I was encouraged to see that the largest newspaper in my state, South Dakota, quizzed our federal congressional delegation of their opinion regarding President Trump’s racist tweets and statements this week.
But I was discouraged that their limp responses were so disingenuous and cowardly.
They, and everyone else in America not in mindless thrall to the president—and I suspect South Dakota’s delegation is aware, as well—know full well that what the president uttered on Twitter, in interviews and in statements from the White House, was bigoted and appalling for any elected official, much less the leader of the nation.
After all, this isn’t the antebellum South, where white superiority and denigration of black slaves was de rigueur, an accepted, even required cultural notion of that time and that place. These reactionary ideas should have long ago faded away after sweeping civil-rights laws in the 1960s and later, and substantive scientific understanding that human beings are equally endowed genetically with the same in intelligence and moral capacity, and that “race” is largely just a semantic concept.
But the troglodyte occupant of the White House apparently didn’t get those historical memos.
In a July 6 op-ed in The New York Times, New York lawyer and legal professor Sidney Rosdeitcher called out the president for spreading racial hate:
“Yes, President Trump’s racist attacks on the four congresswomen of color are a calculated distraction from his failed policies. But there is a more ominous evil here. This is not just racism. It is Mr. Trump’s boldest step to tyranny. Tyrants like nothing more than a scapegoat to help secure their power. For many tyrants it was the Jews. For Mr. Trump, it is Muslims and people of color.”
‘Go back’ to where you came from
In his latest descent into racist mire, the president told the four elected representatives, in effect, to go back to their “shit-hole” countries, a term he has used to denigrate Third World nations like Somalia, where one of the four congresswomen, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a naturalized citizen, is originally from.
After a firestorm of criticism, Vox reported, Trump said such accusations don’t both him “because many people agree with me.” What that means is, he’s heartened by other racists.
“All I’m saying is, if they’re not happy here, they can leave, and I’m sure that there’s be many people that won’t miss them,” the president said outside the White House on Monday, “But they have to love our country.”
He is angry because they disagree with his policies and interprets that to mean they “hate America.” In other words, he sees unwelcome free speech as un-American, almost treasonous.
He insists he doesn’t care that they are all women of color, although his extravagant history of racist statements belies this claim, including his fraudulent accusation that then presidential candidate Barack Obama was foreign-born (in fact, he was born in Hawaii). And keep in mind his failure to this day to admit he was wrong in calling for the death penalty of the young black New Yorkers, later exonerated, who were falsely accused of raping a jogger in Central Park
A racial crisis
There’s a racial crisis in America, and it starts at the tippy top.
Even eminent news media have begun referring to racist speech by elected officials and others, including the president’s, as specifically what it is. Not “racially charged” or “insensitive,” but “racist.”
Doreen St. Felix, in a recent New Yorker article noted:
“Earlier this year, the Associated Press belatedly revised its entry on race, which now reads, “Do not use racially charged or similar terms as euphemisms for racist or racism when the latter terms are truly applicable.”
South Dakota delegation can’t say the word
This brings me back to the South Dakota congressional delegation—Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, and Rep. Dusty Johnson—and their responses to the president’s recent racist tweets and utterances.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel insisted to reporters that Trump is “not a racist” and that the “temperature” of political rhetoric needed to be turned town because it had “gotten way, way overheated across the political spectrum.”
The Argus Leader reported that Sen. Thune followed that, saying “on a more upbeat note, there’s good news in the economy again” and outlining tax-discussions planned on the Senate floor this week. The newspaper contacted Thune’s office after the statements, asking whether the senator agreed with McConnel, and received this statement:
“I think the president needs to tone down the rhetoric, stop the personal attacks, rise above this kind of commentary and focus on the issues that matter to the American people.”
But what the president said was not “rhetoric”—a euphemistic dodge to avoid calling a spade a spade—but full-bore, official racist speech.
Sen. Rounds was even more diffuse, saying in a statement “that the fight is between the president and a few members of the House Democratic caucus,” the Argus Leader reported.
Rep. Johnson tweeted Monday that he “vehemently disagreed with the far-left members of the House on policy,” but also believes Trump’s “inappropriate comments” were a wrongheaded way to communicate that, according to the article.
Except that the president’s racist comments were exactly what he wanted to communicate, once again, to gin up the racial animosities of his core base supporters and help his 2020 election chances.
One day, perhaps, our state’s congressional delegation will learn to talk plainly and say “racist,” instead of “inappropriate” or “personal commentary” or some other shady euphemism chosen to pull the wool over their constituents’ eyes. To point fingers directly at the source.
In the meantime, they’re all complicit in this current virulent epidemic of racism in American politics.