Four Thoughts on Trump's "Mexican" Judge Remarks
(1) Principles first. In a tolerant, constitutional democracy, we should never attack people based on their race, creed, color, or sexual orientation. We shouldn’t attack their views (or agree with them either) because they are white, black, Christian, Jewish, gay, or straight. Doing so violates a fundamental tenet of a tolerant society.
Donald Trump not only launched such an attack, he sunk even deeper by trying to mobilize his supporters around this noxious nativism. That’s populist racism, the sort that George Wallace practiced. Whether it succeeds or not, it shreds the social fabric of our country.
(2) Trump’s critics concede too much when they defend Judge Gonzalo Curiel by saying "he was born in Indiana." It doesn't matter where he was born. What matters is that he's an American citizen. As citizens, Americans are equal, whether they are born in India or Indiana. One of my college roommates’ ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. The other fled the Nazis and couldn't afford to use a Mayflower moving van. After swearing the oath of citizenship, immigrants are as American as anyone on the Social Register.
Bill Murray’s character had it right when he screamed at his fellow Army recruits in “Stripes”: “We’re not Watusi, we’re not Spartans, we’re Americans. With a capital ‘A.’ And you know what that means? Do you? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts. But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more lovable than the mutt. Who saw ‘Old Yeller’? I cried my eyes out.”
(3) It is perfectly legitimate to criticize a judge for bias, based on his prior rulings, public statements, or membership in civic organizations, particularly those that openly oppose your own legal strategy. Fortunately, we live in a government of laws and there is a well-established response to such alleged bias. Ask for the judge's recusal. If the judge refuses, appeal the decision. If you lose, complain if you want, but do it based on the judge’s views and actions, not the boxes he checks on a census form.
(4) It is rich -- truly rich -- to see the same people who have turned the country into a festival of divisive identity politics shocked, shocked to see their arguments used against them. For years, they have mocked our country’s ideal of a "melting pot," sneered at our country's motto, "E Pluribus Unum."
Fashionable academics have been drum majors in this dismal parade. It began with a critique of Western scholars who study the Middle East. Only Muslims from the region, the critics asserted, can truly understand its politics and how hateful the West truly is. They likened serious, thoughtful scholars to colonial oppressors, saying Westerners didn’t have the right identity or credibility to comment on “their issues.”
One hears the same about whites discussing social and political issues affecting the problems of our urban cores, as if the social pathologies are too obscure to understand or somehow impolite for outsiders to notice. The same arguments have been used to exclude men from discussing issues of sex discrimination and assaults against women. Of course, personal experience can enrich and deepen one's understanding of complex issues. Sharing those experiences can help others understand them, too. But the conversation should be open to everyone, subject to the usual rules of evidence and argumentation. Nobody owns exclusive rights to discuss these questions. Nobody.
As soon as pigmentation trumps argumentation, we're all in trouble. That’s exactly where we are now, sinking in the quicksand of divisive identity politics. Donald Trump's noxious comments illustrate the problem. They should teach us the pernicious effects of judging people -- and presuming their views -- based on who they are, not on what they say and do.