Return of the superpredator theme!


No additional fish at this time: We're off on that mission of national import. We won't have further fish today. Quite possibly, no fish tomorrow as well.

In the meantime, we'll recommend this new post by Kevin Drum—a post in which Drum explores the return of the super-predator theme.

How unwise does our blue tribe get? This zombie theme qualifies as a recurring example. 

During the 2016 campaign, Candidate Clinton was widely attacked, from within our own tribe, because she had used that term, on one occasion, back in the 1990s. (The term was judged to be presumptively racist.)

Did Trump end up reaching the White House on the force of that critique? There's no way to prove that he didn't!

This morning, the moral panic surrounding that term has returned to the New York Times. Drum provides some context from the 1990s. For the record, there's quite a bit more where that comes from.

We'll also suggest that you ponder this new piece by Jonathan Chait. Pleasingly snarky headline included, the essay begins as shown:

Trump Sees Very Fine People on Both Sides of Ukraine War

Last night [on April 18], Donald Trump issued one of his periodic official statements, expressing his regret about the course of Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine. He did not use the name Putin. Nor, for that matter, did he use the word attack. Instead, Trump framed the invasion as a problem the two countries have tragically failed to work out together:

[Latest dumb, self-serving statement by Trump]

This remarkable construction deserves closer analysis, but first it’s worth understanding the context. Trump infamously described Putin as a “genius” for massing troops on Ukraine’s border. He has repeatedly declined efforts by allies such as Sean Hannity to coax him into condemning the invasion.

From that, a reader will almost surely get the impression that Trump has never condemned Mr. Putin's invasion. As we've noted again and again, that is simply untrue.

He has condemned the invasion, in very stark terms, on at least three separate occasions. We've posted those statements, and provided the links, again and again and again.

This doesn't mean that Trump's various statements make some sort of ultimate sense. His wandering, inane presentations almost never do. 

But even as Trump wanders about, Chait engages in classic selective presentation. He mentions the statements which fit a pleasing, simplified cartoon. He disappears, or at least he seems to disappear, all the rest.

Donald J. Trump is deeply disordered. Hard though it may be for us blue tribals to understand, the daily performance of our own elites is remarkably pitiful too.

It's like this at times of moral panic. Or at least, so the experts have said.

Fuller disclosure: In a wonderful bit of irony, Trump's "very fine people on both sides" remark was one of the early instances in which one of his statements was selectively quoted by our blue elites, and then by the rest of us rubes. 

At several points that day, Trump explicitly said that he wasn't talking about the white supremacists who had been present in Charlottesville. Because those statements complicated the preferred cartoon, those statements were instantly and uniformly disappeared.

(Red tribe voters have heard about this. Blue tribe voters have not.)

In fairness, our human brains are wired this way. Or so all the experts have said.


  1. "In a wonderful bit of irony, Trump's "very fine people on both sides" remark was one of the early instances in which one of his statements was selectively quoted by our blue elites, and then by the rest of us rubes. "

    But isn't it -- the "very fine people on both sides" -- your most favorite sentiment, dear Bob?

    Or does this sort of rhetoric only feel great (inclusive!) to you when uttered by your tribe's shamans? Please explain, dear Bob.

    ...also, do any other major American politician's various statements make some sort of ultimate sense? If so, name that politician, please. Thanks.

  2. Very true, once upon a time, we could all discuss calmly that dark skinned crack babies will grow up to kill us all with heat seeking psychopath brains, which Clinton wrote about in her book. No way that's a moral panic no sir.

    Bob woke up today as lazy as the writers he hates.

    1. Hmmm.... I note the lack of references from Clinton's book.

    2. The book is called "it takes a village." Clinton brags about reforming prisoners by having them come to her house and serve her food, for pennies as wages. There's evidence that jobs programs work but they are not modeled on slavery.

      She goes into really deep psychology about how bad parents and lack of education causes people to have weak and immoral brains.

      The homicide rate can be pushed down with jobs programs and a household with a stable food budget. But that doesn't include the word "amygdala" so it didn't make a big showing in her theory.

  3. Yesterday, Somerby had the nerve to suggest that Biden is floundering and may not win reelection in 2024, should he run. He assumed that Trump would be running against Biden, but Trump himself has been in increasingly poor health and less coherent with each rally.

    But a larger question is whether a Republican party can win a presidential election without standing for anything at all in terms of policy. Amanda Marcotte says, while discussing Twitter trolling:

    "Not surprising from a party that is so unable to defend their policy preferences that they got rid of the party platform and have pulled out of nationally televised debates. When Sen. Rick Scott of Florida tried to issue a shadow party platform that called for ending Social Security and raising taxes on disabled people and veterans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded with anger. No one is to puncture the bubble of secrecy that's been established around what Republicans actually stand for. No one knows better than Republican leaders that their actual ideas are indefensible. Instead of trying to defend their ideas, they instead mire the public debate in bullshit and noise through relentless trolling.

    It works in no small part because ordinary Republican voters care little about policy, and are mainly focused on tribalistic hatred and resentment of liberals. "Triggering the liberals" is the main reason for being a Republican these days. The new class of Republican leaders are selected mainly for their trolling skills. That's why people like McConnell or House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy may be the nominal leaders of the GOP, but the people they answer to are insurrectionist dirtbags like Georgia's Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. These folks have nothing positive to offer the world, but they are extremely good at trolling. The result is that the official party leaders cater to the trolls, letting them set the agenda and never putting up any real resistance to their excesses."


    Can any political party win a presidential election solely on the basis of personality, without offering voters any plan, program, platform, or issues upon which to evaluate their own interests? Clearly, no program can be presented in the space of a tweet, but are Republicans even trying to run on anything except hate and owning the libs?

    Lately, Somerby's essays have consisted of solely trolling against liberal values, mimicking the national Republican approach. It is why each day's essay seems more outrageous than the previous one. But can such an approach really win an election in which voters should be seeking some indication of which leader can best guide the country?

    1. It also many explain the Hispanexodus.

    2. Hispanic vote for Biden was largely the same as in 2016 for Clinton. The vote for Trump was 1.5% higher in 2020 than in 2016, but Trump didn't win in 2020, so that slight fluctuation is meaningless. It doesn't signal any huge shift toward Republicans, since the highest Hispanic vote for a Republican was in 2004 for G.W. Bush. This idea that there is a Hispanic exodus is wishful thinking.

  4. "During the 2016 campaign, Candidate Clinton was widely attacked, from within our own tribe..."

    Note the use of passive tense here. Who attacked her? Bernie and his bros, people who eagerly repeated any Republican meme and talking point against Clinton, as well as pretending that the Clintons were racist. Recall that Bill Clinton was termed "America's first black president" ahead of Obama, due to his interest in and support for black issues. The ridiculousness of this accusation about Hillary being racist was also decried at the time the statement was made. A lot of the Bernie stuff was over-the-top.

    Somerby makes it sound like the accusation come out of nowhere, authored by no one.

    1. Bernie isn't actually a liberal and he wasn't a Democrat either. On what basis then can he be called "our tribe"?

      For that matter, Hillary was attacked by both Obama and Sanders during highly contentious primaries that deeply divided the left. Had disappointed Bernie supporters voted for Hillary in those three swing states that gave Trump the election, Trump would never have become president. Some Bernie supporters claimed that they would vote for Trump before supporting Hillary, so deep was the divide, encouraged by Bernie despite his pledge to support Hillary against Trump (recall his minimal efforts at the nominating convention). In that context, a phrase such as "our tribe" is pretty meaningless.

      Recall when the Hillary supporters were kicked out of the Dkos community? Remember the founding of the Pumas? Liberal blogs were banning Hillary supporters from their comments sections in 2007. Every rotten slur against the Clintons was revived by the Obama team. There was no tribal unity then.

      Hillary started with overwhelming black support but that leaked away as the Obama team made it clear that anyone supporting Hillary would be considered a race traitor. You could see the shift in the polling as the primaries went on and black votes increasingly supported Obama. To their credit, some black surrogates stuck with Hillary despite the pressure.

      Somerby has a convenient memory when he wants to present the left as a unified tribe, so that he can then blame liberals as a group for something, but the fragmentation on the left has always been one of our obvious liabilities -- we have never had the kind of party discipline the right created during Bill Clinton's terms.

    2. It's not racist to have your own personal prison bitches wait on you hand and foot?

      It's not racist to diagnose the underclass with mongoloid brain pathology?

    3. It also explains the Hispanic exodus if you extrapolate the one thing to the other.

    4. "The term Mongoloid has had a second usage referencing people with Down syndrome, now generally regarded as highly offensive. "

      Down's syndrome is a genetic disorder having nothing to do with lead poisoning.

      Somerby hasn't dared to call the increase in NAEP scores a result of the decrease in environmental lead. Maybe he is waiting for Drum to suggest it? This is what is meant by "environmental racism" and it is part of systematic, institutional racism to the extent that black people are redlined into areas with environmental pollution and closer to freeways and high-traffic areas.

    5. Maybe because Republicans have pretty much banished all moderates and function as a single, terrible voice that he forgets the Dems still have left and further left.
      Tera Reade got came within striking distance of taking Biden out and her batshit crazy claims (though no more batshit crazy than Jaunita Broadrick, who the New York Times repeated treated as the conscience of our nation) came from the ruthless "progressive" wing. Some of these people are plants, some are not really left people at all. They are always ruthless, but have been extra ugly when it comes to the Clintons.
      Setting the record straight on the bullshit with the Clintons is, by any indication, a sad and lost cause. It was once, partly, Bob's cause. Part of the self loathing that crops up in his work may have to do with the fact he gave up on it too.

    6. "Maybe because Republicans have pretty much banished all moderates and function as a single, terrible voice..."

      Anyone who isn't a bigot, or isn't perfectly fine with bigotry, left the Republican Party decades ago.

    7. I think it's a lot to ask Black people to vote for someone who called them super predators with cretinous amygdala and had slaves from the nearby prison cook them dinner, while her husband sought police union support and starved Haiti.

      Not only did they do all this but they've publicly admitted it and apologized

      If say Sarah Palin did that she'd be called a plantation owner

    8. I remember seeing people saying Trump isn't that racist because Hillary did all that. She actually blunted the pushback to Trump by creating a perfect what about ism.

  5. Kevin Drum is fine at making graphs but not so good at interpreting them.

    This theory about lead being the cause of crime has gone from a possibility to a certainty, through repetition by Drum at his blog. The theory did not originate with Drum, but was a result of academic research.,sharply%20decline%20in%20the%201990s.

    The simple-minded direct relationship that Drum touts has complexities that he overlooks.

    This is attractive to Somerby because he is fully willing to accept accounts by police that attribute super-predator status to unarmed black men who they claim made them fear for their lives. The entwining of the lead hypothesis with stereotypes of black men as having super strength and impreviousness to pain supports a rationale that justifies use of excessive force by police against black people.

    Note also that the crackdown on crime coincided with the peak of the crack/cocaine drug trade which involved the black communities as distributors and consumers and disrupted black family life, and also with the black power movement arising out of the 60s counter-culture. These influences made black people look extra scary to whites, and lead-related super-predators provided an excuse for the greatly increased policing and imprisonment that were a reaction to the fear evoked in white people.

    A similar fear is being described today among those on the right who magnify BLM/antifa into a similar threat that justifies armed vigilante militias and use of excessive force to control black people seeking progress against white intransigence.

    Somerby never talks about these complexities. For him, it is enough to tell blacks to cool it, that racism is not a thing any more, and that continuing to push for progress will be dangerous. Meanwhile, Somerby is glad to push the theories that justified white misbehavior and warped our criminal justice system. Beginning with an attack on Hillary.

  6. Because Trump is “disordered”, according to Somerby, are reporters reduced to merely repeating what Trump says?

    It seems a valid effort to try to discover the intention, if there is any, behind Trump’s seemingly disordered, contradictory statements. To do this, his words and actions must be viewed in context and as a whole.

    For that matter, if you’re going to gloss over what Trump said as quoted by Chait here as being “dumb” and “self-serving”, then why would you not classify Trump’s statements about Ukraine, or Charlottesville, as such? You will end up simply repeating Trump verbatim, which is practically meaningless.

    As an example: Was it stupid for journalists to accuse trump of not caring about healthcare? According to Somerby, I suppose Trump’s campaign promise to provide better and cheaper access to healthcare for everybody was supposed to be taken seriously by journalists as proof that Trump meant it?

    1. No, no, no. Somerby does not ask reporters to take Trummp's statements as an indication of what he 'really' thinks.

      He simply asks that when Trump says something, reporters acknowledge it. They could put Trump's statement in context, express their skepticism, point out contradictions about it, opine it is the product of a disordered mind.

      But simply acknowledge that Trump said it.

    2. From Chait’s article:
      March 1: “The RINOs, Warmongers, and Fake News continue to blatantly lie and misrepresent my remarks on Putin because they know this terrible war being waged against Ukraine would have never happened under my watch … There should be no war waging now in Ukraine, and it is terrible for humanity that Biden, NATO, and the West have failed so terribly in allowing it to start.”

      What does it mean to “opine” that Trump is disordered? That he has no intentions or goals? Is it a legitimate journalistic practice to wonder or assert that Trump is disordered? If Trump’s remark that Somerby glossed over was self-serving and dumb (Somerby’s words), then aren’t all of his remarks classifiable that way? We are left with no context for his remarks. If indeed they are “self-serving”, then it behooves journalists to find out what purpose they serve and what Trump’s real end goal and where his sympathies lie.

    3. There is a pattern where Trump first speaks in an unfiltered way. His team reacts with horror and gets him to walk back what he said, with a more appropriate statement, then Trump returns to his original opinion when let off the leash again.

      Which is the real Trump? The unfiltered one. How do we know which is which? Trump's writing style in his own messages is very different than that of his staff. The well-crafted presidential-sounding statements are obviously not Trump's alone. It is similarly easy to tell when Trump is speaking for himself and when he is reading a pre-written statement or speech written by committee.

      Somerby wants to consider the walk-backs and the staff-prepared statements as Trump's opinion. Somerby does this even after Trump makes another statement contradicting the one his staff urged him to release. This process makes it clear what Trump really believes.

      Journalists have tended to ignore the prepared statements in favor of the extemporaneous ones because they want to report the truth, not a carefully managed presentation of Trump's views.

      Somerby's complaint that the press ignores what Trump said is a distortion itself. Everyone knows that an official statement was made, one that is more presidential and less revealing. It would be wrong for an ivnestigative press to take that managed piece of propaganda as a true statement of Trump's position when Trump's other behavior suggests he doesn't feel that way.

      The press is doing its job. It isn't their job to tout the "official" corrected version that sanitizes Trump's views. It is their job to tell the public what Trump actually thinks -- they search for truth and try to report reality, not the lies that Trump's people want everyone to consume.

      Somerby should want to know the truth too. Somehow he prefers to hear that Trump's staff knows how to correct the record after Trump accidentally lets his true feelings show. How do we know those are Trunp's true feelings? He returns to them repeatedly in various ways.

      Is Trump disordered? No one can say for sure because he refuses to be examined by a licensed professional (or refuses to release the results of such an examination). Somerby is no expert on psychiatry, so he cannot know. And as Somerby always says, anything is possible and it is impossible to say for sure. There is no basis for excusing anything Trump says on the grounds that he is disordered. That means Trump is on the hook for everything he says, because he was the president of the USA. Now he is the former president and no less accountable for his statements and actions. All of them, not just the ones Somerby thinks should be attended to.

    4. Excellent comments. Trump is very crafty because he has led a life on the edge of criminality.He invariably leaves himself weasel room

    5. I hope Trump doesn't decide to run for president again because I feel like he could mount a campaign that would seriously crush Biden.

    6. Everything hangs on the dead people's vote. Will they come out and vote this time? Tsk. Let us keep our fingers crossed...

    7. For every Republican voter who kills themself between now and election day, count their votes twice.

    8. Oops, Mao. I forgot to write win-win.

    9. Mao is talking about Mark Meadows. Apparently political suicide counts.

    10. ...yeah, the dead vote, but also, more troops and more barbwire in the capital. Yeah, and in state capitals. For democracy. And for the children.

  7. "Did Trump end up reaching the White House on the force of that critique? There's no way to prove that he didn't!"

    Did Trump end up reaching the White House on the force of the "There are no birds" conspiracy theory? There's no way to prove that he didn't.

    Did Trump end up reacing the White House because he insisted on eating numerous cheeseburgers every day? There's no way to prove that he didn't.

    See how this game works? Shame on Somerby for playing it!

  8. “At several points that day, Trump explicitly said that he wasn't talking about the white supremacists who had been present in Charlottesville. “

    Yes. They were “present.”

    They also planned and carried out the rally.

    It was not a spontaneous outburst of support for Lee and the Confederacy by regular, non-supremacists.

    Talk about disappearing facts.

  9. "He has condemned the invasion, in very stark terms, on at least three separate occasions."

    Trump has condemned the invasion but he has not condemned Putin for invading Ukraine. Trump has blamed Biden and the Democrats for the invasion, saying that it wouldn't have happened had he been president. Trump will not say anything negative about Putin, and that is telling in the context of Putin's help in Trump's campaign and the various favors Trump did for Putin during Trump's term in office.

    Is it the truth to say that Trump has condemned the invasion? Not in my opinion. It is at most an excessively literal partial "truth" that is misleading about Trump's relationship with Putin. Journalists are not in the business of telling half-truths that mislead the public.

  10. "Hard though it may be for us blue tribals to understand, the daily performance of our own elites is remarkably pitiful too."

    Who thinks this? Conservatives and Republicans. And Somerby, since he pounds at this message day in and day out. To what end? No purpose that will benefit liberals. This is aiding and abetting the enemy, politics-wise.

  11. "one of the early instances in which one of his statements was selectively quoted by our blue elites, and then by the rest of us rubes. "

    There was a time when Somerby called his readers marks and rubes on a regular basis, telling us we were being conned. What is a rube?

    rube definition: "a country bumpkin" "an unsophisticated person from a rural area" "an insulting word for a person considered uneducated or uncultured"

    Somerby seems to use it as a synonym for gullible, but that isn't quite right. Rube isn't listed among the thesaurus synonyms for gullible, and vice versa.

    But didn't Somerby just get through calling us bad things because we over here consider ourselves smarter and better educated than the rural folks in the red tribe? Can someone be both a hick and an elitist (in terms of education and culture)?

    It would be nice if Somerby would make up his mind about what our fatal flaws are.

    1. "Can someone be both a hick and an elitist at the same time?"


      Somerby insists we can be both:

      1) elites, in that we have lotsa education and/or a high paying job, and

      2) rubes in that we gullibly accept the narratives we are fed.

      Just peruse the comments. The level of education appears fairly high, but the view of thinking-as-a-team-sport is even higher.

    2. @2:44 PM
      Hmm. But lotsa education (or, rather, "education") is exactly how one gets brainwashed. Common sense goes out of the window. Talking points get stuck inside the skull. By endless repetition. Ever heard of 're-education camps'?

    3. @2:44 Disagreeing with or being critical of Bob Somerby doesn’t imply anyone here is “gullible”, now does it?

    4. It can be true, but Bob insisting on it doesn't make it true. Like you, Cra Cra Kat, the man is often full of Shit.

    5. I learn so much from you, Greg. I think we all do.

  12. I think this essay by Frank Bruni (NY Times) makes some good points:

    "Enough about “parental rights.” I want to talk about nonparental rights.

    I want to talk about the fact that a public school, identified that way for a reason, doesn’t exist as some bespoke service attending to the material wants and political whims of only those Americans with children in the science lab and on the soccer field. It’s an investment, funded by all taxpayers, in the cultivation of citizens who better appreciate our democracy and can participate in it more knowledgeably and productively.

    Each of us has skin in the game. And each of us, even those of us without children, has the right to weigh in on how the game is played.

    But you wouldn’t know that from the education conflagrations of the moment — from the howls of protest from parents about what their children are or aren’t exposed to, what their children are and aren’t taught."

    1. I'm going to hit you in the head.

  13. Everyone should be held accountable for their actions except Bob's Queen.

  14. “If you think about some of the language of the civil rights movement, ‘We shall overcome’ is hopeful,” Alexander says. “And if you stop there and take that literally, I would say that’s what my childhood was about. But after that comes ‘someday.’ Well, I think what we’re seeing now is that we have not yet arrived at that day.”

    Elizabeth Alexander wrote The Trayvon Generation, which Somerby critiqued last week. Somerby would not agree with the last sentence above. He things someday has already arrived. There are polls on this. An overwhelming majority of black people think racism is still a major problem. An overwhelming majority of Republicans/conservatives think it is not a major problem any more. Democrats are more split than black people.

    Somerby would cackle about the percentage of Democrats who agree that racism is over, but he doesn't understand that Democrats are a larger tent than Republicans when it comes to racial attitudes. Liberals are in favor of civil rights activism to address racism, sexism, homophobia and other social injustices. Republicans are not. Somerby is not. Connect that dot, if you believe Somerby is liberal.

  15. There is an interesting book review in the NY Times today about the release of a book of Wittgenstein's war diaries from 1914-1916.

    All the time Somerby has been discussing Wittgenstein, he never mentioned that he was gay. He was also from one of the wealthiest families in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and he considered the men who served with him to be crass and boorish: "“My shipmates are a bunch of swine! No enthusiasm for anything, unbelievable crudity, stupidity & malice,” he wrote a few days after enlisting."

    Somerby didn't tell us that Wittgenstein's own elitism was so much a part of his personality and disdain for interacting with other people.

    Wittgenstein also rejected the need to support his ideas with arguments. Perloff, author of a book on Wittgenstein, says "he resisted traditional forms of argumentation, much to the disappointment of his mentor Bertrand Russell. “I told him he ought not simply to state what he thinks is true, but to give arguments for it,” Russell wrote in a letter to a friend, exasperated by Wittgenstein’s stubbornness when it came to the declarative statements in the “Tractatus.” “But he said arguments spoil its beauty, and that he would feel as if he was dirtying a flower with muddy hands.”

    It does seem like Somerby would like to imitate this form of assertion without argument. He uses it frequently when criticizing others, but it is hard to distinguish from ignorant bullying when Somerby does it -- perhaps because there is no recognizable profundity to Somerby's statements, unlike Wittgenstein's.


    This website describes some examples of Social Emotional Learning from the rejected math textbooks. Somerby should take a look before buying the hype on the right about this topic.

  17. Poster here do a good job of pointing out that Bob's fair play to Trump efforts, in any kind of context, are silly.