September 25, 2016


It would, in fact, be a good idea for Trump to visit the museum, but I’ve got to say that Obama distorted Trump’s statement. Trump did not say “there’s never been a worse time to be a black person.” That’s Obama’s paraphrase. Trump said:

“We’re going to rebuild our inner cities because our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever… You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street. They’re worse — I mean, honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities.”

It’s a statement about “African-American communities.” A slave was not living in an “African-American community.” And Jim Crow was an evil system of exclusion, but to say that is not to understand what life was like in the communities where black people did live. I understand the political motivation for paraphrasing Trump’s remark the way Obama did, but that paraphrase pretends not to see what Trump was saying. It’s much harder — and much more important — to try to refute Trump’s inflammatory statement if you’re precise about what he said. And even if you did amass the historical and present-day journalistic record to refute it, why would you be smug?

Well, smugness is the defining characteristic of our political class.

And what’s interesting is that neither Obama nor Trump has roots going back to slavery and Jim Crow. Obama is the son of an African, not of an African-American descendant of slaves, nor was he raised in an “African-American community,” unless a private school in Hawaii counts. And Trump is the descendant of 20th century immigrants (his father came from Germany, his mother from Scotland), not people descended from slave-holders. This stuff says a lot of things about American history, mostly good ones.

But taking account of that would complicate the narrative, and interfere with the smugness.

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