Actual Slate Piece Wonders If Others Will Be ‘Bullied Into Releasing’ Ancestry Like Warren

October 17th, 2018 7:11 PM

Talk about a piece that twisted itself into quite the pretzel. In a piece Monday night for Slate’s Future Tense partnership with New America and Arizona State, James Erwin passed the blame onto the President for the ancestry fiasco concerning Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), suggesting it could lead to a new McCarthyism with politicians being “bullied” into taking such tests.

Erwin’s headline (“Elizabeth Warren Has Set a Dangerous Precedent”) and subhead (“Will other politicians be bullied into releasing their genetic information, too?”) set the tone for the nutty assertion that merely passed the buck off of Warren and her past claims about being Native American (when she’s likely only between 1/64th and 1/1,024th). 

Warren had boasted of her heritage in her past (ex. faculty guides at Harvard and the "pow wow chow" cookbook), but Erwin asserted that it’s Trump who caused this problem (click “expand”):

On May 26, 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump tweeted, “I find it offensive that Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, pretended to be Native American to get in Harvard.” It was a classic of the Trump insult-tweet genre: so offensive it demanded refutation but so juvenile it diminished anyone compelled to engage with it. For two years, Trump has returned to the insult again and again, culminating with his July 5 challenge to Warren to take a DNA test....On Monday, however, she released a DNA test which points definitively to Warren having a real (if quite small) percentage of Native American ancestry[.]

Erwin fretted that “[c]onservative commentators dismissed the reveal as lackluster at best” while some leftists “bemused approval” but were “quickly overshadowed by debates about the unique issues of identity faced by Native Americans.”

He added that Warren’s move “may end up having a wider and very negative long-term impact” with Trump and others being given cover to mock the heritage of other politicians and demand DNA tests.

“It was inevitable, perhaps. But it brings much closer what Robert Green and George Annas called ‘the threat of genetic McCarthyism’ in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008,” Erwin continued. 

After equating the matter to presidential campaigns when candidates released statements on their health, Erwin tried to suggest that, in the future, we’ll move beyond that into cases “where a candidate’s DNA can be shared” and “twisted by the dark art of spin.” Yes, really.

Erwin’s rant eventually concluded, in part, by stating:

A power revealed soon becomes a power abused. Until Monday, Trump’s bluster was just bluster....But now she has set a precedent. The “mismeasure of man” has never been prevented by new tests; it has only been shunted down new paths. We will live to see qualified candidates driven from politics over small potential flaws uncovered in their genetic makeup....President Trump will not be the last bully to demand the right to rummage through an opponent’s DNA. We must hope that Warren will be the last for a long time to allow it.