Common Sense

You would think Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel were indefensible, but I do see people defending them. Mostly in comment boards. Yet here’s Pat Buchanan:

When Obama named Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, a woman of Puerto Rican descent who went through college on affirmative action scholarships, did Obama think this would not influence her decision when it came to whether or not to abolish affirmative action?

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” Sotomayor said in a speech at Berkeley law school and in other forums.

Translation: Ethnicity matters, and my Latina background helps guide my decisions.

Just to make this clear:

Trump wants to lock down the southern border and has said mean things about Mexicans. It’s perfectly sensible to guess that Curiel might oppose Trump politically and dislike him personally. Lots of people feel that way.

The question is, where do you go with that suspicion? And the answer is, you look hard for evidence of bias–in the judge’s actual behavior. If Curiel is so consumed with malice that it’s affected his legal judgment, it should be possible to challenge him through the usual legal methods. It’s not enough to wave your hands and say, “He’s Mexican!” And it’s ridiculous to say he should recuse himself because of his heritage. By that standard, no one would be able to judge any cases at all.

Are people affected by their backgrounds? Sure. Are people wholly conditioned by their backgrounds, reducible to ethnicity? If that’s true, Trump’s legal woes are the least of our worries.

Trump has a gajillion dollars. He can hire the best lawyers in the land. It’s their job to explain, in legal terms, what, if anything, Curiel’s been doing wrong.

I find myself agreeing with conservative pundits, here. This looks like the ne plus ultra of identity politics. And I do think there’s a connection to leftist rhetoric.

When a feminist casts a jaundiced eye on men who talk about abortion, that makes sense. Men don’t get pregnant. Surely that affects our views. It’s reasonable to think some men might have a personal stake in the question. But it’s not enough to say, “He’s a man–don’t listen!” You have to explain what the man got wrong.

If white people oppose benefits for the poor, that might be evidence of racism. It makes sense to think so. There’s historical precedent. But that’s the beginning of the argument, not the end. You still have to make your case.

To diverge from the theme slightly …

A common rebuke is to say that this kind of detailed debate shifts the onus to people with less power. Men are privileged over women. Whites are privileged over Blacks. The privileged already have things easier. Isn’t it unfair to expect women and Blacks to argue–over and over–for rights and respect that have been denied them?

Yes. But how else are things going to change? Minorities have to do something to get the power they’re owed. The question is what they should do. Fight? Beg? Tell their stories and try to gin up sympathy? Look for opportunities within the system? Wait quietly for things to change?

There’s a time and a place for each of those options. But the tradition of reasoned debate is still one of the most powerful tools people have for changing minds and reforming society. It has its disadvantages. It’s slow. It takes training. It suffers from the sea lion problem. But it’s a proud legacy. We should all try to live up to it.

Trump has shown himself to be an enemy of that tradition. This alone should disqualify him for office. Trump’s attacks on Curiel aren’t only an offense to Mexican-Americans. They’re an assault on law, reason, and civic order.

One last point. I’ve claimed that Trump’s illiberalism is reminiscent of leftist illiberalism. Can Trump’s me-against-the-Mexicans identity politics actually be blamed on the Left, as Rod Dreher says?

I think that’s a stretch. I don’t like the more extreme forms of liberal identity politics, as I’ve made clear. But they arose in response to white identity politics and male identity politics, which we know better as racism and sexism. They’re not an innovation but an overcompensation. The blame game goes a long way back.

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