By now, God knows, I should be used to it, but the irony of yesterday’s New York Times headline, caused me to laugh out loud — though as usual I was only laughing so as not to cry. "Donald Trump Jr.’s Skittles Post on Twitter Fits a Pattern," read the head to a piece by Jason Horowitz. Nor was the pattern-monger just the anonymous headline writer. Clearly, Mr Horowitz himself was part of, if not leading, the media gaffe-patrol when he noticed that the bowl within which the fatal (and non-fatal) Skittles of Mr Trump Junior’s visual analogy to terrorists among the refugee population, was "white." Aha! And guess what? The Skittles themselves were "rainbow colored." In other words: non-white. Not only was the Trump scion identifying himself (and, presumably, his father) as a white supremacist, he was also saying that Syrian refugees, who are people "of color" ex hypothesi, were, um, poisoned candy. Or at least some of them were. At least metaphorically.
The "Pattern," you will have observed, which this comparison allegedly "Fits" is one of the media’s own manufacture. And it was made precisely in order that either of the Mr Trumps, or anyone else among the politically benighted who have incurred the media’s displeasure, could be made to fit it with a minimum of difficulty. Not that the Times was crowing over its own triumph in "outing" (again) the racist Trumps. No, it was lots of other people, beginning with (to take an example at random) Hillary Clinton, who professed themselves to be outraged by the Twitter post. Mrs Clinton called it "disgusting," wrote Mr Horowitz, while "a stream of social media users denounced it as both flippant and fearmongering, noting the infinitesimal odds of being killed in a terrorist attack by a refugee."
Wasn’t that just the Trumpian point? Why take the unnecessary risk of letting in the malignant along with the benign, even if the odds are small? Ah, but it was part of a pattern. "Mr. Trump’s comparison of men, women and children displaced by a horrific civil war to a chewy candy was hardly the first time he had been accused of poor taste." The comparison, it seems, was itself the accusation. And the "poor taste" further suggested — to Mr Horowitz, anyway — "white supremacy, anti-Semitism, incendiary language and conspiracy theories" on the part of both Mr Trumps. To those imputed sins I suppose we must now add their advocating cannibalism. Or, to be absolutely precise, avoiding cannibalism, though only because the human "chewy candy" might be poisoned.
It is not possible to believe that The New York Times and its readers are unaware of the long customary operation of analogy and metaphor, or of the distinction which even those refugee children, so tragically likened to Skittles, must be able to grasp between figurative and literal language. But the rhetorical culture within which today’s media operate takes it for granted that ignoring that distinction, or any other familiar linguistic convention, in the cause of sniffing out new scandal for them to sensationalize must always be permitted, not to say required, especially when the political stakes are as high as they are now. Not that the political stakes, at least in the current century, have ever been much less high than they are now.
Twenty-five paragraphs into the story — the interim having been filled by the supposed justification for treating Donald II as tantamount to Donald I, as well as mostly equally dubious alleged examples of the alleged "pattern" — we find this:
His Skittles post on Monday, which drew almost 24,000 "likes" by Tuesday afternoon, seemed almost tame by comparison. Its argument is one that many have made, sometimes using M&Ms, against accepting Syrian refugees, and it is consistent with the Trump campaign’s talking point that Mrs. Clinton’s more inclusive stance toward refugees threatens Americans.
"Almost tame" now rates 1150 words on the front page of The New York Times? Do you detect, as I do, something the tiniest bit shamefaced about this admission. Yeah, OK, so we’re hyping it a bit. And the guy did also, by the way, have a serious point to make, at least in the view of lots and lots of people. But what do you expect? It’s The New York "All the News That’s Fit to Print" Times, isn’t it? We’re the paper that goes after the big game, like the Wrigley company’s spokesman (Wrigley makes Skittles) who brings up the article’s rear by questioning whether the analogy was "appropriate." "Skittles are candy," he said. "Refugees are people." Thanks to our newspaper of record, on behalf of idiots everywhere, for clearing that up.