Part 2—Reciting what leaders have said: As it turned out, Kevin Drum made a valid point.
He’d read a piece at the New Republic denouncing the use of the term “anchor baby.”
The term is offensive, the piece had said. But according to Drum, the piece in question never explained why the term is offensive:
DRUM (8/21/15): I'm curious about something. Last night I read a longish piece at TNR by Gwyneth Kelly titled “Why ‘Anchor Baby’ Is Offensive.” I was actually sort of curious about that, so I read through it. But all the article did was provide a bit of history about the term and quote a bunch of people saying it was disgusting and dehumanizing. There was no explanation of why it's offensive.Drum went on to ask his readers to explain why the term is offensive. “I’m probably going to regret asking this,” he prophetically said. “But I am curious. It's not obvious from first principles what the problem is here.”
Uh-oh! To our ear, it sounded like Drum wasn’t sure that the term really is offensive. Tribal heresy to the side, he was certainly right about the TNR piece he had read.
Right in its headline, the New Republic said its piece would explain why the term is offensive. But despite that headline, Gwyneth Kelly never gave that explanation. She simply presented blurbs from pundits asserting that it is.
(For the record: On line, the full TNR headline says this: “Why ‘Anchor Baby’ Is Offensive—and a Distortion of Truth.”)
Kelly is just two years out of Northwestern, but she knows who we liberals should ape. This is the way she started:
KELLY (8/20/15): Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to lead not only in the polls, but with his crude rhetoric. In a Tuesday interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Trump questioned whether “anchor babies,” a pejorative term for babies born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants, are legal American citizens. “What happens is [the parents] are in Mexico, they're going to have a baby, they move over here for a couple of days, they have the baby," he said. A day later, Jeb Bush called for “[b]etter enforcement so that you don't have these, you know, 'anchor babies,' as they're described, coming into the country.” And on Thursday, Bobby Jindal said he’s “happy to use” the term “anchor babies.”At this point, Kelly presented a tweet from Chris Hayes saying this: “The term ‘anchor baby’ is disgusting and dehumanizing. I can't believe anyone in ‘mainstream’ American politics uses it.”
Nevermind that “anchor babies” are largely a myth. The term is also an offensive, derogatory slur.
She followed with this response from Jamelle Bouie: “I can’t say it any better. ‘Anchor baby’ doesn't belong in our discourse any more than a racial slur.”
Blurbing completed, Kelly went on to say that the American Heritage Dictionary lists the term as “offensive” and “disparaging,” a change from its original neutral listing in 2011. A person may agree with this view, of course, but Drum was right in his observation—at no point did Kelly explain why the term should be so regarded.
Should the term “anchor baby” be viewed as offensive? Is that term really as offensive as a racial slur? Should it be viewed as “disgusting?”
To our ear, Drum didn’t seem real sure in his initial post. But tribal leaders were plainly instructing us in this view when Kelly’s piece appeared.
Her piece appeared last Thursday. On MSNBC that evening, Hayes described the term as “a deeply loaded phrase that’s offensive to many.”
In making that statement, Hayes backslid from his earlier designation, perhaps in a racist manner. But one hour later, Rachel Maddow topped Hayes. The term is actually “super offensive,” the perpetually clowning cable anchor said.
Is the term super offensive? In his initial post, Drum seemed unsure—and so, he asked his readers to take the “anchor baby” challenge. Saying he would likely regret it, he asked his readers to explain why the term is offensive.
In our view, the results were highly instructive. In our view, Drum’s commenters helped us see the way we modern liberals are strongly inclined to reason. In our view, they displayed a deeply scripted tribal approach which strikes us as possibly quite ineffective.
What was striking about the comments Drum received? For one thing, people had a very hard time explaining why the term in question should be seen as offensive.
Don’t get us wrong! Almost everyone agreed that the term is offensive. But as Drum would note in a later post, almost no one could explain why.
The comments were largely a big pile of crap, the mild-mannered blogger would later observe. We’d have to say that Drum was right—and we think his point is important.
Why is the term “anchor baby” offensive? It would take a month of Sundays to catalog the bad explanations Drum received in that thread.
Several commenters said the term reminded them of the offensive term “welfare queen.” But they didn’t explain why the term should strike people that way.
Many commenters noted that the term is typically used by people who are criticizing the parents of the babies in question. That’s certainly true—but it doesn’t tell us why the term should be viewed as equivalent to a racial slur, or as offensive at all.
Other commenters found unique ways to make little sense. This is one of the first explanations Drum’s question occasioned:
COMMENTER: It’s demeaning, denies the humanity of the child, and makes the parents out to be inhuman monsters.Snark was present, but this comment offered little else. How does the term in question “make the parents out to be inhuman monsters?” The commenter didn’t attempt to say. This commenter spilled with certainty, but so does Candidate Trump.
Other than that, you know, it’s fine.
Inevitably, more than a few comments took us off the deep end of the tribal pier, with the anchor of our tribal certainty dragging us toward the bottom. Over-“educated” savants explored the meaning of the terms which constitute the hateful expression. Cover the eyes of the children as we show you this:
COMMENTER: “Anchor” = brownDoes “anchor” sound like “wetback” to you? It does if you have ears to hear! Meanwhile, do you typically think of anchors as brown? Is that what people meant all those years when they called Walter Cronkite an anchor?
Edit to add that for those with ears to hear, "anchor" sounds a bit like the more blatantly racist “wetback,” no?
Tribal belief is powerful; it has been down through the murderous ages. It lets us hear what we want to hear, as in the second part of this analysis:
COMMENTER: The term riles up xenophobia over something which happens rarely. But it is also offensive in itself. It is a metaphor which compares a human being to a dumb inanimate object.The term is offensive in itself! It’s like saying the babies in question are dumb as a box of hammers!
“You are an anchor baby” has a bit of similarity with “you are dumb as a box of hammers.”
Others possessed those same ears—or in this case, those same eyes:
COMMENTER: [The term] impl[ies] an abusive relationship where a child was purposefully born into an unstable legal position solely for the mother’s benefit. And I might add, it does so through some awful imagery (am I the only one who pictures a baby literally being used as an anchor?)How horrible is the imagery occasioned by that hateful term? This commenter pictures the baby literally being used as an anchor! But this is the way we end up thinking when we surrender to true belief—to the pure and literal ultimate truth possessed by the one true tribe.
Should the term “anchor baby” be viewed as “super offensive?” Different people will judge that question in different ways.
We’ll only note that Drum was right in what he said about Kelly’s TNR piece. Two years out of Northwestern, Kelly was certain, right from the start, that the term in question was “an offensive, derogatory slur.” But despite the headline on her piece, she never even tried to say why other people should think such a thing. She simply quoted tribal leaders voicing the same idea.
Is the term in question “offensive in itself?” We’d be inclined to say “not hugely,” unless we’re mainly looking for ways to make ourselves feel tribally pure and good.
That doesn’t mean that Candidate Trump is making sensible presentations and proposals concerning immigration. It means that our current tribal approach, based upon eagerly taking offense, may not be the most effective way to address his crackpot proposals, claims and behaviors.
In this follow-up post, the normally mild-mannered Drum rejected the bulk of the explanations he received in response to his question.
We’d say that Drum made several good points as he reviewed the explanations he had received. Mainly, though, we were struck by the way he threw his readers under the bus in his exasperated comments.
Normally, Drum is fair-minded, perhaps to a fault. In this instance, he suggested his readers tend to be “tribal hacks” whose comments are almost totally worthless. (For background, see yesterday’s award-winning post.)
If we might borrow from Candidate Trump, we have a bigger heart than that! But we can see why the frustrated Drum made those despairing remarks.
We’re standing with Drum, not with Trump! We too had been struck by the rhymes-with-daiquiri which larded the comments to his post. And we were struck by something else. We were struck by how poorly many of Drum’s commenters seemed to understand the issues involved in this latest exciting dispute, which the corporate cable nets love.
We liberals! Increasingly, we tend to spill with tribal certainty—certainty which is now being sold, for profit and fun, at various corporate sites. Even worse, we tend to be low on the types of actual knowledge which might enable us to change people’s minds about the various unlikely proposals offered by Candidate Trump.
We’re scripted and certain and lack the first clue. Other than that, we rule!
Tomorrow: A problem with Trump’s basic portrait