From this far away, Washington is all kabuki theater. President Donald Trump appears in elaborate makeup with flamboyant hand gestures and pronounces that black nations are shitholes. Behind him, a chorus line of lovely liberals fan themselves elaborately and swoon.
Please. Here, where we live, we see this stuff all day every day. Enough with the swooning. This is what’s happening all over the country. It is, indeed, why Trump is president. And guess what? It’s a good thing. Trump is the adolescent medium through which we white people finally can see ourselves as we really are.
OK, OK, not all white people. Obviously, I make a huge exception for myself. If you’re white, I guess I have to give you a temporary hall pass, too, but you’re going to have to go through a 10-minute probationary period before I can make it permanent.
That’s usually all it takes. We saw that here when we were having our big debate about removing statues of Civil War traitors. The question of whether to keep the traitor statues on prominent public display was a tough one for us. The fact that it was tough tells you pretty much everything you need to know, does it not?
Trump tells us everything we need to know. Just wait 10 minutes. It will pop out of him, I promise. Basically, Trump is a five-part proposition: 1) I am not a racist. 2) I am not a racist. 3) I am not a racist. 4) Black countries are shitholes. 5) I am not a racist.
That’s messed up. It’s very unglued. Here’s why. The problem is not so much that a deeply racist white person lies to you and me about being a racist. Of course he’s going to lie. Being a racist is a terrible thing. Everybody knows that, even the racists. It’s also a ticket to social disaster in our time and place. So the racist lies to us about being a racist.
But that’s not the worst part. The worst thing is that racist white people lie to themselves. They tell themselves they’re not racist. They just think black countries are shitholes. That’s what’s so messed up. And it also is why Trump is the absolutely necessary white leader for our time.
Trump can only remember the lie for about 10 minutes. Then he blurts. We need that. No, really, we do. We can’t move forward without it. Trump puts it all right out front. Everything that most white people of his ilk whisper to each other behind their hands, Trump says out loud to Congress.
If you’re white — and I don’t care if you’re white liberal or white conservative — then you know exactly what the reaction is when a white person blurts in a diverse room. You’ve been there. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there with our Uncle Dudleys after two too many toddies. Some unlucky sucker has to go whisper into his ear: “Dudley, the others are here in the room, and they can hear you. You have had two too many toddies, sir.”
You’ve seen Eddie Murphy’s iconic 1984 Saturday Night Live sketch, “White Like Me,” right? When no black people are around, white people don’t have to pay for things in stores. The bank gives them fat cash loans with no ID. After the only black passenger on a bus gets off, the white passengers break out the cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and start to party.
The sketch is hilarious because it provides a keen and searing insight into the double lives and dual personalities of white people — one personality in diverse company, the other when it’s just us. But there was an additional deeper warp that the sketch didn’t capture.
We white people, all of us, liberals like myself included, tend not to know that we are dual. We deny it vigorously. That’s where the tangled thought process comes from. I am not a racist. Black nations are shitholes. I am not a racist.
We are masters of denial. We always have a cover story. Last September, when Dallas was in the throes of debate over removing a memorial to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, one of my own great awakenings as a reporter was to the fact that Dallas apparently is home to a large population of militant monument removal fiscal hawks.
These are people who are not racist, according to them, and who say they have no feelings whatsoever about the Civil War or slavery. Their great concern in life, their cause, their noble crusade is that no Civil War memorial shall be removed at a cost one penny greater than the proper going rate for Civil War monument removals.
They jammed the City Council chamber and thronged Lee Park before the Lee monument was removed, long before anyone knew how much it was going to cost. Their concern was in three parts. They were very concerned that the actual removal of the Lee monument might be carried out in some way that would violate the city’s policy on Civil War monument removals. Sadly, we didn’t really have a general policy for that in place because we’ve only had the one Civil War.
They were extremely worried that the city might be charged an exorbitant fee for the removal of the Lee monument. Sadly, in a case where a politically sensitive monument had to be removed under armed guard from a park thronging with militant monument removal fiscal hawks, nobody had any idea what the right price was for the removal. Kind of high, maybe?
And lastly, for weeks after the removal finally was accomplished, the removal hawks were busy spotting all kinds of social needs, from better public schools to free mental health care, that could have been paid for with the money they felt had been squandered on the removal. One of them asked me, “How many hot meals for the elderly could have been paid for with that money?” Isn’t that wonderful? Suddenly they’re all Mother Theresa.
Look, I hope what I am saying here does not come across as making me out to be the cool guy. Sometimes we white folks do that — make fun of other white people for being racially clueless as a way of making ourselves look cool. I assure you, I suffer no such delusion. Where racial cluelessness is concerned, I think we have more than enough to go around.
For a while after Trump took office, I was having these odd conversations with black people. I would say, "Oh my God, I think a lot of white people in America must still be racist." All I got back was a bunch of very blank stares.
Now I look back, and I get it. They were being nice. They were not saying what was on the tips of their tongues, which must have been something like, "Wow, and you must be the famous Sherlock Holmes we’ve heard so much about.”
Yeah. I know. My bad. It’s part of my own form of self-delusion. How can I be shocked by Trump? I’m not shocked by Uncle Dudley. I just tell him to shut the hell up.
Is it moral progress that racist white people are ashamed of their racism? Does the denial mean they know it’s wrong? By that account, would Trump get points for lying about it the next day, trying to deny he called anybody’s country a shithole?
Or wasn’t that probably a case of somebody like Ivanka whispering in his ear: “Daddy, the others are in the room, and they can hear you!” Only in this case, because he’s the president: “Daddy, the others are in the nation, and they can hear you.” I don’t know. That may be too fine a point for me.
Here is what I do know. Only one thing about the shithole speech was surprising. Not that he thinks it. Not that he says it. The only surprise was that he blurted it out loud, outside the safe confines of an all-white room. When he did it like that, other white people had no choice but to fan themselves elaborately and swoon.
The fanning and the swooning is all kabuki theater. All white people know that white people like Trump think and say things like the shitholes remark. Acting like it’s a great surprise is a cover story.
The thing is the blurting. That’s what stands out. That is what is unique about Trump. He is a bad child who cannot be stopped from blurting. He blurts the worst family secrets to the guests, like telling his father’s boss at dinner, “My dad says you have a girlfriend.”
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It’s awful. It’s painful. But it’s good. It’s long overdue. We needed to get all of this out in the open anyway. For whom are we being embarrassed? No one who is African-American or Hispanic or Haitian or African was the least bit surprised by the shithole remarks. They’re all giving blank stares to the white people fanning themselves.
Trump is important and valuable because he is a mirror in which we see the very worst of whiteness reflected back on us. We can’t pretend he’s not there or doesn’t say what he does say. He’s the damn president, for God’s sake. He’s the one who tweets all that stuff.
I would call him a kind of shamanic channel, but I think to be a shamanic channel you probably have to be minimally smart. The word that seems to pop out of his entourage on a regular basis when describing Trump behind the scenes is moron.
That also is an important part of this reality show we call real life. On our show, the American show, the court fool has been crowned king, and, strangely, it’s a good thing, even though it truly sucks. That’s reality for you.