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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Does it matter?

Last week, Dana Milbank insisted that Donald Trump is a bigot and racist. His point is that Trump had crossed some line: "[A]t some point, you’re not merely saying things that could be construed as bigoted: You are a bigot." Put differently, "the large number of instances over an extended period add up to a pattern of bigotry." It is a label he will not place on any other candidate, not even Ben Carson, who has said similarly stupid things, just less often.

But does it really matter whether Trump is a bigot or just says bigoted things? Does the label really mean that much? Does it make him any less qualified for the presidency? Isn't it enough that he says anti-X  things and proposes anti-X policies; do we need the next step of saying he hates X to make the point? Is it that eighth instance of saying bigoted things--what pushes him over the line to "a bigot"--that makes the difference? Or can I know that I will not vote for him (and that no right-thinking person could vote for him) based on the first seven?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 9, 2015 at 11:45 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


Did Dana Milbank say that before now, it was unclear if Trump was unfit, but now that he is a "bigot" (not just acting like one), we are sure?

I can't tell by the quote. All it tells me that he's now a bigot. But, what does DM say this means? Prof. Kerr is correct to say that it does matter as a whole. All things being equal, true belief in horrible things matters. Now, it might not be as applied. A great promoter of equality might be weak willed and overcautious; a bigot cynically doing more since it's popular or in his/her opinion worth it out of self-interest.

But, what Dana Milbank is trying to say requires more context.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 10, 2015 10:04:53 PM

As that noted philospher Forrest Gump said: Stupid is as stupid does.

Posted by: sam tenenbaum | Dec 10, 2015 8:27:04 PM

Orin: Agreed. But that isn't the line Milbank is drawing. He is distinguishing between what the person says and who the person is, which does not seem (in my reading) to turn on actual belief in what he says as much as how often he says it. Milbank does not suggest that Carson believes what he says any less than Trump does, yet Milbank expressly declines to call Carson a bigot.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 10, 2015 6:44:38 AM

Given that there are already so many reasons to oppose Trump, the difference obviously doesn't matter to you or me. But as a general rule, I think we usually recognize an identifiable difference between a politician who just says things that echo X -- or who formally endorses policies that may be held by those who believe X -- and one who actually believes in X. A politician who actually believes X will continue to follow X and will presumably govern accordingly. On the other hand, a politician who is just saying X for tactical reasons might not actually govern that way or might change official views when the context changes. Cf. discussions of whether Obama really opposed same-sex marriage when he said he opposed same-sex marriage.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 10, 2015 3:17:05 AM

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