Richard Cohen in Black and White

Richard Cohen, criticizing the Princeton students:

The ability and willingness to keep two opposing views in mind at the same time are hallmarks of adulthood. We grow up to respect the gray. Black or white, one or the other, is childish. It represents the worldview of someone who does not know the world.

Richard Cohen on Europe’s “Muslim minority”:

Its [Europe’s] Muslim minority…loathes Israel for what it is allegedly doing to the Palestinians, and it hates Jews for being Jewish — supposedly rich, powerful, secretive, conspiratorial and manipulative.

Richard Cohen on “the Arab world”:

The Arab world is the last bastion of unbridled, unashamed, unhidden and unbelievable anti-Semitism…How the Arab world will ever come to terms with Israel when Israelis are portrayed as the devil incarnate is hard to figure out.


  1. John T. Maher November 25, 2015 at 2:20 pm | #

    Low hanging fruit here but it needed to be documented as you have done. It is a pity the Washington Post and NYT are perceived to be as influential as it seems among what passes for a left of center intellectual. Arguably Cohen is a bigger neoliberal dogma spouter than even Nicholas Kristoff over at the NYT. It is all ipse dixit with these people on Israel and any sense of selective self-awareness of racism. The concept of alterity eludes them.

    My own recollection of visiting friends at Princeton was, aside from the piss poor party scene and absence of meaningful discussions on semiotextual matters and deconstruction, was that it did not have the institutional segregation within a defined spatial place as at other Unis but instead seemed to have an almost total absence of black people which is s structural abomination.

  2. Joel in Oakland November 25, 2015 at 3:37 pm | #

    While Cohen’s right that black and white thinking does appear to be age appropriate only for children (age 3 – 5 roughly) it’s not that far removed from Motivated Thinking, where one holds both ideas only in order to find points of attack in one and points of defense in the other.

    It also appears to be the case that trauma is what tends to cause these developmental glitches in one or another part of one’s mind. Others can judge how much and where Motivated Thinking gets triggered in Cohen’s writings.

    It’s understandable that having to enter a building named after someone who appears to have sympathized with one’s/one’s ancestors’ oppressors might reasonably be disturbing and that consideration of removing what’s triggering a trauma reaction is the right thing to do. It’s also ok to wonder how far to privilege a trauma reaction, but at least one starts by acknowledging it and giving it legitimacy.

    • Xango November 26, 2015 at 2:15 am | #

      Joel in Oakland writes of the Princeton protests that “a building named after someone who appears to have sympathized with one’s/one’s ancestors’ oppressors might reasonably be disturbing and that consideration of removing what’s triggering a trauma reaction is the right thing to do.”

      Woodrow Wilson did a bit more than “sympathizing with” the “oppressors” of “African Americans.” He actively worked as one,
      — supporting a policy that barred black students from Princeton (at a time when Harvard, Yale, and even Dartmouth admitted small numbers of black students),
      — maintaining segregation of black soldiers fighting for the United States,
      — resegregating the US Civil Service,
      — overseeing his Cabinet members’ segregation of their departmental buildings (!), which included putting up physical barriers so that white people would not have to look at blacks, and instituting a requirement of photographs for applicants of federal jobs to ensure whites would receive priority
      — screening at the White House and championing D. W. Griffith’s white supremacist film *Birth of a Nation* (which quotes Wilson’s scholarly work in its subtitles!!!),
      — advancing the theory that Southern slavery was relatively benign and that Reconstruction was a brutal violation of white sovereignty (even though white Republicans and corporate interests controlled the South), and so on, etc.

      Why it is so difficult for some (white people?) to grasp how terrible white supremacy was and is boggles my mind, but let’s try to make the effort. Woodrow Wilson’s NAME doesn’t “trigger a trauma reaction,” which suggests that the issue is merely psychological and emotional, but rather embodies the very structures and systems of oppression, not just at Princeton (which is a socially and politically liberal institution by most measures), but across US society and many parts of the globe.

      The impulse always to see racism (and to obscure white supremacy) as a personal, individual, psychological issue, is a major failing of (white) liberalism, and of course of conservatism, but it fits perfectly with the neoliberal ideology that we are, ultimately, not part of a larger society but rather independent agents and consumers, beholden to a market and its forces. But this fails to take into account the long history of racism and white supremacy, or the fact that they are not merely historical ARTIFACTS, but lived experiences TODAY, including AT PRINCETON and other elite, liberal educational institutions.

  3. Anonymous November 25, 2015 at 3:37 pm | #

    He is the epitome of doublespeak – criticising alleged racism whilst spewing it himself! AND THIS:

    “Its [Europe’s] Muslim minority…loathes Israel for what it is allegedly doing to the Palestinians”

    “allegedly doing”??! Oh my god! *clutches at scalp and hyperventilates*

  4. wetcasements November 26, 2015 at 2:38 am | #

    I grew up in the DC area. I remember when the Post was a pretty good paper.

  5. David Green November 30, 2015 at 5:26 pm | #

    But don’t you see that Cohen’s perception of Arabs as not being able to see “black and white” regarding Israel/Jews gives him good reason to collectively exclude them from consideration in “grey” terms? Just like Daniel Pipes’ perception that Arabs are conspiracy theorists excuses him from being a conspiracy theorist regarding their intentions of destroying Israel. Projected hatred always justifies hatred, which is seen as a rational response to those who are being projected upon.

  6. Thornton Hall December 2, 2015 at 1:13 pm | #

    Mentioning Richard Cohen in a blog post serves no purpose except to legitimate the notion that the post-war objective journalism model that the WaPo represents can and should do better.
    Related: I just read “Princeton In The Nation’s Service”. (I haven’t read your book, so apologies for my ignorance of any already published counter-arguments). Doesn’t the fact that Woodrow Wilson was a hard core reactionary contradict your continued defense of the left/right spectrum model of politics?

    How many categories of “other” do we need to overthrow the basic wrongness? “Populist” Donald Trump. WW the “reactionary liberal”, Ted Cruz the “paleo-conservative”. Don’t each of these falsify the idea that different areas of policy are somehow naturally linked in the same way that blue is linked to purple? And isn’t the biggest loser the 97% of the democratic polity that views those 3% who struggle for intellectual coherence as the genetic freaks that they are?

    Or is Rand Paul normal and Woodrow Wilson the freak?

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