A zero-sum game is one in which any player’s win is another player’s loss. If two people each have fifty marbles, the total number of marbles in the game can never exceed 100. If one player wins a marble, the other has to lose one of theirs.
That’s fine for marbles, but what about those who’ve lost their marbles — or never had them? Senator Jeff Sessions, for instance, sees race relations as a zero-sum game:
“Empathy for one party is always prejudice against another.” Sessions unwittingly provides a window on the racist mind: a job for a brown person is one less job for a white person; a scholarship for a black person is one less scholarship for a white person; empathy for a yellow or red person is prejudice against a white. The racist mind sees all ethnic groups in competitive opposition, and even makes empathy a limited resource.
That mental landscape is the origin of all prejudice; the leap from racism to chauvinism, homophobia, or back again, is a small one. Why ban gay marriage? Because it will hurt straight marriage. Why pay a woman less than a man for the same work? Because it will hurt manly breadwinning (and by extension, male prerogatives).
It’s all nonsense, of course. In reality, whenever prejudice loses everyone wins. As I said on Wednesday, Jeff Sessions had an agenda in his questioning. It is the same agenda Pat Buchanan laid out in his editorial Tuesday:
What they must do is expose Sotomayor, as they did not in the case of Ginsburg, as a political activist whose career bespeaks a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males to the degree necessary to bring about an equality of rewards in society.
The original culture warrior, Buchanan’s solution for a party in dire need of minority membership is to double-down on divisive racial politics. Racists have red-baited every social movement and advance since the Civil War; even now, two decades past the End of History, Buchanan can’t give up his fossilized thinking. He even wants to make the word “equality” a dirty one.
Last night, Rachel Maddow called out Buchanan about his call for Republicans to intensify their race-based politics. The back-and-forth is illuminating: