The prologue to an old episode of This American Life highlights a successful attempt to destroy the Ku Klux Klan by making it the butt of jokes — and not an object of fear — but, in the process, shows how watered-down the rhetoric of equality has become. The episode recounts how an informant, in the 1950s, fed the popular Superman radio show material about the Klan, with the ultimate aim of making the Klan into a villain for Superman to destroy, and a mockery of itself. ]
Along the way to a final showdown, the show’s protagonists give rather stirring defenses of American values, and otherwise attack the mindless bigotry that the Klan embodies. One Klansman is mocked for saying, in a voice quaking with rage, that “we’ve got to save America from fo-o-o-oreign elements!”, while an unlikely hero shrugs off Klansmen as “poor fish who want to hate and blame someone else for their failures in life,” “little nobodies who want to believe some other race is inferior so they can feel superior,” and “jerks who go for that ‘100% American’ rot.” After all, “you must know there’s no such thing as what we call ‘100% American’!”
Good for them. But it’s disturbing that, today, those same ideas sound like left-wing propaganda. Just one year ago we concluded an election cycle where a Republican candidate dared classify parts of the country as more “American” than others, and today’s conservatives nakedly advocate racial profiling, and insist that every Muslim is per se dangerous until proven otherwise. When did calling bigotry what it is fall out of the mainstream?