Hey, glad you’ve tuned in! We’ve got a doozy this week on Who Wants to Be a Campaign Strategist?, so let’s get to it.
Here’s the scenario: Footage surfaced of your candidate displaying the attitudes and behavior of a sexual predator. You’ve already recorded an oddly aggressive apology, and then sent your surrogates out to clean up the mess. Nice work so far! Problem is, they’ve already burned through their meager supply of “Bill Clinton did worse!” and “well, maybe you just don’t know what locker-room talk sounds like!” and they’re looking to you to help them extend their careers as human versions of Salacious Crumb. You need a new deflection, and you need it fast. What do you tell them to say?
A) “I do find it rich that we have Democrats and the left talking about rape culture when they’re the ones backed fully by Hollywood. This rape culture is purported [sic] by none other than the entertainment industry, none other than hip-hop music, which you can hear on local radio stations.” [Katrina Pierson, CNN Newsroom, 10/11/16]
B) “Hillary Clinton expresses that she finds the language on that bus horrific, but in fact she likes language like this, quote: ‘I came to slay, bitch/when he eff me good I take his ass to Red Lobster.’” [Betsy McCaughey, CNN Tonight, 10/10/16]
C) “Sounds a lot like hip-hop music from today. That’s the culture we’re in… You can’t be outraged at one part and not the other.” [Stacy Washington, CNN Newsroom, 10/8/16]
D) All of the above.
It’s a tough one, we know. You don’t have any lifelines left, though, so you’re on your own. You can’t phone a friend because Paul Ryan hit you with the “new phone who dis?” and you can’t ask the audience because a nearly insurmountable number of them are looking at the TV like ?. We can give you one hint, though: you’re screwed no matter what.
Let’s get the light stuff out of the way first. Surrogates saying that Donald Trump’s language isn’t an issue because those rap guys (or, in McCaughey’s case, the singers they’re married to) do it too is a stupid deflection that’s made worse by how simply it’s debunked. When Don Lemon—whose panel moderation style is usually rooted in a “this is fine”-level passivity—shuts you down by pointing out that rappers aren’t running for president, maybe you need to get your #facts in order before that battery goes in your back.
False equivalences aside, though, there’s something far more sinister at play here. Hip-hop is 40 years old; we’re well past the time when you need to explain that Chuck D once called hip-hop “black CNN.” Yet, the hip-hop bogeyman is alive and well. And by continuing in any capacity to equate rap—and yes, blackness—with pathology, Donald Trump’s surrogates are diving into the same racist muck that the candidate so gleefully treads with his birtherism and Central Park Five obstinance and “Sidney Blumenthal” dog-whistle appeals.
In fact, Katrina Pierson’s subtle mention of rap being something you can hear on “local radio stations” bears more than a little resemblance to last week’s viral sensation in which a woman tearfully recites the lyrics to rapper Vince Staples’ song “Norf Norf.” “That was on our top hits radio station!” she says, disbelieving. The song, which chronicles parts of Staples’ teenage years as a gang member in Long Beach, struck the woman as so toxic when she heard it on her own local radio station that she needed to warn others about it. Never mind that it’s a song of curdled braggadocio, the cold-eyed diary of someone too numb to mourn—there’s no context, and why should there be? This song is a menace.
At one point in the video, the woman reads the chorus aloud (“I ain’t never ran from nothin’ but the police”) and interrupts her own litany to wonder at the sentiment. “Let’s just encourage kids to run from the police, because that’s OK, right?” she says. “We wonder why this society is this messed up, listen to the music.” If her willful elision of exactly why people might be running from police sounds familiar, that’s probably because you recognize it from the old-school hit “Blaming Hip-Hop for the Social Ills That Spawned It.” (There’s a new remix out this week, though, via a Quinnipiac poll that finds that white adult respondents approve of “stop and frisk” policies 51-45 percent, while their African-American counterparts disapprove 78-20 percent.)
But this isn’t about a video. This is about what the woman is feeling in the video. And that feeling is the feeling that Trump surrogates—and really, in so many ways, Trump himself—are trying to tap into: violation. She’s angry and hurt on behalf of her children, sure, and that’s fine, but hers is the shock of a woman whose very sense of order has been disrupted. How dare this language, this message, this man, invade her ears? How dare she be assaulted with someone else’s reality? How dare the struggles of other people threaten to affect in some imagined way her own quality of life?
So by vilifying hip-hop, Trump’s appointed defenders are letting you know in no uncertain terms: This, this is the enemy. Not us. This. It’s as craven and disingenuous as anything else they’ve tried to throw at the wall in the past two weeks, but it’s tinged with something else. As Trump professes to want to save the mythic, monolithic “inner city,” a fantasy of blight only his followers believe in, his spokespeople are whispering through decades of race-baiting: reefer-addled jazzmen, a scourge of “giant negroes,” early rock and roll musicians, and rappers—especially rappers.
And as for Betsy McCaughey, the Trump advisor who said she didn’t listen to “bawdy” rap music and then quoted Beyoncé’s “Formation” as proof of the genre’s intrinsic filth? If you’re trying to stay reasoned, the thoughtful response would be something about how “Formation” is a stunning feminist subversion of the misogyny that still permeates some rap tropes, so citing it as proof of rap’s and Hillary Clinton’s twin problematicnesses is as ill-founded as it was desperate. But if you want to feel better about things, just know that the Beyhive found McCaughey—and it’s not looking great for her social media accounts right now.
Confirmed: The BeyHive found the Facebook page of that crazy lady from CNN. pic.twitter.com/r2SSF7Z2b8
— Michael Arceneaux (@youngsinick) October 11, 2016
So watch who ye sting, surrogates, lest the hive sting ye back.