On Wednesday, foreign policy analyst Max Boot, whose work I generally admire, penned a truly awful piece for Foreign Policy magazine. The piece had nothing to do with foreign policy, which was part of the problem — Boot’s analysis of domestic policy simply isn’t up to the same standard as his books, virtually all of which are worth a read. More than that, the piece was an evidence-free piece of fluff guaranteed to make members of the political Left feel warm and fuzzy without providing any support to Boot’s main contention: that America is still dominated by white privilege.
Boot begins by disowning his past as a typical conservative making light of identity politics constructs like “white male privilege”:
In college — this was in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the University of California, Berkeley — I used to be one of those smart-alecky young conservatives who would scoff at the notion of “white male privilege” and claim that anyone propagating such concepts was guilty of “political correctness.” As a Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union, I felt it was ridiculous to expect me to atone for the sins of slavery and segregation, to say nothing of the household drudgery and workplace discrimination suffered by women. I wasn’t racist or sexist. (Or so I thought.) I hadn’t discriminated against anyone. (Or so I thought.) My ancestors were not slave owners or lynchers; they were more likely victims of the pogroms.
This is a pretty solid summary of the conservative take on Leftist buzzwords. And the problem is that Boot does little to actually refute his original position: he can’t name any instances of his own racism or sexism or discrimination. Instead, he just disowns his position based on no additional evidence:
Well, live and learn. A quarter century is enough time to examine deeply held shibboleths and to see if they comport with reality. In my case, I have concluded that my beliefs were based more on faith than on a critical examination of the evidence. In the last few years, in particular, it has become impossible for me to deny the reality of discrimination, harassment, even violence that people of color and women continue to experience in modern-day America from a power structure that remains for the most part in the hands of straight, white males. People like me, in other words. Whether I realize it or not, I have benefitted from my skin color and my gender — and those of a different gender or sexuality or skin color have suffered because of it.
Now, you might expect Boot to give some examples of how he has benefitted thanks to his race and gender. You might expect a litany of statistics showing how his selective attention to evidence had blinded him to broader, newer evidence. You’d be wrong. Instead, Boot just states that he had his “consciousness raised” by the election of Donald Trump and the revelation that some police officers are racist or incompetent:
I used to take a reflexively pro-police view of arguments over alleged police misconduct, thinking that cops were getting a bum rap for doing a tough, dangerous job. I still have admiration for the vast majority of police officers, but there is no denying that some are guilty of mistreating the people they are supposed to serve. Not all the victims of police misconduct are minorities — witness a blonde Australian woman shot to death by a Minneapolis police officer after she called 911, or an unarmed white man shot to death by a Mesa, Arizona, officer while crawling down a hotel hallway — but a disproportionate share are.
Any statistics? Nope. Instead, Boot cites “the videos.” This is the definition of anecdotal evidence. Boot cites zero statistics showing that racism is systemic, or that black people are being singled out based on race while driving or jaywalking or selling cigarettes without tax stamps. Instead, he points to YouTube. That’s poor reasoning, and it slanders the cops who never make it to video — as well as some of the cops who do, given that videos are often selective in coverage. Bad cops exist. We all know it. But Boot says that the system itself is broken, and then offers nothing beyond platitudes: “I am ashamed to admit I did not realize what a serious and common problem this was until the videotaped evidence emerged. The iPhone may well have done more to expose racism in modern-day America than the NAACP.”
Or, alternatively, maybe something changed in Boot’s view of the world to make him treat anecdotal evidence as representative. And, it turns out, something did change his viewpoint: Trump’s election. Here’s Boot:
The larger problem of racism in our society was made evident in Donald Trump’s election, despite — or because of — his willingness to dog-whistle toward white nationalists with his pervasive bashing of Mexicans, Muslims, and other minorities. Trump even tried to delegitimize the first African-American president by claiming he wasn’t born in this country, and now he goes after African-American football players who kneel during the playing of the anthem to protest police brutality. (Far from being concerned about police misconduct, which disproportionately targets people of color, Trump actively encourages it.)
In other words, Boot, who ardently opposed Trump during the election cycle, believes that those who voted for Trump are utterly unbothered by his bigoted statements, associations with the alt-right, and general penchant for boorishness. Again, the evidence there is wildly mixed: how much of Trump’s base voted for him to oppose Hillary Clinton? How much of that base voted for him as a direct response to the politically correct regime of identity politics put forward by the Left? Like Boot, I didn’t vote for Trump, but I never slandered his supporters wholesale as evidence of American bigotry.
Boot does: “That doesn’t mean that every Trump supporter is a racist; it does mean that Trump’s victory has revealed that racism and xenophobia are more widespread than I had previously realized.” Or, perhaps, the reaction to the race-centric politics of the Left were more widespread than Boot previously realized.
Racism exists, of course. So does sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia. These are all real phenomena. But for Boot to suggest that these sentiments rule the roost, without any evidence save a simplistic rewriting of the 2016 election cycle, is blind at best.