The Corner

Politics & Policy

Why Knee-Jerk Accusations of Racism Are Harmful

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

A Giant, Glaring Example of Why Knee-Jerk Accusations of Racism Are Harmful

One point to add to Jonah’s Corner post on the fallout from Donald Trump’s comments about David Duke and the KKK . . . 

For decades, and in particular during the Obama administration, Americans have been told by certain African-American leaders and portions of that community that society as a whole is deeply racist and in fact white supremacist. Arguments like “American society is still structured around maintaining and protecting white privilege” are pretty common on the Left. Millions of Americans who despite the KKK and all it stands for, and who attempt to treat everyone they encounter with respect, dignity, and Christian charity, get told on a regular basis that they’re part of the problem.

There’s been an indisputable effort to define anybody the Left doesn’t like as dangerous and beyond the pale. The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled Ben Carson an “extremist,” putting him on the same list as . . . David Duke. The Department of Homeland Security instructed that the “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag is “commonly displayed by sovereign American extremists.”

Most of us have argued against those assertions; knee-jerk accusations of racism and extremism attempt to shut down debate, smear legitimate political arguments and ideas, encourage blame-shifting and scapegoating, and generally leave Americans balkanized and angry. The shoe salesman in Des Moines is tired of being told he’s responsible for the Oscar nominees being so white.

But there’s another reason relentless and often baseless accusations of racism and extremism are harmful: They’ve conditioned people to tune them out. The overload of finger-pointing has left certain corners of American society deaf to accusations of racism and justifiably tired of people with no overt suggestions of white supremacy – e.g. Donald Trump, who supports affirmative action and at times has had a close working relationship with Al Sharpton – being demanded, on camera, to renounce people they’ve never met or would give the time of day to.

None of this changes the fact that Trump’s answer was pretty terrible. When somebody asks, as Jake Tapper did, “Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don’t want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?” the right response is something like, “Screw that guy and the horse he rode in on. I hope they immolate themselves while trying to light up a cross.”

Trump’s answer, once again:

Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know. I don’t know, did he endorse me or what’s going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.

Now, we’ve all seen Donald Trump denounce people. He might be the single most famous furious denunciator in American life. He makes Gordon Ramsey look patient and even-tempered. And yet somehow, when asked about some of the most deservingly detested figures in modern American life, Trump shrugs and says he doesn’t know anything about them.

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