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Sunday, March 6, 2016

A missed opportunity for the Republicans

The David Duke dipsy-doodle was a golden opportunity to redefine the left's narrative on race.

T he Republican candidates have been so caught up in comparing the size of their penises that they missed the greatest opportunity of the campaign. That was the fabulous phony kerfuffle about David Duke (the KKK guy) and whether (or how often) Donald Trump should repudiate his supposed endorsement.

Whether or not Duke's endorsement of Trump was real, a put-up job, or just a fantasy of the news media trying for the umpteenth time to tar their opponents as racists, it was a golden opportunity. But their focus on the brass of one candidate gave them a tin ear.

Democrats have been trying for over two decades to redefine racism as something that is only possible for southern white conservatives. This is, of course, a philosophical and logical absurdity; therefore, conservatives, whose ears are finely tuned to the subtle nuances of Aristotelian logic, are unable to comprehend it.

The establishment's inability to fight back effectively against these smears is what led to the ascendency of Donald Trump.

I know that sounds like sarcasm, but I'm serious. It's a well known phenomenon in psychology: illogic is hard to remember. People can barely remember nonsense sentences at all. Psychologists call those semantically impoverished sentences, or Jabberwocky sentences for short, and they've discovered that, when the human brain is monitored in an fMRI scanner, it lights up like a Christmas tree when it hears one and tries unsuccessfully to process it. Unless, of course, the person is unconscious or, it seems, running for office. The brain is wired to remember only what it can understand, so it ignores semantically impoverished sentences.

In fact it is the campaign that has been semantically impoverished.

The David Duke dipsy doodle was a chance to push the definition of racism back to its true meaning: generalized hatred of people because of their race. If the candidates had raised their sights a little higher, they could have seized the opportunity to destroy this false narrative.

The establishment's inability to fight back effectively against these smears is what led to the ascendency of Donald Trump. Being a walking smear machine himself, he is immune, and the base recognized the value of that. But all the candidates, including Trump, showed that they are just as intimidated as the GOP establishment. Otherwise they would have seized this opportunity.

They could have said, for instance, that the slogan “Black lives matter” is racially divisive. It only plays into the hands of those who, just like David Duke, try to divide people into mutually antagonistic tribes; dead cops are evidence of its toxicity. They could have said the Democratic party is flirting once again with the same tribalism it had cleansed itself of less than a century ago. Or that tribalism, racism, and multiculturalism are all ways of undermining the concept of the melting pot, the color-blind belief in the equality of all before the law, which made America great when it was followed and caused conflict when it was not.

They could have said that when candidates like Martin O'Malley can be expelled and converted into an unperson for saying “All lives matter”—a phrase that ten years ago would have been regarded as anodyne and insufferably trite—it shows how their opponents are, indeed, in grave danger of losing their capacity for rational discourse.

Our newspapers and their followers are unable to discuss people with whom they disagree without accusing them of being racists. If the candidates would stand up to that, the media would fold like a cheap suit. They would have to come up with something less intellectually impoverished than calling people names.

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