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     Racism: “The belief that one race is superior to another.”  — Wikipedia

There was a time when the meaning of words like “racist” and “communist” were more easily understood.

A reporter could describe David Duke as a “racist” in a news story because he is an admitted white supremacist, which touts the white race above others.

If the writer labeled someone a “communist” and he was not, then the newspaper likely would be sued for libel — defamation of character.

This topic came up recently when President Trump ridiculed Sen. Elizabeth Warren by saying her video would have been more effective had she staged it at Wounded Knee. The tweet set off a firestorm of comments critical of Trump, including condemnation by Sens. Thune and Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson, all of whom said Trump was out of line.

Which he was.

Others went further and called Trump’s comment “racist.”  But was it?

A racist, says Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “thinks that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

Trump, in his ill-advised comment, mocked Warren for her claim of American Indian ancestry, which has been largely debunked, and then said that her message would have been more effective had it been given at Wounded Knee.

It was in poor taste to invoke Wounded Knee, one of the most painful memories in our common consciousness. To use the massacre as part of his ridicule of Sen. Warren was offensive but it was not “racist” because it did not say or even suggest that American Indians were inferior to Caucasians.

The word “racist” is used all too often these days by those who are offended by a different point of view, or who cannot tolerate an individual because he says repugnant things.

I have seen the “racist” word applied to someone who simply disagreed with the decision to change the University of North Dakota mascot from “Fighting Sioux” to “Fighting Hawks.”

On the other hand, when Iowa Rep. Steve King wondered the other day why “white supremacy” was held in such low regard, his comments could rightly be construed as “racist.”

When TV host Bill Maher compared President Trump to Adolf Hitler, whose racism is not disputed, it was grossly unfair. It also did an injustice to the millions of Jews who were exterminated because it minimized the real Holocaust story.

“Racist” is an ugly word. It must be used with care.

Jan. 23, 2019