I chose to hover somewhere just left of center in the American political drama. What was I thinking? Some days I live I a vertiginous nightmare spinning from one political extreme to the other. It must be nice to live on the extreme left or right, free from ambiguity and loaded with the talking points of your tribe. Wake up and just turn on the TV and nod in agreement. Just think how relaxing that must be.
We are now over a week into the president announcing his 2020 election strategy by dragging everyone into his own little,1950’s master race fantasy. I fear we will not escape this awful place until he loses the election or finally succumbs to his 9,003rdBig Mac. This latest outburst was different for me. Not that I ever excused his nationalistic, endangered white man rantings, but in going for the “go back to where your came from” and “love it or leave it” tropes directed at women from different ethnic roots, I was ready to unleash the word “racist.” And, for the first time advancing beyond the label, I was now ready to say with absolute comfort that anyone who echoed or defended his racism was also a racist. You are what you blissfully eat.
This was a big deal for me. As a writer, I value language, each word’s meaning and context. I don’t use the most powerful words gratuitously. I know that once you cross the Rubicon, and fire the big semantic guns, you can’t go back. So, when I put the word racist in a Facebook post or in a Tweet, that meant I felt like I could make my statement with absolute clarity. I had looked at all the evidence and could no longer avoid the call. I looked to the right at the president and his chanting supporters and said racist. Then I turned to the left and thought, “well that sucks.”
You see, in the rarified air of the Woke Left, the word racist flows like rain on a late November day in Portland. Twittercrats stare at their news feeds all day just waiting for the glorious moment they can call someone a racist. The Tweets that follow are gleeful, unrestrained and torrential. Early on in the emergence of the Woke Left, the word racist had real power. It hurt the chosen offender and shut them up. The word had shock value. If someone had earned the epithet, so much the better. Nailed it, and them. But then the word was everywhere. It became the go to insult, for some even surpassing the always perfect “asshole.” And, it was a righteous virtue signal indicating Wokeness solidarity.
Seemingly in tandem, another phrase became part of the Woke lexicon, “white supremacist.” Now, I had done the training and had embraced the phrase “white privilege” After some nervous shifting in my seat, I got it. Many, not all, white people in America have an edge merely based on the genetic roulette that gave them light skin pigment. Yea, that made sense. It was something to be aware of in life and good work to own that fact in order to call yourself out when you were assuming power in relation to a person with a different skin pigment and life experience. But then, someone, somewhere decided to go further and make it clear that just by being white, you enjoyed white supremacy and were a white supremacist. What? Hold it!
Here’s the problem. When powerful, generally understood descriptive words and phrases become ubiquitous, the power they once had shrivels away. For most people, white supremacist was easy. Oh, you mean a fucking Nazi, a skinhead, those smug boys with kaki pants and torches. You mean the fanatics my grandfather killed in the second world war. Damn straight. Fuck those guys. There are even a handful of people alive in your neighborhoods who fought those white supremacists and saved us from tyranny. But now, I get emails from the city agencies inviting me to understand why my neighborhood is an example of white supremacy. There are people who now make a living reeducating us white folks on our problem. And when the real Nazi wannabes show up? They too are called white supremacists. You see the problem? Once a word loses a specific meaning, it becomes meaningless.
This new reality befuddled me when I decided to call the president a racist. In my personal lexicon, it was the lowest form of scum, a sick human being with no redeeming qualities. I was angry and it was time to clearly express it. But the president’s defenders pointed out that the week before, the Woke Left called the current Speaker of the House a racist too. And, in the Democrat debate, they were suddenly arguing over busing in the 70’s and whether what you thought then made you a racist now. If it did, then goody … goody, I can call you are racist today and get a bump in the polls.
Come on! I need that word! Confronted by an existential threat to our liberal democracy, a man who by any definition is a racist, his opponents are beating each other over the heads with the same accusation. Good grief, what’s a rational centrist to do?
I am pretty sure that if I just stand still and continue to hold opposing thoughts in my head, I will see the far left and right circle back around and become one. They have both adopted the characteristics of a religion. Their ideas are infallible. Their sources of information firmly locked in the doublespeak of infinite certainty. Their causes are just and no challenges to their dogma will be tolerated. And their leaders are not just elected, they are anointed. Most dangerously, they both have permanently deleted the irony gene and can’t see how alike they have become.
Meanwhile, I guess I am left to thumb through my Webster’s Dictionary (yes people, a book, heavy, occupying space) looking for words that haven’t been abused and corrupted yet. I really need something better, more refined, to say beyond just calling the president a dick.