The Omnivore was recently linked to an article in The Daily Signal--with the note that it says what the person sending it wanted to say--but very clearly. This person, who The Omnivore greatly respects, is a conservative Republican who is voting for Donald Trump--although Trump was certainly not their first choice. The article is titled: I'm an African-American Woman. Here's My Advice to Conservatives Wooing My Community. It's written by Kay Cole James, a trustee of the (conservative) Heritage Foundation with a long political pedigree starting under Ronald Reagan. What was her advice? It starts like this:
The moment Donald Trump urged black voters to consider supporting him—asking, “What do you have to lose?”—the consultants and pundits sprang into coordinated action, bombarding the airwaves with their “r” and “b” words.
“Donald Trump is a racist,” posted Daily Kos. “Donald Trump is a bigot,” piped in The New York Times’ Charles Blow.
There’s a method to this madness, of course. Call someone a racist and they’ll no longer be heard. They’ve been accused of racism, after all, so they’re not just contemptible, they’re outside the realm of public discourse.
That’s why the noise makers are so busily at work.When she describes the problems in the black community, it's this:
African-American poverty should be going down—instead, it’s rising. Our children should be thriving—instead, millions of them live in broken homes. Our streets should be peaceful—instead, violence continues to take a devastating toll. Our schools should be nurturing excellence—instead, far too many of them are factories of failure.She goes into some detail--but finds the culprit here:
All that began to change under the weight of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” programs, as high-performing neighborhood schools gave way to bureaucracy-choked failure factories. Today, grim statistics and generations of wasted talent are the legacy of an agenda that has failed our children and community.To solve these problems:
And it’s not OK that so many consultants and pundits would rather play politics than help save my people.
Fortunately, many others genuinely care about economic advancement and social justice for all Americans. They recognize we need to start over. Some now call the Republican Party home because they recognize conservative policies offer the commonsense solutions my community needs. Others try to encourage the Democratic Party to adopt more effective conservative policy solutions.Finally, the advice:
As for conservatives, this will take focused effort, real trust, unwavering consistency, and sensitivity to symbols, as well as the powerful acts of just showing up and listening. Personnel decisions within campaigns, transitions, and governing will make a big difference too, since having experienced, politically savvy African-Americans with stature inside those three dynamics is vital to avoiding unforced errors.
Winning this battle, then, will depend on political parties and conservatives getting it together and getting it right.
What Does This Mean?So let's take a look at this piece carefully--James has not written any other articles for The Daily Signal and isn't in the habit of writing Op-Eds in general (as far as Google can tell). She is intelligent, highly educated, and considered. She chooses her words carefully. What is she saying? What is she implying?
First: The Daily SignalLet's start with her choice of venue. The Daily Signal was launched by the Heritage Foundation explicitly without advertising because of the mess that conservative advertising was back in 2014 or so. If you read that, and don't instantly know what The Omnivore is talking about, please look here. You can just look at the pictures. The Daily Signal is an explicit voice that will be highly doctrinaire conservative while couched for maximal credibility (and your credibility is, in fact, damaged if you have warnings of imminent disaster popping up over the articles).
Second: The OpeningJames pulls off a little sleight-of-hand in her opening paragraph. The title of the piece is explicitly to conservatives--but she addresses charges of racism from The Daily Kos and The New York Times. The first is explicitly partisan liberal. The second is held up by conservatives as the number one example of what is wrong with bias in the mainstream media.
Considering that she could have found actual, for-real conservatives (such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) saying Trump is behaving in a text-book racist fashion, why not call them out?
The answer, of course is that she doesn't want to remind conservatives that Paul Ryan, 2012's pick for Vice President--under mainstream candidate Mitt Romney--called Trump a racist.
This piece is a message to #NeverTrump (the group of conservatives who have stated they will never, ever vote for Trump--regardless) to come home to the party. That's her position--the intent of the piece--Drop the NeverTrump thing, guys! We have to get it together if we're going to implement conservative policy.
There's an innate problem here, one that spreads through the rest of her article, but we'll get to that at the end.
Third: The Problems of the AA Community and Their RootsHaving established her position, James then makes her case. Her case is pretty straightforward. The black community is suffering from two types of problems:
- Cultural issues around broken families, violence, and attitudes towards education.
- Liberal policies around welfare and and the Department of Education (which is resonant today with Common Core, even though she doesn't call it out by name).
The sociological debate of the state of the black community does, in fact, have two nexuses--culture and society. In other words, she isn't wrong about that. This, on the other hand? Not so much:
And our community, once the self-sustaining citadel that enabled us to survive slavery and institutional racism, is now teetering on the brink of destruction.This statement is telling--institutional racism has been survived. Past tense. Institutional racism is a form of discrimination against a given race by the methods and policies of government / society. For example, housing policies that cluster blacks in to lower-income neighborhoods by denying them loans, based on race, that they could otherwise get in more integrated, nicer neighborhoods is a form of institutional discrimination.
So is having a city government funded by fines leveled aggressively against people of color. That was what the Justice Department discovered in Furgeson in 2015. Many, many communities work this way. This is far, far from the only example. The Omnivore supposes that the black community "survived" institutional racism, having, perhaps, ended it a few months ago?
Fourth: Commonsense SolutionsIt's telling that James doesn't list anything specific. When she speaks to conservative ideas that offer commonsense solutions, she might as well be talking about conservative pundit and frequent Fox guest Cal Thomas' book What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America.
The point here is that she's using a--let's call it a code word--to talk to her audience (conservative readers of The Daily Signal) that doesn't need to get into specifics. She knows that all of the people she's trying to reach will more or less agree with The Heritage Foundation's take on things--so she can just say "do the smart thing" (except the "smart thing" would sound too much like those lefty, academic, egg-heads) and get on with it.
There's nothing really wrong with this either. The article is trying to finesse conservatives to come back to the fold even if they can't personally stand Trump. She doesn't need to drag them through policy white-papers.
Finally: The Real Message
By the end she has established her position:
- Left-Wing people you don't like call Trump racist. If you keep doing that too, you'll be aligning yourself with the shrill, lefty Daily Kos. You can't have that, can you?
- There's a real problem that needs to be solved. You're not racist, so you agree with me--but let's make sure we keep this couched in very vanilla conservative terms. Black people need to pull their damn pants up, get an education, get jobs, and stop having babies out of wedlock. We can also get rid of Common Core.
So then what? Well, she's right that there needs to be "sensitivity to symbols" and "powerful acts" of showing up and listening. What she's saying here is stuff like:
- Black people consider the Confederate battle flag racist, y'all--maybe stop fighting over that?
- Stop saying "All lives matter"--yes, all lives matter--but if you keep saying that in response to Black Lives Matter you'll turn a lot of people off.
- Please stop it with calling Brown and Martin thugs. Yeah, they were criminals--but the black community is wounded by their, and many other people's deaths. We wouldn't have had riots if Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin had gone to jail.
And so on.
Oh, and also: Guys, we have to win this election--that means voting for Trump. She doesn't say it--but given her opening, you can bet your last dollar she means it.
The Problem: Conservatives are Calling Trump Racist Too
The problem that James begins with--that she ascribes the charges of racism to an attempt by the left to completely (and unfairly) shut down Trump and, also, move the debate over solutions to African-American community problems out of the discussion by doing so--infects the entire piece. She ignores the elephant in the room (the GOP elephant, yes): other republicans--at all levels, are very, very uncomfortable with Donald Trump's behavior . . . his racist behavior.
On a second level, they are very, very concerned with the legitimizing effect that Trump's candidacy is having on explicitly and proudly racist forces in America.
The Omnivore is going to stop here for a moment because he is pretty sure some readers don't just buy into this as stated. The Omnivore assures you, though, this is the case.
When the Brexit happened in England hate-crime reports rose 5-fold. The popular vote to leave the EU--driven by promises to remove immigrants--made public displays of anti-immigrant behavior seem more socially acceptable. They were legitimized.
Today we see literal white supremacists cheering the rise of Trump for the same reasons. Even if you think he is not racist, something about his rhetoric and support is empowering them in our society. The conservatives The Omnivore knows online have felt this plainly on the Internet where their emails and Twitter feeds fill up with racist comments. For the conservative Jews, their Twitter feeds fill up with literal Nazi propaganda.
The level of this--the intensity and the virulence--is new.
So Kay Coles James has a problem: a comparatively small faction of the GOP base has nominated a candidate on the basis of white nationalist rhetoric and a (substantial) number of conservatives have rebelled against that. This is a very, very legitimate disagreement. Many of these voices are long-time doctrinaire movement conservatives (The Weekly Standard and The National Review are pillars of conservative thought--both are NeverTrump).
She can't address their position head on--to do so would be to deny reality (that Trump has said racist things, that Trump enables and empowers racists, and, finally, that Trump's policy positions are generally fanciful and poorly thought out). So instead she makes an appeal: Look, you're not racist--and in order to help the AA community we're going to have to have a friendly executive--so please stop acting like a liberal and come down off your pedestal.
We've gotta win this one.