The last three and a half years have been a non-stop exercise in “imagine if Obama,” to the point where it’s easy to get callous about today’s daily example.
But I think the Trump tax case provides a particularly compelling and telling example of the fact that white conservatives operate under a completely different legal and — even more important — cultural set of norms and expectations compared to those to which non-whites and non-conservatives are subjected.
Consider this hypothetical: a presidential candidate has a long string of bankruptcies and extremely shady business dealings in his past. This candidate then refuses to release his taxes, at first employing obviously bogus excuses about how he’s being audited, but soon moving on to simple straight obstructionism.
Our first exercise in the fantastical requires imagining that this person could get the Democratic party’s nomination, or, if he were non-white, the Republican party’s nomination. This is a fantastic assumption because, in either of those cases, it would be beyond obvious to everyone all across the political spectrum that such a person was utterly disqualified from consideration.
I mean we already know the candidate has an extremely dubious financial history! How can somebody like that expect to keep his tax returns hidden from the American public, while asking them to vote for him for president? The very idea would be so preposterous that, again, literally everyone in any position of social authority or influence would dismiss such a thing out of hand.
But let’s overlook that, and imagine that this person gets his party’s nomination anyway. If that were to somehow happen, the idea of voting for him for president would be considered literally crazy. The New York Times would run 500 stories about his troubled and troubling financial past, and an army of Reasonable Centrist pundits would bloviate nonstop on the sheer outrageousness of a major party candidate’s refusal to allow the American people to evaluate his financial past and present, via disclosures that every single other serious candidate in modern American political history had been as a practical matter required to make.
Yes, imagine if Obama! Imagine that this shady “urban politician” from the baddest part of town had run a bunch of scammy-looking business ventures into the ground — including a completely fictitious university operating under his own name — and now he doesn’t want us to see anything about who is loaning him money and why, before we make him president of the whole goddamned country. I mean this would be like making Flukey Stokes president! (1980s South Side representing yo). Are you totally insane?
But let’s keep imagining. Somehow this slightly touched up gangster-grifter gets elected president anyway. Congress then understandably asks to see his financial records, given that he’s obviously in the process of treating the United States government as just another one of his rackets. But he says naw dawg — I ain’t providing no financial records, because guess who wears the crown now bitches!
How do you think the Supreme Court would vote on that case? Think ‘ol C.J Balls and Strikes would be cool with it? Think Sam Alito would ask us all to hate the game not the playa? I thinks not.
The point here is that you have to work through about three completely impossible hypothetical scenarios before you can even get to “imagine Obama.” You can’t imagine Obama, because you have to be a white conservative man to be allowed to get away with 1% of what Trump continues to get away with every day. It’s not a double standard: it’s two completely different ball games.
Anybody who thinks Obama would get even one vote from the Supremes if he were trying to keep Congress from requiring third parties [!] to disclose his taxes in anything like analogous circumstances — which again could never ever possibly arise in the first place — is simply high off his ass. I can’t even begin to plumb that depth of delusion. Because if we’re not talking about a person who has a presumptive right to do whatever he wants — that is, a white conservative man — then it would be obvious beyond any need to even say it that you can’t do what Trump is doing — legally, politically, morally, or in any other way.
This is the essence of white conservative privilege. This is the essence of white conservative supremacy. And yet it remains completely normal and accepted by the institutionalists and the worshipers of the status quo, because . . . well because that’s how it’s always been, which means that’s the way it should always be.