The highlight, at least for some television watchers, of the first day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, came when the young woman seated directly behind the nominee rested her right hand on her opposite elbow and pressed her index fingertip against her thumb, forming a kind of circle or OK sign.
The meaning of this gesture was not lost on certain alert viewers. "Who is she? What's up with the white power sign?" tweeted one Keith R. Dumas, quoted by the Daily Caller.
Elucidating tweets streamed in. From TV actor Kelly Mantle: "This neo-nazi is Zina Bash. She's intentionally throwin up White Power signs at a Supreme Court Justice confirmation hearing. On national TV. She works for Kavanaugh & is also one of the writers for Trump's immigration policy. This is their new Amerikkka."
Author Jamie Ford: "Zina Bash, who works for Kavanaugh, quietly flashing the white power sign. Welcome to the dystopia, folks."
Tommy Christopher, writer for George Soros-funded website: "The woman sitting behind Kavanaugh giving what appears to be a white supremacist 'Pepe' salute has been identified as Zina Bash, member of Trump's transition, domestic policy, and now SCOTUS team."
Dr. Eugene Gu: "Kavanaugh's former law clerk Zina Bash is flashing a white power sign behind him during his Senate confirmation hearing. They literally want to bring white supremacy to the Supreme Court. What a national outrage and a disgrace to the rule of law."
These people and the scores who tweeted in their support do not seem to have been deterred a bit by learning that Zina Bash is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and her mother is a native of Mexico. Not a likely white supremacist.
They seem not to have wondered why a white supremacist would find it necessary or useful to communicate such beliefs by an obscure hand gesture when so many other forms of communication are readily available -- and can be concealed more readily from alert eyes like their own.
They seem to find it inconceivable that not everyone knows the hand gesture recognized universally and for many years in this country as signifying OK is now recognized just as universally as signifying support of white supremacy.
In other words, they have taken leave of their senses.
Alas, this does not appear to be an isolated phenomenon. It brings to mind the weeks of anticipation and preparation by the news media for the Washington rally of the so-called alt-right on the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville rally. Dozens of camera crews were dispatched, multiple announcements and warnings of possible violence issued. Speculation proliferated about possible clashes between white supremacists and their critics.
But when the day came, there were no more than 20 demonstrators on hand. As The New York Times' Richard Fausett noted, they were "finding themselves greatly outnumbered by counterprotesters, police officers and representatives of the news media."
Well, yes. The hearing viewers so alert to supposed white-supremacist dog whistles and the news media that overstaffed and overhyped the supposed alt-right rally are both operating on the assumption -- usually unvoiced but unquestioned despite lack of evidence -- that millions and millions of Americans are white supremacists, yearning for the days when blacks were strictly segregated and nonwhite immigrants almost entirely blocked from entering the country.
The United States, in their view, continues to be an irredeemably racist country, the message of best-selling writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. "America's progress on race has been minimal, despite pretty window dressing here and there," as Columbia University's John McWhorter summarizes this view, with "no reason to hope things will get any better." McWhorter calls the view "melodramatic and even unempirical."
The view that some large body of Americans wants to go back to something that can be called white supremacy is even more melodramatic and less empirical. It suits the emotional needs of those still unwilling to accept or be reconciled to the fact that Donald Trump won the presidential election, and who bitterly cling to a delusional belief in their own intellectual and moral superiority.
Do these people expect anyone beyond their claque to take them seriously? There are plenty of reasons to criticize Donald Trump and oppose Republican policies. These are things reasonable people disagree about. But focusing on hidden hand signals and phantom masses of white supremacists is just plain nuts. Democrats need to keep the signals from getting out of hand.