A couple kids of Republican Congressmen have made racist comments on social media. Jeremy Stahl at Slate wonders what this says about the Republican Party. “While it’s true that dumb kids saying racist things on social media isn’t a particularly shocking news story, I think there is something about present-day conservative politics worth taking away from these cases.” If it’s not noteworthy, how can it be noteworthy? Because it confirms what you already believed? “It’s something most of us knew already.” Thought so.*
What everybody knows is that “a not insignificant portion of the GOP electorate” is racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic, etc. Stahl doesn’t provide evidence to support his claim or definitions for his terms. It isn’t clear what is meant by “not insignificant,” but the strong suggestion is that “significant” levels of racism are unique to the Republican Party.
But if by racism we’re talking about hard-core racism of the kind displayed in the two kids’ tweets, there is good reason to believe this is not true. When Chris Hayes raised a similar claim to that of Stahl, Alex Tabbarok cited a 2002 poll in which 12% of both Republicans and Democrats think interracial marriage should be illegal; 15% of Democrats and 16% of Republicans strongly agree that blacks shouldn’t be pushy, and 92%+ of Democrats and Republicans would be willing to vote for a black President.
Now of course if we’re defining racism such that it can mean whatever you want it to mean, then of course you can prove anyone you want is racist (Stahl: “dog whistles to this constituency usually involve subtler terms such as ‘welfare,’ ‘handouts,’ ‘illegals,’ ‘food stamps…’”) But Stahl is equivocating between the actual, virulent racism of a couple of kids who like to say outrageous things on the internet, and things he arbitrarily chooses to associate with racism.
So anyway, the GOP is responsible for these two kids’ trolling because the GOP “cultivates racists as voters,” which means it has racist voters, which means kids hanging out in Republican circles are hanging around with bigots. And “[i]f all of your friends are Republicans and even a small subgroup of Republicans are racist, homophobic bigots and become one yourself than if you’re hanging out with liberal, crunchy kids.”
So you shouldn’t ever hang out with Republicans? “No, he says if you hang out only with Republicans.” Yes, but by his reckoning, you’re exposed to mostly non-racists but a small subgroup of racists- same as if you hung out with Dems and Republicans. He has so little confidence in the ability of humanistic ideas to win out over racism that he thinks any exposure to racism will make you racist. So to be safe you should really only let your kid hang out with liberal, crunchy kids, isolating yourselves with confidence in a moral superiority so strong it cannot be doubted, and so fragile it cannot survive contact with the outside world.
* Jeremy Stahl’s Bayesian priors were 100% that the Republican Party is racist, and after this story they’re still 100%. If they had been 50%, or 5%, would they have gone up? How likely is it, in a world where GOP is not racist, that two politicians’ 15-year-olds would tweet racist things? How likely is it in a world where GOP is racist? Solve the equation accordingly.