Nobody, not even Donald Trump, Mr. Politically Incorrect himself, likes being called a racist.
I get that. I believe him when he says he is genuinely insulted by Hillary Clinton’s charge that he is mainstreaming racism.
What I don’t get is why he can’t see how his actions during this campaign might lead her quite reasonably to that conclusion. Incredibly, after months of playing around in the white-identity-politics sandbox, he’s amazed to find dirt getting thrown at him.
It all rekindles a question I’ve long puzzled over: Why are otherwise smart people on the political right so clueless about what separates a legitimate critique of African American life from a racist diatribe?
Plenty of folks on the right do get it. George W. Bush did. Paul Ryan does. Hard to imagine them barking out a string of stereotype-cementing black poverty statistics and then expecting blacks to vote Republican because, hey, “What the hell do you have to lose?”
I suspect Trump is baffled and insulted by Clinton’s accusation at least in part because he didn’t say the N-word. No N-word, no racism, right?
I’m sorry, but it’s just not as simple. He avoided saying the magic word, but what he’s saying – and the context in which he’s saying it – shows he believes something is deeply and inherently wrong with black people.
Sure, statistics tell you there are bad things happening to black people, or for black people. Anybody with two eyes and a functioning brain can see that. There are too many unwed mothers, too many black men behind bars, too many kids failing school.
It cries out for explanation, right? Why are these things happening?
Are blacks inherently less capable when it comes to forming households and marriages? Few people want to say that, I think.
That’d be racist.
Is it, as Trump suggests, that Democratic welfare-state policies have brainwashed blacks into staying poor while Clinton and Co. exploit their votes?
If you believe that, then you are being intellectually dishonest with yourself if you don’t proceed to the obvious next question: Why aren’t blacks smart enough to see that for themselves?
You know you don’t want to go down that road. It’s a dead end.
Still, I suppose if you’re Trump it’s hard to see all the problems in the inner cities and not think there’s either something wrong with America, or there’s something wrong with black people.
If you believe it’s the former, then it’s a problem we can fix with the right policies and opportunities. And you don’t mind helping, because it could be any of us needing the help.
If you believe it’s the latter, though, that prompts an entirely different set of thoughts. It’s their problem. Why can’t they do better? Why do we let them drag America down?
Before you know it, you’re on that road again.
I’m not saying black people are off-limits for criticism, or that no one can talk about black illegitimacy or the black crime rate. I’m not saying all conservatives are racists. I know some who do great volunteer work in black communities, even as they hold fast to their principles of self-help and small government.
I’m saying there’s a right way, and a wrong way, to talk about racial matters. And Trump does it all wrong.
Clinton has her own issues, having called young black criminal suspects “super-predators” who need to be “brought to heel,” for instance. But she apologized, saying she was wrong for using such racially inflammatory language.
And people forgave her. Trump ought to give it a try sometime. He might be surprised at how understanding the black community can be.
Eric: 704-358-5145; firstname.lastname@example.org.