In Joel Pollak and Larry Schweikart’s new book : The Inside Story of a Revolution, Joel recalls being on the scene in Toledo, Ohio when the media flipped out over Donald Trump using the word “ghetto”:
Trump arrives and begins delivering his stump speech, with a few improvised flourishes. He commits a few flubs and mispronunciations, jumbling “Dixon Ticonderoga,” and saying “Lee-ma” instead of “Laima” for the nearby town of “Lima.” He toys with the words, and has fun with his own mistakes.
Toward the end, somehow, Trump refers to poor, inner city black neighborhoods, to which he has been making an earnest policy pitch in recent speeches, by the term “ghetto.”
Social media erupts in howls of derision – though it is not clear why. “Ghetto,” Trump’s critics in the media seem to believe, is clearly a loaded term, or must be. As the press departs the arena and boards the bus back to the airport, I tweet a link to a video of an Elvis Presley song, “In the Ghetto.” I also write a story about the media being “triggered” by the term, and post it quickly—and the story causes an uproar in the press corps because, although it does not quote anyone in the traveling press, it reports that they scrambled to write up Trump’s remark. Later, I will agree to remove that part of the description, so as not to antagonize the people with whom I will be traveling for the next two weeks. But I will continue to wonder: How does one correct media bias, if one witnesses it and cannot talk about it?
Joel asks an excellent question. Here’s a related question: How does one correct the situation in the ghettos, if one witnesses it and cannot talk about it?
The word “ghetto” is more antique than offensive. It originally had a very different meaning than the way most people understand it today, but only a linguist or historian is likely to quibble with the modern definition. Normal people who aren’t aggressively looking to melt down over micro-aggressions understood exactly what Trump meant, including people who live in the area he described.
A good deal of Trump’s reputation for crassness — and a major reason he was able to connect with so many people, to the astonishment of the political and media classes — is his tendency to talk the way normal people talk. He doesn’t use the sterile linguistic discipline of the professional politician. He sounds like the guy perched on the next stool over at the local sports bar.
Author Mark Steyn commented on this aspect of Trump’s appeal in his own observations on a Trump rally in New Hampshire:
Karl Rove says that campaigning is all about the efficient use of the dwindling amount of time you have this close to Iowa and New Hampshire. So doing ten minutes of knee-slappers on Martin O’Malley is ten minutes you could have used to talk about Social Security reform that you’ll never get back.
Maybe Rove is right. But as a practical matter it’s led to the stilted robotic artificiality of the eternally on-message candidate – which is one of the things that normal people hate about politics. And Trump’s messages are so clear that he doesn’t have to “stay on” them. People get them instantly: On Thursday he did a little bit of audience participation. “Who’s going to pay for the wall?” And everyone yelled back, “Mexico!” He may appear to be totally undisciplined, yet everyone’s got the message.
“Again, it seemed obvious that night that Trump had thrown out the old playbook and that what he’d replaced it with was working for him far more effectively than the old rules worked for Romney, or McCain, or Dole,” Steyn remarked on Thursday, looking back at his notes from the 2016 campaign trail.
Joel’s copious notes from his extensive travels with the Trump campaign demonstrate just how effective that playbook was … and how completely blind most of the media was to its effectiveness. In the Toledo incident, the press went nuclear over Trump saying “ghetto,” while most of their audience wondered what the heck they were going on about, and wished they could hear more of what the candidate actually said about improving conditions in the ghetto.
Joel’s contemporaneous post about the media meltdown, which he references in the book, included numerous examples of people using the word “ghetto” without provoking anxiety attacks. More such examples can be found in NPR’s look at the history of the term from 2014, which gets really interesting when it starts trying to explain how the word became disfavored. The best they can do is quote a few left-wing activists and writers who suddenly decreed that “ghetto” was a forbidden word, for extremely convoluted reasons.
It’s fun to look back at the headlines from that day in Toledo and note the alternative, approved phrasing from our friends in the press. “Trump Talks of ‘Ghettos’ in Describing Urban African-American Areas,” wrote the Washington Post. CNN went with “inner cities” — but then, the New York Daily News excoriated Trump for using that very same phrase, in the process of castigating him for saying “ghetto.” None of these articles could explain exactly why “ghetto” is a forbidden word, aside from blandly asserting that most politicians no longer use it.
As with the rest of political correctness, the goal is to make it impossible for us to think clearly or speak honestly about the dire situation in urban areas, especially if one happens to be a Republican politician giving a campaign speech. Note well how Trump would have been savaged by the NY Daily News for using the term CNN recommended. P.C. is an ever-shifting maze of mirrors, with liberals constantly rewriting the rules to make us feel like we’re tiptoeing through minefields every time we try to discuss serious issues. We can’t think straight or be frank with each other, because we’re checking every word for transgressions.
We’re like computers scanning every sentence we write or speak for linguistic viruses, using clunky anti-virus software that gets constant updates in secret. (Even Trump himself stumbled over the word “ghetto,” because even he saw a politically correct anti-virus pop-up warning in his mind’s eye when he said it.)
Joel recounts meeting with black Trump supporters at various events in his book, and they certainly didn’t have any trouble seeing what he meant about the problems in urban communities, or appreciating his proposed solutions. The press was so busy freaking out over the word “ghetto” that they somehow forgot to tell their readers about the substance of the candidate’s remarks, but the attendees at his gigantic rallies heard, and they told their friends.
The media busied itself with cooking up polls that confirmed its own biases and neuroses, scientifically proving that Hillary Clinton was absolutely guaranteed to win. Voters ignored them and made Donald Trump the next President of the United States. Americans were clearly more annoyed by the constant media meltdowns than they were by Trump’s trigger words.
Exit question: does anyone remember a single thing Hillary Clinton said on the campaign trail, aside from the nasty crack about “deplorables” that arguably finished off her presidential bid?