Trump’s Overt Racism Is Uniting Democrats and Unnerving Some Republicans
As Donald Trump would be the first to tell you, he’s a political genius. Certainly, in a period of a little over twenty-four hours on Sunday and Monday, he accomplished three things that many observers had considered impossible. First, he made it even more clear than it was before that he is a garden-variety racist. Second, he united the entire House Democratic Caucus behind the four young, female firebrands who have been tussling with Nancy Pelosi. Third, he prompted at least some elected Republicans to criticize him publicly.
Since the G.O.P. is confined to a state of what seems like permanent vassalage to Trump and his MAGA supporters, the final development was perhaps the most surprising, and it provided an answer to a question that has been hanging for at least two and half years: Just how far does the President have to go before his supine Party colleagues on Capitol Hill muster the independence to register some semblance of a protest?
For the congressman Mike Turner, who represents Ohio’s Tenth District, which includes the city of Dayton, it seems like the answer came when Trump suggested on Sunday that Representatives Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib should “go back” to “the places from which they came,” even though, for three of them—Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Tlaib—that would have meant quickening to the Bronx, Chicago and Detroit, respectively. “I am confident that every Member of Congress is a committed American,” Turner wrote on Twitter on Monday. “@realDonaldTrump’s tweets from this weekend were racist and he should apologize. We must work as a country to rise above hate, not enable it.”
In defying the online MAGA trolls and Sean Hannitys of the world, Turner deserves credit. So does Will Hurd, of Texas, the only black Republican in the House, who said that Trump’s comments were “racist and xenophobic” and also dumb. “While you had a civil war going on within the Democratic Party, between the far left and the rest of the Party, and now they have circled the wagons and are starting to protect one another,” Hurd told CNN.
The comments from Hurd and Turner were commendably direct and unvarnished. But they need to be placed in context. The hundred and sixteenth Congress contains a hundred and ninety-seven Republican representatives and fifty-three Republican senators. Of these two hundred and fifty profiles in courage, Hurd and Turner were the sole ones to specifically use the word “racist” to describe Trump’s attack. Other Republicans, even as they broke with Trump and criticized his comments, ransacked the thesaurus to avoid it.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, called Trump’s comments “spiteful.” Senator Tim Scott, of South Carolina, who is African-American, said they were “racially offensive.” Senator Susan Collins described them as “way over the line.” These three senators did also call on Trump to knock it off. Murkowski said the Twitter attacks were “absolutely unacceptable and this needs to stop.” Scott said, “Aiming for the lowest common denominator will only divide our nation further.” Collins, who is facing a reëlection race in 2020, called on Trump to take down his offensive tweets.
Senator Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, also issued a fairly strong statement, which excluded the term “racist” but took issue with Trump’s comments about the members of the Squad. “Three of the four were born in America and the citizenship of all four is as valid as mine,” he said in a statement released on Monday afternoon. “I couldn’t disagree more with these congresswomen’s views on immigration, socialism, national security, and virtually every policy issue. But they are entitled to their opinions, however misguided they may be. We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry.”
Trump didn’t back down, of course. On Monday, he dug further into his playbook for incendiary right-wing demagogues, fastening on the section on red-baiting. “The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!” Trump wrote on Twitter. Earlier in the day, a White House reporter had asked him if he was concerned that people were describing his original attack as racist. “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” he replied. “And all I’m saying—they want to leave, they can leave.”
As all this was going on, the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill was demonstrating, by its silence, that it is as cowed by Trump as ever. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, stayed out of view, and so did Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader. One of the few senior Republicans to comment was Senator John Cornyn, of Texas, who was the Majority Whip until January. Cornyn said that Trump’s comments were “a mistake, an unforced error.” But, as Politico reported, he also said he doesn’t “think the president’s a racist.”
In the late afternoon, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib held a press conference on Capitol Hill, where they expressed thanks for the support they had received since Trump’s attacks began, though they also said that they weren’t surprised by them. “I encourage the American people and all of us—in this room and beyond—to not take the bait,” Pressley said. “This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern, and consequence to the American people.” Omar commented, “This is the agenda of white nationalists…. This is his plan to pit us against one another.” The question remains: How far will the G.O.P. go along with that plan?
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