We’re in a battle over the meaning of America

(CNN)I spent 18 months trying to get Hillary Clinton elected as our next president. It’s a campaign I’m honored to have waged, and one I was shocked to lose. So I’ve paid close attention to the post-election analysis, painful as it can be. There’s a lot to learn, and some lumps to take, too.

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Of course, the fact that America changed did not mean that the feelings of every American did. Instead, many influential conservatives tried to yank changed norms in a backward direction. One way they did that was by attacking the finders of fact: If your view of segregation is colored by how journalists and judges characterize it, it’s not because segregation is bad, it’s because they are being biased and unfair.
If that argument started with segregation, conservatives have now deployed it across a wide range of disputes. Global warming? Made up by liberal scientists (another “biased” finder of fact). Same-sex marriage legal? Blame activist judges. Gun violence prevention? Just tyrannical government in disguise.
Arguments such as that have a corrosive effect on the social norms that help organize our lives. If calling something racist is only “political correctness” run amok, then maybe the concept of racism is bankrupt. Maybe there is no racism. Maybe if African-Americans have higher incarceration and lower graduation rates, the problem is just with them, not the society in which they live. And if that’s true, what’s wrong with me feeling like they are inferior?
It’s messages such as these that people have been getting from conservatives for decades. And now, with the democratization of the media, anyone can find a purported “news” site on the Internet that will reinforce even the most socially deplorable (yes, deplorable) view. It has created a kind of alternative conservative establishment where facts and norms are very different from those that guide society at large. And over the years, it has been growing.
That’s why when Trump was campaigning, it felt to some of us like he was speaking to a different universe. Because in some sense he was. And imagine how intoxicating it must have been for someone harboring feelings that they knew society at large frowned upon suddenly to have a bigger-than-life personality step on stage and say them out loud, attacking the media, and anyone else who would disagree? That’s a powerful thing. And I’m not sure its effect could be predicted by any model.

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So now the question is what do we do about it? It’s a yes or no question. Can you disqualify a judge from a case based on his heritage in America? Yes or no. Can you draw conclusions about the dangerousness of an individual based solely on his or her faith or immigration status? Yes or no. Is there a cabal of “international bankers” aligned with Washington elites who are stacking the world against you? Yes or no.
How we answer these questions will have a profound impact on the America we all live in for the coming years. Because we’re in a battle over the very meaning of America. And for those of us who count ourselves progressive, suddenly, we’re losing.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/23/opinions/meaning-of-america-kaye/index.html

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