A state senator and Republican county chairman feel no shame about sharing humor that demeans.

President Obama delivered one of the best speeches of his public life last weekend in Selma, Alabama,remembering civil rights heroes who gave their lives so that others could have the right to vote.

The nation’s first black president claimed this not as a victory for black America, but as proof of how far we have come as a country and a promise of how far we might go together.

You could think that this would be a good occasion for everyone to put aside the normal political conflict and reflect.

But not if you are a Maine state senator from Presque Isle. Michael Willette saw the day after the Bloody Sunday commemoration as a good time to pass along to his Facebook “friends” an Internet joke that claims that Obama is soft on the terrorists of the Islamic State group because they are members of his family.

Another person who missed the opportunity was Robert Hanish, Waldo County Republican Committee chairman, who got on the committee’s Facebook page Monday and passed on a different Internet joke – one that suggests that it’s laughable that a black congresswoman from Texas has a degree from an Ivy League institution.

Just because these were jokes doesn’t mean they aren’t serious. The German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the term “the banality of evil” to describe how ordinary people could stop thinking independently and commit unspeakable crimes by cloaking their actions in dull, bureaucratic language.

You could describe what’s happening here as “the inanity of evil,” where distorted notions about how the world works get circulated in the form of inane jokes that make the ideas seem normal. As the jokes get passed around the social network, they reinforce fear and resentment, giving racial discrimination what it needs to grow.

People laugh at jokes when they think that they touch on the truth. And what were the truths supposedly revealed here?

Willette probably doesn’t think that Obama actually hangs out with members of ISIS. But does he feel that Obama won’t stand up for America because he is not really one of us? If that’s how he feels he’s not alone.

Treating Obama as an alien has been a constant trope, and not just from the lunatic “birthers,” who won’t give up the idea that Obama is not really president because he wasn’t born here. The accusation now is that he doesn’t love America like “us.”

There are plenty of reasons to criticize the president that have nothing to do with race. But the notion that he’s different from “us” is not one of them.

Obama’s race is what sets him apart from a host of mainstream liberals who support progressive taxation, a strong social safety net and an internationalist foreign policy. If he were white, he’d be Dick Durbin. Conservatives may hate Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but neither one of them ever had to produce a birth certificate.

When people talk about Obama being different, they are talking about race, and Willette’s post implies that Obama can’t be trusted because of his racial identity,

Hanish’s post promotes another false belief about race, which is that minorities have privileges that give them an unfair advantage in our society. If Hanish believes that, he’s not the only one. The joke he shared had been shared by more than 6,000 people already .

There is a mountain of evidence that says they’re wrong. The black unemployment rate is twice that of whites, even for blacks with college degrees. Black men are 10 times more likely than white men to be incarcerated. Their life span is five years shorter, 71 to 76 years. But the idea that blacks – or women, or immigrants – get special help from the government won’t go away.

This is not just about passing on a few bad jokes or hurting someone’s feelings. Spreading these posts hardens the receivers to prejudice that does actual harm to fellow Americans.

Knowing that Willette and Hanish think that they can circulate these jokes in public without worrying about the backlash should be an embarrassment to the state of Maine. That so many people share their views and may have circulated even worse material themselves can make you lose your faith in progress.

But before we get too discouraged, let’s end on a note of hope. Here’s a bit from Obama’s speech in Selma last weekend, where he urges young people to learn from the past and forge a better future.

“Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person,” he said. “Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We The People.’ ‘We Shall Overcome.’ ‘Yes We Can.’ It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.”

Too bad there’s still such a long way to go.

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