You’ve likely heard some variation of the phrase “President Trump has replaced dog whistles with a bull horn” on cable news, or seen it on social media or in print a lot over the past three years.
All it means is someone has substituted implications or hints in their discourse (something only someone familiar with the vernacular would pick up on) with flat-out saying what they mean. Ergo, Trump and others like him don’t dance around typically sensitive issues of race or nationality, they just hit you with it. It’s one of the essential things people either love or hate about Donald Trump and the GOP he has molded in his image.
Having the country fully immersed in this boiling vat of rancor over the past few years has been exhausting for many. That’s why it was a bit refreshing and, honestly, kind of funny, to see the return of the Freudian slip (saying the thing you mean while trying not to) in a couple of high-profile moments this week.
We’ll start with Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden, who, at a speech in Iowa on Thursday, said, “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.” Oof. So, either Biden thinks there aren’t any white kids who are poor, or that all minorities are naturally poor because they’re not white.
Biden quickly corrected himself, but that’s going to be a tough one to walk off. Fortunately for Biden, it’s not like Trump, even though he’ll try, can claim the moral high ground on racism (remember the bull horn). Where it might create some problems is among the wave of Democratic competition for the presidential nomination.
And with Biden having image problems ranging from his handsiness around women to his praise of former racist members of Congress to his treatment of Anita Hill, he’s kind of coming off as that socially awkward, slightly creepy uncle.
Of course, Biden’s week hasn’t been anything like that of Don Grundmann, the head of the National Straight Pride Coalition. Grundmann’s merry band is basically a tone-deaf, misogynistic group with splashes of racism that tries to undercut any type of recognition for minority groups with the argument “well what about straight pride?” or “why isn’t there a white history month?” The reasons these things don’t exist, painfully obvious to anyone who understands the deep, cultural disadvantages others have had to overcome just so they could get some modicum of equality, completely escapes those like Grundmann.
Grundmann’s organization is trying to put together an event in Modesto, California. At a City Council meeting on Wednesday, Grundmann railed about how his organization had been unfairly labeled and discriminated against.
Then he declared, “We haven’t done anything. We’re a totally peaceful racist group.”
People laughed. Hard. Loud. In fact, Grundmann wasn’t done, but the laughter so overwhelmed his attempts to correct himself and continue speaking (with a microphone) that it effectively ended his remarks.
So which is better? Everyone saying exactly what they think loudly all the time or trying to project a particular image though it doesn’t accurately reflect the true ideals or intentions below the surface? Bull horn or dog whistle?
Like most anything, too much of one or the other doesn’t seem very beneficial. Being intentionally deceitful is only justifiable when telling the kids that the dog went to live on a farm or a kidnapper that you absolutely will not run away or call the police if you could just stretch your legs for a second. Then again, blatantly bellowing harmful rhetoric that whips followers into a frenzy and incites violence isn’t healthy, either.
America is in a strange place, but rancor and anger eventually burn out, and deceit almost always crumbles to some form of truth. What is most important is to process these messages as individuals, not as categories or groups. Nothing good ever happens after giving up the individual right to decide what is best for yourself without infringing on the rights of others.