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Port: How about we save the accusations of racism for actual examples of racism?

Baseless claims of bigotry have become so pervasive that they allow actual bigotry to flourish in their shadow.

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Fargo Commission Candidate Matuor Alier answers questions from the moderators during the Fargo City Commission candidate forum at Fargo City Hall on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — Knee-jerk, reactionary accusations of racism are not the reason why our nation's politics are so dysfunctional.

But they are a reason.

Baseless claims of bigotry have become so pervasive that they allow actual bigotry to flourish in their shadow.

That's the danger of this sort of "crying wolf," anti-Trump conservative Charlie Sykes argues .

For the last several decades, accusations of racism have become a rote part of left-wing politics. If you oppose liberalism you're a racist, at least in the minds of many of our left-wing friends, which means honorable Republican political figures such as John McCain, Mitt Romney, and George W. Bush have been portrayed, at various times, as racist, even though those men, today, have been rehabilitated in the eyes of many on the left given their opposition to Donald Trump and his movement.

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In many ways, Trump's rise was facilitated by these rote accusations of racism. Republicans have become so inured to them that by the time Trump, a political leader who has no compunctions about pandering to bigots, made it to the ballot the claims fell on deaf ears.

"By the time the real thing came along, the Left had used up its rhetorical ammunition, and the Right had become numb to the realities of the bigots around them," Sykes wrote this week .

How does Tucker Carlson become the most-watched cable news host with an endless stream of racial dog whistles, to the point where actual, avowed racists view him as being on their side ? How does a candidate who defended Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene's appearance at an event organized by a Holocaust denier win the Republican Senate primary in Ohio ?

Semantic satiation .

Which brings us to a local example of this phenomenon.

In Fargo there are a whopping 15 candidates running in the officially nonpartisan city commission race (that anyone thinks these local races are "nonpartisan" is a joke, but that's a topic for a different column).

The Cass County United Republican Committee sponsored a forum and invited eight of the 15 candidates.

Among the seven candidates not invited were two Black men.

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Based on nothing more than this information, one of those candidates, Matour Alier, director of diversity and inclusion for the Moorhead school district and chairman of the the Fargo Human Rights Commission, called the committee's invitations "racist."

"If that doesn't ring a bell to you, it does to me," Alier told the crowd at a separate event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce . "We need to do more as well as city leadership."

The Cass County URC said the problem was logistics, not race.

"When the man responsible for sending out invitations to the Republican committee forum was contacted, Doug Sharbono said that they only had time in the hourlong forum for eight candidates," our Barry Amundson reports . "In all, there are 15 candidates. He said it had nothing to do with the color of the candidate's skin."

What we're left with are two possible criticisms of the URC.

MORE FROM ROB PORT
A lot of people are watching these Republican primaries. North Dakota's government is dominated by Republicans, and there is a pitched battle going on right now for the soul of the NDGOP. These legislative races are the trenches in that battle. So far, based on one of the few objective data points we have, it appears the traditional conservatives are positioned to keep their hold on the party.

Should they have invited all the candidates? Perhaps.

Maybe the URC should have scheduled the event for a longer block of time so that all the candidates could participate at once. As a voter, I'm not sure that putting 15 candidates on the stage at the same time is all that helpful, but that's a personal preference. This line of criticism of the URC is not unreasonable.

Is the fact that two Black candidates were among the seven not invited evidence of racism? Not on its own. Heck, most of the candidates who weren't invited were non-Black candidates. If the only candidates not invited were Black, then maybe you have a better case, but as it stands all we know is that the URC invited about half of the candidates and in the half left out were two Black candidates.

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Alier making an accusation of racism based on that thin gruel is not only unwarranted, it's irresponsible.

Extraordinary claims should require extraordinary evidence.

Donald Trump shouldn't be able to get away with claiming that the 2020 election was stolen based on zero evidence, and someone like Alier shouldn't be able to brand an entire committee of North Dakotans as racist based on nothing more than this decision by the URC.

That Alier feels comfortable making such a prejudicial accusation with zero evidence is troubling given that he works for local government in the area of diversity policy.

This episode certainly doesn't commend him to hold elected office.

We have enough reactionaries in elected office as is.

If Alier had any integrity, he'd apologize.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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