Dog whistles and loaded language are the parlance du jour for right-wing Trump supporters, and no better example can be had than the exchange between former Trump Deputy Campaign Manager David Bossie and Democratic strategist Joel Payne on Fox News’ Fox & Friends this morning.
The context of the supposedly unintentional racial slur was ironically a debate over “the left’s racists rants,” as Fox News refers to the practice of progressives pointing out the remarkable similarities between the tactics and language of the Trump administration and that of the Nazi party in Germany during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Apparently, Fox News considers it racist to point out when white nationalists are acting like fascist racists.
During the discussion, Payne attacked Trump and his cohorts for using racist “dog whistles,” those coded phrases that are not in and of themselves perceived as offensive words by the general public, but contain a perfectly clear message of hate to the targeted subgroup of white supremacists to which they are aimed, much like a dog can hear the high-pitched tone of a whistle inaudible to human ears.
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In response to Payne’s allegation, Bossie perfectly exemplified the practice by telling the Democratic strategist that “You’re out of your cotton-picking mind.”
It may help to point out at this juncture that Joel Payne happens to be African American and that the legacy of the forced harvesting of lucrative cotton crops by enslaved captives brought to the country from Africa — a system that formed the major basis of the economy of the American South until the end of the Civil War — engenders a particular sensitivity amongst those descended from the victims of that human rights abuse.
Payne’s response to what he considered a major slur was not surprising. He would not let this dog whistle go unanswered.
“Brother, let me tell you something, I got some relatives who picked cotton and I’m not going to sit back and let you attack me on TV like that.”
Bossie then tried to gaslight Payne, denying that what he had just said was offensive, and criticizing Payne for seeing it as an attack as Fox News host Ed Henry tried to wrap up the conversation to cut to an ad break.
Once the show returned from commercials, Henry tried to address the incident by saying that the former Trump deputy campaign manager had “used a phrase that clearly offended Joel Payne and offended many others.” Without directly accusing Bossie of racism, Henry punted responsibility for the comments.
“I want to make clear that Fox News and this show, myself — we don’t agree with that particular phrase,” Henry continued. “It was obviously offensive and these debates get fiery, that’s unfortunate. We like to have honest and spirited debates, but not phrases like that, obviously. And so I will just leave it at that.”
That Bossie didn’t acknowledge that his use of the phrase “cotton-picking” in relation to a black man could be construed as insensitive at the very least shows how deeply embedded the language and thought patterns of racism are in some segments of society.
It also demonstrates why these incidents must be called out and condemned whenever they happen. When dog whistles are used in the context of a debate over the left’s too facile accusations of racism towards white Americans, then you’ve forfeited the debate before it’s even started.
You can watch the heated exchange between Bossie and Payne in the video clip below.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.