Talk of ‘Jim Crow’ Stokes Fires of Outrage

April 1, 2021 Updated: April 2, 2021


Little did I know when I wrote in this space three weeks ago (see “Lies That Democrats Tell” in The Epoch Times of March 19, 2021) about the preposterous claim that “Republicans want to go back to Jim Crow,” that this was about to become the latest progressive article of faith—reported over and over again in the media as if it were a simple matter of fact, for blatantly partisan political purposes.

When I first spotted the claim, in the headline to a column by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in the UK Guardian, I thought it so obvious a lie that only a Guardian-reader could believe it. Mr. Reich himself had framed the proposition more carefully than the headline writer, writing that the defeat of the Democrats’ attempt to nationalize our elections in their “For the People Act,” known as H.R. 1, would be “the biggest setback” to civil and voting rights “since the end of Reconstruction and the start of Jim Crow in the 1870s.”

This way of putting it was equally absurd, in my view, but it didn’t pretend to be anything more than the writer’s opinion. Presumably, Mr. Reich himself would have been ashamed to write anything masquerading as a statement of fact that was so obviously false as that “Republicans want to go back to Jim Crow.”

But that’s still in the headline to his article on the website, and it has since been repeated by numerous media propagandists for H.R. 1, or against changes to election law in Georgia designed to curb voter fraud. Especially the latter.

“Eliminating voter access under the guise of race-neutral actions that clearly target communities of color is nothing short of Jim Crow 2.0,” said Stacey Abrams on CNN.

She was elsewhere quoted as calling the Republican-sponsored election security legislation in Georgia “Jim Crow in a suit.”

Her fellow Georgian, Senator Raphael Warnock, stuck with the sartorial metaphor as he insisted that “this is Jim Crow in new clothes.”

At his press conference last week, President Biden, himself alluded to the fashionable comparison when he said that the Georgia law “makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.” No one was quite sure what that meant, but the next day he repeated the charge, saying: “This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century.”

As a writer in Thursday’s New York Times put it, “Georgia’s Voter Law Is Called ‘Jim Crow 2.0’ for a Reason.”

Indeed. And the reason is that Democrats have found it politically effective and a way of getting what they want to raise the emotional temperature of debate in this way.

Readers with long memories may recall the presidential election of 1996 and the plaintive cry of the losing candidate, Republican Bob Dole, against the Democratic incumbent and eventual victor, Bill Clinton: “Where’s the outrage?”

Though he was a politician of long experience, Mr. Dole didn’t understand that, in a democracy, outrage rarely happens spontaneously. It has to be manufactured, and the raw materials out of which skilled political operatives and their media allies most commonly create outrage are lies.

A better comparison might be with building a fire. You start by feeding the slender flame little twigs of exaggerations or what Huckleberry Finn called “stretchers”—things that people know are not literally true but may be sort of true if looked at in just the right way.

For example, you could say that tightening up election security to prevent fraud amounts to “voter suppression.”

It might even be true that there really are people for whom showing a photo ID in order to vote would be such a hardship that they would rather choose not to vote. Unlikely but possible. And if some of these people are “people of color,” you could say that their vote was being suppressed.

That is enough to feed the first lick of the flame of outrage. And once the fire is burning strongly enough, you can throw on the big logs—out-and-out lies like “Republicans want to go back to Jim Crow”—and the flames of outrage will feed on them only to grow brighter and hotter.

Democrats have perfected this technique of kindling outrage while in opposition, and it has served them extraordinarily well.

In 1992, they started by saying, “It’s the economy stupid” and soon moved on to the preposterous notion that it was “the worst economy in 50 years.”

Well, they wouldn’t have said it if there wasn’t some truth to it. Would they?

In the congressional minority when the Iraq War was launched, when the war started going badly, they eagerly hopped on the anti-war bandwagon that was trumpeting the slogan, “Bush lied; people died”—which elided the distinction between a mistake and a lie in order to feed the flames of outrage against George W. Bush.

Even the dictionaries agreed that you could call a mistake a “lie” without (any longer) the risk of committing a terminological inexactitude.

And in the Trump era the media opposition not only spent two and a half years promoting the lie of Russian “collusion” but also went straight from making dubious and disputable claims of “racism” against President Trump to the demonstrably false proposition that he was a “white supremacist” who had called Nazis “very fine people.”

By that time the conflagration of outrage against Mr. Trump was not controllable by any mere appeal to truth or accuracy in reporting.

The use of the Jim Crow meme against Georgia Republicans shows that, under President Biden, the bonfires of outrage are to be kept burning brightly even when Democrats are in the majority—an altogether trickier proposition, one would have thought.

But they stoked those fires to such a heat during the last four years that they obviously hope to keep them burning for another four years while they continue to blame everything that goes wrong on their own watch on Mr. Trump—as Nancy Pelosi has blamed him for Mr. Biden’s crisis on the border and Jennifer Psaki has hinted at the blame accruing to him for a lunatic’s murder of Asian women in Atlanta.

The media, of course, will say nothing to discourage the Biden people from trying to perpetuate the anti-Trump outrage first kindled more than four years ago, but I wonder if it will ever dawn on the Democrats themselves that they’re playing with fire.

James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for the New Criterion.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.