It was easy to label the Missouri murder of Craig Anderson "racist," as BuzzFeed did in its excellent accounting of the modern-day lynching. In 2011, a group of white teenagers allegedly shouted racial epithets while beating Anderson and celebrating running him over with a truck. No one would accuse BuzzFeed of bias for calling that horrific crime racist; it's a simple statement of fact, not a judgment call. Indeed, it's easy to call a group of violent, ignorant teenagers committing an alleged hate crime racist.
But for some reason, when covering the people vying for the most powerful office in the land, the media is hesitant to apply the "R" word, no matter how apt it may be. And that hesitation could have extraordinarily serious consequences for the country.
Donald Trump, who maintains a comfortable lead in national polls, launched his campaign by arguing that Mexico sends rapists over our border illegally. His subsequent rise in the polls came not in spite of this anti-immigrant rhetoric, but because of it.
There has long been a racist undercurrent in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. And the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris by ISIS-affiliated terrorists have exposed it to sunlight.
When the Paris attacks were initially — and falsely, it appears — blamed on terrorists who had snuck into Europe with Syrian refugees, each of the Republican presidential candidates strived to be the most fiercely opposed to allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suggested we allow just the Christians in, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz followed up with a bill that would write that policy into law. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he wouldn't allow 5-year-old Syrian orphans into the country.
But just denying the refugees fleeing terrorism and repression wasn't enough. The anti-terrorism furor has grown into an anti-Muslim furor. Trump has called for shutting down mosques and refused to rule out a national registry for Muslims. Marco Rubio is trying to out-Trump Trump by calling not just for shutting down mosques, but even cafes or websites where Muslims gather.
Now, to be clear, these ideas would not only fail to combat terrorism — they would probably increase extremist violence. Repressing loyal Muslim-Americans would drive more radicalization and help ISIS and other terrorist organizations with their recruiting drives. Tell 5-year-old orphans they're too dangerous to seek refuge in America, and you'll create the next generation of terrorists.
But these proposals aren't just obviously wrong-headed; they're racist. And the media — even nominally objective reporters from mainstream outlets — shouldn't be shy about saying so.
Nazi analogies are usually the worst. People who resort to comparisons to Hitler or concentration camps or the Holocaust are trivializing the 20th century's greatest horror. They're invariably overreacting.
But look at where we are today. Leading candidates for presidents are flirting with requiring adherents of a single religion to be registered. To carry identification cards. To be subject to additional surveillance. To be refused entry to the nation even if they're escaping horrific repression. To have their houses of worship closed down.
Those are racist, fascist policies. To avoid the comparison with early Nazi repression against Jews is to avoid telling the full story. And that's just what the media is doing by refusing to call these proposals racist.
Calling a candidate for president racist sure sounds biased, doesn't it? After all, except for a small fringe of extremists, virtually all Americans believe racism is a Very Bad Thing. Tarring a candidate with that label doesn't sound like objective reporting; it looks like taking sides.
But it isn't a judgment call to identify the naked racism of Donald Trump for what it is. Several GOP candidates — even the "mainstream" candidates like Christie, Bush, and Rubio — are suggesting ideas that harken back to some of the ugliest stains on American history, like the unjustified internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
It's not just the racism directed at Muslims. On Sunday, Trump retweeted a graphic filled with made-up statistics about how blacks commit a majority of murders against whites in the United States. It was quickly debunked; the majority of murders of both whites and blacks are committed by people of the same race.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2015
The fake statistics from a fake organization was accompanied by a racist graphic of a black man, face covered in bandanas, holding a gun sideways. The Hill called this "controversial." BuzzFeed said it was "questionable."
It was actually racist.
Trump spread a false statistic about black-on-white crime to drive up an unfounded fear of black criminals. He was trying to make white people afraid so they'll vote for him.
This is racist.
Donald Trump is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president. He has expressed outright racism against Latinos, Muslims, and African-Americans. His words have already had real-world consequences. Trump supporters kicked and beat a Black Lives Matter protester at a rally Saturday. The next day Trump said "maybe he should have been roughed up." Two men cited Trump when they beat a homeless Latino Boston man in August. Trump said his supporters were "passionate."
The America Trump promises to build is ugly: walled off, repressive, and racist. If the media fails to call racism what it is, if they fail to tell the full story, then that ugly fantasy might just become our ugly reality.