Demonizing foes ranks as top sport

March 21, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

The Great American Demonization Game continues apace. It has replaced baseball as our national pastime. Everybody has his or her own bete noire. It seems that, in order to feel better about ourselves, we have to pick out people to demonize.

And the demons come in all races, genders, ethnicities and political persuasions. President Clinton has been demonized, though admittedly he has probably done much to aid and abet his demonizers. Clinton has long proclaimed he is not the womanizer or sexual harasser several women - Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, Monica Lewinsky - have claimed he is. The guess is that all these women can't be wrong. But Clinton's detractors were either strangely silent or biliously defensive when conservative Republican males have been accused of sexual harassment.

But what has been the Clinton camp's response to the demonization of the president? Why, go out and demonize special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. He's on a witch hunt, it has been alleged. The special prosecutor has some manic vendetta against Clinton and is part of a mass right-wing conspiracy to get rid of the president. Right-wingers, you see, are always out to get liberals. Left-wingers have it in for the right. Neither side will concede that members of the opposing side may actually have the good of the country at heart.

Mind you, none of this is anything new. It's an American tradition. Federalists depicted Thomas Jefferson as some sort of early 19th-century Caligula, charging that he molested a slave girl named Sally Hemings when she was in her early teens. They passed the Alien and Sedition Acts to stifle dissent and weaken Jefferson and the Democratic Party's influence among Irish immigrants. We are, it seems, just as nasty as our ancestors, and improvements in mass media technology just make the nastiness more widespread.

America's always turbulent racial scene makes for some fascinating demonization. Some of it is quite literal, as it was in those days when the Nation of Islam preached as religious doctrine that all whites were devils, grafted from an evil and renegade black scientist named Yacub.

It was a situation blacks not in the Nation of Islam and whites

found intolerable. Why should the Nation of Islam have all the fun? Couldn't the rest of us come up with some demons of our own? Using classic American ingenuity, we soon did.

For blacks, most whites became either racists or suspected of racism, having to prove their innocence. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh became "the unhooded Klansman" when he had the nerve to question the fairness of affirmative action. Racial preferences and affirmative action soon became the litmus test by which blacks gauged racial loyalty, if the person opposed to them were black, or racism, if the opponent were white. Thus has conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas been consistently referred to as an Uncle Tom/handkerchief-head/traitor for opposing affirmative action.

Ah, but whites need their black demons, too. Heading the list are Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, leader of the Rainbow Coalition, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, an activist. Conservatives cite this triumvirate as leading the charge of hordes of blacks committed to spreading black racism. Black racism indeed exists, but more frequently than not the charge of espousing it has been leveled at those blacks saying things whites don't want to hear as much as against those who make blanket condemnations of whites. Thus, much like the charge of white racism, the charge of black racism has become increasingly trite.

There are some who let the propensity for demonization get the better of them. A CBS newscaster "reported" during Farrakhan's latest trip abroad that the Nation of Islam leader had "injected himself into Middle East politics by meeting with Yasser Arafat." Rules of journalism say reporters are supposed to separate fact from opinion. The fact of this story was that Farrakhan met with Arafat. Farrakhan's "injecting" himself into Middle East politics was an opinion and should have been stated as such. The rules of journalism aren't suspended when journalists report on a guy whose last name happens to be Farrakhan. But under the rules of the Great American Demonization Game, anything goes.

Some entrepreneurial soul will probably find a way to combine the Great American Demonization Game with the Great American Excuse Game and the Great American Blame Game. Untold riches await that innovative soul.

Pub Date: 3/21/98

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