The great jazz musician Miles Davis was known for his boorishness, especially toward his white fan base. Davis would play his trumpet with his back to the audience and curse at people between sets. “If somebody told me I only had one hour to live, I’d spend it choking a white man,” he once told a newspaper reporter. “I’d do it nice and slow.” His admirers ate it up.
Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new essay on Donald Trump in the Atlantic magazine brought Davis to mind. Mr. Coates, who couldn’t be more highly regarded among the left-liberal intelligentsia, doesn’t have anything especially new or interesting to add to the never-ending debate on the left about how Mr. Trump got elected. As ESPN anchor Jemele Hill and countless other liberals have done for the past 10 months, he blames white racism.
If you don’t have time to read Mr. Coates’s lengthy article, just browse Ms. Hill’s controversial tweets from last week, in which she insisted that the president is “a white supremacist” and that his “rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.” Ms. Hill’s argument is no different and no less sophisticated than Mr. Coates’s, and she demonstrates a better economy of words.
His schtick is tired, but it’s paid off for him. And there’s always been a place for race-baiting in the Democratic Party. Plus:
But what’s most striking about Mr. Coates’s article, and the reason it recalled Miles Davis, is the borderline contempt he displays for his admirers and fellow travelers on the political left. The author’s primary targets are the “white pundits and thought leaders” whom he deems insufficiently anti-Trump. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, along with journalists and academics who sport impeccable left-wing credentials, are taken to task for indulging alternative explanations for Mr. Trump’s win. In Mr. Coates’s telling, there is no acceptable way to view the Trump phenomenon other than through a racial prism.
Not everyone is letting Mr. Coates get away with this bullying. One of his victims, George Packer, who writes for the New Yorker magazine and who will never be mistaken for George Will, pushed back (gently) in a reply that was published on the Atlantic’s website. Mr. Packer was gobsmacked by the suggestion that he was playing down racism in a pre-election New Yorker essay about the economic anxieties of working-class whites. “I didn’t excuse or extend comfort to anyone,” Mr. Packer writes in his response. “Analysis isn’t justification—unless you think, as Coates does, that the entire subject is illegitimate for scrutiny because it’s an evasion of the truth about white supremacy.”
Mr. Packer almost certainly gives Mr. Coates too much credit. Mr. Coates has little use for analytical reasoning and even less interest in changing anyone’s mind on racial matters.
Well, actual racial reconciliation would threaten the whole feedlot.