Friday, January 12, 2018

Is Mia Love right?

Yesterday, President Trump used charged, abusive language to argue about Haitians and a few other groups of immigrants. The underlying argument, I think, was that those populations should not be part of a comprehensive immigration deal because he doesn't respect their nations of origin.

A number of conservative as well as liberal figures have expressed outrage at his comments. Among them was Mia Love, a conservative Republican representative from the congressional district next to mine, whose parents are immigrants from Haiti. "The president’s comments are unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation’s values," she said. "This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation."

I think it's hard to argue with any of that. I might quibble: I think there's a difference worth noting between words that are simply "unkind" and active expressions of contempt, for example. The President wasn't just sort of rude to anyone from Haiti--he used language designed to strip away value from them. Ugly language for an ugly purpose. With, I might add, a long and ugly history. But overall? Unkind, divisive, elitist, and unacceptable is a great list.

What stood out to me far more than Love's initial criticism of the remarks, though, was a claim she made in the tenth paragraph of the Deseret News report of her response.

"I doubt that a comment like that would have been made," Love said, "if somebody like me was sitting across the table from him."

Is Mia Love right about that?

My first reaction was to think that Love is too optimistic. President Trump doesn't seem to have much of a filter in general: would it really change the way he spoke or thought if one Haitian-origin representative from a faraway state were in the meeting?

But then I remembered President Trump's visit to China. After raging against the country on the campaign trail and in Washington, Trump seemed downright complimentary of the country and its leadership when he visited. He even complimented them on their past economic dealings with the United States, going out of his way to say that it was only natural that they would watch out for their own people's interests and blaming any past problems in trade agreements on former U.S. presidents.

It's not the only time something like that has happened. Donald Trump may not have been as complimentary, but he certainly clammed up during his campaign visit to Mexico. It's hard to think, actually, of instances where he's insulted groups or individuals directly to their faces.

The man can mouth off in all caps to millions on Twitter. He can rage at rallies while addressing his base. But face to face interaction does seem to affect his behavior.

And it seems like the face itself matters. There were plenty of people in the room with President Trump yesterday who were upset by the sentiment he expressed and the language he expressed it in. But he would have had to think ahead to realize that they might be upset, and perhaps to wonder whether the offense would be only political or also personally.

Would things have been different with a black face in the room? Especially if he vaguely remembered to connect that face with the very country under discussion?

Maybe Mia Love is right. Maybe some words would have been harder to say, some thoughts just a little harder even to form, if she'd been sitting there.

And if she's right, it's an insight with use far beyond the Trump White House. If she's right that we respond to the subconscious cues around us, that we respond to the visual and the visceral even when we can't quite grasp the implications of our ideas at a fully realized rational level, then Mia Love made a really important observation about human nature, and an important argument for diversity in counsel in a broad range of political, corporate, religious, and social settings.

1 comment:

  1. "... an important argument for diversity in counsel..."

    A wonderful observation. Even if the only reason for one in that counsel to practice caution is fear of retribution, it's a worthwhile consideration. Even if one's beliefs are not reflected in that caution, circumspection in such a setting will at least make it easier to get something done.


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