The one thing we don’t need to debate in America is whether Donald Trump is a racist. He makes racist statements. He makes racist policy. He tweets racist tweets. He dog-whistles racist dog whistles. If dog whistling doesn’t quite get the job done, he tweets that four lefty congresswomen of color should go back to whatever — paraphrasing here — shithole country they came from, knowing or not knowing, it’s hard to know which, that three of the targeted women were born in America and the other arrived as a child refugee.
None of this is new. Trump began his presidency by trying to ban all visitors and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries. His journey to the presidency began by becoming the nation’s most prominent birther. Back in the day, he called for the Central Park Five to be executed. Upon their exoneration, he still believes they’re guilty.
Why does he believe they’re guilty? Ask yourself what a racist is. Try to come up with a way to explain why Trump doesn’t qualify. Remember Paul Ryan’s “textbook definition of racism” quote? Trump has written a new textbook. The Atlantic published an “oral history” of Trumpist racism, which could serve as a foreword to that book.
That’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is the GOP enablers who stand silent — most Republican lawmakers — or even defend him. They’re silenced out of fear of those who make up the Trump base, few of whom, let’s say, fit the long-past ideal of the Party of Lincoln. Or they’re silenced out of fear of Trump himself, who, as we know, holds a grudge.
As the House prepared to vote to condemn Trump’s racist tweets, Trump was tweeting that the Squad — as progressive Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are called — were “anti-USA” and “pro-terror,” also vile and disgusting for good measure. They’re not anti-American; they’re anti-Trump, which, to Trump, is much the same thing.
Meanwhile, on the House floor, where they were debating the bill, Republicans halted discussion to hold a vote as to whether Nancy Pelosi could describe Trump’s racist tweets as “racist” because that wouldn’t be, well, civil. It was an extraordinary moment in House history. And let’s just say it got a lot less civil after that. The word “shithole” would later be heard on the House floor. The chair was briefly abandoned. Pelosi won because who would argue civility in defending Donald Trump?
It’s likely that Trump decided to demonize the Squad because they had been feuding with Pelosi. But he inadvertently helped Dems to make up — Pelosi called them “our sisters” — while four Republicans and one independent — that would be Justin Amash, who just quit the party — voted along with every Democrat to condemn the tweets. One of the Republicans is retiring. The others are in swing districts. Trump would be fine watching them lose, of course. We remember his snide public farewell to sometimes-critic Mike Coffman after the midterms.
And so that’s why it took Cory Gardner, who is up for re-election next year, three days to figure out what to say about a president he has already endorsed for re-election — a president who lost Colorado by five points in 2016 and who, according to the polls, is even less popular in the state today.
Finally, Gardner told KOA NewsRadio: “I disagree with the president. I wouldn’t have sent those tweets. I think he shouldn’t have done it …I think we have to focus on things like bringing this country together and moving this country forward. Highlight disagreements, highlight the fact that we have better ideas – or you have better ideas – but I wouldn’t have sent that tweet. I just disagree with it.”
What he didn’t say was that the tweets were racist or un-American or that no president in our lifetime would have said anything like that or that George Wallace would have been proud.
And yet, when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked whether Trump’s tweets were racist, he denied it. He said the go-back-where-you-came-from tweets were about “ideology,” saying, “This is about freedom vs. socialism.” He said it with a straight face.
Bill Kristol, the conservative never-Trumper, tweeted in reply. “‘This is about freedom vs. socialism.’ LOL. By the way, has Trump ever told Bernie Sanders—an actual socialist running for his job—to go back where he came from?”
Sanders would be — double-checking to be sure — white. As Pelosi said on the subject of Trump and racism, his Make America Great Again slogan actually means: Make America White Again, a charge which Trump called racist. That’s straight out of the Trump playbook — calling someone racist for calling you out for being a racist.
Mitch McConnell, who also says Trump is not a racist, took days before embracing both-sidesism, saying that we all need to turn down the rhetoric. No, we don’t. We need to call Trump out again and again. McConnell was asked whether he’d think it racist if someone demanded that his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan, go home to her own country. He dodged the question, twice, because what else could he do — tell the truth?
We need to call out Trump repeatedly because we need to be sure what 2020 is about. Let me quote George Will — yes, George Will — on how two-plus years of Trump have already undermined so much of democracy as we understand it in America.
In a New York Times Book Review podcast, Will said, “I believe that what this president has done to our culture, to our civic discourse … you cannot unring these bells and you cannot unsay what he has said, and you cannot change that he has now in a very short time made it seem normal for schoolboy taunts and obvious lies to be spun out in a constant stream. I think this will do more lasting damage than Richard Nixon’s surreptitious burglaries did.”
Worse than Nixon? Absolutely. Can’t unring the bell? God help us.
Did anyone else get the sense that, as impeachment talk among Democrats grows ever more fevered, that it wouldn’t be surprising — I’ll cite the Bard here — if what just passed was prologue?
If Trump hadn’t sent his tweets and doubled down on them and tripled down on them, we would be discussing the Trumpian cruelty at the border, the people locked in cages, the children who have been traumatized, all to show toughness to his base (no toothbrushes for those whiny kids) and to scare away would-be refugees who look to America as a beacon.
The photo of Mike Pence at the border facility — seemingly unbothered by the stench or by the notion that in America we can’t find a bed for those we lock in cages — seemed to undercut any beacon-like qualities. The photo of the father and his toddler lying face down in the Rio Grande, the little girl’s head tucked in her father’s shirt, her arm holding onto his neck, made the same point. Sure, life may be tough in your violence-torn country, but that’s your problem — not ours.
I don’t know how Americans will respond to Trump’s latest adventure in dividing the country or by the House vote to condemn it, but I do have an idea that we will be defined as a country by the response. In 2016, Trump became president running a racist, Mexicans-are-rapists, Muslims-cheered-9/11 campaign. He seems intent on trying the same tactic.
My guess is that something like 43% of the country will approve whatever Trump does, something like 53% won’t, schoolboy taunts will continue, lies will still be the coin of the realm, bells will not be unrung and somehow the coming election will remain a tossup.