November 27, 2016

What is Donald Trump Going to Learn From the Outraged Left?

Campus protest march against hate speech

According to the FBI, anti-Muslim hate crimes increased sharply between 2014 and 2015. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) claims that incidents directed at Muslims have increased following the election of Donald Trump earlier this month. Even though the national chair of the Anti-Defamation League acknowledged, "It is essential not to just assume a direct connection between these reported hate crimes and the inflammatory and divisive presidential election campaign," many on the left are doing precisely that. Thus, it should come as no surprise that many have called on President-elect Trump to repudiate White nationalism and the so-called "alt-right." This raises two questions for me, one of which I have mentioned previously and one that will be new to this post.

The first question, and the one I have previously addressed, concerns the perceived benefits of pushing Trump to deliver an insincere apology. If one truly believes that Trump is a racist and a xenophobe who is sympathetic to White nationalism, it would seem that asking him to apologize for the statements he had made which are interpreted as evidence of this would be asking for an insincere apology. Why would we want such a thing? If one really does believe these things about Trump, then asking him to renounce them would be more of the same. It would be great if Trump would experience a genuine change of mind on these issues (like President Obama evidently did on same-sex marriage); however, until that happens, I'm not sure what we gain by demanding that he issue public statements with which most of the left seems convinced that he does not agree.

My second question concerns the recent news that Trump did in fact disavow White nationalism and the alt-right during an interview with the New York Times. The left had been pushing him to do this for some time, and he did it. If you think the left would be happy to see this, you have not been following what is going on among much of the left these days. My question is this: given that Trump's disavowal - the very thing the left has been clamoring for - has been ignored, dismissed, and even sharply criticized, what do you suppose Trump is going to learn? I fear that he will soon learn the same thing most of us who have run up against the perpetually outraged authoritarian (or regressive, if you prefer) left (i.e., social justice warriors): no apology will ever be satisfactory.

Trump has gone on record at least a couple of times to disavow, repudiate, or otherwise condemn many of the things he has been asked to disavow. And each time, he has been met with more outrage from the left rather than less. Some do not believe him, which is a perfectly reasonable response as far as I am concerned; however, it does take us back to my first question about why we keep demanding that he say things we do not think he believes. Others say his disavowals may be legitimate but do not go nearly far enough. This has started to look a bit like moving the goalposts in that once one gets what one said one wanted, what one now claims to want looks awfully different. I have even seen a few on the left attacking Trump for his disavowals with the claim that they make him look weak and easily manipulated.

Assuming that Trump is like most of us in the sense that he is capable of learning from his experiences, it would not surprise me if he soon reaches the point where he realizes that there is little he can do to appease the outraged authoritarian left and that ignoring them is a better strategy. This will be unfortunate. Some of the left, even some within this part of the left, have some valid points and worthwhile input. As long as their loudest and least reasonable voices are allowed to dominate the discourse, I fear their progress will be limited.

What do I suggest instead? I'd like to see a reasonable political discourse in which we are willing to acknowledge our successes and go so far as to praise our political opponents when they make concessions. When we ask Trump to disavow an ideology and he does so, we should be happy. We should recognize that we accomplished something. Perhaps we should even express our appreciation to Trump. Why is this such a radical suggestion? Is this not how we would like our political opponents to treat us?

To be clear, I am not suggesting that Trump's disavowal means that we should stop pursuing other goals with regard to our concerns about his apparent policies, clear conflicts of interest, or disastrous political appointments. I'm also not suggesting that we should be less vigilant on White nationalism. What I am saying is that we cannot reasonably expect Trump to work with us when we repeatedly attack him for doing what we've asked him to do.
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