Right-wing commentators had a field day last week with the news that Sarah Jeong, a young Korean American hired to write about technology for the New York Times editorial board, had a history of attacking “white people” on Twitter. She was predictably pilloried as a racist by the usual suspects — Fox News, the Daily Caller, Gateway Pundit, Breitbart, Infowars, etc. And understandably so. As The Washington Post noted, her tweets include: “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men”; “White people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants”; and “#CancelWhitePeople.”
The New York Times' explanation that she had just been countering the trolling she received from racists online doesn’t make much sense: Why respond to racism with racism? Doesn’t that just beget more bigotry? Nor is the response of leftist activists convincing when they argue that, as a minority herself, Jeong cannot be guilty of racism. Racism is “prejudice plus power,” leftist activists explain. Actually, racism is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” If Jeong had been targeting African Americans or Jews, there is little doubt that her career would be over — as, in fact, happened with a previous Times editorial-board hire who was quickly unhired because of her friendships with neo-Nazis.
So the right has a point about Jeong. Fine. But where are their voices when a far more prominent bigot is spewing hatred from a much more powerful platform? Friday night, President Donald Trump tweeted: “Lebron [sic] James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do.” Is it just a coincidence that Trump is insulting the intelligence of two smart, successful African Americans? If you believe that, you must also believe it’s a total coincidence that he regularly attacks Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., another African American, as an “extraordinarily low IQ person.”
Granted, the “very stable genius” also sometimes spews charges of stupidity at white men such as the actor Robert De Niro and James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, who dare to criticize him. But an inordinate number of his attacks are directed against women and minorities. Especially minorities whose ancestors came from what he once called “s---hole countries” in Africa.
Trump’s comments are much more consequential and much more offensive than Jeong’s — and not only because a president is much more important and influential than a newspaper writer. There is no history in this country, much as white supremacists might like to pretend otherwise, of whites being oppressed because of their skin color. Thus, it is difficult for me, as a white person, to get too worked up by Jeong’s remarks, dumb as they are. Her tweets are more bizarre than offensive. Their chief harm is that they feed the phony white-nationalist narrative that whites are victims in a society on track to be become “majority minority” within a few decades.
The kind of prejudice that Trump exhibits is far more toxic and dangerous. We have a long, ugly history of discriminating against — and visiting violence upon — African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans. Black people were lynched; whites generally weren’t (though a Jew was, once). Asians were barred from coming here; whites generally weren’t. And while we have made real progress toward a more color-blind society, we are not there yet — and with Trump at the wheel, we are going in reverse.
There are all too many videos circulating online of police officers harassing, beating, even killing African Americans in situations where whites would have walked away unmolested. Far from sympathizing with the victims, Trump attacks the African American NFL players who protest police brutality. Even worse has been Trump’s dehumanization of Latino immigrants — and not just MS-13 gangsters — he warns will “infest” America. He ordered Latino families to be separated at the border, their children locked in steel cages. There is no chance he would have treated white kids like this. He even praised white supremacists who gathered nearly a year ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, as “very fine people,” earning in return the praise of white-nationalist leaders David Duke and Richard Spencer.
If there has been an outcry against Trump’s virulent racism from the right, I must have missed it. Where are the Fox News and Breitbart rants against the president? Where is the criticism from Rush Limbaugh and Dinesh D’Souza? The only conservatives who are willing to regularly call out Trump’s bigotry are those of us who are #NeverTrumpers — and, as I constantly hear online, we aren’t “real” conservatives because we do not worship at the orange altar.
So, yes, there is a doublestandard on racism in this country — and, yes, liberals are guilty as charged. But conservatives are far worse in their hypocrisy, and their actions are far more destructive. Their selective outrage — speaking out against anti-white prejudice from an obscure writer, but not against anti-minority prejudice from the president of the United States — reveals their own chauvinism.
Max Boot, a Washington Post columnist, is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a global affairs analyst for CNN. He is the author of the forthcoming “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right."