Pure domination. Disrespectful of a woman. When I read yesterday Donald Trump’s tweet mocking Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage–calling her “Pocahontas”–I thought of the following lines of a James Fenton poem: “The laughter from the armored car. / This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.”
Here’s the stanza in which the lines appear. It comes from Fenton’s poem, “Jerusalem”:
It is superb in the air.
Suffering is everywhere
And each man wears his suffering like a skin.
My history is proud.
Mine is not allowed.
This is the cistern where all wars begin.
The laughter from the armoured car.
This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.
Especially powerful, in my view, is the line, “This is the cistern where all wars begin.” Trump’s disqualification for being an American president of a multiracial and multicultural society is in that line, for he divides Americans into warring factions: “My history is proud. / Mine is not allowed.” This is the sort of exchange you hear when two people are no longer in the same boat with one another; when their destinies have separated; when the social contract between them has been severed.
Trump’s new birtherism: Warren birtherism. Trump’s mockery of Warren extends to his wanting documentation that she really is part Native American. But it’s an uncivil and rude question–akin to Trump’s birtherism: Was Obama really born where he says he was?
Regarding her heritage, in 2012 Elizabeth Warren said this:
As a kid, I never asked my mom for documentation when she talked about our Native American heritage. What kid would? But I knew my father’s family didn’t like that she was part Cherokee and part Delaware — so my parents had to elope.
That ought to be enough. For any decent person, that is enough. But to get a feel for how Trump intends to use the Pocahontas jab at Warren for the duration of the campaign–especially if she becomes Hillary’s VP–this was in The Washington Post last night:
A half-full coliseum erupted into Indian war whoops as Donald Trump called a U.S. senator “Pocahontas” Friday at a rally here [in Richmond, Virginia],…
In other words, the racist incivility of a mocking war whoop chant could turn into this year’s version of Sarah Palin’s mocking of climate science and global warming in 2008 with “Drill, baby, drill.”
Who defines you? In a multiracial and multicultural society like ours, it’s not right to intrude on other people’s narrative autonomy in a way that takes it over. I go back to the last line of the “Jerusalem” poem above, “This is the man who won’t believe you’re what you are.” In a multiracial and multicultural world, it breaks the bond of civility.
And this relates to other issues, like gay marriage and women’s equality. The far-right wants to tell others what their marriages are, what gender they obviously belong to, what roles they must naturally play, whether they can use contraceptives. Trump is tapping into this dark, domineering side of the far-right where self-definition yields to our definition. They tell you who you are, you don’t tell them who you are.
Blonde hair and high cheekbones. One reason Trump won’t believe Warren is who she says she is has to do with her blonde hair. Native Americans aren’t supposed to have blonde hair. But a moment’s reflection reveals this to be, from an evolutionary point-of-view, an illegitimate line of attack. Male and female genes do not melt into their offspring, but remain distinctly identifiable. Half of one’s genes come from one parent, and half come from the other. That means that a trait like hair color could be an expression of a European parent, and a hint of, say, high cheekbones, could be a trait going back to a great grandmother who was half-Cherokee. And please recall that a grandparent or great-grandparent brings to the mix an ever decreasing expression in offspring (1/4 and 1/8, etc.).
So what genes are actually expressed in an offspring are up for grabs and make for human variation.
Thus it’s not reasonable to say that Warren is obviously European in her ancestry. To the contrary, she has people in her own immediate family who were quite certain that non-Europeans were in her family line and told her so–and in a civil multiracial and multicultural society, that should be enough.
Warren, by the way, has gotten this ugly treatment from the right before–in her first run for the Senate against Scott Brown. If she becomes Hillary’s VP pick, we can expect more of this.