To this day, I can remember almost the precise spot where it happened: a supermarket parking lot in eastern Massachusetts. It was the mid-1970s; I was not yet a teenager, or barely one. I don’t remember exactly what precipitated the woman’s ire. But I will never forget what she said to my mother, who had come to this country from the Philippines decades before. In these words or something close, the woman said, “Go back to your country.”
I remember the incident well, but it never bothered me all that much. Nor did racial slurs, which, thankfully, were rare. None of it was troublesome, to my mind, because most Americans weren’t like that. The woman in the parking lot was just a boor, an ignoramus, an aberration. America promised equality. Its constitution said so. My schoolbooks said so. The country wasn’t perfect, to be sure. But its ideals were. And every day brought us closer to those ideals.
That’s sort of OK for a 12-year-old I guess, but apparently 20 years of schooling (Harvard BA; Yale JD — great work there again Ivies!) didn’t lead Conway to put aside childish things:
And how naive an adult could be. The birther imaginings about Barack Obama? Just a silly conspiracy theory, latched onto by an attention seeker who has a peculiar penchant for them. The “Mexican” Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel incident? Asinine, inappropriate, a terrible attack on the judiciary by an egocentric man who imagined that the judge didn’t like him. The white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville? The president’s comments were absolutely idiotic, but he couldn’t possibly have been referring to those self-described Nazis as “good people”; in his sloppy, inarticulate way, he was referring to both sides of the debate over Civil War statues, and venting his anger about being criticized.
No, I thought, President Trump was boorish, dim-witted, inarticulate, incoherent, narcissistic and insensitive. He’s a pathetic bully but an equal-opportunity bully — in his uniquely crass and crude manner, he’ll attack anyone he thinks is critical of him. No matter how much I found him ultimately unfit, I still gave him the benefit of the doubt about being a racist. No matter how much I came to dislike him, I didn’t want to think that the president of the United States is a racial bigot.
Sunday’s tweet storm has thrown Conway over the edge though, and now he’s finally convinced that somebody who talks and acts like a racist would talk and act pretty much all the time, AND GOT ELECTED FOR PRECISELY THAT REASON MORE THAN ANY OTHER, is, like, a racist.
Let me tell you about my mother: She first came to the US (temporarily) from Mexico to go to college at the University of Texas about 70 years ago. Practically the first thing she saw when she got off the bus was “whites” and “colored” drinking fountains. She was genuinely shocked, and luckily never got over it.
The only time I can remember her slapping me was when I told her a story about an Arab girl in my first grade class, who had said something to the class about how bravely the Egyptian soldiers were fighting during the Six Day War. I said I didn’t like her. She asked me why, and I said something like “her skin is brown.” Wham. “Do you not like me, because my skin isn’t white?” she asked. This was weird. My mother was born in Spain, and has always coded, more or less, as white in this culture. But she obviously didn’t feel completely white in Texas in 1950.
Another memory: the seven of us — two adults and five kids — had gone out to Yellowstone in 1971. I remember reading about the Pentagon Papers case in the Rocky Mountain News in the lounge of the Old Faithful Inn. One evening my parents decided to have sandwiches in our rooms instead of eating in the hotel restaurant. They called down for ice, and my mother told us boys to stand at the door when the ice was delivered. We didn’t do it, probably because we didn’t understand what we were being asked to do, which was to keep the college kid delivering the ice from coming into the room.
After he did, my mother was — again inexplicably to 11-year-old me — angry with us. “He’s going to think we’re just a bunch of Mexicans having sandwiches in our room” she said, or something like that. I was the oldest child, but I bet I wasn’t the only one of my siblings who was thinking “um . . . isn’t that what we’re doing?”
Anyway, enough misty water-colored memories.
George Conway’s purported epiphany is pretty sad. (Needless to say this may all be a well-thought out grift, as opposed to agonizing personal journal of discovery). The thing is, it focuses on the wrong issue, which is his supposed discovery that Donald Trump is “really” a racist. I mean to the extent Trump is really anything besides a narcissistic sociopath he probably is a racist, but whether he personally is a racist is totally irrelevant to the real issue. The real issue is that Trump is more than willing to act like a real racist in order to get real racists — as well as people who are racist-adjacent, infused with racism, lightly buttered with racism, fond of an occasional amuse-bouche of racism etc. — to support him.
Those people make up enough of the electorate to get someone like Donald Trump elected. That’s the real problem — not whether Trump is “really” a racist, since Trump isn’t really anything, except a bundle of insatiable needs.
The other real problem is that George Conway is married to one of this generation’s many off-brand Joseph Goebbels’.
Hey George: Your wife isn’t just somebody who voted for Trump. She’s a key piece of the fashy-racism-enabling propaganda machine. What’s your next column, One Day I Found Out My Wife Was Really a Fascist?
Or maybe that’s a book. Next on Oprah.