The conservative as racist: a popular lie

KYLE DAY, Opinion Columnist

In last Monday’s issue of The New York Times, Paul Krugman (in an otherwise interesting and informative column, a rarity for Krugman) argued that Ted Cruz’s expressed disdain for Trump’s “New York values” didn’t work like Cruz wanted it to because, in part, distrust of social liberalism “runs a distant second to racial enmity” for Republican voters.

Yet this kind of suggestion is not limited to the “left coast.”

Before the Iowa caucuses, Northern Iowan columnist Hannah Carr-Murphy asked in her endorsement of Bernie Sanders, “Do I hate people of color?” and stated that a lack of such hatred indicated that she could not support “the majority” of the Republican presidential candidates.

Whether she was joking or not is rather beside the point, because the sentiment is the same as that expressed by Krugman: Republicans are racists, closeted Klansmen whose vision for America is a thorough return to the 1950s or earlier, warts and all.

Because racism is one of the few remaining “sins” universally agreed-upon in post-Christian America, accusing someone of being racist is a serious affair, and those in politics accused of being racists find themselves in the position of having to both present arguments supporting their claims (a not-easy task by itself) and to prove that they are not racist.

Anyone with any worthwhile experience in marketing will tell you that branding is everything, and if you aren’t successful in branding yourself, others will brand you, and it will stick for a long time.

Now, it’s not as though this perception is totally undeserved. There are a few ways in which Republicans feed into this, and I’m not just talking about the popularity of Donald Trump (although even their racism is a narrow and simplistic explanation for reasons I won’t try to explain here).

Many millennials grew up in the 1990s, when bipartisan (and by many marks, successful) welfare reform was driven in part by politically-advantageous rhetoric about welfare recipients as societal leeches, the majority of whom were (and still are) black Americans and other ethnic minorities.

Conservative pundits and commentators have appeared to be dismissive of reports of police brutality (largely against black Americans), and almost always use such stories as an opportunity to talk about “black-on-black” crime (an alarmingly real phenomenon, but not often discussed in the most appropriate contexts).

Even happy warrior U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan recently repented for using the language of “makers and takers” when talking about economic policy (much less racially-tinged than other instances, but worth noting).

But for many liberals, those kinds of instances are all they know about the relationship between race and the GOP, and for a very simple reason: they aren’t really friends with conservatives.

It’s always been easy to limit yourself to peers who share your opinion, but that has become phenomenally easier in the “Information Age,” where social media algorithms (unintentionally?) team up with perspective-driven media outlets to ensure that information consumers remain comfortably trapped in their own worldview.

Liberating oneself from one’s own echo chambers takes work, but it’s the strongest, if not the only, antidote to the delusion that one’s opponents are inherently evil.

So, if you’re a Republican, or even a conservative with a strained relationship with the GOP (like me), think through what you’re saying when talking with liberals, progressives, independents, libertarians, socialists or anyone else.

There is a difference between policing your speech (not a great thing) and crafting your arguments/rhetoric so as to not give your liberal opponents any room to accuse you whatsoever. A few jerks are needed to push the envelope in any movement, but unless you’re talented enough (and funny enough) for the task, don’t try it. Go for the happy warrior instead. It’s harder, but you’ll win more hearts and minds that way.

And if you’re a liberal (and especially if you’re a progressive), take your own advice about getting to know and understand “the other.” Stop by a meeting of UNI College Republicans sometime, and not just to pick a fight.

Pick up a copy of National Review in addition to your regular dosage of The New Republic. When browsing online, check out The Federalist, arguably the greatest exclusively-online conservative outlet currently published (my friend and fellow undergraduate alumna Bre Payton is a writer there, you should especially read her).

Do your best to understand why and how conservatives think the way they do. If you are consistent with your own ideals about understanding and tolerance, the “r-word” will be thrown around with less frequency and with greater care. And who would lose in that scenario?