by Adam Johnson
Every now and then a major op-ed comes along that is so badly written and thought out, it defies normal categorization. One such op-ed , by former Washington Post editor and reporter Henry Allen (8/27/17), does just this by arguing, in a wholly incoherent fashion, that Donald Trump’s failures can be chalked up to a cultural difference between New York City and Washington, DC.
The piece begins by setting up a Jets vs. Sharks narrative:
Washington vs. New York—the resentful bewilderment continues on both sides.
Cats and dogs, Hatfields and McCoys, India and Pakistan, coyote and roadrunner, Cowboys and Redskins: We’re seeing it now in the White House, where New Yorker Donald Trump has taken up his awkward Washington residence.
What? The idea that there is “resentful bewilderment” between two rich, powerful, prep school–educated corridors of power is nonsensical. Firstly, most of the “DC” players in question don’t actually live in DC, nor are they from there. Secondly, the whole premise strips race, class, profession and other actually consequential factors out of the equation, and instead reduces two wildly diverse cities to handful of essential properties—presumably those the author has observed in his narrow, wealthy circle while at the Post. Aside from being dopey and racist, it’s unclear how this taxonomy illuminates anything beyond pandering to this very same narrow, wealthy circle.
The Beltway astrology only got dopier from there:
The medium of exchange in New York is money brokered by Wall Street.
In Washington, it’s power brokered by the media. You can buy the Empire State Building, which has no particular power, but you can’t buy the Supreme Court, which does.
Money gets you somewhere in Congress, but it has its limits.
So “money” isn’t important, but media is. The fact that Trump made his entire fortune off manipulating that media, and rode over $2 billion in free media to the White House—and that the heart of US media is in New York City, anyway—is never really explained, but this drivel isn’t really supposed to make sense.
Allen tossed a few more glib ideas into the raffle drum and pulled them out in seemingly random order:
Washington understands New York better than New York understands Washington, much as the South understands the North better than the North understands the South. In the same way, out in flyover country, America’s working class understands dinner-party liberals better than the liberals understand the working class, if they even know it exists.
One can only wonder what is being said here. Why are the most important column inches in the national’s capital being used for what is effectively a rushed 8th grade report on the president?
The piece then pivots into outright falsehood:
“Deplorables,” Hillary Clinton called [the working class]—with their regrettable guns and religion, as Barack Obama said.
Clinton, of course, never referred to the “working class” as “deplorables.” She applied that label to half of Trump’s voters—whose median income was far higher than that of her own voters. But Allen had lazy stereotypes about Coors-swilling, NFL-watching working-class Trump voters and out-of-touch liberal elites to advance:
Clinton and Obama thought they had the power to dismiss the biggest piece of the electorate. Democrats had been doing it for decades, after all. Finally, the blue collars spotted a messiah in Trump, thinking for some reason that he had the power to save them. So far it hasn’t happened, but he’s a New Yorker, and New Yorkers have a tough time doing things for people in Washington.
This is also false. The “blue collars”—which he’s using as a synonym for “working class”—did not “spot a messiah in Trump,” since a majority of them voted for Clinton. It’s true the working class moved in relative terms from Obama to Trump, but the Democratic nominee still won the demographic. Of course, Allen doesn’t really mean the working class or blue-collar workers, he means the white working class and white blue-collar workers, who did indeed flock to Trump. Here Allen joins a long line of pundits either consciously or subconsciously equating the working class with white working-class men, because he cannot or will not envision people of color and women as “working.”
Allen then goes on a creepy tangent about Ivanka Trump’s undergarments:
The difference can come down to the most trivial details. Washingtonians noticed when Ivanka Trump, his daughter and assistant, wore an off-the-shoulder dress with what looked like a black bra strap to her father’s speech to Congress. Dear Ivanka, Washington is not a black-bra-strap kind of town.
Did “Washington” notice, or did Allen? The link provided doesn’t show anyone else in DC “noticing.”
This is followed by more armchair sociology:
When Trump tweeted his surprise ban on transgender people serving in the military, he must have thought he was on safe ground. (Indeed, Trump voters don’t have Ivy League liberals’ sympathy for the LGBT world.) But Trump voters don’t run Washington, and that tweet provoked wrath even from conservative Republicans in Congress.
More lazy and harmful stereotypes. Setting aside the fact that Trump is a former “Ivy League liberal,” the assumption that only “Ivy League liberals” care about LGBT rights, and the implied corollary that Trump’s salt-of-the-earth Average Joe supporters don’t, is without basis. Actually, according to the latest Pew polling (6/26/17), a majority in all educational groups support marriage equality—as do most people in nearly all demographic groups.
Allen, who has apparently appointed himself working-class whisperer, traffics in lazy generalities that advance the notion that the basic dignity of LGBT people is the boutique nicety of rich coastal elites. Does he do this with any data? Any links to studies? No, he speaks, not just for the essential nature of two disparate cities, but also some nebulous concept of “working class.”
All this highlights how much of our major paper opinion sections are taken up by lazy, phoning-it-in white men, riding the inertia of past achievements. Can anyone read this half-baked analysis, and not think it could have been better allocated to any random woman of color poli sci major drawn out of a hat? Newsrooms and pundit circles are still blindingly white and male, due largely to the oldest of affirmative action policies: the legacy of white and male supremacy. Editors should actively seek to put an end to it, if only to prevent future rhetorical trainwrecks such as this.