As many a would-be prophet can attest, predicting the future is one surefire way of making yourself look ridiculous. When your prognostication goes wrong, the only ones who look sillier than you are those who believed in the forecast.
Take, for example, radio Bible thumper Harold Camping, who whipped legions of evangelical Christians into a frenzy by claiming that the rapture, in which the faithful would be literally spirited up into heaven, was going to take place last Saturday. Lo and behold, we — and he — are still here. But instead of curing Camping of being a seer, that seemingly incontrovertible piece of evidence only forced him to revise his schedule. He now says the end of the world will take place on Oct. 21, and I hope he is right.
That’s because the coming of doomsday this fall would spare us what I boldly predict will be the nastiest, most racially charged presidential campaign in decades, perhaps even since the Civil War. That’s not because the developing field of Republican candidates is a pack of rabid race-baiters. Indeed, so far only one of them, the inimitable Newton Leroy Gingrich, has descended into that gutter with his charge that Barack Obama is “the most successful food stamp president in American history.”
Despite the GOP’s long history of exploiting white fear for political gain, I doubt that the eventual nominee will make such a blatant racist appeal. He or she won’t have to. Their surrogates or those in charge of supposedly independent expenditures will handle it for them. And it will simply be in the air.
My fearless forecast is not based on the personalities of the candidates but on what analysts call the objective factors: the underlying social context in which the campaign will unfold. And right now it’s setting up as a perfect storm for racially charged resentment on the far right, even if the candidates make no overt attempt to exploit it. Here are three of my reasons, two pretty obvious and one less so:
* White people are really angry. According to a hugely publicized study by Tufts University researchers, a growing number of whites believe that race relations are a zero-sum game in which every inch of black progress is offset by an increase in discrimination against whites. Indeed, the researchers contend, many whites have now convinced themselves that bias against people like themselves is a bigger problem than anti-black prejudice. The most obvious symbol of black progress — and of their own setbacks — is none other than the man who will be at the top of the Democratic ticket next year: the first African-American president.