Moth and Flame

I once met a racist.

He was the son of one of my mom’s friends, young guy. He hated black people and it was a recurring subject of his conversations and jokes. He had a young daughter, maybe 11 years old, who was a little bit brown-skinned. He had taught her to flirt with him.

When you meet a racist, it is something you know and you don’t forget. I look upon that virulent strain of hatred as a manifestation of evil.

I also consider that certain words are extremely powerful, and are not to be used casually. And I think the vast majority of people who use the English language to convey thoughts and ideas have the same sense.

The term “racist” is one of those words. It represents a frame of mind that led to the killing of civil rights leaders, to denigration of the human condition, to life-long deprivation for individuals who are sweet souls. If I were religious, I would say that without repentance it leads to damnation.

To throw the word around easily is to cheapen it, is, as I see it, to give evil a hiding place.

There has been much ventilating, much exercising of the extremities, among the press corps on this subject. The question is whether to call the president racist, or more commonly to describe his words as racist.

And some including the Associated Press and the Washington Post have officially decided that some of his words are indeed racist.

I disagree. The Orange One is a master manipulator, not in order to achieve legislative goals like Lyndon Johnson, but to rile up his crowd, to denigrate and mock. He uses phrases to fan the flames of division on culture, race and what our nations stands for.

But since I was a kid, I have heard the expressions, “Go back to where you came from” and “Love it or leave it.” Hell, I have heard guys practicing baseball yell about their field priority over soccer players because the baseball guys were playing an “all-American sport.”

Appeals to those sentiments, and indeed outright appeals to prejudice, are old political tactics in our nation. So I have told our editors that it is OK and indeed accurate to describe some of the president’s political tactics as exploitation of prejudice and fear.

But the rush, the imperative, the need to “call out” the president, to really tell it like it is, and label the tactics “racist” is for me a step too far, a step that cheapens and devalues a profound and powerful word, an underlying shame in the course of our nation’s history and that of many nations, and a despicable quality in a human being.

But what I consider a sort of navel-gazing, an inner focus on one’s own expression, fits into a broader concern that the media’s concentration on the president’s tactics and language, his tweets and his rallies, is like the moth’s focus on the flame.

It leads to the death of analysis. In that bright orange glow, the strategic and methodical undoing of social legislation stays in the shadows.

The quiet undoing of a rule making it more difficult for the mentally ill to buy firearms, for example, goes largely unnoticed. The unrelenting campaign to undo environmental protections is not much talked about. The move by Senate Republicans to gut federal protection of water flows was covered by Courthouse News but otherwise ignored.

So too the ongoing hearings approving federal judicial appointments have been carefully covered by us, but we seem to be the only ones reporting on individual appointments as they pile up. The legal effort by this administration’s Justice Department to undo the entirety of the Affordable Care Act through a district court judge in Texas unfolds without much attention and indeed with little mention by the Democratic candidates.

Government agencies have undone rules protecting workers and old people in nursing homes. The administration has encouraged gas consumption by – I am still, even now, shocked by this – rolling back gas mileage requirements. It has promoted coal and denied the undeniable – that the globe is heating up – looking away from the unfolding cataclysm of rising seas, desertification, and ever-hotter seasons. All that merits our intense coverage.

Because there is indeed a revolution underway in our national government. It is changing our nation and it will affect the lives of generations to come. So, for the love of all that is dear, I think we should stop worrying about the particular descriptor we use to describe the president’s insults and instead see and report on the great change that is being wrought in our society.

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