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Sunday, May 22, 2016

the thumbsuckers' gentlemen's agreement

Shakespeare makes it easy for the audience by having his villains – his Gloucester, his scheming Edmund – rehearse, in soliloquy, both the evil of their intentions and the strategy of deception by which they pursue them. Deception becomes not only an instrument but a major pleasure as well, a proof of the superiority of the evil character to the good ones.
In  our era, the soliloquy is pretty much dead. The strategy of deception more often deceives the deceivers, who think not that they are beyond good and evil, but that they are experts in nudgery, technocrats and meritocrats, and will the good. Their true intentions are estranged from them, and a whole code disguises the source of their advantages.
This is what makes the current freakout of the media over Trump such an interesting phenomenon. At least for the critics. For this freakout has made the norm of strategic dissimulation, usually denied, float to the surface as a thing defended.
What I mean is this: the word on Donald Trump is that he has “crossed a line.” Where other GOP politicians have dogwhistled on race, never openly encouraging racism, Trump has openly encouraged racism.
Here’s the deal. There is no line. Dogwhistling on race is racism. Implicit appeals to racism that wear a cast of deniability are not some degree removed from racism, but the very expression of racism in a period when it operates under a code of plausible denial.
In other words, the press has long been operating under a “gentlemen’s agreement”- much like the tacit quotas on Jews that were common in universities and social associations early in the twentieth century. Except this is an agreement not to call out the dogwhistler as racist. In this way, racism found its pocket of tolerance among those who pretended to be socially liberal. It was a good deal – by pretending to find racism abhorrent, the class of elite thumbsuckers, the editors of the great papers, the tv correspondents, could comfortably inhabit the most segegated income level in America – the top one percent – without looking around and asking why it was so very, very white.

Of course, I am sure that the thumbsuckers will go on freaking out about Trump’s racism without understanding that they have revealed their own. But with the gentlemen’s agreement getting some airing, it is going to be that much harder to keep up the strategy of deception.

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