Ivanka Learns How to Dog-Whistle

Image: AP

In the wake of a weekend of back to back mass shootings, Ivanka Trump tweeted her empty condolences, along with another message about the wider problem of gun violence in the United States.

“As we grieve over the evil mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, let us not overlook that Chicago experienced its deadliest weekend of the year,” she wrote. “With 7 dead and 52 wounded near a playground in the Windy City- and little national outrage or media coverage- we mustn’t become numb to the violence faced by inner city communities every day.”

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It’s true that most gun violence in the United States is without spectacle, borderline mundane. It’s arguments that escalate to gunfire; it’s the men who all too commonly murder their spouses and girlfriends; it’s children accidentally coming into contact with a family pistol; it’s suicides. The collective tendency to only react to mass shootings—the exact weaponry, the motive—flattens the work that needs to be done to make America safer from this kind of routine violence.

But on the right, referencing this “everyday” gun violence tends to have a uniform subject: violence in cities and neighborhoods that are heavily racially segregated, with high levels of poverty, and are majority black and majority people of color. “Gun violence in Chicago,” from the lips of a Trump or a Republican politician, is not a lamentation—it is a recurring racist deflection. The right maligns the city as a unique horror, full of wretches. “Animals.”

President Trump, in particular, has relished this characterization. “Seven people shot and killed yesterday in Chicago. What is going on there - totally out of control. Chicago needs help!” Trump tweeted in February of 2017. In June, he tweeted, “Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help. 1714 shootings in Chicago this year!”

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That December, at a rally in Pensacola, Florida, he said this:

The city of Chicago. What the hell is going on in Chicago? There are those who say that Afghanistan is safer than Chicago, okay? What is going on? You know what’s wrong with Chicago? Weak, ineffective politicians. Democrats that don’t want to force restrictions and don’t, and by the way, Chicago, — for those of you that are gonna say, ‘Guns, guns’ — Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the United States, okay? Just in case you were thinking about it.

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Whenever the right is under scrutiny for repeatedly blocking even modest gun reform, or a white mass shooter is alleged to have been motivated by white supremacy and the right-wing machinery that fuels racist panic, they break out the Chicago card. Or the Baltimore card. Or whatever city found itself in Fox News’ coverage that day. There is no care for the trauma people in those communities face. There is no regard for the systemic forces that blighted these neighborhoods and left people in poverty. There is no sense of urgency to make it harder for people to obtain guns, or a drive to improve conditions in those communities so that they’re less vulnerable to violence in the first place. The thinly veiled, faux concern about gun violence on Chicago’s West and South sides can be translated to: Well, the blacks are killing each other all the time, in a Democratically run city, too.  

So when Chicago’s gun violence is mentioned by a member of the Trump administration, the same administration that cannot refrain from calling a predominately black community “rat-infested,” it’s going to ring pretty fucking hollow. Which is exactly what Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot likely picked up on when she saw Trump’s response. During a press conference on Tuesday, she called Trump’s tweets “nonsense.”

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From the Chicago Tribune:

A livid Lightfoot said Trump got key facts wrong in her online comments and falsely implied that all the injuries happened in one incident. If Ivanka Trump cared, Lightfoot said, she should have reached out to city officials.

“It wasn’t a playground, it was a park. It wasn’t seven dead. It wasn’t 52 wounded in one incident, which is what this suggests. It’s misleading,” Lightfoot said. “It’s important when we’re talking about people’s lives to actually get the facts correct, which one can easily do if you actually cared about getting it right.”

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Over the weekend, the Tribune reports that 55 people were shot in Chicago, seven fatally. It’s a grim reality—that also has concrete solutions, or concrete steps towards those solutions. None of which—holistic gun reform that has community buy-in, demilitarizing local police, strengthening and funding the programs that ensure people have safe housing and what they need to take care of themselves and their families—the Trump administration supports.

In response to Lightfoot’s comment, a spokeswoman for Ivanka Trump said: “Her point remains the same. We cannot ignore the gun violence that happens in cities across this country on a daily basis.”

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She’s right, but that care was not in Trump’s tweet. It was a delicate retread of the same path her father had laid out before her. The only difference is the meager illusion of grace.

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About the author

Ashley Reese

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.