Give it time. Sometimes things get better. There’s got to be a morning after. The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar. But sometimes things get worse:
President Trump, under fire for comments that even members of his own party called racist, amplified his attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color on Monday, saying that they hated America and that one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress sympathized with Al Qaeda.
In an extraordinary back and forth from opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr. Trump appeared to revel in the viciousness of his brawl with the four progressive women who have become the young faces of the Democratic Party. He goaded them into a response from Capitol Hill, in which they denounced the president’s rhetoric and his policies, charging that he was pressing the agenda of white nationalists from the White House.
“He’s launching a blatantly racist attack on four duly elected members of the United States House of Representatives, all of whom are women of color,” said Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota and the target of Mr. Trump’s most outrageous charges. “This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms, or it is happening on national TV, and now it’s reached the White House garden.”
Trump’s response was a resounding “so what” – if you don’t like white nationalism and a country run by white men, for white men, where you don’t matter, get the hell out – go back to where you came from. Trump has ranted about black athletes kneeling during the national anthem – those sons of bitches – and lobbed his insults at developing countries – those “shithole” countries – and defended the white supremacists marching with their torches – some of them fine people. Ilhan Omar quoted his exact words. She mentioned he had bragged about grabbing women by the pussy – using the exact word again. The words were shocking, but they were not her words. This time Trump is going after members of the majority party in the House, capable of fighting back. They quote him directly. The folks at Fox News will say this is grossly unfair. But those are his words.
This will not end well:
The congresswomen vowed not to be baited into a sprint to the bottom with a president they condemned as racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and criminal. Their leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, pledged to put a resolution on the floor condemning the president’s language – putting House Republicans on defense.
But Mr. Trump showed no sign of relenting. Even as the four spoke, he was online calling them “radical Democrats” and Twitter-shouting, “IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE!”
It was a message the president appeared determined to amplify throughout the day.
On Monday, he added that Ms. Omar, a Somali refugee and the only one not born in the United States, was a Qaeda sympathizer – a false charge that she said she would not “dignify” with an answer.
There’s a backstory to that:
Mr. Trump was referring to – and grossly distorting – remarks Ms. Omar made during a 2013 interview on a local PBS television show when she was a community activist.
Nowhere in the interview does she proclaim “love” for Al Qaeda or “how great” the terrorist group is. In fact, Ms. Omar repeatedly noted that Al Qaeda and Al Shabab had committed “evil” acts and “atrocities” and were “taking part in terror” around the world.
The October 2013 interview on “BelAhdan,” a show about Middle Eastern community issues, focused on the pressures and stereotypes Arab-Americans face. Ms. Omar and Ahmed Tharwat, the host and producer of the show, discussed the attack on a Kenyan mall by Shabab militants that had occurred a month earlier.
The two expressed frustration that Somalis and Arabs in general were asked to condemn or apologize for the attack because of an assumption, Ms. Omar said, that “we all are connected to this somehow.” But, they added, the same is not asked of citizens in other parts of the world for violence perpetrated by governments or by members of their communities like the Iraq war or mass shootings.
The two were getting tired of others demanding that condemn what they had already condemned and had nothing to do with them anyway. Catholic priests rape little boys. Perhaps all Catholics should renounce their religion and become Buddhists or Baptists. Omar noted the fools who “puffed their chests out” at the mention of Al Qaeda. She thought they were jerks. She said so. Trump missed that part.
But she did do something unforgivable:
Ms. Omar has criticized Saudi Arabia’s royal family for its financial links to Al Qaeda. In congressional hearings, she has also expressed concerns that American weapons “end up in the hands of terrorists” used to carry out attacks in the Middle East and described a “horrific reign of terror” in Africa under Shabab and Boko Haram militants.
Trump is all-in with the Saudis, and their rakish Crown Prince, his son-in-law’s very best friend, who really knows a thing or two about how to deal with pesky journalists. Trump seems to wish his family was just like Saudi Arabia’s royal family – fabulously wealthy and in power forever, in a land with no elections.
But that’s not the case:
In his appearance earlier Monday, Mr. Trump had sought to deflect criticism about his tweets even as he made it clear he stood behind them, saying it was Ms. Pelosi who was the real racist. As evidence, he pointed to a tweet in which Ms. Pelosi said his statements about the congresswomen confirmed that his “Make America Great Again” slogan “has always been about making America white again.”
Follow his logic. She called him a racist. That makes her a racist, for bringing up race at all. She mentioned race. He didn’t. But, on the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with being a racist:
Mr. Trump repeatedly sought refuge, as he often has before, in what he insisted was broad public agreement with his inflammatory comments. “A lot of people love it by the way,” the president said. Asked whether he was concerned that his comments were racist and being embraced by white supremacists, who took to Twitter to cheer them, Mr. Trump shrugged.
“It doesn’t concern me, because many people agree with me,” he said. “All I’m saying is if they want to leave, they can leave now.”
Many people do agree with him. That’s what he promised in the first place. He told America that everyone is out to get us. He told America to sneer at the rest of the world – to get angry and get tough. The world was laughing at America. The rest of America – the blacks and the gays and the urban hipsters and the fancy-pants experts and the goofy scientists and all “politicians” in general – was laughing at Real Americans. Mexicans and Muslims were laughing at us too. He could fix that. When someone hits you, hit them back ten times harder. We’ll build that wall and Mexico will pay for it. Muslims will be banned from entering the country – once he gets a few more judges who see things his way. Hit back ten times harder. That way no one messes with you ever again. That’s the way America should deal with the world. That’s the way he would deal with everything. And now that’s how he’s dealing with race. No one will laugh at white folks ever again. A good number of white folks do worry about that.
Paul Krugman sees this:
In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political operative, explained to an interviewer how his party had learned to exploit racial antagonism using dog whistles. “You start out in 1954 by saying ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.'” But by the late 1960s, “that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, ‘forced busing,’ ‘states’ rights,’ and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
Well, the dog whistle days are over. Republicans are pretty much back to saying “Nigger, nigger, nigger.”
Perhaps this is refreshing honesty:
Sorry, there’s no way to both sides this, or claim that Trump didn’t say what he said. This is racism, plain and simple – nothing abstract about it. And Trump obviously isn’t worried that it will backfire.
This should be a moment of truth for anyone who describes Trump as a “populist” or asserts that his support is based on “economic anxiety.” He’s not a populist, he’s a white supremacist. His support rests not on economic anxiety, but on racism.
That means his whole party is in on this:
I don’t just mean the almost complete absence of condemnation of Trump’s racism on the part of prominent Republicans, although this cowardice was utterly predictable. I mean that Trump isn’t alone in deciding that this is a good time to bring raw racism out of the closet.
Last week Bill Lee, the Republican governor of Tennessee, signed a proclamation ordering a day to honor the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, whom he described as a “recognized military figure.” Indeed, Forrest was a talented military commander. He was also a traitor, a war criminal who massacred African-American prisoners, and a terrorist who helped found the Ku Klux Klan.
Put it this way: The Nazis had some very good generals, too. But the world would be horrified if Germany announced plans to start celebrating Erich von Manstein Day. There are, no doubt, some Germans who would like to honor Nazi heroes. But they aren’t in positions of power; their American counterparts are.
Now add this:
Although most of the commentary focuses on Trump’s demand that native-born Americans “go back” to their home countries, his description of their imaginary homelands as “crime infested” deserves some attention, too. For his fixation on crime is another manifestation of his racism.
I’m not sure how many people remember Trump’s inaugural address, which was all about “American carnage” – an alleged epidemic of violent crime sweeping our nation’s cities. He didn’t explicitly say, but clearly implied, that this supposed crime wave was being perpetrated by people with dark skins. And, of course, both Trump and the Trumpist media go on all the time about immigrant criminality.
In reality, violent crime in America’s big cities is near historical lows, and all the available evidence suggests that immigrants are, if anything, less likely than the native-born to commit crimes. But the association between nonwhites and crime is a deeply held tenet among white racists, and no amount of evidence will shake their belief.
Oh, and the real “American carnage” is the surge in “deaths of despair” from drugs, suicide and alcohol among less-educated whites. But this doesn’t fit the racist narrative.
And that means that this is no time to just shrug:
The GOP’s new comfort level with open racism should serve as a wake-up call to Democrats, both centrists and progressives, who sometimes seem to forget who and what they’re confronting.
On one side, Joe Biden’s celebration of the good relations he used to have with segregationist senators sounds even more tone-deaf than it did a month ago. Biden clearly isn’t a racist, but he needs to get a clue about how important it is to confront the racism sweeping the GOP.
Jamelle Bouie agrees with that:
If Donald Trump has a theory of anything, it is a theory of American citizenship. It’s simple. If you are white, then regardless of origin, you have a legitimate claim to American citizenship and everything that comes with it. If you are not, then you don’t.
Trump never quite put this theory in writing. But it guides his behavior all the same. That’s the reason he embraced and promoted the deranged conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama’s birthplace – a black president, in Trump’s mind, must be illegitimate somehow. And it’s the reason, as president, he wants fewer immigrants from “shithole” countries and more from northern European nations like Norway. It’s less a practical alternative – there aren’t many Norwegian immigrants to the United States – than it is an expression of his racism.
Trump’s theory of citizenship helps explain some of his unusual behavior.
And here is one example:
It’s tempting in this situation to just condemn Trump and leave it there. But that’s a mistake. With this latest tirade, Trump hasn’t only indulged his racism, he has also usefully – if unintentionally – stripped some racial euphemism from the public discourse. His attacks on the congresswomen stem from the same source as his failed attempt to place a citizenship question on the census.
Ludicrously, the Trump administration told the Supreme Court that this information was needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. But the true aim, as the files of the man who devised the strategy proved, was a drive to preserve a majority-white electorate by giving state Republican lawmakers the tools and the data they need to gerrymander out noncitizens and nonwhites out of fair representation and fair apportionment. The underlying theory is the same in both cases. If you’re white, you are entitled to full political equality. If you’re not, you aren’t.
Bouie, however, is worried about the Democrats:
What’s more striking than the president’s blood-and-soil racism is how Democratic Party elites – or at least one group of them – are playing with similar assumptions. No, they haven’t held out the white working property owner as the only citizen of value, but they’re obsessed with winning that voter to their side – convinced that – some of which represent districts Trump won in 2016, but most of whom represent districts that gave Democrats the majority last November.
Indeed, it is instructive – and frankly disturbing – that top Democrats leaked a poll to Axios showing broad dissatisfaction with Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Omar. Not from the entire public or Democratic voters, but from “1,003 likely general-election voters who are white and have two years or less of college education.”
Winning the votes of that small crowd might be impossible, and it might be pointless:
Donald Trump wants to make the United States a white country, where the possibility of full citizenship is tied to race. Most Republicans are either silent or supportive. The Democratic Party has the opportunity to oppose this vision with all the moral force that comes with representing a diverse, multiracial coalition. But even as they condemn the president there are still too few Democrats who are up for the challenge and too many who would rather go after those who embody that other America.
There are those who agree with Trump on these matters. That’s the other America. Democrats will never get their votes, and why would they want their votes?
But all is not well in the conservative world. There’s the quite conservative David French writing in the quite conservative (founded by William F. Buckley) National Review with this:
The very notion that nonwhite Americans should leave this country to go back to ancestral homelands to prove their worth is deeply repugnant.
Moreover, there is something especially gross about a man who was too timid even to face the draft during his own generation’s war now presuming to define how Americans seek to reform their government. He is the last person to be the arbiter of patriotism or national loyalty.
But this is the worst part:
The near-total silence (at least so far) from GOP leaders is deeply dispiriting. Do they not understand the message the leader of their party is sending – especially to America’s nonwhite citizens? Do they not understand that racial malice as a political strategy isn’t just an ultimately losing proposition but also deeply divisive, picking at the scabs of America’s deepest political, cultural, and spiritual wounds?
There are many GOP leaders who, quite frankly, understand that they criticize even the president’s racist speech at their own peril. The grassroots have spoken. Loyalty to the president must be absolute, or one risks a primary challenge. Yet individual voters have responsibilities as well, and they must understand that extraordinary loyalty to a malicious man broadcasts their own disdain for their fellow citizens.
David French seems a man in despair:
American polarization is reaching a dangerous phase. On a bipartisan basis, criticism of presidents and our political opponents is escalating. I’m old enough to remember all the way back to 2015, when GOP hatred for Barack Obama even on occasion trumped Republican patriotism. Remember when Mike Huckabee actually urged American Christians not to join the military so long as Obama – or someone like him – remained president? Which country should he go back to so that he can somehow earn back our respect?
Obama would never earn their respect, but there’s really no one to respect now:
Trump is fully employing malice as a political strategy. It’s not clever. It’s not shrewd. It’s destructive and wrong. The fact that so few Republicans can muster enough courage to state this obvious truth speaks to a sad reality – the rot extends far beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Kevin Drum adds this:
Any conservative willing to call out Trump’s toxic appeal to white racism is basically on my side. I don’t think it’s something we can never recover from, but that’s only if it stops soon and leads to Republican defeat. If, instead, Republicans decide it’s their only road to victory – and it works – the impact on our country is difficult to imagine.
That might be the end of everything, except for extraordinary loyalty to a malicious man – think of Germany in the thirties – but Drum also argues that the Republicans had no other choice:
Reaching out to black voters would only work if Republicans also ceased their tolerance of white bigotry. In other words, they’d almost certainly lose votes on a net basis at first, which would mean handing over the presidency – and maybe much more – to Democrats for upwards of a decade or so. That’s just too big a sacrifice for any political party to make.
So instead they took another route: they went after the white vote even harder.
And they hit the jackpot:
In Donald Trump they found a candidate who wasn’t afraid to appeal to racist sentiment loudly and bluntly, something that simply hadn’t occurred to other Republicans. They never thought they could get away with something like this in the 21st century, and normally they would have been right: it would have lost them as many votes among educated whites as it won them among working-class whites. But after eight years of a black president in the White House, racial tensions were ratcheted up just enough that Trump could get away with it. Only by a hair, and only with plenty of other help, but he did get away with it, losing 10 points of support among college-educated whites but gaining 14 points among working-class whites.
And that sealed the deal:
The entire Republican Party is now all-in on this strategy. They mostly stay quiet themselves and let Trump himself do the dirty work, but that’s enough. Nobody talks anymore about reaching out to the black community with a spirit of caring or any other spirit. Nor is there anything the rest of us can do about this. Republicans believe that wrecking the fabric of the country is their only hope of staying in power, and they’re right. If working-class whites abandon them even a little bit, they’re toast.
And that means this is no time for Joe Biden’s Kumbaya politics:
All we can do is try to crush them. What other options are there? Reactionary American whites, as always, won’t give up their power unless it’s taken from them by either a literal or figurative war.
Liberals need to be as Lincolnesque as possible in this endeavor – we don’t have to win the votes of unrepentant bigots, just the fretful fence-sitters – but we also need to be Lincolnesque in our commitment to winning America’s latest race war.
So it’s war now? Maybe it was always war. Maybe it was always a race war, from the beginning. And as for Lincoln and his war, maybe the South will win this time. Maybe the South already won. Extraordinary loyalty to a malicious man can work wonders.