Those readers who follow my articles know that there are three “vaults” that I often open to retrieve examples or metaphors. The classics should never die, and I want to do my part keeping them alive.
Vault # 1 contains political dramas: American President, West Wing, etc.
Vault #2 contains 50 years of Star Trek
Vault # 3 contains sports comedies: Major League, Slap Shot, Tin Cup, etc.
Today, we open Vault #3.
There is a classic scene in the 1996 film Tin Cup where driving range owner Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner) challenges professional golfer David Simms (Don Johnson) to a long-drive contest using a 7-iron…and hitting from right where they stood, the patio/bar area behind the clubhouse at the golf course. Simms accepts. McAvoy goes first and hits a monster of a drive, maybe 250 yards out onto the adjoining fairway. Simms goes next. No practice swings. He does not even remove his suit jacket. But instead of following McAvoy’s lead and hitting towards the fairway, Simms turns and hits his shot down the golf club’s long asphalt driveway. While nowhere near as majestic as McAvoy’s shot, Simms’ shot was like the Energizer Bunny. It kept going and going and going. The point was, when someone who is so far beneath your talent level tries to show-off by challenging you, you do NOT play to their strength. You play to yours. McAvoy’s strength was the long-drive. Simms strength was strategy, thinking outside the box, and negating his opponent’s strengths as a way of obscuring his own weaknesses. That is how you win a rigged bet.
Why does this scene matter to a guy like me who writes about politics? Because President Donald Trump is a lair, a bully, a name-caller, and a misogynist, who never tires of demeaning women with nicknames or comments about their physical appearance. He challenged Senator Elizabeth Warren’s veracity, her family heritage, and nicknamed her Pocahontas, due to an old instance of self-identifying as having Native American heritage based on family lore. But when Trump challenged Warren to prove her lineage, and sweetened the pot with a $1 million charitable pledge, Senator Warren did not follow David Simms’ lead and think her way out of the dare. She seized the opportunity to play her challenger’s lose-lose proposition.
For Trump, it was never about whether Warren had Native American ancestors in her family tree or not. That was just another distraction. Trump’s grandparents (Friedrich and Elisabeth) were born in Bavaria. Donald Trump’s first wife Ivana (mother of Ivanka, Eric, and Don Jr.) was born in Czechoslovakia. Even the current First Lady, Melania, was born in Slovenia. The Trump’s may be the least “American” first family in history.
Why then would Senator Warren take the bait and try to prove her “heritage” to someone like Donald Trump? And to try to prove something precise with evidence that can never be precise when looking back that far in a timeline? And to try to prove it to someone who would never believe something he disagreed with even if irrefutable proof were slammed in his face?
Warren made a mistake; the sort amateurs or novices make. It happens. Fortunately, the electorate is more forgiving than generations ago and one misstep does not end one’s presidential aspirations. We are more than two years out from the next presidential election, so there is time to recover. And really, in the grand scheme, the DNA test results change nothing. Democrats contesting the 2020 primary with Warren were never going to attack her race. And were she to win the nomination, Trump will use the issue anyway and will still call her childish names.
The critical takeaway is that this is a losing issue for Senator Warren no matter how she defends herself.
On one hand, it is a classic straw man argument. The claimants (originally, Warren’s Massachusetts Senate challenger Scott Brown and now, Donald Trump) do not care about Warren’s heritage. They want to make her seem dishonest. They want to portray her as someone who played the “race card” to get ahead instead of acknowledging her success was based on skill and determination. They want to build a narrative knowing that innuendo and accusation worked in the race to defeat Hillary Clinton, so why change what works, even if the accusations are false?
On the other hand, it is a classic false dichotomy. Proving one part does not make the larger claim true. Disproving (or even casting doubt on) one part does not make the larger claim false. Did she have one or more Native American ancestors? Her DNA certainly seems to indicate she did, but there are some serious issues. First, the science is not exact. DNA is exact, and what one has is what they have where DNA is concerned. But where it came from and when is the inexact part. And as so many media outlets placed their own spin on the results, Warren could have been anything from 1/32nd to 1/1024th Native American depending on who was opining on the results. Worse, many of the media outlets that made definitive proclamations (even the liberal-leaning Washington Post) have now admitted they got their interpretations wrong and really have no idea how definitive the results are.
Here is why there was so much confusion:
The above graphic, from the Coop Lab at the University of California Davis depicts what most people think of when considering the DNA that makes us who we are. Blue is for paternal. Red is for maternal. We are a product of a red and a blue. Each of our parents was the product of a red and a blue. It filters back through the generations just as majestically as the graphic shows. The problem is, that is NOT how this works.
This graphic depicts how people actually accumulate DNA. As one can see, the bulk (the brightest reds and blues) comes from parents and grandparents. But go back six generations and you will see some red ancestors so faded they appear almost peach while others are still bold red and some blues are royal while others are almost light gray. Some material, such as the red in the outer row at approximately 2 o’clock remains vibrant going back a dozen generations while other material such as the red above the 4th blue on the bottom right are faded by the fourth generation.
So the idea that someone, anyone, could look at Senator Elizabeth Warren’s DNA and pinpoint a specific Native American ancestor is silly. It is only slightly less silly to seek to estimate when in the familial line that Native American DNA might have first appeared. There could have been a single significant contributor six generations ago or numerous insignificant contributors a dozen generations ago.
The bottom line is: Senator Elizabeth Warren made a huge mistake by trying to win an argument using facts, truth, and science because that argument was with a President who does not believe in facts, truth, or science.
Donald Trump is Silly Putty. He is pinkish-orange. He is malleable. Stuff bounces off him. He lives in a shell. He picks up things the way kids would lift the ink from the Sunday paper by pressing the Putty to the page. But there is no depth of adhesion. It is all on the surface, and with a few folds and squeezes, the Putty is good as new and the day’s news is erased.
Arguing with Donald Trump, on issues he chooses to bait you with, is like playing chess with a pigeon. Even if you win, the bird is still going to puff his chest out, prance around knocking over all the pieces, and shit all over the board leaving the mess for you to clean up.
Donald Trump and his propaganda machines (both within the administration and on cable news) will set plenty more traps for Democratic contenders over the next two years, unleashing a torrent of claims and misrepresentations designed to turn-off Democratic voters while simultaneously distracting them and others from the current administration’s daily abuses, many of which just might be criminal. Democrats want to fight back, and that is a welcome change. But you do not necessarily beat someone like Donald Trump by engaging him. After all, he seldom engages his adversaries. He talks about them, or at them, but never to them. The last is a losing strategy for Trump, like when he directly engaged Hillary Clinton at the debates and got hit back hard.
Don’t engage him.
Don’t defend against his attacks.
That gives him the control.
Be always on the offense.
Attack his flaws, his weaknesses, his vanities, even his family.
What Trump craves most is acceptance. He wants you to believe his boasts, his lies, the narrative he creates for himself and his family because the truth is pathetic and ugly and dirty. He wants to be class. He wants to be old money. But he is a pig, from a long line of pigs, and no matter how much money he accumulates, he will never be class. He will never be old money. He will always be a pig.
You do not show a pig who is the boss on the farm by getting in the mud and wrestling with him. You show him who is boss by making him watch you eat bacon and sausage for breakfast. Trust me, the last thing that pig will be thinking about is which of his ancestors is on the plate.
Information and fact-checking for this article came from two sources:
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker – Link
Snopes.com – Link