That’s when the video takes a turn. Even in our cursed year of 2020, you would expect an accusation of Ku Klux Klan membership to elicit outrage. American racism has a long history of darting off into the squid-ink of plausible deniability and indignant how-dare-yous; the purpose of a white hood, after all, is not just to terrorize but also to disguise. This man driving the golf cart, however, is having none of that. As the hecklers chant “racist, racist,” he gives a hearty thumbs-up and shouts: “Yeah, you got it!” Then he pumps his fist and shouts: “White power! White power!”
Why did the president of the United States tweet a video of an old man in a golf cart shouting, “White power”? Of all the ways to answer that question — some have suggested, for instance, that he watched with the sound off — perhaps the least plausible is the defense offered by the White House itself: “He did not hear the one statement made on the video.”
That odd phrasing posits a nearly impossible scenario in which the President listened attentively to two minutes of vitriol but somehow missed its defining moment. The “white power” shout happens eight seconds in — it is literally the first significant event — and it has the kind of formal clarity a film director might envy. A wide shot establishes the scene, and then the camera zooms in on the “white power” man, who, three seconds later, unmistakably shouts, “White power,” then repeats it to make sure everyone heard. To miss this would require superhuman powers of cluelessness. It would be like recommending that everyone watch Abraham Zapruder’s wonderful footage of a scenic but uneventful 1963 parade in downtown Dallas.
Again, the tenor of this confrontation is not new. You can see similar rhetorical head-butting anytime you want: at Gettysburg or Mount Rushmore, on cable news or in the White House briefing room, on almost any social media site. The United States, today, is like a continent-size terrarium of Facebook arguments.
One thing that distinguishes this video, aside from that shockingly open declaration of white supremacy, is that all of its roles are played by seniors. We have been conditioned, by centuries of poets and philosophers and greeting cards, to think of old age as a time of mellowing, serenity and wisdom. Plato, paraphrasing Sophocles, equated it with freedom: “When the passions relax their hold … we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master, only, but of many.”