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Trump's Trolling on Generational Racial Guilt is Both Funny and Instructive

Truth Social

I saw some social media reactions of complete bafflement over Donald Trump's 'Truth' Social post this week, in which be boasted that he's the only living president descended entirely from non-slaveholders.  What on earth is he talking about?  He's lost his mind with this bizarre rambling!  Well, what he's talking about, which he quasi cites in his post, is a new project from Reuters that dug into the family histories of many prominent Americans.  

The point, it seems, is to underscore how much of elite American society is still darkened by the shadow of slavery's legacy through blood relations.  With a very notable exception:

Perhaps he "really posted" this "insane," triumphal comment happens to be true:

More than 100 U.S. leaders – lawmakers, presidents, governors and justices – have slaveholding ancestors, a Reuters examination found. Few are willing to talk about their ties to America's “original sin”... In researching the genealogies of America’s political elite, a Reuters examination found that a fifth of the nation’s congressmen, living presidents, Supreme Court justices and governors are direct descendants of ancestors who enslaved Black people. Among 536 members of the last sitting Congress, Reuters determined at least 100 descend from slaveholders. Of that group, more than a quarter of the Senate – 28 members – can trace their families to at least one slaveholder. Those lawmakers from the 117th session of Congress are Democrats and Republicans alike. They include some of the most influential politicians in America: Republican senators Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton and James Lankford, and Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Duckworth, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.

In addition, President Joe Biden and every living former U.S. president – except Donald Trump – are direct descendants of slaveholders: Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and – through his white mother’s side – Barack Obama. Trump’s ancestors came to America after slavery was abolished. Two of the nine sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices – Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch – also have direct ancestors who enslaved people...And in 2022, the governors of 11 of the 50 U.S. states were descendants of slaveholders, Reuters found. They include eight chief executives of the 11 states that formed the Confederate States of America, which seceded and waged war to preserve slavery. Two are seeking the Republican nomination for president: Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas, and Doug Burgum of North Dakota.

"Few were willing to talk about their ties" to slavery.  Go figure.  These aren't meaningfully their ties at all.  It's rooted in something beyond their control, with little discernible upside to being quoted about it, even if they were to engage in the ritual self-flagellation that the writers apparently hoped to inspire.  It must have come as such a shock and disappointment to these journalists to have to type out the words "except Donald Trump" in that sentence about the presidents.  One almost wonders if they didn't double or triple check that fact before begrudgingly publishing it, given how unfortunate that particular fact was (from the perspective of the progressives who dominate mainstream newsrooms). The Reuters story continues, dramatically, "[our] examination reveals how intimately tied America remains to the institution of slavery, including through the 'people who make the laws that govern our country,' said Henry Louis Gates Jr, a professor at Harvard University who focuses on African and African American research."  You may recall Gates from the "acted stupidly" beer summit hosted at the White House by Barack Obama, whose "ties" to slaveholding were exposed by Reuters.

The premise here is that America remains "intimately tied" to the institution of slavery, which I think is an unfair way to frame it.  Slavery was virtually ubiquitous around the planet for much of human history.  Western Christians helped the fight for abolition, starting in places like France and England.  In America, we fought our bloodiest war, countryman versus countryman, to stamp it out.  The abolition movement was an extraordinary and commendable anomaly in world history.  While the evil of slavery is very much a stain on America's history, and on many other nations' histories, it strikes me as an overstatement to frame our country as still deeply linked to a sin that our forebears forcibly crushed more than a century-and-a-half ago.  Not a single person listed by Reuters bears any responsibility for slavery.  Nor did their parents, and beyond.  Jimmy Carter, for instance, is 98 years old.  His grandfathers were young children during the Civil War.  

While we should never lose sight of our nation's history, including its warts and flaws, this project appears to be straining to impose generational guilt upon our body politic, in furtherance of certain racial agendas that are very much alive and well today.  Which is why the admittedly hilarious Trump exception, and his trolling about it, is actually rather useful.  By dunking on everyone about how his bloodline is slavery-free, Trump elicited indignant responses about how this is essentially an accident of history, for which Trump deserves no personal credit.  The fact he's ostentatiously celebrating has nothing to with his actions, they argue, and certainly doesn't absolve him of anything he's done or said himself.  To which I say: Exactly.  Trump's 'slaveholding blood' status is totally irrelevant to who he is as a person, for better or worse, and the exact same standard applies to everyone else.  We must remember the past, not weaponize it in unjust ways, to foment misapplied guilt or grievance.  I will confess that I also find it very funny that Elizabeth Warren is not only not a woman of color, as she falsely claimed for years, slaveowner blood courses through her veins.  That's not a reflection on her, but given her personal history, it's pretty damn amusing.

I'll leave you with this fascinating and provocative video, which is tangentially related to this topic.  The phenomenon being described here doesn't explain or justify any number of real injustices or inequalities in our society, but the point about people's suggestibility on such things is also a salient one -- especially in our current age of incentivized victimhood:



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