On Race-Hustling

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Andrew Sullivan unloads on Tucker Carlson:
Carlson used to be a brilliant writer. He's now a racist demagogue. He's a story in one person of how degenerate and disgusting much of American "conservatism" has become.
I frequently reference the story of George Wallace's evolution. Wallace was once a sensible politician who generally was seen as fair-minded by black leaders in Alabama. But he lost the gubernatorial election after being tarred by John Patterson as too friendly to black people. Wallace subsequently vowed to never be "out-niggered" again and thus began his long dark march into history
You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.
What is vexing about Wallace's story is not simply that did he know he was wrong, the man who initially "out-niggered" him, John Patterson, knew that his stance was wrong too. In 2009, Patterson endorsed Barack Obama, saying the following of his past:
As governor, his administration was considered progressive. But in both offices, he was the state's leading defender of segregation and paved the way for the segregation policies of George Wallace.

"When I became governor, there were 14 of us running for governor that time and all 14 of us were outspoken for segregation in the public schools," Patterson said. "And if you had been perceived not to have been strong for that, you would not have won. 

"I regret that, but there was not anything I could do about it but to live with it."
We imagine the American past as filled with rabid bigots. But there have always been at least as many people who have some sense that bigotry is wrong, though they may say nothing.  And then there are a select few who are fairly clear on right and wrong, but simply see more upside in being wrong.

To the extent that Carlson raises the ire of people like me, it is because he inhabits that latter group which decides to profit from wrong. Carlson's comments on The New York Times and conservative media were dead-on, not just for conservatives, but for any media with a partisan leaning. In short, Carlson knows what the problem is. He knows that there is a difference between heckling and reporting. He knows that Obama's speech from 2007 is not a scoop. But he also knows that there is a lot of clicks to be had from those who will never accept black people as their equals.

This is race hustling, at its most quintessential. The hustler isn't simply scapegoating one group, he is betting on the thick wittedness of the other group to which he alleges fealty. He is banking on their ignorance. He is profiting from their most backward impulses. He is stoking and then leeching off of their hate. They do not hear Carlson, cash in hand, laughing at them. They are too busy stomping the floor. 

My label-mate Conor Friedersdorf has more.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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