I know I’m late to the game here, but I find this ginned-up outrage over Donald Trump’s comment about Judge Curiel tremendously irritating. I would chalk it all up to mere cognitive dissonance, of the sort that is essential to maintaining a modern Leftist worldview, but it is really nothing more than another salvo in a hot propaganda war. That many soi-disant conservatives have piled on makes it all the worse. I understand the natural conservative impulse for civility and decorum very well indeed — I feel it strongly myself, and Donald Trump’s habitual coarseness bothers me too — but the stakes are high here, and they are missing the real point in all of this, and choosing the wrong side.
It is a hobby-horse of the Left that race and heritage have a permanent and irresistible effect on one’s worldview. For example, the United Church of Christ — an influential mainline Protestant organization — recently published a list of “10 ways you can actively reject your white privilege.” Rule #10 says:
Recognize that you’re still racist. No matter what.
That’s because you’re white. Period.
Look at the aporetic collection of propositions the Left insists on:
1) Race is purely a social construct, with no underlying reality.
2) To assume, merely because of his race, that any individual instantiates any particular cognitive or behavioral properties is racism.
3) Racism is a very great evil, perhaps the greatest evil.
4) White people are all racist: not because of any remediable beliefs or behaviors, but intrinsically and forever, because of their race.
From which it follows, of course, that:
5) White people are irremediably evil.
Much has been made of Sonia Sotomayor’s comments on diversity in the courts. In 2001, the future Justice gave a speech at the annual Judge Mario G. Olmos Law and Cultural Diversity Lecture at the University of California, Berkeley. (Her remarks there were transcribed by the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.) Among other things, Ms. Sotomayor said (my emphasis):
Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle.
I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.
Included therein are the following assertions:
1) Judging is not, contrary to what we would like to imagine, impartial. Our personal differences will affect our judgment.
2) Those personal differences are due not only to our cultural embedding and affiliation, but may also be innate (or, in Ms. Sotomayor’s word, “physiological”).
3) “Wisdom” — which is what we seek above all in judges — is not an objectively existing singularity upon which all lines converge, but varies according to the innate and cultural starting-points from which one begins the process of reason.
4) A Latina judge will, in some cases, therefore reach a different conclusion from a white male.
5) That conclusion will, according to the biases, preferences, axioms, and tribal affinities of Sonia Sotomayor, be better that whatever a white male would have done.
There is also a sixth assertion, over which the official organs and supplicants of our modern liberal secular religion swooned with approval:
6) To install a Latina judge on the basis of this argument is therefore a blow against white, male hegemony, and a great leap Forward in our society’s moral progress.
We could argue about Ms. Sotomayor’s assertions on their merits. (I certainly agree with some of them myself.) We like to imagine that the judiciary is impartial and wholly rational; that it is, as in John Roberts’ words, just an umpire calling balls and strikes strictly according to the law. But Ms. Sotomayor is right: there can never be a universal definition of “wise”. (I’ll note, in passing, that this piece of meta-wisdom probably comes as close to universality as it’s possible to get.) She is also right, I think, that “Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences… our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.” Indeed, her stated opinions lead quite naturally — perhaps inexorably — to a conclusion that I’ve expressed before in these pages: the conclusion that, rather than race being a social construct, societies are racial constructs.
If Ms. Sotomayor is right, then the extent to which it is possible for judicial wisdom to harmonize with ambient cultural wisdom depends, quite obviously, on the unity of the culture itself. As the culture fragments and disintegrates, a necessary consequence is that the judiciary increasingly becomes a battleground-by-proxy for the factions, tensions, and incompatible worldviews that divide the nation as a whole. The West is very far along, now, in that mortiferous sequence.
All that Donald Trump has done here is to take up Ms. Sotomayor’s principles and to apply them consistently to Judge Curiel. Why, then, is Ms. Sotomayor celebrated, and Mr. Trump reviled? Given Mr. Curiel’s tribal and political sympathies — of which he has made no secret — it is entirely reasonable to think that he would have profound antipathy to a presidential candidate who has spoken so frankly against the very causes that Judge Curiel so actively supports.
Mr. Trump is a blunt man; it seems often that he has no unexpressed thoughts, which is hardly an asset in a statesman. But he is also, in his way, a man of sharp discernment (can one be both blunt and sharp at the same time?), and his disregard of bien-pensant fictions, and his willingness to express unsayable truths, are the basis of his broad appeal. Mr. Trump might easily have found less controversial ways to approach Judge Curiel’s almost certain bias in the case against him, and his remarks have alienated many Republicans who might otherwise have supported him. But his brazen disregard for taboo will almost certainly increase the passion of those who support him as a disruptor of the sclerotic political and cultural status quo.
I’m fond of quoting George Orwell. Here’s another:
In times of universal deceit, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act.
Sadly, we live in such times.