Rhinoceros Whistle Might Be A Better Description

Hat tip today to Delphine Minoui, whose op-ed piece, “Egypt’s Rhinoceros Allegory,” was published today in the NYT.  She writes that Egyptians are more and more bowing in submission to Field Marshal Al-Sisi in a way that reminds her of how characters in Eugene Ionesco’s play “Rhinoceros” (by the way there is also a movie starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder!) grow rhinoceros horns, one by one, as a sign of their urge to conform and thus “join the universal family.”

I had been thinking about the loud choo-choo whistling through Chattanooga last week that likely made the difference in a 712-626 vote by VW workers against forming a union.  Despite the neutral-to-positive stance of the apparently happy-go-lucky German owners, some of the workers caught the message of the anti-union billboards: if you vote union, you are an Obama-lover and you may as well move to Detroit and be black.  Racialized dog-whistling has been a bedrock right-wing strategy for a long time: conservative Democratic Senators filibustered against civil rights by claiming they were victims of anti-states’ rights extremism; Nixon crafted his “Southern strategy”; Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign in the same Mississippi county where civil rights workers Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodman were murdered in 1964; Bush operatives in South Carolina put out ads attacking John McCain for having a “black baby” before the 2000 primary; not to say anything about the venom directed at Barack Obama.

“Dog whistling” makes sense if the whistle is clearly audible to some but hidden from others.  But as racist and anti-gay marriage whistles get wider media exposure these days, is it time for new figures of speech?  How about “rhinoceros whistling”?

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