At first couldn’t believe my eyes. But there it was right there on the screen.
N.C. Republican Party Chairman Hasan Harnett had tweeted an unflattering photo of Hillary Clinton juxtaposed with an image of Ku Klux Klan members burning a cross. His message was clear enough: Since the KKK was created as the militant arm of the Democratic Party following the Civil War, Clinton and today’s liberal Democrats are the real racists plaguing black people.
“Say NO to the #Democrat Lies #Liberal Agenda” he added beneath the photo.
What would make a major political party leader think it’s OK to draw such a blatantly offensive, obviously flawed parallel? The same instinct that made Donald Trump believe it’s OK to suggest all Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals. The same one that made Mike Huckabee think it’s OK to conflate President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal with the Jewish Holocaust.
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In the age of social networks and digital media overload, everybody’s got a megaphone, and apparently the only way to get heard above the racket is to be the snarkiest, the most hyperbolic, the most outrageous. Nuance and calm, reasoned discourse just don’t cut it in the Age of Trump.
Neither do facts, which no matter how seemingly clear, now get taffy-twisted every which way, even to the point of getting swallowed up in obviously illogical missives like Harnett’s Clinton-meets-Klan tweet.
Just in case anyone cares, let’s untwist Harnett’s knot. The Democratic Party that existed before the crest of the civil rights movement in the 1960s was indeed racist. It did have ties to the Klan. The progressive “Radical Republicans” of the late 19th century fought for black voting rights and pushed for Reconstruction.
But as President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat, defied his party’s history and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Strom Thurmond and millions of other segregation-supporting Southern whites simply switched to the GOP.
So can today’s Republicans draw a straight line from their conservative policies back to those of the liberal “Radical Republicans” of the post-Civil War era? Or from today’s Democrats to the Ku Klux Klan?
Of course not.
But why let facts or nuance spoil the next trendy tweet or catchy soundbite?
Because we are doing ourselves a disservice, that’s why. We’re a nation of mischief-seekers, tossing lit firecrackers into crowded rooms. It might be fun to watch people freak out, but what are you left with when the smoke clears? A crowd of folks who are indeed now paying attention to you, but only because they want to punch you, not hear your thoughts.
If it’s true that we get the level of political discourse we deserve, then it’s time we all grew up.
Eric: 704-358-5145; firstname.lastname@example.org; @Ericfraz on Twitter.