Watching progressives in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election victory has been absolutely fascinating. Whether one is a scholar of language or simply a casual people-watcher, the use of language and construction of arguments simply cannot be topped as examples of spin.
At the moment, I have in mind a CNN panel discussion featuring Rhode Island’s own John DePetro:
To set the stage, host Don Lemon plays an audio clip in which the now-controversial Stephen Bannon interviews then-candidate Donald Trump. Although the clip is very short, leaving out who knows what additional context, the point conveyed is that Trump was suggesting that immigration rules applying to lower-wage workers should be eased for highly skilled workers, whose talents will help the country. Bannon replies:
When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia… my point is that a country … is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.
Bannon may have gone on to elaborate the point, but our focus here is the rapid construction of a narrative in real time by panel guest Maria Cardona. To this objectively mild example of Bannon’s supposedly fierce racism, Cardona goes on to say:
I think exactly what the criticism has been of Steve Bannon all along, which is he delves into this language that can be communicated to all of these communities of color as nothing but bigoted and racist. And that’s why you have so many people who are out on the streets, so many people who are afraid of their own future and the future of their communities when you have somebody like Steve Bannon [smiles] who has normalized this kind of bigotry and hatred and racism and misogyny being in the White House. That literally means misogyny now has a seat at the table at the White House. Racism has the ear of the president.
The first sentence is a doozy. Notice how much distance Cardona puts between Bannon and his alleged victims. The man himself does no more than to “delve into… language.” Then, his language — in the passive voice — “can be communicated to” minority communities as “bigoted and racist.” This would be true whether Bannon were racist or not if those who are doing the communicating are taking his statements out of context and spinning them for the purpose of frightening minorities and dividing the country for their own political benefit.
Cardona continues the ambiguity into her next sentence (note that people in the streets or afraid for their futures could be responding to Bannon or to progressive activists’ deception about Bannon’s “language”), but at the point at which she smiles and chuckles, she shifts the blame squarely onto Bannon as the one who has “normalized.. bigotry” — whether he is a bigot or simply used language that the activists were able to distort as racist. In this construct, one can be guilty of “normalization” even by failing to be so banal that hostile opponents cannot possibly infuse one’s language with an offensive meaning. And “misogyny” isn’t even relevant to the evidence!
In the final sentence, having dragged Stephen Bannon the distance from a delver into language to a normalizer of any -ism or -yny with which progressives might wish to crown him, Cardona erases all ambiguity and declares that he “literally” embodies misogyny.
With this spoken paragraph, Cardona illustrates, rhetorically, the process that many of us suspect is behind the entire attack on Bannon, which (in tellingly coordinated fashion) seeks to push the public into fearing, hating, disclaiming, disrupting, or whatevering an effective Trump advisor too quickly to wonder about evidence or to notice the sleight of hand that’s being performed.