People are talking a lot about “dog-whistle politics” lately, and I’m glad so much attention is being drawn to it, but I really hate the term dog whistle. It implies that racism is difficult to witness. Yeah, maybe white liberals can’t hear it when it’s spoken, but the racists sure can. And you know who else can? Black people.
Every time someone refers to some racist bullshit as a “dog whistle,” you can bet your naïve ass I heard it as a fog horn. I hear many other things differently, too. For example, the president is called a genius on a daily basis. Not just by the State Propaganda Agency, or himself, but by those who oppose him. People on the left are constantly saying he’s a master manipulator and Machiavellian savant.
We love the story of a single, bad-guy Bond villain who’s pulling all the strings, and we will let that story fill in the blanks even when there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. Right now, as I’m writing this, a story is breaking about how Russian and Chinese spy agencies are listening in on the president’s private phone calls. They’re able to spy on him because, even though his aides repeatedly tell him that his three personal iPhones are not secure, he disregards them because — well, you know, he’s such a fuckin’ genius.
We love to talk about how adept the president is at riling up his base, as though the default mode of western civilizations isn’t almost always stupid racists destroying everything around them.
This country is set up to protect and cherish wealthy, white, male inheritors just for having those traits. We attach a nobility to them. We make them into legends and gods. They’re literally on the money. If you have those traits, you must be better than the rest of us, so, naturally, the president must be some kind of super human. In reality, had he none of those traits, this president would be just a sad, abandoned thing on the receiving end of our boundless pity. Instead, he’s considered the grandest of puppet masters.
It worries me that the targeting of presidential lies has narrowed so severely. When I was a little boy, George H.W. Bush said, “Read my lips: no new taxes!” Then raised all kinds of taxes. That was a lie meant for the American people en masse, but the lies aren’t meant to persuade all of us anymore. The current president’s lies are intended for his acolytes and his acolytes alone.
The rest of us scramble around wondering how to deal with the fallout from the lies of this absolute mastermind. We talk about how we need to stop being distracted by the murder of trans people, and Black Lives Matter, and Christine Blasey Ford, and just concentrate on stopping this architect of evil.
Meanwhile, other Republicans have begun narrowing the field of their lies, as well. In her speech explaining her support of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, our own Sen. Susan Collins subscribed to the mistaken-identity premise that earned conservative commentator Ed Whelan a leave of absence from the think tank that employs him. The idea is that Dr. Ford, while being attacked, in fear for her life, and looking her attacker straight in his face in a well-lit room, somehow mistook her attacker for an innocent Brett Kavanaugh — a mistake she’s continued to make for more than 30 years. That wouldn’t be believable on the laziest episode of your least favorite soap opera, and that’s why Whelan got in trouble. Not in too much trouble, though. He’s already back at work.
This will get worse. The lies will narrow more and more, until most of the population is excluded from public discourse. The only way through this is for the rest of us to realize that the lives of others aren’t distractions, they’re our lives, too. It is not enough to just go back to how it was before the last election. We can’t simply have our own version of MAGA. It has to be new. It has to be bigger and better. We have to listen to each other until all we hear are the fog horns.
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.