Ann Althouse’s “Grab” and “Gumbo”

The New York Times has a big piece today written by Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Peter Baker. It’s about Donald Trump’s “hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation.” As you might expect, it begins with the waking hour.

Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to “Fox & Friends” for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day.

Energized, infuriated — often a gumbo of both — Mr. Trump grabs his iPhone.

That conforms with what has been reported before. The president likes to watch cable television, especially in the morning. He watches a lot of Fox & Friends, which we already knew because his tweets often track with their discussions. Even the fact that he’s no longer using an Android phone is old news.

So, this isn’t exactly the most exciting beginning to a big article, but you might get a kick out of the reasons that it made Ann Althouse angry and inspired her to pick up her quill.

She wants us to realize that a journalist can’t just casually use the verb “grab” to describe the president’s actions because it’s evocative of the Access Hollywood tape and Trump’s locker-room boasts about committing sexual assault. So, for Althouse, when the biased Times reporters say that Trump “grabs” his iPhone, they might as well have said that he moves on his iPhone like a bitch.

But that’s not only nit Althouse wants to pick. She also has a big problem with the word “gumbo.” It inspired her to break out her Oxford English Dictionary, presumably so she could be certain that president wan’t being accused of practicing voodoo on his remote control.

But that gumbo, I want to talk about the gumbo. I know HabermanTrushBaker are using “gumbo” to mean “stew,” but “stew” is well established to mean “A state of excitement, esp. of great alarm or anxiety.” The OED has that meaning for “stew” going back to 1806, whereas “gumbo” only means okra, the “soup thickened with the mucilaginous pods of this plant,” something mud-related, and “A patois spoken by black people and Creoles in the French West Indies, Louisiana, Bourbon, and Mauritius.” Yes, metaphor can take you beyond those meanings, but why express contempt for Trump by using a word associated with black people?

Did your little round belly shake when you laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly?

I know that mine did. That’s a seriously funny take on this news story.

But it’s also insidious. We’re in the middle of a news cycle this weekend in which one of the larger narratives is built around the president’s trip to the grand opening to the Civil Rights Museum in Mississippi. Notably, Civil Rights Era hero John Lewis and others refused to attend the ceremony because they didn’t want to in any way legitimize the idea that the president is a supporter of black civil rights.

But here Althouse is turning that story on its head, suggesting that the media is unfairly and deviously using racially charged language against the president. He’s the victim of racism here. He’s being tarnished with a black word for something mud-related.

The sentence in question doesn’t actually express contempt for the president, which I think would be clearer if they had just used the neutral word “mixture” to describe the combination of energy and fury that Trump takes to his morning Twitter habit. As Althouse actually notes, using “stew” to describe this would carry connotations of alarm and anxiety that might not be suitable to the purpose. “Gumbo,” on the other hand, doesn’t (or shouldn’t) carry obvious negative associations. It was chosen to emphasize it is hard to untwine the emotions from the impulses that drive the president’s behavior. So, yes, the mucilaginous character of gumbo is evoked, meaning that much like snot it cannot be divided.

Some people, mostly people who haven’t tasted it, think gumbo is nasty precisely because of its mucous-like texture. And, perhaps, HabermanTrushBaker were pleased to give at least an oblique nod in that direction. But for expressing contempt, “stew” would have been stronger and more direct.

Unless, of course, you think gumbo is code for mud-related and black people, which doesn’t even make sense in Althouse’s Madison, Wisconsin where it may indeed be hard to find a good bowl of cajun stew.

So, what we get is this weaponized derp which uses the words “grab” and “gumbo” to prove that the New York Times is racist and unfair to the president. And that’s the kind of stupid poison that allows Trump to get away with almost anything. Althouse is silly and fatuous but she’s actually a cog in the Borg that broke our country.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.