Robert Astorino was on CNN with Don Lemon to talk about whether the Trump tweet calling Omarosa a ‘dog’ was racist. Here is an edited version of the exchange:
Lemon: What do you think, Rob. Was it a racist attack? Do you think he (Trump) should refrain from doing this?
Astorino: I don’t think it was a racist attack. I think he’s (Trump) an equal opportunity offender. In that he goes after….
…. I had no idea that the word ‘dog’ – I knew it was pejorative – I had no idea that it was a racist term. And I don’t think that most people took it as one.
… I actually looked it up in the dictionary, and nowhere does it say that it’s a slang or racial word….
Lemon: Certain words used against certain people have a different context than if it’s used on a person of the larger culture…. Shouldn’t you know the nuances of this?
Robert Astorino: No. The quick answer is that at some point, we are going to get to the word ‘the,’ and ‘the’ is going to be racist. Because, as I just said is it (calling a woman a ‘dog’) pejorative? Yes. Because he (Trump) meant it as that – to punch back at her, figuratively. Because he was upset – he knew her and she let him down.
The trouble with Astorino’s line of argument is that there are, as we’ve called them in the past, bumpy staircases (instead of slippery slopes) between a white man calling a black woman a ‘dog’ being racist and usage of articles (definite or indefinite, perhaps) being racist. Lemon’s point about context is part of it, and the long history of animal vocabulary being overused with people of color is the main factor. So what prevents the slipperiness of this slope is that there isn’t a long history of usage of ‘the’ as a term of abuse, but there have been ones with animal comparisons with people of color.
But notice a further thing with this particular slippery slope argument – it represents the opposition as having a very badly formulated view of the matter. That the term ‘dog’ doesn’t have racist connotations is right from the dictionary — what a way to portray your opposition, that they don’t know the meaning of words. The importance here is that with this slope argument Astorino represents the concerns about Trump’s racist overtones as just not knowing what words mean. Notice, by the way, that the word ‘monkey‘ doesn’t have its racist usage noted in the dictionary, either.