I think racism is a terrible thing. I rise to defend its boundaries so that the charge continues to mean something.
So, yes, I do care whether Trump is a racist, but I haven't seen anything to suggest that racism is even close to his biggest failing. Yet the people who get outraged for a living have allowed their favorite bugbear to crowd out all of the things about Trump that are really scary, once again cheapening the "racist" label by slapping it on anyone they don't like just because they think it will stick.
Two "big" incidents happened last week that have driven the offenderati nuts. First, Trump complained that the judge hearing the Trump U. case is biased against him because he's "Mexican." (The Judge is a Mexican American, born in Indiana.) Imagine that you are a skinhead accused of blowing up a synagogue, and you draw a Jewish judge. Would you really have to be antisemitic to worry that releasing you on a technicality would come a little harder to this judge than some other? Would you not protest the assignment?
Trump has pissed off a lot of Mexican Americans, and now he worries that a Mexican American will have some bias in his personal case. Seems a fair concern, or, to be more precise, to the extent it is not a fair concern, the error has nothing to do with "racism." On the contrary, Trump is making an assumption not about "Mexicans," but about anyone with an ethnic identity. He may be wrong about the extent to which ethnic loyalties (not ethnicity itself) affects one's behavior, but his argument is universalist, not racist. He is addressing a human foible, not accusing a particular group of inferiority or depravity.
Trump is not saying, as the professionally aghast would have us believe he is saying, that Mexican Americans are not qualified to be judges. But, unable to hang him on his actual position, they hang him on one they wish he held, relying for validation on his (and his surrogates') inarticulateness, and the fears of Republican pols that they will be tarred for offering any defense of Trump whatsoever. Mitch McConnell is a perfect example. When Chuck Todd asked him on Meet the Press whether Trump's statement on the judge was racist, the senator simply said that he disagreed with the statement. He did not allow that it was racist, nor did he deny that it was racist. He could not afford to take either position, because intellectual honesty (aka truth) is the first casualty in political warfare.
But there's really no there there. In attacking Judge Curiel, Trump was speaking as a litigant, not as a presidential candidate. Trump is an egoist to whom only his own outcome matters. He wants to win the lawsuit, and he does not care if he has to intimidate a judge to do it. As far as he is concerned, that's what litigants do, if they can. On Face the Nation, John Dickerson asked Trump whether we don't have a tradition of not asking where a judge's parents came from. Trump answered, "I'm not talking about tradition, I'm talking about common sense, OK?" The fairest translation of that statement into functional communication is "Save the civics lesson. I'm trying to win a lawsuit here, OK?"
Trump doesn't get that Presidential candidates don't have the privilege to say such things. His private interests should already be beyond his personal attention, and yet for no one in history has the political been so personal. In Trump's view, l'etat c'est lui. And that's what's so scary about the judge thing.
Which brings me to the other event that has heads exploding. Trump pointed out a black attendee at one of his rallies, (mistakenly) identifying him as a supporter, and saying "Look at my African-American over here. Aren't you the greatest?" For the insensitivity of using "my" with respect to a black man, Trump is labeled a "racist" by anyone with a microphone. That would not include the guy he was pointing to. He was surprised. But it would include pundit Ron Fournier, who appeared to be quoting Trump when he said on Meet the Press "There's my African-American. I hope he--
I hope he behaves himself." But Trump didn't say that. Fuornier made the second sentence up, interrupted only by Andrea Mitchell chiming in half-way through with "Incredible!"
Again, context is everything. To Trump, everyone in his crowd is "his" supporter; his man, his woman, his hispanic, his black, his...whatever. "My" is how he views the world. Insensitive? Sure. But racist? Hitler's smiling in his grave thinking "Well, if that's all it takes to be called a racist, I can live with that."
Trump's mapping to Hitler is more about the beer hall than the death camp. Trump has a Hitleresque disregard for institutions and traditions. He has an agenda and followers. For him, all the rest is commentary. Actually, I think he is more Putin than Hitler, a strong man who will restore our national pride and keep us safe from whatever we fear by ignoring those niceties that we don't really feel deep down inside do us any good. ("I'm not talking about tradition. I'm talking about common sense, OK?") How many Americans really understand the privilege against self-incrimination? Many Americans believe that the Fifth Amendment, and the First, are, for the most part, a refuge for scoundrels. These people want a leader, not a presider.
The balance between the aggrieved middle and the philosophical eggheads is more fragile than we like to think. The cooler heads have to prevail. But when hotheads speak for the cooler heads, as they have on this bogus "racism" claim, they damage the label and give Trump's supporters proof that the MSM is as their champion says they are - sanctimonious, self-righteous, and full of crap. This is a teachable moment, one in which we should be talking about a unique instance of a presidential candidate trying to intimidate a Federal judge. Instead, it's just another day at PCU. And that pisses me off. Oh, well, that's what blogs are for, right?