Earlier this month I wrote a post wondering if Americans are just worn out when it comes to the politics of outrage.
“Look at accusations of racism. They’ve become rote in modern politics,” I wrote. “Something anyone watching cable news for more than 15 minutes, or scrolling through any of their various social media feeds, will see/hear routinely. It happens so often that, for the general public, I think the accusation has begun to lose its meaning. Like a word that begins to sound funny when you keep repeating it over and over again.”
I thought of that yesterday when someone at the Donald Trump press conference in Bismarck told the candidate he was being “offensive” when he described liberal U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.”
This was immediately described as “racist” by some, including Nicole Robertson, a writer working with the Three Affiliated Tribes who was the person who told Trump he was being offensive:
“We don’t go out of our way to call people anything,” said Robertson, who owns a media company and is based in Calgary, Alberta. “To me, that sort of shows the leadership of somebody and their character. I really believe that today was very telling.”
Three Affiliated Tribes Councilman Ken Hall, who was working with Robertson during the oil industry conference, said Thursday that Trump should explain himself or apologize.
“We’re in 2016. We’re not living in the 1800s anymore. We’re professional people. We’re accomplished people. We’re proud people,” said Hall, who was representing Missouri River Resources at the conference. “And these kinds of remarks don’t sit well with us.”
It’s not my place to tell people what they should and should not be offended by. Personally, I would think it’s far more offensive that Senator Warren used an apparently trumped up Native American heritage to abuse diversity policies and advance her career, and I sort of resent being put in a position of defending Trump who I generally find to be an obnoxious ass, but whatever.
I will predict that Trump saying “Pocahontas” will have almost zero political repercussions for him. Because, to allude to my previous point, accusations of racism get tossed around in American politics these days so frequently that I’m just not sure the greater electorate really cares any more.
For the sake of politics some – mostly our friends on the left, I’m afraid – have lowered the bar for racism so low that it includes a lot of things that might be edgy or provocative but that most reasonable people don’t really consider to be all that, you know, racist.
If Trump had made some insult about Native Americans generally, or had expressed sympathy for their treatment during America’s westward expansion or something like that, then sure. I get it. That’s racist and offensive.
But calling Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas to tease her for making some very silly claims about her cultural heritage? Claims not even The Atlantic, hardly a bastion of right-wing sympathies, could substantiate?
C’mon. This sort of silliness, and the candidate’s willingness to gleefully blow right through it, is the foundation of Trump’s appeal.