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Davis, California

Monday, May 27, 2024


The politically minded are accustomed to the barrage of e-mails that come in daily from folks passing along their own daily barrage. Not all of these emails are useless – my father-in-law sends along some interesting analyses of the economy, and no one can begrudge a good joke to lighten the mood.

But the longer I worked in politics, the more annoying I found some other segments of my inbox. E-mails in very large fonts, presumably for the older or hard of sight, rarely can communicate a point with any subtlety. Using ALL CAPS, insisting that “IF YOU NEVER FORWARDED ANYTHING IN YOUR LIFE FORWARD THIS SO THAT EVERYONE WILL KNOW!!!!!!” tends to guarantee that the e-mail will not escape my trash folder.

The thesis statements, if they can be called that, are extremely consistent from the far right of the Internet spectrum. Obama is a Muslim/non-citizen/closet Leninist/Manchurian candidate/destroyer of our nation. Immigrants are ruining our country. America is “de-industrializing” as people in other countries take “American” jobs. Jane Fonda is a traitor. Scratch that. All Democrats are traitors.

But the other day I came across an e-mail from a person I don’t believe I’ve ever met regarding the termination of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in our armed forces. It contained a quote allegedly from a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps claiming that next Obama will be forcing our soldiers to be homosexual. But as I was about to click the delete button, I looked at the very bottom and noticed this short imperative.

2012 DON’T RE-NIG.

It took me a second before I realized what it was saying, and I was shocked. In defense of the American conservative movement, it is insanely rare to come across something so blatantly racist. But that doesn’t change that such a statement is as inexcusable as it is stupid.

Nor does that change the far-left blogs such as Daily Kos running wild with this “proof” that all opponents of Obama are racist. Awesome. Now I have to do a little Internet sleuthing to find out where this slogan came from. Sigh.

As expected, I ended up on some avowedly racist online forums with names unfit for print and which I’ve never heard of. Efforts to find products with the slogan (fortunately) failed. The Daily Kos post had expired links, with even the blogger having trouble finding images to include.

But the rise of the Internet has made it very easy for the fringe groups to flourish, even to look more polished than they really are. Countless businesses will cheaply make up t-shirts, bumper stickers and other paraphernalia of your design, and you never even have to look somebody in the eye for the transaction. The worldwide web has improved information exchange and commerce across the board, nutjobs included.

And yet thanks to instances like this one, and the more common example of ill-considered language, I have to go around a college campus declaring that, yes, I am conservative, no, I am not racist. What a waste of time.

Which actually brings me back to Jane Fonda. I do think that some of her actions during the Vietnam War were downright traitorous, as she posed for pictures on North Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns and called our POWs “liars” and our leaders “war criminals.” Actions like these arguably meet the constitutional definition of treason in Article III Section 3 for “adhering to [American] Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

But I can’t use the fringe leftists like her to discredit the mainstream ones any more than I appreciate the same being done to me. The Internet only makes this phenomenon all the more common, as blogs, chat rooms and circulated e-mails so often reduce the debate to generic name-calling and vitriol.

Forwarded e-mails in particular bring up an important concept that a history teacher such as myself should incorporate into his class: pay close attention to your sources. Sometimes I’ll come across something interesting in an e-mail, such as a good quote from Jefferson or FDR’s Treasury Secretary that is quickly verifiable.

Other times, I’ll find a lengthy hard right diatribe from Robin Williams demanding isolationism and simplistic solutions. Turns out only the last sentence belonged to my famous namesake. And Robin Williams is definitely not conservative.

I deleted that one too.

ROB OLSON was disappointed that he so efficiently deletes stupid e-mails, making research for this column harder. Send emails that he shouldn’t delete to rwolson@ucdavis.edu.



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