I want you to cast your memory back to October of 2011. Republican presidential candidate was at a town hall campaign stop, when at least two people said they were “afraid” of Obama. One woman said, “I’ve read about him. He’s not…he’s not…he’s an Arab.” To McCain’s credit, he took the microphone, and said Obama was a good man, and he was not an “Arab.”
Here’s the clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrnRU3ocIH4
Now, this woman is both stupid and racist. I don’t say as an insult, I mean it as a statement of fact. She is stupid because she struggled to remember something that is factually inaccurate in the first place; although I’m sure she never used any racial slurs in her entire life, and never once told anyone with darker skin than her to “go home,” she is racist because rather than recognize that Africa and Asia are a constellation of thousands of different cultures with their own history, religions, eating habits, dressing habits, languages, and so on, she puts two entire continents in one schema, as smart people put it, or “slushy memory bucket,” you might say.
This woman, who is stupid and racist, has been told over and over again that Barack Obama, a biracial Christian born in Hawaii who lives with his wife and children in Illinois, is really a Muslim born in Kenya. But because he has a funny name, he’s an Arab…or something. It’s amazing what happens when you have to actually say your racism out loud. And just to say it completely clearly: Kenya is not even part of the Arab League.
It’s this passive stupid racism that The G.W. Bush administration exploited to conflate Saddam Hussain with Osama Bin Laden. For all their terrible ideas on how to run the country, Mitt Romney and John McCain refused to explicitly exploit this instinct. They played fair—and they lost.
Trump, or at least Steve Bannon, learned this lesson: never, under any circumstances, play fair. Insulate, inundate, overwhelm, overload. If the audience is both factually incorrect and morally bankrupt there is no way for the other side to reach them. There is simply no venue where you can sit someone down, explain to them that everything that they think is wrong, and have them actually take it in. You can’t have a reasoned debate when one side is unreasonable.
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