For days now, prominent Republican Party figures have been trying to work out how to respond to Trump’s racially toxic denunciations of federal judge Gonzalo Curiel. A few, to their credit, have declared that they cannot support his candidacy; many more, like Paul Ryan, have performed moral somersaults, claiming to disavow the comments while maintaining their support for the candidate—as if the man’s tongue and his brain were somehow two entirely separate organisms. And some, like Newt Gingrich, have opted to argue that the comments themselves weren’t inherently racist.
Trump, Gingrich told CNN yesterday in response to the uproar, was a “gifted amateur” who was learning the ropes as a candidate for the most powerful job on earth incredibly quickly.
Let’s call that out for the cretinous gibberish it so obviously is.
An “amateur” is someone who means well but isn’t quite up to the job at hand. They try to do the right thing, but they fumble at key moments. Examples might be an amateur baseball player who drops an easy fly ball. An inexperienced pilot who gets his passengers to their destination safely, but bounces the plane slightly on landing. Or a chef who overcooks an expensive steak. Their hearts are in the right place, but their skill set isn’t necessarily up to par. By contrast, a chef who sprinkles rat poison over a steak may or may not be an amateur, but he most certainly is a criminal.
Race baiting a federal judge—or anyone else—isn’t a matter of meaning well and getting it wrong at the last minute. Rather, it’s a matter of having a fundamentally skewed moral compass; of not learning basic lessons of civility and human decency that most every American child is taught in elementary school these days. To get to the point where you start calling out a person for their racial or religious or ethnic background, you have to be on fundamentally the wrong journey from the get-go.
In fact, the only conceivable way that Trump’s racism is “amateur” is that he isn’t employing the coded race rhetoric that more professional Republicans have used at least since 1968, when Nixon unleashed the “Southern Strategy”; that, in being so overt in his bigotries, he’s depriving the GOP of any conceivable claims to plausible deniability when opponents accuse them of playing the race card—remember “welfare queens” or Willie Horton, to take just two examples—for electoral advantage.
Amateur? Trump has been on a deliberate tear this past year, seeking to stoke racial and religious resentments, making an aggressive play for the votes of people whose worldview is shaped by deep ethnic animus. In a country with a rich history of ethnic and religious diversity, he is making a bid for power based on a calculus that he can turn one group against another, that he can unleash enough primal furies to fragment the electorate and, in so doing, convince a critical mass that only a strongman leader can make things right again.