San Francisco Board Spat Shows Accusations Of Racism Are The New McCarthyism

San Francisco Board Spat Shows Accusations Of Racism Are The New McCarthyism

Half a century later, many liberals are employing the same kind of tactics Joseph McCarthy did, this time in an effort to get rid of racists.

The 1950s is often associated with the extreme anti-Communism of Joseph McCarthy. Communism is a rotten ideology, and there really were (and still are) communists in the United States. But McCarthy was reckless in his charges. He exaggerated the Communist threat, notoriously going so far as to accuse the Eisenhower administration of harboring communists in the State Department.

Half a century later many liberals are employing the same kind of tactics in an effort to get rid of racists. Like with communism, racism is a rotten ideology, and yes, there are racists in America. But like McCarthy, liberals have become reckless in levying charges, to the point where anyone who disagrees with them on anything is labeled a racist.

Support building a wall to curb illegal immigration? You are racist. Acknowledge Haiti is a less-than-desirable place to live (albeit in not-so-nice language)? You are a racist. A 2017 headline in the Guardian reads, “No, the anti-choice movement doesn’t care about sexism or racism.” In other words, if you are pro-life, you’re okay with racism.

Favor reducing the EPA budget? Another Guardian 2017 headline states “’Just Racist’: EPA Cuts Will Hit Black and Hispanic Communities the Hardest.” The Trump Tax Plan? Racist. A Salon.com headline screams, “The GOP Tax Bill: A New Mechanism for Reinforcing White Power.” Do you support the Second Amendment? A Media Matters 2017 headline reads, “23 Reasons the NRA is racist.”

Before 2016, the left criticized those who opposed abortion, favored limited government and resisted gun-control, but after 2016, all right wing values seem to have become instruments for racism in the left’s view. Trump’s election in 2016 psychologically impacted the left the same way the fall of China to communism in 1949 impacted the right. Both unexpected events prompted fear, leading to irrational mentalities, specifically exaggerations and unfounded accusations.

Not all right-wing accusations were false in the 1950s; there were really were traitorous communists in the United States. Prominent examples include Alger Hiss, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In the same way, the accusations of racism are often imagined, but sometimes they are real, too. And these real cases become examples that demonstrate the broader point of encroaching communism and racism. The 50s McCarthyite slogan, “Communists, Communists everywhere. Everyone who doesn’t agree with me is a communist,” has been replaced by, “Racists, racists everywhere. Everyone who doesn’t agree with me is a racist.”

McCarthyism becomes most apparent when liberals begin accusing their fellow Democrats of racism. This is precisely what happened in San Francisco this week. When Democrat Mark Farrell was voted in as the new interim mayor of San Francisco by six of 9 board members, cries of racism followed. The other candidate had been acting mayor since December, when former Mayor Ed Lee died of a heart attack. She was an African-American woman named London Breed, who is running for the permanent spot as mayor in a special election coming up in June. Those who opposed her said granting her the position as interim mayor would give her an unfair advantage in the special election, and they liked that Farrell isn’t running in that race.

One board member, Asian-American Norman Yee, defended his vote for Farrell by saying he merely wanted to “maintain the necessary checks and balances in our city government and that all of this June’s mayoral candidates compete on an equal playing field.”

People who asserted racism in San Francisco have about as much evidence to back up their charges as Joseph McCarthy did. And the argument that those who supported Farrell were unconscious of their racism further demonstrates similarities between the extreme racism-charging left and the extreme communist-charging right.

Conservatives believed communism could be spread actively by avid communists, but also by liberal Democrats who wouldn’t identify as communist. For example, for extreme conservatives, everyone on the left who supports a government run health care system and a very progressive income tax can be placed in two camps: those who are communist, and those who unwittingly abet communism.

Those who supported Farrell pose a similar danger in liberal’s minds. Although they may not be overtly racist, they still foster a racist system. After all, if you support a communist or racist policy, you are just as dangerous, even if you don’t identify as communist or racist. Sometimes racism and communism are subtle and appear innocuous.

Extremists condemning everyone including their own is not new in Western history. The tradition doesn’t begin with Republicans and Democrats. During the French Revolution, many of Robespierre’s fellow revolutionaries succumbed to the Reign of Terror. Lenin and (especially) Stalin, eliminated their fellow Marxists. And as already mentioned, even some Republicans were implicated in the McCarthy era. Whether it be Robespierre, Stalin, McCarthy or the extremists in San Francisco, these people view the world in very black and white terms, with most of society being damned.

Of course there are racists in America, but to accuse everyone and every policy that one disagrees with as racist is not only irrational, it’s reckless. And it resembles the same tactics from McCarthy liberals profess to despise.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified San Francisco’s former mayor.

David Byrne earned his doctorate in intellectual history from Claremont Graduate University. In 2018, University of Nebraska Press will publish his book titled "Ronald Reagan: An Intellectual Biography."
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