As I attempted to make my way to bed, last night, I became entangled in a Facebook discussion with progressive writer and college writing professor Philip Eil, who objected to a cartoon in yesterday’s Providence Journal. The cartoon played off of First Lady Michelle Obama’s statement that she had to cover her ears against Donald Trump’s controversial comments about kissing and grabbing women while noting that she’s a prominent friend and fan of the rapper Jay Z and singer Beyoncé. Eil makes four specific points about the “pathetic political cartoon”:
- Jay Z and Beyoncé are not presidential candidates.
- Jay Z’s and Beyoncé’s lyrics may be graphic, but they don’t describe sexual assault.
- He often finds Providence Journal cartoons offensive.
- Criticizing Michelle Obama in this way in defense of Trump is racist.
Eil’s reaction to the cartoon falls into a category of thought that, frankly, I find bizarre, although telling.
- Although Trump’s fitness for office is certainly an important topic, that wasn’t the subject of the cartoon, and contrary to what Eil seems to imply, not every cartoon published in a daily newspaper over an election season has to attack the candidate whom he doesn’t like. There is space to offer contrary points of view on tangential matters. And in that regard, cartoonist Dave Granlund is making a broader point about our political atmosphere that could apply to any public figure whom Mrs. Obama criticized in this way. Trump is just most relevant at the moment because of his candidacy.
- In the comments to Eil’s post, I provided a link to lyrics from Jay Z that are unambiguously aggressive toward and demeaning to women. Eil wanted to parse whether any of it counted as sexual assault, which I believe to be irrelevant to the more interesting point. But analyzing the two texts, I don’t see how Eil can draw a distinction. Trump said he does objectionable things to women, and so does Jay Z. Both suggest the women allow the acts, which Eil seems to see as exculpatory for Jay Z, but irrelevant for Trump. The only substantial difference is that Jay Z seems to insist that the women want it, while Trump may understand that they don’t, which doesn’t exactly put Jay Z in a less misogynistic light.
- Eil’s other evidence of objectionable Providence Journal cartoons looks to be in the same line, in which political figures he likes must be seen as stand-ins for patronized demographic groups and therefore treated more tenderly.
- Eil’s final point is the one to which I object most strongly, and the reason I responded to him. There is no racism whatsoever in this cartoon, except to the extent (again) that one simply is not allowed to criticize those who hide behind their membership in patronized demographic groups. Michelle Obama made the quoted statement, and the two mentioned “singers” are the most famous (if not the only) examples of her listening habits. That they’re all black doesn’t mean that the lyrics or her acceptance of them must be deemed irreproachable.
My first objection, on that last point, is that this view treats a certain class of people as if they naturally incline toward objectionable behavior, as Jay Z describes, and therefore can only be accommodated, even if it impedes the ability of vast groups of that class to pull their families and their lives together.
A second objection is that this whole line of attack is little more than manipulation by the political Left to silence those who would point such things out. Treating political figures with a perfectly ordinary degree of derision — pointing out, for example, their own political performances — is unacceptable if they are in a protected class.
Most disconcerting, though, is that I don’t believe Eil understands this to be what he’s doing. In that regard, it’s as if he and I are arguing over whether a pair of pants is a shade of green or of brown or a shirt is a shade of purple or of blue. In his view, treating a black woman with rhetorical harshness is racism, pure and simple, especially if doing so might be seen as offsetting justified derision against a hated figure like Donald Trump.
When totalitarian darkness descends on our society, run-of-the-mill elites won’t accede to it understanding that they are oppressing people who simply hold different views. Rather, they’ll believe that they are simply standing up for principles that are (or ought to be) universal. The pants are green and the shirt purple, and the colors simply go together. Anybody who responds that brown does go with blue is either a lunatic or evil.
(Please note that my objective, here, is not to defend Donald Trump, which I believe to be an impossible task. My objective is to prevent the Left from using him to further entrench practices that affect us all in ways that undermine our rights and our ability to work together.)