Many have described Donald Trump as a bully. His verbal assaults on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel certainly fit that description. Curiel is overseeing a law suit against the now-defunct Trump University. Things aren't going Trump's way, it seems. And so, instead of calling the judge “stupid” or “very stupid”—his favorite insult—he harrumphs that Judge Curiel is prejudiced against him. Judge Curiel is of Mexican descent, and, well, what with the wall . . . Isn't the “inherent conflict of interest” obvious?
Trump's bluster is embarrassingly self-serving. In his zeal to harvest as much profit as possible from his brand, he ginned up a for-profit school that apparently failed to satisfy all its customers, er, students. The lawsuits seem to have brought out the Trumpian response, which is to counter-attack on all fronts. In this case, Trump has made the ethnic identity of the judge an issue, saying that Curiel can't be trusted to oversee the suit in an impartial fashion.
I'm troubled by Trump's bullying—a dangerous custom in any man who aspires to power. But I find the general reaction altogether amusing. Democrats smell blood. They're rushing to the microphones to denounce Trump's attacks on Curiel as “racist.” How dare he suggest that a person's ethnic identity might compromise his impartiality as a judge!
A shocking allegation. Or maybe not. In today's New York Times another news story told of outrage over California judge Aaron Persky's decision to give Stanford University undergraduate Brock Allen Turner a relatively light sentence after his conviction on three counts of sexual assault.
The sexual assault victim denounced the whole process, saying it was captive to “privilege.” A petition is being circulated urging Persky's recall. It implies that Persky, a white male graduate of Stanford University shares in a culture of privilege that makes it impossible for him to render justice in cases such as these.
The notion that ethnic, racial, sexual, and class identities strongly influence, even determine an individual's judgments is a progressive dogma. More than a decade ago, the now Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor famously said that the sex and ethnicity of a judge “may and will make a difference in our judging.”
So here we are. The identity politics of the last generation, a politics formulated and promoted by people in institutions run, financed, and endorsed by American liberals, has become extraordinarily influential. It provides Trump with a ready toolkit to draw from in his ongoing improv populist politics of punching and kicking adversaries.
Trump has a kind of genius. He takes his enemies' weapons, blunts them, and then uses them as bludgeons. He even takes a curse word from the Left's playbook, calling Judge Curiel a “hater” (in this case “a hater of Donald Trump”).
Let's by all means defend the integrity of Judge Curiel. But let's not forget who forged the weapons Trump is using.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.