In an essay that makes Meryl Streep look like an astute political commentator, The New Republic‘s social media editor, Sarah Jones, claims “Trump Has Turned the GOP Into the Party of Eugenics.” Well, not literally, Jones concedes in the sixth paragraph. Or at all, it turns out, once you’ve waded through all 2,300 words of increasingly desperate argumentation.
At first it seems Jones wants to prove that Trump believes in eugenics, which she defines as “the idea that the human race could improve itself through selective breeding—through propagating good traits and quarantining the bad ones.” Jones notes that Trump once told Oprah Winfrey, “You have to be born lucky, in the sense that you have to have the right genes.” And according to one biographer, the Trumps “believe that there are superior people and that if you put together the genes of a superior woman and a superior man, you get a superior offspring.”
In case you are not yet convinced that Trump is eager to push a program of government-sponsored genetic improvement, Jones adds that anonymous sources interviewed by The New York Times said Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, “occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.” Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, “praised the Immigration Act of 1924 in a 2015 interview with Bannon,” and Trump adviser Michael Anton has written (under a pseudonym) that Charles Lindbergh’s America First Committee was “unfairly maligned.”
That’s pretty much it, which is why Jones ends up switching her focus from Trump to the Republican Party and from eugenics to “the party’s agenda,” which “in many ways channels the spirit of eugenics, even if it does not accept the theory in a literal sense.” Hence the article’s subhead, which contradicts the headline by suggesting that eugenics was not introduced to the GOP by Trump but has “always been embedded in the Republican platform.”
How so? Republicans oppose Obamacare, like capitalism, talk about welfare reform, and support school choice, which according to Jones makes them eugenicists in spirit.
Jones omits a major target of anti-Republican rants: the GOP’s pro-life stance, which is inconvenient for her argument because it entails rejecting tools favored by coercive eugenicists: abortion, euthanasia, and sterilization. She also conspicuously ignores the intimate relationship between eugenics and progressivism. It was progressive icon Oliver Wendell Holmes, after all, who declared that “three generations of imbeciles are enough” in Buck v. Bell, the 1927 Supreme Court decision upholding Virginia’s forced sterilization of “mental defectives” (a decision that was joined by progressive luminary Louis Brandeis). Jones quotes a book about that case in her second paragraph but shows no interest in the ideological roots of the policy Holmes endorsed. She is so intent on exposing metaphorical eugenicists that she overlooks the political philosophy of actual eugenicists.
Jones’s article is an excellent example for progressives who want to alienate allies while discrediting criticism of Trump. She manages to exaggerate the odiousness of the president’s views even while conflating them with those of mainstream Republicans, turning what should be a discussion of Trumpism’s peculiar dangers into a familiar attack on cruel privatizers and budget cutters. If this is what the anti-Trump movement is all about, you can count me out.