Racial Figleaves, the Shifting Boundaries of the Permissible, and the Rise of Donald Trump

Philosophical Topics 45 (2):97-116 (2017)
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The rise to power of Donald Trump has been shocking in many ways. One of these was that it disrupted the preexisting consensus that overt racism would be death to a national political campaign. In this paper, I argue that Trump made use of what I call “racial figleaves”—additional utterances that provide just enough cover to give reassurance to voters who are racially resentful but don’t wish to see themselves as racist. These figleaves also, I argue, play a key role in shifting our norms about what counts as racist: they bring it about that something which would previously have been seen as revealing obvious racism is now seen as the sort of thing that a nonracist might say. This gives them tremendous power to corrupt not just our political discourse but our culture more broadly.



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Jennifer Saul
University of Waterloo

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