The Imputation of Bad Motive

The constant abuse of the word racist drives me to distraction.

Notwithstanding what you may have heard, it is not racist for our government to use “extreme vetting”, as the Trump Administration intends, on prospective immigrants from certain predominantly Muslim nations. It might be bad policy for any number of reasons – that’s a fair topic for debate – but it’s not racist.

If racism were at the heart of the Administration’s concerns about immigration from the designated countries – if President Trump loathed all Arabs, say, or thought them inferior – he would not have repeatedly voiced support for the admission of more Syrian Christians (who are, of course, Arabs) – and he would be intent on applying extreme vetting to would-be immigrants from all Arab countries.

No, President Trump isn’t biased against all Arabs – but some prospective Muslim immigrants clearly worry him – the ones from lands that are hotbeds organized fanaticism.

One can’t even argue (with a straight face, anyway) that Tump’s policy is biased against Muslims, per se – because it doesn’t cover the most populous Muslim-majority countries – Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan. And even if it did apply to all Muslims, the policy couldn’t be properly described as racist because Islam isn’t a race – people of all races may equally be Muslim; in that case it might better be called religionist. But it’s not that – he’s just trying to weed out people who look like trouble.

President Trump clearly fears that among the prospective immigrants from the designated, war-torn Muslim-majority lands, the odds are too high that there might be some who would come with plans that are antithetical to the ideals on which our country was founded – and that such immigrants might act in a manner that threatens particular people here (gays, for instance) or even how our society works generally. He hopes to keep such fanatics out. Whether or not you agree with Trump’s policy, it is not irrational – in the way that straight-up racism is irrational – for him to try to diminish a potential threat. That’s a big part of his job, after-all.

Calling Trump’s extreme vetting policy racist is demonstrably false, since it’s not about race, and doing so obscures the merits – or otherwise – of the policy while unfairly demeaning the President (which might, after all, be the point).


Similarly, whether or not the President actually used the phrase “shithole countries” as alleged is not evidence of racism, or the lack thereof, on the President’s part. Though it was decidedly undiplomatic for Trump to say so in any terms, vulgar or otherwise, the countries that he was describing are a hot mess. That’s not the same thing as saying that the people who might come from those countries are any less beloved of God, or should be any less valued by Man, than anybody else – but clearly it does mean that Trump thinks that  immigrants from such places will be likely to be poorer, less well educated and less accustomed to living in a law-abiding society than people who might come from other places. In those suppositions, he’s undeniably right.

Again, one can argue either way on the question of whether we should be admitting more people from poorer lands or richer ones, but it is not per se racist to advocate that it’s in our interest to admit fewer people from the former – or to characterize their countries of origin in less than flattering terms.

Trump’s critics see racism in these positions because they want to. For them, his alleged bigotry is an article of faith that justifies their implacable hatred.


Virtually everything President Trump does or says is characterized as racist by the legions of Trump-haters, but he’s not the only one who is so described based on policy preferences that in reality have nothing to do with race. Some people like big government, others – including yours truly – think differently. Every time someone with roughly my policy preferences stands up for his or her beliefs, whatever proposal is advanced thereby is described by progressives as racist in effect and probably intent. People who abuse the word racist in this manner want to cut off all debate on the merits of whatever issue is under consideration by focusing instead on the presumed evil motive of whoever advocates for the anti-progressive proposal. This is not a debating tactic employed by people who are confident that their arguments can prevail on the merits.


Racism is a great evil, and stupid besides. Since by now all but a few very dim bulbs understand that it is both highly illogical and morally wrong to make judgements about an individual based on a factor – skin color – over which he or she has no control, and that demonstrably has no effect on his or her capabilities or character, actual racism is both overtly foolish and completely socially unaccteptable.

Does such racism still exist? Of course – there are always a few insecure idiots out there who will try to assert that members of other races than their own are necessarily inferior. The stupidity of such a viewpoint tends to be self-revealing, though, or at least to make its adherents stand out like very sore and ugly thumbs.

The tougher to spot – and more pernicious – form that racism can take is for people to simply assume that members of a particular race necessarily – or should – hold to a particular culture that is different from (and presumably less, ah, agreeable than) the culture of the person making the assumption. For example, some progressives are unprintable about the conservative political orientations of Justice Thomas, Senator Scott and Tom Sowell. Apparently, they think African-Americans should all think alike because of their skin color. Stay in their place, y’know.

Wantonly describing people and policies as racist is little better than childish name-calling. The word racist is too often used as an all-purpose cudgel meaning, more-or-less, ‘a bad person who advocates for things I don’t like.’ Calling somebody a racist who is not one obscures the actual issues and debases a word that should only be used to describe the real thing.

It’s the cheapest of cheap shots.


M.H. Johnston

2 comments to The Imputation of Bad Motive

  • DP  says:

    Totally true and it’s a shame it even needs to be said in these times, but it does.

  • Vivian Wadlin  says:

    When you don’t have a cogent argument, any discussion-ending comment, such as “racist,” fills the bill. Like Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a racism accusation makes you guilty of a crime you have no way of responding to logically.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>