Words exist within the realm of politics. In politics, words are sometimes perverted by the speaker. It’s worth considering which words come under attack for perversion (“racist,”; “homophobe,”; “bigot”) and which do not (“democratic,”; “bipartisan,”; “anti-American”). I am always skeptical of people who seek to curtail their use, instead of interrogating their specific usage. Some people really are racists, and other people really are misogynists, and others still actually are homophobes. Instead of prohibiting words, I’d rather better understand their meaning.
Coates uses the ridiculous “accusing someone of racism is the worst thing you can do in this country” claim (“perversion” in the quote above) as a starting point and moves on to recap Anne Applebaum’s arguments about the word “totalitarian” from her book Iron Curtain: The Crushing Of Eastern Europe. Like most Ta-Nehisi Coates texts, I can highly recommend it.