Edward Luce in the Financial Times (http://on.ft.com/1lkZlaL), in seeking to account for the sustained polling earthquake in the current US Republican Presidential primaries, reaches for economic explanations. He suggests that better outcomes on inequality and median incomes in Japan explains why there have been no Trump- or Cruz-like figures there, despite otherwise similar and decades-long stagnation. So Mr. Luce, like many others, gives relatively short-shrift to non-economic factors in the Republican polling, noting only in passing what he dubs the accompanying (and symptomatic?) rise of "nativist" sentiment.
On this day commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we should be more direct in facing the ugly facts as glaringly reflected in the Republican lexicon. In the candidates' mouths, the old dog-whistle referring to black peoples' "athleticism," faced with the President's intimidating cerebralism, has given way to reference to his "soaring rhetoric." This new whistle not only tarnishes Mr. Obama but even MLK and the causes and people he championed with "all hot air." Likewise, the old slur at black men -- "Boy" -- re-reared its ugly head in new guise in the latest Republican TV debate in repeated reference to President Obama as a "child." And the Republican and Evangelical base doesn't miss the same messaging in "stop political correctness" and "make America great again."
To be fair, the whistling has become somewhat more equal-opportunity of late with Muslims and Mexicans finding themselves in the same line of fire. But to retain Mr. Luce's frame of reference to explain what is going on in the Republican polls, the Japanese have neither the US's inequality and median income trends, nor this deeply poisoned racial legacy, politicians so ready to stoop to it, or their first, successful, and reelected black President as whipping "boy" for it all.
Commentators of a moderate mindset -- of whom Mr. Luce is one -- are inclined to avert their eyes (and ears) from such Republican talk: it is distasteful; it jarrs the "US is post-racial post-2008" narrative; it is up to those directly targeted, such as Black Lives Matter, to protest the issue; even so, calling it by name risks fanning the flames and drawing more fire onto the "Liberal Media Establishment"; and, absent those, so the story goes, if it continues it will all burn out in the resulting landslide Republican defeat to Mrs. Clinton in the Fall. Even President Obama, rather than name this thing said simply in his last State of the Union address that one of his few regrets was that he had not more successfully "bridged divisions," as if that was primarily his own personal fault.
So, and given that equality and median incomes are also genuinely in the mix, commentators would rather focus on such "neutral" economic matters or, as the President himself did, new arrangements for redistricting so that "voters choose their politicians rather than politicians choosing their voters." These are relevant matters. But by their singular emphasis, this other stuff, swirling more deeply, is at best mollycoddled with circumlocuted references to an "exogenous" "rise" in "nativism," or is at worst overlooked in silence.
Such treatment of these deeper currents is not just mistaken; it is dangerous, in part because if left unchallenged, it may triumph in the Presidential election by default.
MLK himself warned repeatedly about silence:
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."
"We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
More immediately, commentators' silence on this dog-whistling overlooks the compelling explanation that the underlying dark swirl provides for the durability and force of the "anti-establishment" poll numbers in the Republican primaries, not as an alternative to the inequality, median incomes, and money-politics explanations, but as animating and focussing them and giving them their color and potency. Thus, the failure-to-appear of the ever-and-forever-predicted Trump-cum-Cruz fade.
As is, Republican candidates feel obliged to mine this ugly vein to prevail. So it is little surprise that "outsider" Mr. Carson, who otherwise has much to offer the small peculiar Republican primary electorate, has seen his star fade in the face of failings which fall well short of those of many of his rivals. Even "insider" Mr. Kasich, who has challenged the incoherence of the outsiders' defining policy positions, has not confronted the whistling. And on this matter as on most, the less said about Jeb, the better.
But silence on this is not just mistaken; it is potentially lethal.
Of course, such dog-whistles stir individual well-armed nut-cases, some of whom are embedded in police forces and protected there by so-called codes of "honor," cell-phone videos notwithstanding. That white-supremacist groups were amongst the first to flock to Trump is a loud warning about this.
But on the larger stage as well, the comfort taken by moderates from the notion that such a dog-whistling Republican nominee will simply hand the White House and maybe even Congress to the Democrats is a case of hope over experience. It reflects the slender reed of current national polls putting Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton (more narrowly) marginally ahead of Messrs. Trump-et-al, even though that fight has not even been engaged.
Instead, the weaknesses in the nothing-to-really-worry-about scenario are threefold:
First, its French version -- where voters for all the first-round-eliminated-candidates switch in the second round to whomever is "not the National Front" so as to shut them out -- has no direct parallel here. Even if all but one of the "insider-establishment" Republican candidates withdraws so as to consolidate the insider bloc, they still barely match the combined poll ratings of the top dogs, even absent any losses from the consolidation. Thus, such an insider bloc candidate only becomes nominee if both top-dogs stay in, stay up, and fail to consolidate themselves. And note that several of the potential "insider bloc" candidates are themselves dog-whistling loudly. Way too many "ifs" for comfort.
Second, if Mrs. Clinton is the nominee against a Republican whistler, some (many?) of Mr. Sanders' supporters, who are also deeply motivated by the inequality, median-income, money-politics narratives, might abstain or worse rather than back her. His clear plurality over her in a head-to-head polls now against Mr. Trump forewarns of this and remains a danger even as she inches leftwards.
And third, Mrs. Clinton herself, for all her duly celebrated wonkishness, is a fragile political leader: she decisively lost a leadership race in which she was overwhelmingly favored in 2008; she more than blew a commanding poll lead in 2015 to a septugenarian small-funded New England semi-Socialist totally lacking executive or foreign policy credentials; and she has even slipped dramatically since last Spring among her core constituency of "Democrat-leaning women" -- the young ones, especially, just don't warm to her. All this, as well as her failed health-care initiative, her vote on Iraq 2003, her sotto-voce Neo-Con instincts, her own stoop to dog-whistling via her husband in the North Carolina primary in 2008, and her recent fumblings over Mr. Sanders' health care plans and her speaker fees are all symptomatic of profound failures of core political judgement. Lacking that, she is self-doubting, which only makes matters and tempers worse. As Democrat nominee, she is no shoe-in, even against a wild dog-whistling Republican.
A direct and determined challenge to the swirling undercurrents in the Republican primaries is therefore needed. Without that, they may well prevail by default. That may not bring "fascism" in any serious sense. But don't imagine that the ACA, the Supreme Court, or the broader economic recovery, or global economic developments, or environmental prospects, or the tenor of public discourse and order will remain as they have been.
If, as seems, the Republicans will not or cannot muster such a challenge themselves, it must come from elsewhere.
A good start would be made if, to use a tainted phrase, moderate commentators started calling "a spade a spade" when discussing the dog-whistling in the Republican primaries. There is no case for commentators to pull their punches on this out of "political correctness," especially with Republicans themselves damning such behavior. This MLK holiday would make a good starting gun for such clear consistent commentary.
But beyond that, a much better Democrat candidate is needed. My strong preference is for Michelle Obama to run. Her announcement to that effect, even at this late stage, would directly change the Trump-centered narrative of the campaign so far, would re-energize the 2008-12 Obama coalition -- notably among women and the young -- as no other candidate could, and would provide a path for the party to place itself into the hands of someone with formidable judgement, political reach, and brains. The fact that she has no personal ambition for the job speaks to her sanity. The fact that her view, second amendment or no, is that she would want a gun in many circumstances, under due control, speaks to her ability to reach out to the other side as no other candidate or even her husband can. And the voice of experience, as may on occasion be needed, would be at hand, though, as on gun issues, she would not depend on it.
All this would provide a basis for her candidacy and her election, and provide a motive for her to take on these tasks.
Who knows: perhaps her sense of duty and concern with national prospects will finally succeed in calling her out of her much-longed-for and much-deserved private life. In any event, I am encouraged that on this MLK holiday evening, I am not alone in urgently and respectfully calling upon her to take up the fight.