to Ukraine should be viewed through the lens of reinforcing white supremacy?
“[O]ne must acknowledge that the GOP is not a political party anymore,” the Washington Post’s Jen Rubin recently insisted. “It is a movement dedicated to imposing White Christian nationalism.”
Now, I hold no brief for the GOP these days. In fact, I agree that the GOP has become immorally accommodationist of racist and racially insensitive arguments. Paul Gosar and his ilk should have no place in the party of Lincoln. Speaking to neo-Nazi groups the way Marjorie Taylor Greene did should be a far more egregious litmus test violation than, say, voting for a bipartisan infrastructure bill, never mind supporting the impeachment of Donald Trump.
I think Nick Confessore’s epic length investigation of Tucker Carlson was something of a missed opportunity and I have any number of substantive and editorial quibbles with it. But on its own terms, I think Confessore makes a persuasive or at least plausible case that Carlson makes racist appeals and that Fox News has made a series of indefensible choices for the sake of ratings and profit. I can think of no high-minded reason why Rupert Murdoch would put VDARE’s Peter Brimelow (who just called for the Supreme Court to undo Brown v. Board of Education next) on his payroll. There are colorable defenses of Carlson that can be made, even if I’m not inclined to make them. But the refusal or inability of so many on the right to even concede that Confessore revealed some troubling facts is a sign of the tribal wagon-circling that passes for argumentation on the right.
But the simple fact remains that white supremacy and racism aren’t the monolithic, all-explanatory problems the left thinks they are.
Which brings me back to Rocky’s southpaw switcheroo.
As both a thought experiment and a messaging strategy, Democrats would be well-advised to pretend that racism has nothing to do with their current problems. The left wing—or left arm, for the purposes of this analogy—wants to fight only racism. They should tie that arm down and build up their right arm to punch on other fronts.
Consider perhaps the biggest driver of Democrats’ electoral challenges: the massive migration of rural and white working class voters into the Republican fold. Trump’s election in 2016 was a direct result of this trend. And it was Trump’s election that drove Glaude and countless others to despair that America was irredeemably and enduringly racist.
I’m not saying that race didn’t play a part in that. I’m saying focusing on race to the exclusion of all other factors is not in their interests, in no small part because it’s not the most important part of the story. Again, rural and working-class whites—the former the backbone of the FDR coalition—have been moving into the GOP fold even as they have become less racist. When only 4 percent of Americans approved of racial intermarriage, those voters were overwhelmingly Democrats. It’s fine—and probably right—that race plays some role in their migration. But the role race plays in American life has both shrunk and changed. And telling people they don’t understand their own motives and that their “real” motives are evil is a really stupid form of politics.
The Democrats’ story about racism does nothing to reverse this trend and a good deal to accelerate it. Because when you tell people who don’t believe—for good reason—that they are racist and that their opposition to Democratic policies is racist, you not only insult those voters, you shout in their faces that you don’t understand them as they understand themselves.
For instance, I get the ubiquitous argument that “abortion restrictions are racist” because they disproportionately fall on poor black women in certain states the hardest. But show me someone who thinks your average committed pro-lifer is motivated by racism and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t know a lot of pro-lifers (or racists). I mean, do you think so many pro-life activists make the argument that abortion is racist because they consciously believe they are racist themselves?
If you think, a la Jen Rubin, that opposition to introducing trans ideology and gender theory to school kids has a lot to do with white supremacy, you will have no chance of talking constructively to parents who oppose such things, particularly non-white parents who share such concerns.
This is even true about explicitly racial matters. Opponents of critical race theory—or what passes for it—are a diverse lot. But the reason why most non-ideological parents don’t like this stuff isn’t because they’re racists, it’s because they don’t like being told they are racists. That’s particularly true of the Biden-Youngkin voters that should be gettable for Democrats. I know of only two groups that believe in the maximalist 1619 Project thesis that this country was founded by, and for, white racists: hyper-woke progressives and stone-cold alt-right racists. Everyone else is troubled by the argument to one extent or another, either because it’s factually flawed or because it’s a grotesque insult to this country. I’m amazed this counts for an edgy political insight: Voters don’t like to be told they live in a bad country.
Now, I’m not saying Democrats should give up caring about racism—no one should. But the America-is-racist Unified Field Theory persuades almost no one not already in the fold. Both rhetorically and when translated into policy, it tends to repulse more than it attracts, which is why Asian Americans and Hispanics are starting to follow (though admittedly in smaller numbers) the white working class out of the Democratic Party. It also comes across as self-righteous. When Beto O’Rourke goes on stemwinders about how racist white America is, he comes across as the secular equivalent of a holier-than-thou preacher. When MSNBC panels take turns congratulating themselves for opposing the racism of anti-mask protesters, they sound like the self-exiled woke kids at their own table in the high school cafeteria.
If Democrats could build up their right arms punching at problems or arguments that aren’t all about “white supremacy,” they’d have a fighting chance. And by protecting their bad eye, they’d save it for opportunities to see the racial problems that matter. But too many would rather fight the enemies they want to fight and see the problems they want to see, because that makes them feel better about themselves.
Various & Sundry
Canine update: Yesterday, Pippa rolled in goose poop, three times. Of course, her fans on Twitter all took her side. Dogs gotta dog, Pippa can do no wrong, it was the geese’s fault, etc. Pippa herself showed no remorse. The effulgent foulness of the fowl poop—or the effulgent fowlness of the foul poop—was its own reward. She did think the bath she got was entirely unfair. Meanwhile, Zoë was a very good girl the other day, even if discretion probably outweighed valor. There’s a beautiful Great Pyrenees in our neighborhood that takes its guard duties very seriously, as is the breeds’ wont. He got away from his owner and charged the Fair Jessica while she was walking the dogs. Jess knows how to deal with dogs and stood her ground. And amazingly, Zoë didn’t take the bait. She too stood her ground, but didn’t engage. Again, Zoë is a bit of a kiss up, kick down type. If it had been a chihuahua, her response might have been less dignified. Still, we’re proud of her. Meanwhile, she remains unmoved by Pippa’s silliness.
And now, the weird stuff