Shaun King, senior justice writer at the New York Daily News, recently wrote that the conservative silence over President Trump's golfing schedule is evidence of racism, and not simply a matter of politics.
Trump has spent an inordinate amount of time golfing in his first months in office, and the hypocrisy is obvious, given that Trump was never shy about criticizing President Barack Obama's outings on the golf course. Conservatives more generally have refused to criticize Trump on the matter, given that he has spent seven out of 13 weekends as president at his estate in Florida. However, the double standard simply highlights the power of partisan politics, and isn't evidence that Trump supporters and surrogates are racist.
King claims that the lack of a reaction to Trump's time on the golf course is proof that "conservatives never really had a problem with a golfing President, what they hated seeing was a black golfing President." Barack and Michelle Obama represented "uppity negro[es]" — or black men and women who do "anything other than working from sunup to sundown" and enjoy "creature comforts in life that some whites may not yet be able to afford to enjoy — say a musical, a play, fine dining, or, you guessed it, a round of golf."
King's evidence in support of this argument is flimsy. He correctly points out that Fox News pundit Sean Hannity and former Congressman Newt Gingrich each criticized the Obamas, and have yet to criticize Trump.
However, the more likely explanation is that the two of them are just hacks, and not racists. King also argues that the "uppity negro" theme was part of a deliberate subconscious message that was well-received at Trump's rallies — crowds that were almost exclusively white — when talking about Obama.
While Trump was known for using nativist rhetoric in his campaign, it's a stretch to extend this to say that his supporters, thousands of people, were subconsciously affirming racial undertones. It's even more of a stretch given that King provides no real evidence other than his gut feeling, and counter-factual scenarios where Michelle Obama is the one opting to live in a swanky Manhattan penthouse.
There is good evidence to suggest that partisan politics can be a very powerful influence that narrows our thinking and fixes our worldview in place.
In her book, Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy, political scientist Diana Mutz finds that citizens who are highly engaged in the political arena are very unlikely to give even an inch to their opposition. They tend to congregate only with like-minded others. Those who are most likely to go out and participate in campaign rallies, or those whose job it is to go on television and argue about politics, are least likely to ever to be able to articulate their opponent's position in a charitable way and least likely to admit hypocrisy.
This is the audience that Trump is playing to when he makes snide remarks about Obama's time on the golf course. It's not a level-headed group of impartial political observers, it's an easily-excitable mob. These are the "hooligans" that political philosopher Jason Brennan talks about in his book, Against Democracy — the "rabid sports fans of politics."
It makes sense that conservatives are not up in arms about Trump's generous vacation policy. King is right that it was never about fiscal conservatism, or about a president unfocused on important issues. It's a partisan play. Racism is not dead in this country. But that doesn't mean it's lurking around every corner of political disagreement.
Jerrod A. Laber is a non-profit program manager living in northern Virginia. He is a Young Voices Advocate.
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