Norrington: No additional shot nor powder, a compass that doesn’t point north, (looks at Jack’s sword) and I half expected it to be made of wood. You are without doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.
Jack Sparrow: But you have heard of me.
The story thus far: Your humble author writes about CNN’s Trump obsession, suggesting that the overuse of the word “racist” renders it essentially ineffective and therefore inadvertently aids/abets the future appearance of actual, no-holds-barred racism. I do not call President Trump a racist, but I also do not make any attempt to exonerate him of CNN’s charges. I write the whole piece with an eye towards being value-neutral, neither pro-Trump nor anti-Trump. If you go back and read the thing, it’s almost offensively milquetoast at times.
And this is what I get: a flat-out statement that I am a “twisted and hypocritical bigot” because I refuse to… what? Demand Trump’s impeachment? Register as a Democrat? Throw a Molotov cocktail at a propane tank?
My first impulse, upon reading this Tweet, was to construct an elaborate and intricate defense of my, ah, non-bigot-ness. I’ve trained, hired, and promoted women, gay people, people of color, and the auto industry’s first transgender author on the Web. For fifteen years of my life, I operated a variety of businesses with African-American partners. I’ve been the only white man in a band, I’ve traveled cross-country with “diverse” athletes. From 1999 to 2002 I had a rotating crew of South American BMX racers living with me, at my expense, so they could take a shot at competing in the United States. My first wife was Jewish and I was married by a rabbi. You will search in vain for a legitimate example of me professionally or personally denying someone an opportunity because of their race, creed, or color. For fuck’s sake, I drove for the “Pakistan Express” race team and had the star and crescent of Islam on my team clothing!
I could say all of that on Twitter in response to this dude. I could get testimonials, character witnesses, whatever. Now here’s the question. Do you think any of that will cause him to reverse his accusation? Keep in mind that his accusation is far more damaging to my personal and professional life than, say, an accusation of pedophilia would be. If someone said I was out there molesting kids, most people would answer, “Is there any evidence?” Accusations of bigotry, however, require no evidence — and they are impossible to refute with facts. You’re trying to prove a negative, which is a losing game.
Now here’s where things get meta. The more often I see accusations like this flung towards either myself or other people whom I know to be generally sane and open-minded folks, the less credibility I am likely to attach to the accusations when I hear them regarding someone I don’t know. And the less credibility I, and others, assign to the accusations, the louder and more vitriolic they will become. Which, in turn, will cause other people to disregard them.
I’ll give the Twitter poster in question credit for this: he was at least self-aware enough not to claim that I was a “racist”, given that my whole column to which he was responding concerned the dissipation of that word’s power. Instead, he chose “bigot”. Was he tacitly acknowledging my lack of racism, choosing instead to claim that I oppress people based on other characteristics? Or did he just rotate his List Of Powerful Words forward one notch and use the next one that popped up? And what makes me “twisted”? How am I “hypocritical”, exactly? Are those just the next two words on his list?
There will be a reckoning from this type of hysterical behavior, and it will happen when the next generation of kids grows up with this kind of chatter as just so much background noise. If you want a preview of the future, think about how seriously society as a whole, and media companies in particular, used to take accusations of salaciousness or obscenity in the movies, music, and books distributed to the public. Elvis being censored, John Updike having to take the F-word out of Rabbit, Run. That sort of thing. Now fire up your streaming music service and give a listen to the top R&B or rap music. Imagine that sort of “progression” occurring when it comes to discussion of race, faith, or sexual orientation in this country. In truth, you needn’t imagine it at all; the blueprint was laid down ninety years ago. The more willing we are to demonize anyone who disagrees with us, the more eager we are to “unperson” them, the more bloodthirsty we are when calling for violence against the people we have “unpersoned”… the more likely we are to end up as the victims of an authoritarian regime. It was street violence, largely promoted by “antifacists”, which put the actual Nazis in power.
I could end this piece by asking you to act in moderation, where possible. Avoid slurs which reduce people to some sort of “Nazi” or “commie” caricature. Try to understand your opponent’s viewpoint, however imperfectly, before you respond. And understand that very few people are driven exclusively by hate or fear. The supporter of open borders loves, and fears for, the immigrant; his counterpart on the opposition loves, and fears for, his fellow Americans. Even if you consider Trump or Soros or AOC or the Koch brothers to be evil masterminds, the same is likely not true of the person on your street or in your school who agrees with some, or all, of their public positions. Let’s try to determine the American future in a legitimate and well-thought-out fashion rather than by shooting it out in the streets. Well, I could ask you to do all of that — but why would you take the advice of a bigot?