Joe Biden is not a racist. If you accept some statements which were obviously jokes as being so (despite his playful protests otherwise) like his comment about Dunkin’ Donuts, the answer is obviously “no”, based on his historical actions.
That said, there’s a case to be made for it. I believe it’s a bad case. Let’s look at the most obvious, most recent evidence.
The admission of up to 15,000 refugees remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest. Should 15,000 admissions under the revised allocations for FY 2021 be reached prior to the end of the fiscal year and the emergency refugee situation persists, a subsequent Presidential Determination may be issued to increase admissions, as appropriate.
Memorandum for the Secretary of State on the Emergency Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021
This is section d) on a memorandum President Joe Biden signed on Friday. In it, he maintains a historically low cap on refugees being allowed into the country. It triggered immediate pushback from many Democrats, and was subsequently walked back by the administration. They are now saying there will be an increase in numbers announced by mid-May and offering reasons why the statement somehow didn’t say what the words indicated.
Setting aside that blatant untruth, the fact remains that, by the standards used by many Democrats, Biden is undeniably racist. This is the problem with using bad faith arguments and oversimplifying matters.
“Racist” is a loaded term which carries much more unpleasant baggage than “nativist” or “pragmatist”. It’s politically useful. For that reason, we heard from a variety of progressive and Democrat sources that Trump’s refugee limit was racist. And not only was it devised because Trump and some of his advisors were racists, but also every person who supported it, throughout the country, was a poorly closeted racist as well.
Under the parameters of the argument, Biden is a racist. Done. The decision to walk it back after pressure simply means that he’s a racist who can be pressured to reverse his decisions. From there, we can again use existing arguments that everyone who supports a racist is a closet racist to declare that all of Biden’s boosters are racists.
This is simply applying the arguments made by many of Trump’s opponents to the case at hand. There’s even precedent with Trump; on numerous occasions, after Trump would reverse course on one of his many bad decisions, he would be pilloried for actually wanting to continue his original course of action. The simplistic case is made. There are a bunch of racists in this country, on both sides of the aisle.
I reject these arguments. I rejected them under Trump, because they were deeply flawed, fundamentally stupid arguments; I maintain my position under Biden.
Trump may well be racist; there are indications of it in his history and some of his confidants like Omarosa have said that he is. One thing that cannot be doubted is that he is an elitist, viewing himself as inherently superior. If he is not racist, that is only because he believes nearly everyone in the world is a lesser being. Whether he is or not, I believe the overwhelming majority of his supporters were not racists. They were nativists.
The difference is simple. A nativist will encounter a white man, black woman, Asian man or Hispanic man at the store and take their measure not by the color of their skin but by other factors. An unusual accent is an immediate and drastic negative. Odd clothes are another strike against them. A dearth of nationalistic regalia on their vehicle or clothing is another (and the nation doesn’t have to be the United States, it can be something as simple as supporting a favored sports team or political candidate. The group is what matters.)
Substituting “nativist” for “racist” loses most of its political power, but it has advantages. Using the correct term promotes accuracy and truthfulness. Beyond that, it opens doors which might otherwise be closed. People who don’t believe they are racist are unlikely to listen to anything said by someone leveling that accusation.
Doubling down on the accusation with the argument that “everyone is a little bit racist” does not help, because most of the same people who attempt to use that argument are doing so as an attempted wedge to convince others to admit problems that often don’t exist. If, every time someone advocates for a position which can be perceived as helping minorities a bit more than whites, they aren’t met with “everyone is a little bit racist” as part of the analysis, the argument is clearly being used in one direction only and will be rejected. “Everyone” must include all people.
Addressing the problem with nativism shifts the argument, because it forces the next question to be “What is wrong with nativism?” There are a number of viable answers to that: divisiveness, stagnation, loss of industry, diminished ability to attract innovators, diminished trade, decreased valuation of classical American principles and more. There are plenty of reasons to stand against nativism, and most of its perceived positives boil down to fear of growth and a loss of culture.
Believers in the free market recognize that superior elements of a culture gain dominance by their nature in a free society. It’s why we have millions of irreligious people who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas, and why we joyfully partake of tacos, barbecue and ramen throughout the nation. Nativism rejects that position in favor of cultural protectionism borne of fear and, ultimately, a belief that the same things the nativists perceive as great may somehow be inferior.
We have a refugee problem. It exists in part because people are attempting to use our asylum laws to their advantage. The answer to that cannot morally be to reject valid asylum claims, and an unlimited immigration policy is untenable for any country with a large social safety net like the United States. A middle ground needs to be reached, with the drawbacks for various policies recognized and thoughtfully addressed. That can’t happen while the necessary discussions are being deflected for political gain.