Sunday, November 13, 2011

He's Lucky It's "High-Tech"

Herman Cain has appropriated the term "high-tech lynching" from the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings to describe what he appears to be attempting to portray as a hateful conspiracy against him. In a very real sense, this represents incredible historical progress. By the time Cain was born, the extrajudicial "mob-justice" murders that comprised historical lynchings had declined into the single digits annually - and you could go for years between recognized incidents. Now, you can count the majority of the incidents that happened since Cain's birth on your fingers and toes, and we consider the practice to be entirely a relic of the distant past. While hate murders, like that of James Byrd, still take place, they are considered just that - murders, and the public aspect of historical lynchings is long gone. I'm middle-aged myself, and while I've heard lynching stories from my parents and grandparents, by the time I was born, the practice had died and seems just as before my time as calling cars "horseless carriages."

I dislike Misery Poker, and so this isn't going to be sob story about the injustice of it all. But it is worth noting that at least two of the women who have accused Mr. Cain of sexual harassment were white. Were this 1911, or even 1961, there would be nothing "high-tech" about what could have happened to him in the face of such accusations. Emmett Till, who died when Cain was nine years old and was only a teen himself, suffered abduction and a gruesome death for far, far less than what Cain stands accused of. And it could be argued that a practice beloved of more anarchic conservatives - jury nullification - played a part in allowing the murderers to walk scot-free. And that racial animosity is what allowed the acquitted, but guilty, men to feel secure in admitting what they had done in a magazine article. The rallying around Cain that many Republican voters have done would have been unthinkable, even considering that at the time, the Republicans were still considered the party of Lincoln. And it seems that many have decided that it the accusers who should be tried in the Court of Public Opinion, rather than having their word taken as Gospel, as it once would have been.

This isn't to say that there should be an uproar over Cain's use of the term lynching. Or that we've become heartless and callus for being able to use the word so lightly, even given the horrific history of the practice (which was not, by any stretch, confined to African-Americans). Just that we should remember, when we hear the phrase "high-tech lynching," that it's not just the "high-tech" prefix that makes the difference. What passes for a lynching these days would hardly have merited the term "persecution." And that we should all be very, very glad of that fact. Especially Herman Cain.

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