Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


I just had a frightening thought: Has the entire Trump campaign been scripted by conservative neozealot David Mamet? It’s House of Games, with politics and racism.

Before even being sworn in as president, Donald Trump has assured himself a place as probably the greatest con man of all times. And one of the most important skills of the really masterful con man (one learns from Mamet) is to know how to take advantage of people thinking they’ve seen through your con. A double con. There’s no one more gullible than someone who thinks he’s seen through you.

Seeing the masterful way that Trump leveraged racial resentment — there’s no real racism, just black people taking advantage of unfair accusations of racism to gain unfair advantages — I reflected again on what at the time seemed one of the more surreal turns in the campaign: When Trump started attacking the Democrats for taking black people’s votes for granted, and then neglecting their interests when in power — the famous “what the hell have you got to lose?” gambit. The naive took this as an attempt to gain African-American votes, for which they mocked him. Those of us who thought ourselves sophisticated interpreted this as the standard Republican ricochet shot: Aimed not at the ostensible audience, but rather at the much larger audience of middle-of-the-road white voters who don’t care about the interests of African-Americans, but aren’t racists, and want to be convinced that the candidate isn’t a racist. He was trying to put the racism issue to rest by muddying the waters. And the Democrats shot back by pointing out that the premises of these comments were completely racist, and by clumsily addressing African-Americans with “you have everything to lose”.

In retrospect, I now think the real point of these remarks was to remind white voters of the alliance between Democrats and African-Americans, and all the efforts Democrats had been making on their behalf. It was to raise white voters’ resentment. By pointing out the racist subtext of Trump’s remarks, Clinton supporters led more white voters to identify with Trump and his offer of anti-PC absolution.

All the while we thought how clever Hillary was at baiting Trump into showing what a thin-skinned hothead he is, and Trump was baiting her into commenting on his racism, which, in the eyes of many Americans is a much worse offense. They’re not likely to be a personal target of Donald Trump’s wrath, but very likely to be made to feel guilty for their “unconscious bias”. Similarly, Trump’s over-the-top misogyny baited Clinton into running a much more overtly feminist campaign than I had expected, or than I think they were originally planning.

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