Adding statistics to Tara's sobering suggestion in class yesterday that Obama's presidency blew open the floodgates of racism in this country, the Southern Poverty Law Center has just published their annual census of hate groups and found a 14% increase in 2015 after several years of decline, spurned on by the hateful rhetoric of several political campaigns. "These messages by mainstream political figures," the SPLC writes, "were often amplified by right-wing media outlets, adding to the sense of polarization and anger across the country – an atmosphere that may be unmatched since the political upheavals of 1968."
Not many of us would be surprised to learn that "right-wing media outlets" are amplifying racist hatred, but increasingly, I find the enabling tactics of supposedly superior sources such as NPR to be far more insidious. Take, for example, "Morning Edition" host Steve Inskeep's gutless interview with Obama last December, in which he raised the issue of racism but refused to name (or criticize) it, thus lending it a sense of legitimacy:
INSKEEP: And you mentioned Donald Trump taking advantage of real anxieties in the country but that the anxieties are real. Some of that anxiety, as you know, focuses on you, Mr. President. And I want to set aside the politicians for a moment and just talk about ordinary voters. Do you feel over seven years that you've come to understand why it is that some ordinary people in America believe or fear that you are trying to change the country in some way that they cannot accept?
OBAMA: Well, look, if what you are asking me, Steve, is are there certain circumstances around being the first African-American president that might not have confronted a previous president, absolutely. You know, I think ...
INSKEEP: I don't know if that's all of it.
OBAMA: I'm sure that's not all of it ...
INSKEEP: It's not all I am asking, anyway. You could answer it any way you want.
OBAMA: Well, you are asking a pretty broad question. I don't know where to take it, so if you want to narrow it down, I can. If what you are suggesting is is that, you know, somebody questioning whether I was born in the United States or not, how do I think about that, I would say that that's something that is actively promoted and may gain traction because of my unique demographic. I don't think that that's a big stretch.
But maybe you've got something else in mind.
INSKEEP: Years ago you made that remark, you were much criticized for saying something about people clinging to guns and religion. This is before you were even elected president. And although you were criticized for the phrasing of that, it seemed to me that you were attempting to figure out, what is it that people are thinking, what is it that's bothering people? Now you've had several more years to think about that.
OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, Steve, I was elected twice by decent majorities. So the fact of the matter is that in a big country like this there is always going to be folks who are frustrated, don't like the direction of the country, are concerned about the president. Some of them may not like my policies, some of them may just not like how I walk, or my big ears or, you know. So, I mean, no politician I think aspires to 100 percent approval ratings.
If you are referring to specific strains in the Republican Party that suggest that somehow I'm different, I'm Muslim, I'm disloyal to the country, etc., which unfortunately is pretty far out there and gets some traction in certain pockets of the Republican Party, and that have been articulated by some of their elected officials, what I'd say there is that that's probably pretty specific to me and who I am and my background, and that in some ways I may represent change that worries them.
INSKEEP: I'm trying to give you room to answer.
OBAMA: No, I understand, but what I'm saying is that I think that there's always going to be, every president, a certain cohort that just doesn't like your policies, doesn't like your party, what have you. I think if you are talking about the specific virulence of some of the opposition directed towards me, then, you know, that may be explained by the particulars of who I am.