Philosophy, Politics, Top Stories

Understanding and Misunderstanding ‘Dog-Whistling’

Accusations of ‘dog-whistling‘ are commonplace in contemporary politics. Politicians and pundits regularly accuse each other of using apparently benign words and phrases to conceal dreadful meanings. It is, however, chiefly the Left that accuses that Right of dog-whistling, and mostly to disclose and denounce the supposed racism lurking in conservative language. President Trump is a lightning rod for such accusations, which have, however, also struck politicans in Australia and the United Kingdom.  But in spite of the ubiquity of these accusations, it is not clear what dog-whistling is.

We might understand dog-whistling as a form of coded communication, by which a political leader passes a secret message to a specific audience without the larger public picking up what he means. Or we might see it as a form of strategic ambiguity by which a speaker allows different constituencies to understand him in different ways. Considered yet another way, dog-whistling could appear as a kind of subliminal method of activating listeners’ unconscious prejudices. Philosopher Jennifer Saul is developing a fruitful analysis of dog-whistling, which she breaks down into a number of such sub-categories. But her analysis, like that of most academics who have considered dog-whistling, arises from her concern to identify, expose, and thwart what she sees as right-wing racism concealed in dog-whistling speech.

Since the early 2000s, left-wing scholars throughout the English-speaking world have joined with journalists and activists to condemn the supposed dog-whistles of the Right. The struggle to root out dog-whistling can go to absurd lengths; witness the work of Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, for example, who argues that Australians’ conversations about wild dingoes breeding with domestic dogs are a form of (rather literal) dog-whistling about “race panic.” Few consider that there might be anything amiss in their ways of listening for dog-whistles, or something awry in the very idea that there is such a thing as dog-whistling.

Thinkers on the Right, meanwhile, who have an obvious interest in challenging the concept of dog-whistling, have only glowered and sulked at it. A typical example of this habit can be found in a recent article by Daniel Bonevac, who analyzes left-wing rhetoric about Donald Trump’s allegedly dog-whistling references to Mexican immigrant criminals. Such references appear to Trump’s critics as racist. While Trump (whom Bonevac supports) insists that “some” Mexican immigrants are “good people,” these critics argue that he implicitly targets all Mexican immigrants by associating the categories ‘Mexican’ and ‘immigrant’ with the category of criminality.

Bonevac, logically enough, insists that such a line of argumentation would make it impermissible to issue any negative statement about members of racial groups, for fear that these statements might imply something racist about the group as a whole. Indeed, Bonevac does not go far enough. Any statement about a member of group, whether positive or negative (let alone accurate or inaccurate), made by someone suspected of being racist (i.e., anyone on the Right), may be demonstrated, after sufficiently imaginative interpretation, to have associated categories with each other in an implicitly racist, dog-whistling way. Praising a particular black man as hard-working, for example, could be uncharitably interpreted as a subtle invocation of stereotypes that black people are lazy. With enough bad faith, anything is possible.

Dog-whistling is “lunacy,” Bonevac concludes. He then pleads with the Left not to use this tactic, warning that their enemies will eventually turn the tables on them. There are, indeed, figures on the Right, and the far-Right in particular, who traffic in accusations of dog-whistling. It is common to hear from the alt-right that words like ‘diversity’ are dog-whistles for anti-white racism. But the sort of cringing plea for good sportsmanship on Bonevac’s part seems doomed to failure; if accusations of dog-whistling are effective—so effective in fact that the Right is also using them—why would the Left relinquish them? Moreover, if very notion of dog-whistling is madness, why does it work?

Bonevac’s article ends with a particular combination of affects: on the one hand, a triumphalist smugness that through the force of logic he has exposed the madness of his enemies; on the other, a sodden anxiety that this does not matter, and that he can, in fact, do no more than ask his enemies to treat him less terribly. Bonevac is confident in his own rational prowess, but condemned to futile moralizing—this is a posture typical of his attempts to grapple with trends in contemporary thought and politics, and typical indeed of much right-wing, centrist, and ‘classical liberal’ punditry.

It is the same posture that Bonevac assumes in relation to what he understands as ‘postmodernism,’ a subject upon which he is taken to be an authority (his video on the topic has over 100,000 views on Youtube). In Bonevac’s eyes, postmodernism is at once an intellectually vacuous set of self-contradictory propositions, and a powerful ideology that has seized control of academia. In his book Ideas of the Twentieth Century (on which his Youtube lecture on postmodernism is based), he warns that postmodernism “tends to lead to fascism or totalitarianism.”  Like many of today’s intellectuals who condemn postmodernism, Bonevac has little interest in engaging with the ideas to which he attributes so much power. This is a pity, because some quintessentially postmodern thinkers can help us understand the appeal, power, and dangers of dog-whistling.

*     *     *

The French philosopher Paul Ricoeur was one of the founding figures of what we usually talk about as postmodernism, and a major influence on such bêtes noires of Bonevac as Jacques Derrida. Ricoeur’s work, however, offers the keys to solving the questions that Bonevac leaves unanswered. Understood with the help of the queer theorist and literary scholar Eve Kossofsky Sedgewick, who developed Ricoeur’s ideas in a seminal essay, we may find that a paradigmatic postmodern thinker has much to say to the pro-Trump philosopher.

In his book Freud and Philosophy, Ricoeur asks us to imagine two basic styles of interpretation, or hermeneutics. One focuses on “unmasking” and “demystification,” exposing what a speaker really means, or why they said what they said. This reading is based on an attitude of suspicion, and sees statements as “masks” that conceal the speakers’ agenda. Ricoeur argues that this style of interpretation is that of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, the “masters of suspicion.” The other style of interpretation focuses on the “restoration of meaning.” Instead of asking why a speaker made a statement (in order to do what? in order to conceal what?), the interpreter considers how the statement is addressed to them “in the manner of a message,” and how it encourages them to engage with it to achieve understanding.

In Ricoeur’s analysis, hermeneutics remain confined to the intellectual sphere; but Sedgwick ran with his insights into politics. In her 2002 essay, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading,” Sedgwick accused the Left of being stuck in Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of suspicion. Academics and activists make a virtue of paranoia, she argued, flaunting their interpretive prowess in detecting the subtlest instances of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Sedgwick, herself writing from the Left, came to the same conclusion as Bonevac: that listening with such intensity for the hidden discourse of one’s opponents was a kind of insanity. But rather than let that diagnosis be the end of her analysis, she took it as her point of departure.

Sedgwick did not directly address the notion of dog-whistling (which was a term only just gaining currency at the time of writing), but her analysis of the suspicious hermeneutic style of left-wing “oppositional theorists” illuminates today’s headlines. She explained that this style of interpretation is grounded in, and perpetuates, a psychological condition that tries to avoid negative surprises by anticipating bad news. What the subject fears—“patriarchy, racism, sex difference”—is always on their mind, and constantly being ‘discovered’ in the world. This may may seem like a successful strategy, Sedgwick warned her friends, but it is a self-defeating one.

Paranoid interpreters imagine themselves to be maintaining a “terrible alertness” that wards off danger. In fact they are unobservant and naive. They seem to find the things that they oppose lurking around every corner; but in practice they are continually surprised and defeated when these forces do manifest themselves. Sedgwick points out that her colleagues and comrades were baffled by the victories of Reagan and Bush. Today, they are just as baffled today by Trump. Listening for reaction everywhere, they never hear it coming.

More disturbingly, suspicious interpretation establishes a strange complicity between the interpreter (or accuser) and the meaning pursued. Sedgwick observed that homophobia, for example, imposes on the homophobe a kind of paranoid, prying, insistent need for knowledge about sexual practices and desires. You can’t know what you want to police unless you have in some way made it visible; the injunction to keep oneself pure of sexual perversion fuels an impossible, obsessional effort to think about how one ought not to think about it. Homophobia thus not only represses but also, in some way, incites homoeroticism. Sedgewick warns that, in just the same way, activists working against homophobia may become entangled with what they purportedly seek to eliminate, ‘discovering’ instances of homophobia everywhere. They become unable to claim victory even when their goals have been met or even to appreciate instances of relative freedom.

Observers on the Right—particularly those accused of dog-whistling themselves—may dismiss left-wing discourse about dog-whistling as mere “lunacy.” Or, as Trump himself has done, they may argue that accusations of dog-whistling racism, sexism, etc. are nothing but tactics used to silence right-wing views. “The establishment and their media enablers,” declared Trump on the campaign trail, “wield control over this nation through means that are very well known; anyone who challenges their views is deemed a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, and morally deformed.” But accusations of dog-whistling are only a recent and particular manifestation of the general logic of the hermeneutics of suspicion, not a new form of madness or a diabolical plot. To be sure, they do function as a kind of censorship. Accusations of dog-whistling make it appear, for example, that even to speak of MS-13 gang members as “animals” is somehow to stigmatize vulnerable minorities, thereby revealing the speaker to be a vile racist. One must indeed hope that such accusations are cynical tactics rather than serious claims.

Sedgwick and Ricoeur’s analyses of suspicious interpretation, however, reveal that claims about dog-whistling offer real attractions to the Left. Those who make such accusations access a momentary feelings of security, power, and superiority. They can imagine that they have unmasked a menacing secret, and protected themselves from dangerous surprises. They can, still more flatteringly, savor the idea that while some poor fools were deluded by the ostensibly neutral character of an opponent’s statements, they—clever and alert—grasped the hidden, horrible truth. But these satisfactions come at a price. Accusations about racist dog-whistling police the boundaries of what counts as acceptable discourse, but their power seems to be waning. They have increasingly little sway over politicians’ speech or voters’ choices. As Sedgwick warns, paranoia does not deliver on its promises.

To plead for an end to accusations of dog-whistling is probably pointless. But Sedgwick and Ricoeur remind us, at least, that there are more alternatives to suspicious thinking than merely pleading for a new naiveté. If we want to understand what our opponents really mean, then we can opt for what Sedgwick calls the “reparative” style of interpretation, in which we consider how to engage with what has been said in such a way that it has truth for us. This sounds mystical—and Ricoeur’s examples of this unsuspicious style of interpretation are drawn chiefly from Catholic rite—but it can also be pragmatic or even playful.

Consider the experimental theater performance “Her Opponent,” in which political scientist Maria Guadalupe and director Joe Salvatore staged re-enactments of the 2016 presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with a man playing Clinton and a woman playing Trump. Guadalupe and Salvatore wanted to understand how Clinton, who they and many others (myself included) initially believed to have won the debates, actually lost. Watching “Her Opponent” revealed to many (again, myself included) that Clinton’s debate performance had been pathetic. Her responses were often irrelevant, smarmy, or weak, while Trump brutally hammered his points.

Or consider “Sassy Trump,” a series of YouTube clips in which actor Peter Serafinowicz re-dubs segments of Trump’s speeches in the lisping, effeminate voice of a gay stereotype (the heterosexual Serafinowicz only seems to be able to get away with this because he’s mocking Trump; so what would otherwise be criticized as implicit homophobia becomes acceptable). Serafinowicz intends to ridicule Trump, but in fact his performances reveal an overlooked element of Trump’s success. Imagining Trump as a queer caricature allows us to appreciate his humor. When he quips, like a drag queen reading filth, “The wall just got ten feet hiiigher!” it’s hard not to laugh. And, indeed, as Trump’s opponents in the Republican primaries learned, his jibes and nicknames can slay.

These may seem like trivial examples. But they demonstrate that the hermeneutics of suspicion are not the only, or the most effective, way to understand political opponents—which is after all, a condition of defeating them. We sometimes have to ask how we can imagine them as speaking a message that is meant for us. For someone on the Left, that might mean putting Trump’s words in the mouth of a catty gay stereotype or a female candidate, if that’s what it takes to really listen to what he’s saying. For someone on the Right, particularly for right-wing intellectuals given to lamenting the reign of postmodernism in intellectual culture, this could mean considering what paradigmatic postmodern thinkers and texts might say in defense of Trump.

 

Blake Smith is a historian of European interactions with South Asia and a postdoctoral fellow at the European University Institute. His essays regularly appear on Aeon.co, Scroll.in and other media. You can follow him on Twitter @blakesmithphd

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Filed under: Philosophy, Politics, Top Stories

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Blake Smith is a historian of European interactions with South Asia and a postdoctoral fellow at the European University Institute. His essays regularly appear on Aeon.co, Scroll.in and other media.

26 Comments

    • andrea2018 says

      good article.

      But I dont think ‘sassy trump’ is an ‘unsuspicious’ reading of Trump’s language. It set out to ridicule him not understand him, and yes, it probably backfired to some degree as you suggest. See also the meme ‘privilege denying dude’ who many ended up agreeing with rather than laughing at.

      https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/privilege-denying-dude

      I like Eve Sedgewick’s work but she’s still on the ‘left’ and I don’t think the left is ever going to lose its habit of trying to see the hidden, hostile meanings behind their perceived opponents’ words.

      • andrea2018 says

        sorry you said sassy trump was aiming to ridicule him. Its just that Sedgewick is a queer theorist and as such is not likely to be constructively listening to what people she sees as oppressors say

  1. Is the use of the term dog whistling effective? I don’t think it is very effective at all. The last time I checked the GOP owned the presidency, the house, and the Senate. The majority of state governments are controlled by the GOP as well. It is effective with the hard core 25% to 33% of the United States electorate that is hardcore progressive buts it just more preaching to the choir. As pointed out in the article if mentioning something negative about certain members of a cohort tars the entire cohort with guilt by association then you can never saying anything negative about any member of the cohort. It is in fact lunacy. A dog whistle is something you blow to get the attention of ,you know, a dog. BTW, all illegal immigrants do belong to the same cohort criminals because the last time I checked it is against federal law to come into this country illegally. You might not like the laws or think they should be changed but it is what it is right now.

  2. X. Citoyen says

    Good article. We could use more like this one. Recounting the outrage of the day is not the way out of our predicament; soberly exposing and refuting the pathological ideas that have and continue to corrupt public discourse is.

  3. ga gamba says

    If you hear the dog whistle the dog is you.

    It would be simpler for all concerned for the left to declare “everything you say is racist ‘cuz we say so.” And the very least it would save on the number of trees felled to make paper.

    • peanut gallery says

      Dog whistling watching is dog whistling. It’s dog whistle inception. Now the whistling dogs. Wait, what? Read between the lines and it’s clear that I mean to say that Duke Ferdinand had it coming.

    • TarsTarkas says

      The reason the dog-whistlers throw that accusation so much is because they constantly speak in code, and not only assume that the ‘other’ must also be doing so but assume that they are using the same code. Look at the infamous Jordan Peterson-Cathy Newman, where she was constantly ‘explaining’ to the audience what Peterson was ‘really’ saying only to have Peterson correct her.

  4. Jack B Nimble says

    The author confuses coded messages with dog whistles. Both are types of signaling, and both can be either positive or negative.

    Republicans are masters of both types of signaling:

    Positive coded message: calling business owners ‘job creators’
    Negative coded message: calling the estate tax the ‘death tax’

    Coded messages are basically a form of re-branding, such as associating immigration with criminality. Most of this article is concerned with coded messages, not dog whistles. Advertisers do this sort of re-branding all the time.

    It is less confusing to keep coded messages in a category separate from dog whistles. The ‘classic’ dog whistle is a reference that is heard differently by different groups:

    Positive dog-whistle:

    ‘……In the 2002 State of the Union, George Bush declared that “there’s power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people” in support of his faith-based initiative and the Citizen Service Act. They way this language was interpreted varied. For some, the phrase “wonder-working power” had no special meaning, but those who had been exposed to a popular evangelical hymn recognized the line as a refrain in “There is Power in the Blood.”….’

    Albertson’s research revealed that about 90% of Pentacostals recognized the religious origin of the phrase ‘wonder-working power’ while less than 10% of non-evangelicals did. NOW THAT’S a dog whistle! Source: https://www.princeton.edu/csdp/events/Albertson053106/Albertson053106.pdf

    Negative dog-whistle:

    ‘Reagan’s Neshoba County Fair “states’ rights” speech [from Wikipedia]

    As part of his 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan made an appearance at the Neshoba County Fair where he gave a speech on August 3, 1980. Critics claim that Reagan’s choice of location for the speech (the fairgrounds were about 7 miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town associated with the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in 1964) was evidence of racial bias.

    During his speech, Reagan said: “I still believe the answer to any problem lies with the people. I believe in states’ rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level, and I believe we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.”

    He went on to promise to “restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them.” The use of the phrase was seen by some as a tacit appeal to Southern white voters and a continuation of Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy, while others argued it merely reflected his libertarian economic beliefs….’

    • Thank you for this well explained clarification. I found the article blurry in its definitions and reasoning and came to the comments hoping I wasn’t the only one.

    • Funny that states’ rights, considered obviously racist as you point out, are back in a big way. We have a state – California – engaging in rhetoric and action that would make John Calhoun’s heart swell with pride for its open defiance of any federal policy that might limit the flood gates that are swamping the labor market. Heck, we just had the governor of Oregon boast that she would try to start what is tantamount to a mutiny in the National Guard by ordering them to disobey a federal deployment order.

      We used to call this sort of thing sedition.

      • TarsTarkas says

        The open borders people don’t give a damn about the labor market. What they’re trying to do is replace the deplorable electorate that rejected their vision of utopia with a voter base that is more reliable and malleable.

      • Jack B Nimble says

        @Harland0

        I assume you are referring to this:

        ‘…..Governor of Oregon says she won’t give Trump troops for border protection initiative

        WASHINGTON (Circa) – Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown said she would block President Trump from activating National Guard troops from her state, according to The Oregonian.

        The Democratic governor issued a tweet saying she was troubled by the president’s recent actions and that she will answer “no” if her troops are called to serve along the border.

        She then added that troops from her state, have not formally been requested at this time.

        If the president “federalizes” the National Guard troops then the governor could not override Trump’s orders. That has not happened yet….’

        Source: https://newschannel9.com/news/nation-world/governor-of-oregon-says-she-wont-give-trump-troops-for-border-protection-inchoative

        As the bolded material makes clear, if the NG is federalized–as happened when NG troops were sent to Iraq by Bush#2–then governors have no power to stop deployment. So stop spreading the mutiny and sedition crap.

    • X. Citoyen says

      No, Jack, you’re confused—or, perhaps more accurately, not especially knowledgeable about rhetoric. In your all-caps exuberance over a reference to a Pentecostal lyric in a Bush speech, you seem to have missed the all-important questions, Quid et cui bono? What was the message and to what sinister end? It’s not as if it was a secret that Bush was a Pentecostal, and all presidents, including Obama, regularly make Christian and biblical allusions—not to mention many other historical and literary allusion—in their speeches. Are the people who recognize these allusions getting secret messages too?

      The answer is only to those who, as the author points out, adopt what Ricoeur called the hermeneutics of suspicion. Once you pick up that hammer, however, everything becomes a nail and you become a paranoid fool or a mendacious ax-grinder. In your own past posts here, for example, you’ve used words coined by Shakespeare. I noticed this while others haven’t. Am I right to infer that you’re dog-whistling to me, Jack? I ask because I lost my Lefty Decoder Ring at an anti-Trump rally called “The War for Peace,” so I’m going to need some straight talk before we get back to the secret messaging.

      Dog-whistle interpretations are little more than a way to stick into the mouths of your enemies the words you wished they’d said. It’s strawman by proxy: You don’t claim your enemies have bad motives directly; you pretend to expose their bad motives through your deep knowledge of the ways of the serpent. This has the added benefit of making your “discoveries” sound more persuasive and you more authoritative—at least to the gullible.

      • Jack B Nimble says

        @X.Citoyen

        I didn’t claim or think that G.W. Bush had bad motives in using a phrase familiar mostly to Pentecostals. BTW, Bush was a Methodist, not a Pentecostal [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_affiliations_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States ], but Bush was definitely an evangelical-type Methodist. Whether Reagan had bad motives in his Neshoba Co., Mississppi speech is more debatable.

        I also didn’t claim any original insights about dog-whistles in my comment; most of the ideas came from the Albertson piece and a few other online articles. Here’s more from the Albertson article:

        “. …..In this project, coded communication is defined as language that has a special meaning for a subset of the population. This sort of communication has recently acquired the label, “dog-whistle politics,” drawing upon the way that dog-whistles are perceptible to dogs but not to humans due to their high frequency. Appeals in politics might also have a meaning that is only “heard” by some; references to hymns, prayers, and biblical passages will resonate with those who share a religious tradition, but this religious meaning will be imperceptible to those who do not. A coded communication becomes obvious by making the religious content explicit to all. The coded communication, “wonder-working power” would have been an obvious religious appeal if President Bush had included language such as, “As I sing in church, there is power…” In Bill Clinton’s 1992 Democratic Convention speech, he quotes scripture explicitly twice. One example is “as the Scripture says, ‘our eyes have not yet seen, nor our ears heard, nor minds imagined what we can build.” This message might have been coded simply by omitting the language “as the Scripture says.”……

        I was trying to make 2 main points in my original comment:

        1……….There is no necessary reason why ‘dog-whistles’ have to have any negative intent or implications. I certainly don’t think that Bush [or his speech writers] were trying to deceive or fool any listeners of his SOTU speech.

        2……….Dog-whistles are not always focused on hot-button issues like racial discord or immigration policy.

        Although dog-whistles and coded messages can be considered the same thing, as Albertson does, I prefer to keep them separate.

        Finally, however one feels about immigration to the US, Pres. Trump has certainly done an excellent job in re-branding immigrants to the US. Fifty years ago the word ‘immigrant’ usually brought forth images of hard-working Europeans arriving at Ellis Island with little more than the clothes they wore, bringing with them only a burning desire to prosper in a new land of freedom and opportunity. Now, Trump and his helpers in the Republican Party [like Rep. Steve King of Iowa] have successfully changed the image of the typical immigrant to that of an Hispanic gang member with a burning desire to cause death and destruction. Trump is above all a master salesman, skilled at using coded/loaded language.

        • UnmutualOne says

          No, what Trump and others have attempted to do is re-brand *illegal* immigrants. It is the left, largely through the MSM, that has attempted, through the use of language, to level the distinction between illegal and legal immigrants, so if anyone is to blame for any negative connotations attached to the word “immigrant” alone, it is the left, not the right.

          Nice attempt at obfuscating the issue.

          • Jack B Nimble says

            @UnmutualOne

            To refute your point, I just had to Google “Republican Attack on Legal Immigration..” There are a lot of articles about how the GOP has turned hostile to legal immigration since GW Bush’s terms, including this one:

            “….Trump leads an attack on legal immigration

            Many people have long decried illegal immigration while claiming to have no problem with legal immigration. The complaints about foreigners living in the U.S. illegally are familiar: “Why can’t they follow the rules? Why don’t they get in line and wait their turn like everyone else? Why should they be rewarded for breaking the law?”

            The simple answer is that we make it too hard to immigrate, even as our economy depends on the labor of immigrants, legal or otherwise. If the goal is to induce more aspirants to come through legitimate channels, we should be working to expand and simplify those channels.

            That’s not what Donald Trump proposes. His plan provides legal status and a lengthy path for citizenship for up to 1.8 million people who are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In exchange, though, the president wants to sharply restrict family-based immigration.

            The bill he favors would change the law to bar naturalized citizens from petitioning to bring their parents, adult or married children, and siblings. Only spouses and children under age 18 (down from the current 21) would be eligible.

            Trump also wants to abolish the diversity visa lottery, which takes up to 50,000 people each year from countries that are underrepresented in other categories. He would limit refugee admissions, which numbered 85,000 in 2016, to an annual maximum of 45,000.

            In all, his plan would slash legal immigration by as much as half, the most drastic cut in nearly a century. On Wednesday, Trump threatened to veto any bill that doesn’t include such limits. It is not just the president’s policy to target prospective immigrants who are willing to use approved avenues. It’s now the agenda of his party. The bill he favors is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

            ………….Why would we want to close off half the legal stream of immigrants? Economists generally see them as a net plus. Trump and his allies insist that the new arrivals depress wages. But the effect, if any, is small. And the newcomers stimulate investment, create employment by buying goods and services, fill jobs that few Americans want and help revive poor neighborhoods that have lost residents.

            ……….Trump routinely equates foreigners with danger, drugs and crime. But reducing the influx of legal immigrants, who are far less likely than natives to go to prison, would do nothing to make Americans safer. Just the opposite.

            Though Republicans revere Ronald Reagan, Trump and his allies in Congress are repudiating his heritage without apology.

            “Our nation is a nation of immigrants,” Reagan said in 1981. “More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.” He favored a policy that “opens the door of opportunity for those who seek a new life in America.”

            That sentiment seems to be on its way to extinction in his party. Even when it comes to foreigners who choose to come legally, Trump is not into opening doors. He’s into putting up walls.”

            Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman/ct-perspec-chapman-trump-daca-immigration-family-20180214-story.html#

  5. John Ralph Spray says

    The reality with ye ol’ dog whistle is that only ideologues and religious zealots hear them and as often as not the whistles are only in their minds. For the 10-15% of us who actually are innovators, small business folk and tireless entrepreneurs who create jobs, strengthen the economy and move the ball forward, this wool-gathering on both ends of the polity is both absurd and an affront to the day-to-day William James Pragmatism that works in the light-of-day logic and rationality where problem solving is the key to going forward in any endeavour. Hey sports fans.. give up on the idea that you’re part of a team or movement… the only tribe is you and when you close your eyes at night… the only person behind those lids is the being who squirted solo from the womb.

  6. Sacha Soto says

    What the article misses is the trolling aspect. I’m convinced that Trump says things specifically so that the media will call them out as dog whistles. This plays to his base because they can look on and laugh at people in the media getting upset. This might even be Sun Tzu: cause your adversary to overreact.

    • Robin says

      I don’t know how much Trump consciously tries to troll progs but I know that 4chan and alt-right twitter deliberately create semi-secret dogwhistles to troll progs and appropriate once anodyne symbols and phrases. For instance the peace sign is used to mean that there are only two genders.

      This indicates a weird, almost symbiotic relationship between suspicious listeners and mischievous provocateurs. The former don’t only see their fears in every mundane thing, engendering paranoia in themselves and the latter happily supply the occasional signal in the noise which keeps their opponents in terrible alertness.

      It’s easy to see now how Trump Derangement Syndrome managed to take hold of so many otherwise rational progs.

  7. Luke Hulm says

    Something I think is missing from the text here… by far and away, for anyone that is actually interested in truth rather than adherence to blind ideology of their “tribe”, how something is said is totally irrelevant to what the truth actually is.

    Take for example a statement where illegal immigrants are being likened to “animals”.

    To those who would criticise: a dog whistle.
    To those suffering from GENUINE ILL CONSEQUENCES of mass immigration (legal & illegal), a valid articulation & exposure of the truth of the pain they are suffering.

    Reality: whether it is a dog whistle is irrelevant.

    When the left spend all their time denying the legitimate & REAL negative consequences of mass legal & illegal immigration (& address the intent as a “dog-whistle” rather than focussing on the issue exposed) all that will be heard by people NOT ALREADY ON THE PROGRESSIVE RESERVATION is: we hate you, we deny you, we want you to suffer, we will make you suffer, the things we want are more import than you, in fact we are happy these things are happening to you and want to deliver worse.

    What the left hear and answer, when the sentence is called out as a dog-whistle is a CALL TO ARMS, and a call to IGNORE any possible REALITY & LEGITIMACY behind the speakers call.

    So what is really transpiring, is the left using another set of words (like homophobe, Islamophobe, racist, nazi, red-neck) to try to prevent recognition by its own disciples of the legitimacy of what is being spoken beneath its crude delivery.

    For the speaker accused of the “dog-whistle” there can be multiple motivations, to appeal to their base, to rouse it, to speak truth to power, but also to air & (imperfectly at the least) articulate genuine issues.

    In truth, because of the haphazard way the left called out “dog-whistle” there is no ability to legitimately & well-intentionally point out an (in reality) occurring issue with any aspect of the left’s religion of diversity.

    Thus the left finds itself in the same kind of trap as its erstwhile enemy the Christian faith, it cannot admit the legitimacy of the claims against it for (like the church), if it admits its fallibility on moral issues or is found to be deciding issues not on objective truth but merely on dogma the ‘halo’ of the movement is broken, and so will be the faith of all but its most die-hard or gullible adherents.

    So the left in its current position has to call out dog whistles, has to deny any truth to its opponents or their positions even when that truth exists and is clearly evident. Thus in the longer battle for ideas and supporters the left has taken up the same losing position as the church – it must at all costs deny reality.

  8. One other comment, sorry I could not help but read the following and laugh…

    “Finally, however one feels about immigration to the US, Pres. Trump has certainly done an excellent job in re-branding immigrants to the US. Fifty years ago the word ‘immigrant’ usually brought forth images of hard-working Europeans arriving at Ellis Island with little more than the clothes they wore, bringing with them only a burning desire to prosper in a new land of freedom and opportunity. Now, Trump and his helpers in the Republican Party [like Rep. Steve King of Iowa] have successfully changed the image of the typical immigrant to that of an Hispanic gang member with a burning desire to cause death and destruction. Trump is above all a master salesman, skilled at using coded/loaded language.”

    You call Trump a salesman. The reality is immigrants ARE no longer the hard-working (legal) European immigrants the word immigrant used to conjure up.

    Immigrants are now perceived to be increasingly Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern & foreign, and at a much greater distance to the local population in culture than the prior European immigrants & reliant on greater federal & state assistance and for longer.

    So the image is changing to suit reality. Porous borders are very good for the proliferation & activities of gangs – this is simple reality. The greater the number of Hispanic immigrants the greater the displacement of English and power of movements like “La Raza”, also true. The greater the number of non-White immigrants the greater the support for socialist economic policies & anti-gun and anti-free speech policies the opposite of what is supported by most White Americans.

    Effectively the greater the number of non-White immigrants the greater the force to change elements of the constitution and desire to denigrate or remove “problematic” elements of the nation’s past and expressions of it that much of the resident population is still attached to.

    Effectively, the greater the number of non-White immigrants the greater the dispossession & disenfranchisement (see all the above examples) of White Americans, particularly conservative White Americans (& I haven’t even jumped on its effect on housing, crime, wage rates, taxation, state & federal debt etc).

    Fact is it is the attempt to gloss over the changing immigration demographics and their effect on White Conservative America that is the most offensive.

    The globe rightly decries when this kind of ‘forced’ defeat of the interests of a particular people are carried out at the hands of others.

    Now I don’t mind a progressive person that can say “yes all that is true, but I think continuing the process is for the best for reasons X, Y and Z”. I have no respect for anyone that will deny the truth without solid argument.

    All of the above can be characterised as a dog-whistle, but by doing so I would question whether you are not just trying to stop other people from seeing & interpreting clearly but trying to cover your own eyes too.

    • Jack B Nimble says

      @Luke Hulm

      “….Now I don’t mind a progressive person that can say “yes all that is true, but I think continuing the process is for the best for reasons X, Y and Z”. I have no respect for anyone that will deny the truth without solid argument.

      All of the above can be characterised as a dog-whistle, but by doing so I would question whether you are not just trying to stop other people from seeing & interpreting clearly but trying to cover your own eyes too…..”

      1……….On an older thread, I stated that I was in favor of legal immigration AND stronger border enforcement. People who profit from illegal immigration [the smugglers, middlemen and employers of undocumented workers] should be arrested and prosecuted. My main objection to Trump’s wall is that newer technology like surveillance drones renders a static barrier obsolete. The “wall,” like the family separations at the border, are mostly political theater–designed to please Trump’s supporters, deter even legal immigrants and, yes, outrage lots of persons in the U.S. and elsewhere.

      See also my earlier comment here:
      https://quillette.com/2018/06/19/zero-tolerance-at-the-mexican-border/#comment-23965

      and here:
      https://quillette.com/2018/06/19/zero-tolerance-at-the-mexican-border/#comment-24011

      2…….Look, the demographics of the US are changing [see, e.g. the article “Changing demographics: The battle for America’s story” By Fred Zilian in The Hill[dot]com ], but the same is true of all countries — mostly the populations are getting older as birth rates decline. America’s demographic profile has never stayed constant. Founded by British ex-pats [see the book “Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America” by David Hackett Fischer], the new colonies/states brought in African slaves to work in the Southern forced labor camps, and also encouraged immigrants from all over Europe to populate the vast western lands and displace the natives already living there. Then Chinese laborers were brought over to help build railroads, followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act, etc, etc. Until the 1960s, Mexican citizens were allowed to work in the US under the ‘Bracero’ program.

      Only persons who think that “American culture” is synonymous with “white culture” would try to freeze the demographic profile to match the 1920s, 1950s or some other era. Anyway, the Zilian article mentioned above says that the fastest demographic sector in the US for the next few decades will be persons of “mixed race.” How is THAT a problem, unless one doesn’t believe in inter-marriage?

  9. John Ralph Spray says

    Dog whistles or air horns… who really gives a rat’s ass if Mohammed brings his prayer rug to work, as long as his I.T. skills are of a high proficiency. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting and as a businessman of over 40 years who has over 30 employees of various ethnic backgrounds in a multicultural city (Toronto), I can only say that at the end of the day, Capitalism thrives on results, not some xenophobic scaredy-cat stance that limits productivity to the ‘chosen flock’.

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