I feel that for everyone, there is one Trump habit or event that sticks in your craw more than others, something that seems minor (in the grand scheme of Trump horrors), but that, to you, just wraps everything up in a disgusting, pulsating meat-bow. For me, it’s France. Or, more specifically, what he has to say about Paris, which comes up every time he’s talking about “terror”. He did so in his CPAC speech.
Take a look at what happened in Sweden. I love Sweden. Great country, great people, I love Sweden. They understand I’m right. The people there understand I’m right. Take a look at what’s happening in Sweden. Take a look at what’s happened in Germany. Take a look at what’s happened in France. Take a look at Nice and Paris.
I have a friend, he’s a very, very substantial guy, he loves the city of lights. He loves Paris. For years, every year during the summer he would go to Paris. It was automatic. With his wife and his family. Hadn’t seen him in a while. And I said, Jim, let me ask you a question, how’s Paris doing? Paris? I don’t go there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris. That was four years, four, five years, hasn’t gone there. He wouldn’t miss it for anything. Now he doesn’t even think in terms of going there.
Now. There’s actually a lot going on here. For one thing, it is weird and terrible to try to paint an ally (as France most certainly is) as a dystopian hellhole, and one that it isn’t safe to go to. That’s just being really bad at government. It’s considerably worse than criticizing a particular policy. Saying “Paris is no longer Paris” is attacking an ally on a fundamental, even existential level. French President Hollande is rightfully upset. Part of running the government, and being the face of the country, is getting along with allies and not going out of your way to needlessly insult. Trump is very bad at this job!
But let’s go a little deeper. The whole “Paris is no longer Paris” thing isn’t just about terrorism. Indeed, it’s more straight-up racism. The example here is from “Four, five years ago”, before Hebdo, before Nice, before the Bataclan. There’s a chance that Trump is just riffing and fudging the years, but he’s told this story many times. It isn’t that it is violent. It’s that there are immigrants there. Non-French.
And it is true that while before the wave of jihad violence France, and Paris, were trying to deal with poor immigrants who were not able to assimilate into society. It’s very complex, partly because France, unlike America (traditionally), had very strict requirements about what it meant to be “French”, and there wasn’t much of an attempt to change that, or to help newcomers from different cultures. They were immediately given up on and marginalized. One of the reasons the immigrant experience in America has worked so well, despite its flaws, is that the culture is flexible enough that it changes with new arrivals, and doesn’t try to change them (much).
So when Trump talks about his friend Jim not wanting to go to Paris because it is no longer Paris, he’s just updating and incorporating an older story into a narrative of terrorism. But the story is that Paris is no longer purely white, and that the non-whites would like some rights, and the right to be visible. The heart of it is pure racism; the conflation of religious bigotry with fears about terrorism are at the heart of the white supra-nationalist campaign. It would be subtly very smart, if I thought it was intentional.
I’m not sure it is, though, because of what bothers me the most: that the President of the United States of America, when discussing transnational terrorism, seems to base most of his thinking off a vague anecdote about a buddy of his named Jim.
This is enraging. It makes me so mad I can barely sit still. It’s not even the policy-basing part. It’s that he thinks this means something. He thinks it is interesting and important that a guy named Jim–a substantial guy–doesn’t like to go to Paris, and he always used to. Something’s going on!
Think about it. Imagine you got into a conversation in a bar and someone said, well, let me tell you about terrorism: here’s an incredibly boring story about a guy’s vacation history. You’d nod, and think, well, ok, that doesn’t mean anything. This guy just has a few vague, mostly racist assumptions, a second-person anecdote, and not much else. It would be a bad conversation in a bar, the faintly-lunatic ramblings of a know-nothing blowhard who seems like he’s more interested in impressing you by being friends with a substantial guy who can go to Paris whenever he wants than on actually talking about the issue.
Now imagine a Presidential candidate uses that anecdote as something meaningful. Now imagine the President keeps using it. What the hell? You have access to every bit of intelligence the country produces, and you want to talk about Jim?
I mean, maybe this is why he is “relatable”, because he talks like a normal guy. That’s backward in and of itself; his “normal guy” talk is so sweaty in its desperate lust for your admiration and filled with brags about the powerful people he knows that it should render itself as more out of touch than Romney, but we’re in the upside down, so who knows?
And maybe this is smart. Maybe it is a not-too-subtle dogwhistle about the mongrol hordes in Europe, and how they are coming over here if we don’t do anything. Maybe he knows exactly what he is doing, if just instinctively.
But let us not forget that the President is a man so deeply incurious about the world, and so vastly unlearned, that he bases his ideas on cable news crawls and other people’s idiot stories. That’s where we are.