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John L. Smith: Racial Divide In Nevada Is Shrinking


President Donald Trump is regularly accused of promoting racist memes online and in speeches.

Top Democrats openly say he's a racist.

And now, commentators on conservative media outlets such as Fox News have begun promoting what might be considered a racially tinged nostalgia for an America that wasn’t so ethnically diverse.

How does that play in Nevada? Is Nevada, at its heart, a racist state?

KNPR contributor John L. Smith has lived here his entire life and has seen change, for better or worse.

"It's hard to argue that we're not much better than we were," Smith said, "With that said, it always comes with an asterisk because there are always examples of the racial progress falls back, especially in tough economic times."

Smith said that Las Vegas is not the small, mob-run town that it once was and has changed dramatically in size and demographics. It is now one of the most ethnically diverse communities.

"That, from my perspective, is to be celebrated, not feared or shunned or marginalized by political leaders," he said.

Smith said racism has always been a part of the fabric of American but there is a bigger question for him.

"From my standpoint, the question is whether the current president, whether the current atmosphere encourages this kind of behavior, this kind of acting out, whether it tends to give people a wink and a nudge, saying 'it's okay to think like this and talk like this in our country' because we have a president who essentially passes out those kinds of winks and nudges in his speeches when he essentially encourages that kind of behavior," he said.

Gun Control and the Democrats

When mass shootings happen, inevitably the talk turns to how to prevent it. 

This weekend Democratic presidential hopefuls made their cases for gun control to prevent future events. Smith doesn't think their stance will hurt their chances in Nevada.

"Most of those candidates have expressed not only outrage but have expressed some form or idea about universal background checks, for instance," he said, "Other measures that... the Right tends to think of as gateways to gun control but the Democratic Party has embraced as measures that attempt to respect the Second Amendment while trying to do something about epidemic mass shootings." 

Smith said we have more mass shootings - by far - than any other countries in the industrialized world. He said that people are at a loss about what to do but there are members of the Nevada Congressional Delegation that are talking about measures they hope stems the tide of violence.

Students for Trump

The group created by the creator of Turning Point USA held its kickoff event in Las Vegas this weekend.

Smith wrote about it for the Nevada Independent. The idea is to focus on college campus that many on the Right feel have become "hotbeds of liberalism and anti-conservative thought."

"The challenge is whether these folks are just being conservative or acting out in racist or bigoted manner and the Anti-Defamation League, Southern Poverty Law Center... they have pretty well-documented incidents in which those associated with the group have said things that are hugely embarrassing to the group or expose a certain kind of mindset that I think most people would consider racially tinged at the very least and perhaps worse than that."

Passing of Rob Powers and Dave Palermo

"Rob Powers was one of the most talented feature writers to ever hit Las Vegas. He had a light touch. He could make you cry in a story. He could make you laugh in a story.  He had a real talent for the language. He was very successful at the Las Vegas Review-Journal for many years before jumping into basically the PR sector and advertising."

"Palermo is a dear friend of mine. You wouldn't find a more dedicated reporter. Gaming journalist. Very few could rival Dave Palermo for reporting skills, on deadline. When it came to Indian gaming, I don't think anyone knew more."


John L. Smith, commentary, KNPR

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.