"If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be in the first row!". With these words U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS.) launched into her runoff election against former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D-MS.). This caused a good deal of consternation, given the state of Mississippi's association with hangings, public or otherwise. I'm sure the same quote from a senator from New England would have induced little public head-scratching and not nearly as much public comment. After all, Mississippi may not lead the United States in too many categories, but it IS right up there in public lynchings, especially those of African American men, women and children. As they say, the past if prologue.
I don't profess to know what Senator Hyde-Smith was thinking when she made her utterance, if she was thinking at all. What amazes me is not so much what she said, because we all misspeak from time to time, what amazes me is that she didn't attempt to distance herself from those remarks. It had to have been patently obvious that just about anyone would make the connection between public hangings and just plain lynchings. Why she refused to clarify her position is startling in this age of political correctness.
But, as I thought on the subject a bit, I found myself less and less surprised, for to a real extent this is just another example of the kind of dog whistle politics with which the Republican Party has been associated, particularly in the South. For Senator Hyde-Smith to have apologized for associating herself with public hangings would have represented a total repudiation of Mississippi's brutal past. While a segment of Mississippi's white population has let go of its racially-tinged political past, a large portion of white Mississippians have not. To have apologized for Mississippi's racist past would have been a public admission that Mississippi's past was morally flawed and that is not permissible under Mississippi's rules for political survival.
Fact is, in this Age of Trump for Republicans, dog whistle politics has taken on added political importance. Dropping racist or at least semi-racist remarks into the political dialogue is now a crucial component of the standard operating procedure for Republican politicians. This is in recognition of the undeniable fact that race has become a useful arrow in the Republican political quiver. That's why Senator Hyde-Smith's reticence to apologize is completely understandable. And the sad fact is that this state of affairs will continue as long as it works. Until such time as Republican politicians repudiate racists tactics as an important component of their overall strategy, dog whistle racism will rear its ugly head again and again.
I'm not directly accusing Republicans of overt racism. Only they know what lies deep in the recesses of their minds and hearts. But they DO know that the tactics and strategy they've utilized over the past half century have worked and worked remarkably well specifically because of the use of racially-tinged language in their messaging. Either Republicans repudiate their racist past or wallow in it and accept the consequences.
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