In an era dominated by an ever-increasing torrent of information–some of it relevant, most of it useless– there are precious few defining moments that permit the public to catch a glimpse of the big picture—the over-arching zeitgeist, panoramic in scope– underpinning an entire political philosophy. This weekend provided us one of those moments.
It wasn’t just Trump’s newest and crudest display of rank racism, as tapped out by his fat, tender little tweeting fingers. These moments have been with us from the start with this classless, low-life of a president. From his campaign rallies demeaning judges, demonizing Latinos and Hispanic immigrants, to his praise of the white supremacist Charlottesville marchers and murderers, Trump has provided a very clear, unequivocal picture of his racist beliefs for anyone who cared to look. The fact that he would stoop to the rather tiresome cliche of telling women of color they should ”go back to whatever country they came from” seems to be more an effort to jack up the volume, likely because for an accused rapist (such as Trump) any distance he can draw from his good pal and former wingman Jeffrey Epstein is worth trying out. That story is just going to get uglier as more women come forward, and some of them are sure to have some vile stories about another rich, entitled prick named Donald Trump.
We get the distraction part. We get that Trump is a racist, too. That’s not news.
No, the real story here is the Silence of the Republicans. Because what Trump tweeted in such a raw, uncouth way forms the central driving impulse not only for this Administration but for the Republican Party as a functioning entity, since at least the late 1950’s. It’s just never been laid out in such stark, blunt terms before for everyone else to see.
What do people actually think motivates folks like Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and a self-loathing sexual harasser like Clarence Thomas in their judicial decision-making? They would like to have you believe it’s some noble principle like “federalism” or “judicial restraint.” But if you look at the consequences of their rulings, the ones that actually make a profound social impact, with few exceptions the end result nearly always means the diminishment of non-whites. From Citizens’ United, to the Court’s more recent shenanigans gutting the Voting Rights Act, hamstringing labor unions, and “washing its hands” of oversight of redistricting and gerrymandering, there is more than a clear pattern here, and it’s called “discrimination.” The meddling of a so-called conservative federal judiciary to tilt the balance of power in favor of whites, and specifically, white males, dates back well into the 1980’s. Few people around today remember that William Rehnquist’s formative career before he was elevated to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was spent suppressing the votes of African-Americans and Latinos on behalf of Republicans in the mid-1960’s.
People generally do not change from the belief systems they developed in their youth. There’s nothing inherently unusual about that. But at least a leopard doesn’t try to pretend that it doesn’t have spots.
Until Monday, the closest any Republican lawmaker had come to denouncing Trump was Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), but even he couched criticism of Trump’s tweets within a broader defense of his immigration policies and sentiments.
Then there were the usual suspects like right-wing Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania who because he represents a traditional “Blue state” felt compelled to make a mealy-mouthed expression or two of disapproval.
But more than a few Republicans didn’t shrink from the conundrum posed by Trump so eloquently articulating the GOP’s principle philosophy. Just today, the whitest of white Republicans, Mitt Romney, cagily expressed his tacit agreement with Trump about how people of a certain skin color ought to get up and leave while the getting is good.
.@MittRomney on Trump calling for 4 congresswoman to go back to their countries of origin? “I certainly feel a number of these new members of Congress have views that are not consistent with my experience and not consistent with building a strong America.” More @NBC10Boston 5pm pic.twitter.com/3tZ4DtCuvW
— Alison King NBC10 Boston (@AlisonNBCBoston) July 15, 2019
“Not consistent with his experience.” In other words, it was not consistent with his experience as a white male used to having his every whim catered to in this society. Mitt wasn’t alone, though. Poor, pathetic Lindsey Graham proving once again that whatever Vladimir Putin has on Donald Trump must pale in comparison to whatever information he possesses on himself, went full-throated “Joe McCarthy” on these Democratic Congresswomen.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of President Donald Trump’s strongest allies on Capitol Hill, declined on Monday to condemn the President over his racist tweets against several minority members of Congress, instead calling them a “bunch of communists.”Graham’s comments, which were later tweeted out by Trump, are the latest example of congressional Republican alignment with Trump in the face of fierce controversy.
The most gracious “take” on the Republicans’ deafening silence in the face of this and Trump’s many prior expressions of racism is that the Party is now beholden to Trump, that he has consolidated his power over the Party apparatus to the extent that any Republican who intends to keep holding office now lives in abject fear of Trump’s disapproving Tweets, and by extension a primary challenge from someone more vocally racist than themselves. That to voice a peep of dissent to such a spirited clarion call of racism would lead to a sudden political death. Or, as Aaron Rupar puts it in Vox:
With Trump having consolidated power within his party, Republicans who might feel inclined to take issue with the bigotry he expressed on Sunday can afford to be on the receiving end of one of his Twitter outbursts less than ever. So many have chosen so far to remain silent. Others, like Graham and Harris, are either falling in line behind the president or twisting his words to downplay their offensiveness. Very few, however, seem willing to stand up for any principle beyond partisan self-interest.
But for Republicans, “partisan self-interest” equals racism, by necessity. To survive as a political party, the GOP has spent untold sums attempting to suppress the votes of African-Americans, Latinos and other minority groups. They have also spent untold amounts of time and money crafting their Congressional districts designed to do just that.
And their efforts today are simply the natural outgrowth of the same efforts made generations ago by their like-minded forebears in the American South, as they grappled with the reality of African-Americans who were suddenly, disturbingly, permitted to share a voice in the country’s political process.
Former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, writing after the Charlottesville murders by Trump-supporting white nationalist thugs sin 2017, presciently captured the eternal symbiosis—the mutual dependency—between white supremacy and the Republican Party. His words are equally applicable today.
It takes approximately 30 seconds to send a tweet. A half hour to draft and release a statement. And the shelf life of both is only marginally longer. We should not commend Republican party elected officials who claim outrage on social media at Trump’s remarks, often without daring to mention his name. The phony claimed outrage becomes dangerous if it convinces anyone that there is a distinction between Trump’s abhorrent comments and the Republican Party agenda.
The silence of nearly every member of the Republican Party speaks far louder than any Tweet, any speech, any statement, no matter how vile, by their leader.
Because it shows everyone, once and for all, just how deep the rot runs.