Volume 45, Issue 2, Fall 2017
Philosophy of Language
Jennifer M. Saul
Racial Figleaves, the Shifting Boundaries of the Permissible, and the Rise of Donald Trump
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.