11 July 2015

REALITY CHECK: Donald Trump Is Blunt. He Is Not A Racist

It has been long since last I posted on this blog. Too long, at least for me. It is time to write once more, time to reason, time to think, and--hopefully--time to be heard.

The great controversy of this day is the allegedly "racist" comments Donald Trump made during his announcement of his candidacy for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.  But were they really racist?

First, this is what Donald Trump actually said:
Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. 
But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. It only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people. 
It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably— probably— from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.
These are harsh words, of that there is no doubt.  Donald Trump is not known for nuance, but for bombast, and that is very much in evidence here.  

The reactions to his words have been incendiary.  Commentators across the political spectrum denounced his comments, and Republican politicians quickly moved to distance themselves from his words.  Latino commentators in particular (and perhaps understandably) decried his words as "bigoted". Others used the word "racist".

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary supplies the following definition for "bigot":
a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person;especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group) 
Merriam-Webster also supplies the following definition for "racist":
a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race 
Can we surmise from Donald Trump's words that he is bigoted--he dislikes either Mexico or the people of Mexico in general? The words do not support that charge.  There is no broad derogation of Mexico--there is a critique and a criticism, but does that criticism rationally lead to an overbroad condemnation of all the people of Mexico?  I do not see that it does.

Donald Trump's core thesis is that the country of Mexico is not sending her best people, but rather her worst--criminals and drug abusers, specifically.  Setting aside for the moment any factual substance that might be made to these charges, the words themselves apply clear distinctions among the citizens of Mexico.  If there are some who are "their best", and those earning Donald Trump's scorn are not those persons, but others, then clearly Donald Trump is not placing all persons hailing from Mexico in the same bucket. His thesis would not exist either logically or semantically if this were not so. 

Can we surmise from Donald Trump's words that he is a racist, and believes the people of Mexico to be inherently inferior? Within the aforementioned critique, I do not see where there is any presumption that the "problem" illegal immigrants are bringing with them is simply that they are "Mexican".  Again, the distinction between "the best" and those "with problems" makes such contention logically impossible.  Further, Donald Trump is quite explicit about the problems of which he speaks: drugs and crime.  Is there an inference in these words that all Mexicans are criminals and drug abusers? No--again, the distinction between "the best" and those "with problems" makes such inference logically impossible.

Raoul Lowery Contreras criticized Trump's rhetoric as bigoted, charging:
He told Fox’s Sean Hannity that Mexico was not “sending us their best.” Mexico, Trump claims, is sending us drug people, murderers and rapists, implying that that is all Mexico sends us; no oil, no cars, no air planes, no car parts, no construction cement, no fruits and vegetables, no seafood, no flat screen TVs or more than 500,000 farmworkers who produce much of our food.
This charge fails immediately, because Trump specifically addressed problems of immigration, not broader commerce.  "When Mexico sends its people...." is how Donald Trump's assertion begins. Oil, cars, airplanes, cement, agricultural products are most assuredly not people.  Mr. Contreras' assertion is at odds with the text of Trump's remarks, and attacks a claim simply not made.

Further, Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review acknowledged that Donald Trump did have a point:
This is obviously correct. We aren’t raiding the top 1 percent of Mexicans and importing them to this country. Instead, we are getting representative Mexicans, who — through no fault of their own, of course — come from a poorly educated country at a time when education is essential to success in an advanced economy.
Are his words intemperate and ill-considered, and thus is bigotry and prejudice to be inferred from that insensitivity? This could only be true if there is no basis in fact for the charge.  The internal distinctions he made within his comments preclude any charge of a hasty generalization--indeed he is not generalizing attributes at all. Are, then, his claims grounded in fact?

One substantive rebuttal to Donald Trump's comments was made by Simon Maloy in Salon:
Trump’s point – which he has restated and defended over and over in the past few weeks – is that Mexico is sending criminals, drug dealers, and rapists over the border to the U.S. That “point” is easily debunked: crime rates for immigrants are lower than for native-born Americans and immigrants are far less likely to be imprisoned. 
Maloy is referencing statistics put out by the Immigration Policy Center, which encompass various research efforts on immigration and crime spanning nearly 100 years.  Yet there are other equally compelling statistics worthy of mention:
  • The New York Times in 2010 reported that as many as 4.5 million illegal immigrants drive--illegally--in the US, many unable to even read or understand road signs.
  • Judicial Watch noted in 2014 that nearly half of federal criminal prosecutions centered around the border with Mexico:
Of the 61,529 criminal cases initiated by federal prosecutors last fiscal year, more than 40%—or 24,746—were filed in court districts neighboring the Mexican border. This includes Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, Western Texas and Southern Texas. The two Texas districts each had more than double the convictions of all four federal court districts in the state of New York combined, according to the DOJ report. The Western Texas District had the nation’s heaviest crime flow, with 6,341 cases filed by the feds. In Southern Texas 6,130 cases were filed, 4,848 in Southern California, 3,889 in New Mexico and 3,538 in Arizona.
Not surprisingly, most of the offenses were immigration related. In fact, 38.6% of all federal cases (23,744) filed last year involved immigration, the DOJ report confirms. Nearly 22% (13,383) were drug related, 19.7% (12,123) were violent crimes and 10.2% (6,300) involved white-collar offenses that include a full range of frauds committed by business and government professionals. This is hardly earth-shattering news in fact, the nation’s southern border region has for years been known for its high crime rate compared to the rest of the country.
  • Latinos within the US are likely to underreport crime for fear of calling attention to their illegal immigration status. The Atlantic while attempting to rebut Donald Trump's rhetoric, made note of a 2013 study by Lake Research Partners, which found that 45% of Latinos acknowledged that fear of police investigating their own immigration status made them less likely to report crime.
  • Judicial Watch noted in 2013 that Mexican drug cartel violence was inhibiting journalists from reporting drug violence around the Mexican-US border, for fear of retaliation.
  • Huffington Post reports that a study by web news organ Fusion found that 80% of Central American women and girls are raped attempting to enter the United States.
That there are facts pro- and con- to be cherry picked in this fashion completely rebuts any assertion of bigotry or prejudice in his Presidential announcement. His comments may be uncomfortable. His comments may be inflammatory.  His comments might perhaps be exaggerated. They are not lacking in factual foundation and they are not bereft of supporting statistics--even before we have the unfortunate stories of murder victims such as Kate Steinle, a 32 year-old woman gunned down in San Francisco by a man who had been deported numerous times and still insisted on returning illegally to this country.

These facts, pro- and con- are what gets lost in heated charges of racism and bigotry, leveled simply because the words themselves make us uncomfortable. Discomfort is not discrimination.  Realism is not racism. Bombast is not bigotry.

Donald Trump is brash, blunt, and outspoken. Yet the furor surrounding his comments demonstrates that he has identified an issue of pressing concern for many in this country. Violent crime, whenever and wherever it occurs, is a major problem for those traumatized by it. It is no comfort to the family of Kate Steinle to quote statistics proclaiming a lower crime rate for immigrants than for native-born persons. Such data does not dismiss the unavoidable contention that had her killer been successfully deported and not able to return, she might yet be alive and unharmed--a claim that can be reasonably leveled any time an illegal immigrant commits a crime or takes a life. Such data contends with data that shows there is an illegal immigrant crime problem, that far too many illegal immigrants are indeed not coming to the United States to work and to build a life, but to prey on others--to rob, to rape, to kill. Such data does not dismantle Donald Trump's thesis that those coming into this country from Mexico are indeed less than "the best". 

Donald Trump's words are disturbing, but the issue behind them is real.  It is an issue that will not go away merely because we wish to avoid disturbing words. It is an issue that will not disappear merely because we wish to tread lightly around people's sensibilities.

Donald Trump is blunt. But he is not a racist, and not a bigot. In these words of his, there is no racism nor bigotry, but real concern over a real problem.  His words are a challenge to us all--to meet him with facts and with reason, to debate and discuss, and to not shrink from unpleasant issues merely because they are unpleasant.

Donald Trump has stated to want to make America "great again."  By fomenting a national discourse on illegal immigration, he taken a positive step in that direction.  That step will not be undone merely by attempting to dismiss him as either a racist or a bigot.

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