This blog entry of mine from the other day (titled “Of Shitholes And Second Thoughts“) has gone viral on liberal Twitter, where I’ve been getting the Jordan-Peterson-on-Cathy-Newman’s-show treatment (basically, “So, Dreher, you’re saying that all poor people should die? Why do you hate black people?” etc. Two of the most dishonest liberals in public life — Jonathan Merritt and Jemar Tisby — have been especially obnoxious.
These critics have taken this passage out of context:
Let’s think about Section 8 housing. If word got out that the government was planning to build a housing project for the poor in your neighborhood, how would you feel about it? Be honest with yourself. Nobody would consider this good news. You wouldn’t consider it good news because you don’t want the destructive culture of the poor imported into your neighborhood. Drive over to the poor part of town, and see what a shithole it is. Do you want the people who turned their neighborhood a shithole to bring the shithole to your street?
No, you don’t. Be honest, you don’t.
If you read the entire post, here’s the context you’ll see. I restated my initial condemnation of Donald Trump, then expressed sympaathy with these words by Matthew Walther:
But I can think of nothing to say about the monstrous, dehumanizing language Trump has reserved for millions of human beings — and his implicit suggestion that they are morally or otherwise inferior to Americans or Norwegians or citizens of various countries in Asia — except that it is vile.
What does it even mean to have contempt for people in the countries Trump was talking about? To refer to El Salvador and Haiti as “shitholes” involves a degree of punching down that does not verge upon but actually evinces sociopathy. Would he have more respect for these nations and their peoples if their GDPs were higher?
Yet I had to concede that these words by Andrew Klavan made sense to me too:
Let’s state the obvious. Some countries are shitholes. To claim that this is racist is racist. They are not shitholes because of the color of the populace but because of bad ideas, corrupt governance, false religion, and broken culture. Further, most of the problems in these countries are generated at the top. Plenty of rank-and-file immigrants from such ruined venues ultimately make good Americans—witness those who came from 1840s potato-famine Ireland, a shithole if ever there was one! It takes caution and skill to separate the good from the bad.
For these very reasons, absurd immigration procedures like chain migration, lotteries, and unvetted entries are deeply destructive. They can lead to the sort of poor choices that create a Rotherham. Trump’s suggestions—to vet immigrants for pro-American ideas and skills that will help our country—are smart and reasonable and would clearly make the system better if implemented.
So, when it comes to the Great Shithole Controversy of 2018, my feeling is: I do not care, not even a little. I’m sorry that it takes someone like Trump to break the spell of silence the Left is forever weaving around us. I wish a man like Ronald Reagan would come along and accomplish the same thing with more wit and grace. But that was another culture. History deals the cards it deals; we just play them. Trump is what we’ve got.
I said in the piece:
Both Walther’s piece and Klavan’s piece resonate within me, and I can’t reconcile that. Why?
I don’t agree 100 percent with either one, but I’m trying to figure out what, exactly, I do believe. That was the context for the Section 8 statement. In the piece, I go on to invite readers who have spent time in countries that might be regarded as “shitholes,” and ask them to talk about their experiences. I want more information to help me (and my readers) think through this.
It is so easy for do-gooders on the left and the right to abstract poor people, and to consider them to be screens on which we project our own internal conflicts. When I lived in Dallas, I had conversations all the time with Bush-style Republicans and with Democrats about illegal immigration. Every single one of these interlocutors only ever had to deal with it when hiring a gardener, tipping a busboy, or something like that. Nobody in those conversations, to my knowledge, had to use public hospitals, as poor white, black, and Latino citizens did, and therefore they didn’t have to wait for hours in an emergency room with a broken arm while doctors treated illegal immigrants. Not one of these interlocutors had to deal with poor people from the Third World moving in large numbers to their neighborhoods, and totally changing the place. Not one of them had to deal with their kids’ public schools being overwhelmed by migrants’ children, who spoke no English.
And so forth. What made me give second thoughts to my initial condemnation of Trump over his comments was thinking back to many conversations I had with people in Dallas, circa 2003, who had watched their neighborhoods overwhelmed by the effects of illegal immigration — and the unwillingness of city government to do anything about it.
I also reflected on the many conversations I had with people in my social and professional class about this same issue. For most of my middle-class interlocutors, the problems that illegal immigration brought were not something they had to deal with in their lives. It was easy for them to downplay them. Just the other night, I was talking here in Baton Rouge with a friend who had lived in Dallas, and pointed out that he had recently seen photos of the construction of a luxury hotel in Dallas in the 1980s — and back then, every one of the construction workers in the photos were black. Today, almost every one you would see would be Hispanic.
Maybe that’s fair. But if you are a working-class or poor black person in Dallas, you could be forgiven for not seeing the advantage to all that migration from down South.
But you couldn’t really talk about this kind of thing in educated circles, at least not the ones I moved in, because you were immediately suspected of being racist, or some other kind of bigot.
That’s what’s going on here with this post of mine. I very much doubt that most of my critics (missionaries excluded) would choose to live among the poor of any race in most American cities, especially if they were raising families. Is this because they are racist, classist bigots? Maybe they are. Or is it more likely that they look at the fruits of the culture of the poor — the violence, the drugs, the shattered families, the bad schools, the chaos — and want to protect themselves and their children from it.
Why is this wrong? Why does it necessarily imply that one hates the poor? Are we supposed to pretend that this stuff doesn’t exist?
My black friend N., who moved away from the culture of poverty where she grew up because she didn’t want to be sucked into the same life of drugs, alcoholism, and crime that consumed many in her family — is she self-hating? She went to college, married, and has a stable, successful family and professional life. Is she somehow a bigot for not wanting to move back? Would she be a bigot if she said she didn’t want the people she grew up around moving in on the block where she and her husband and kids live today?
These are difficult moral questions. Nothing I come up with squares with my convictions, but I can’t deny that and the fact that a villain like Donald Trump says something, and says it in a vicious way, doesn’t make it untrue. All the hysterical virtue-proclaiming and virtue-signaling on Twitter is a way of pretending that these questions don’t really exist, except in the minds of the Deplorables. Would Jemar Tisby, who lives in Mississippi, really be unaffected by the prospect of a trailer-park full of Confederate-flag-flying poor white people beset by meth addictions, alcoholism, and the like moving onto a vacant field near his house? Would Jonathan Merritt?
If these guys can say in all honesty that they would welcome this, then I’ll hear them out on other things. I don’t believe they can — and I don’t blame them. Nor would I think that this meant that they didn’t care about the poor.
The left’s inability to discuss hard questions without screaming bloody murder and Cathy Newman-izing anyone who disagrees is one reason we have Trump. I talked to a guy yesterday in town who told me he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, and doesn’t expect to vote for him in 2020, but he’s grateful that somebody is finally not intimidated by bully-boy liberal moralizing.
You longtime readers know that I’m open to changing my mind. What I’m not the least bit open to doing is changing my mind because professional race-baiters like Jemar Tisby or sleazy provocateurs like Jonathan Merritt hoot and holler to preserve their narrative from challenge.