Republicans’ Race to the Bottom

The absurdity of denying Trump’s bigotry.

It’s hard to say what’s a bigger taboo in American politics: being a racist, or calling someone one.

Sure, the Republican Party will occasionally try to distance itself from one of its more egregiously hateful members, like Representative Steve King of Iowa, who lost committee assignments after seeming to defend white nationalism. But mostly, right-wing politicians and their media allies pretend, to the point of farce, that the primary racial injustice in America involves white people unfairly accused of racism. This makes talking openly about the evident racism of our president harder than it should be.

To see how this works in microcosm, consider the House Oversight Committee hearing at which Donald Trump’s former consigliere Michael Cohen testified on Wednesday. Cohen said, in his opening statement, that, in addition to being a con man and a cheat, Trump is a racist. This should be clear to all people of good faith, given that Trump was a leading figure in the birther movement, defended white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville,and claimed he couldn’t get a fair hearing from a judge of Mexican heritage, to mention just a few examples.

But Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, strenuously objected to Cohen’s description, and came up with what he seemed to think was an airtight rejoinder. Meadows, who is white, had Lynne Patton, an African-American woman and longtime Trump employee now at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, stand behind him, and quoted her saying that she would not work for a racist. Checkmate!

In the past, one person who would often publicly vouch for Trump’s non-racism was Omarosa Manigault Newman, the “Apprentice”-star-turned-White House aide. Then Manigault Newman came out with a book calling Trump “a racist, a bigot and a misogynist.” As part of her promotional tour for that book, she released an audio recording of a conversation she had with Patton and another African-American Trump supporter, Katrina Pierson, strategizing about how to handle the fallout should a tape surface of Trump using a racist slur. On the recording Patton, the person Meadows called upon as a character witness for the president, didn’t seem doubtful that Trump could have said such a thing.

Many liberals were agog at this stunt by Meadows; on the left it’s largely accepted that responding to charges of racism by pointing to black friends — never mind black employees — is clueless at best. Some white conservatives, however, seem convinced that you can’t be racist if you have an affectionate relationship with a person of color. And so when Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, called out Meadows toward the end of the hearing, he was so aggrieved he nearly melted down.

The “fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself,” said Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American. Red-faced, indignant and seemingly on the verge of tears, Meadows demanded that Tlaib’s words be stricken from the record, turned the charge of racism back on her, and said that he has nieces and nephews who are people of color. In a stunning dramatization of how racial dynamics determine whose emotions are honored, the hearing momentarily came to a halt so that Tlaib could assure Meadows that she didn’t mean to call him a racist, and the committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, who is African-American, could comfort him. “I could see and feel your pain,” Cummings told him.

This contradiction is behind some of the madness of our public life right now. Normalizing Trump, which has become a central mission of the Republican Party, depends on denial about what racism is. Not for the first time, Tlaib got in trouble for pointing out the obvious — the president is a bigot, and that in bringing out Patton to exonerate him, Meadows only demonstrated his own gross insensitivity.

On Thursday, Tlaib and Meadows reportedly had a warm conversation on the House floor; according to a CNN reporter, they hugged. I’m glad; given how much she’s been demonized in her short time in Congress, it’s probably in her interest to make Meadows feel better about their earlier exchange. Who knows, if she’s friendly enough, maybe he’ll be able to cite their relationship next time he’s caught saying something awful.

 

Evangelical leaders, Mnuchin, the hordes of GOP apologists, Trump’s current and former White House staff — all of them — have chosen to ignore, minimize or even defend Trump’s vulgarities, lies, racism, misogyny and anti-democratic antics. If they think they can escape accountability by peers and by history — not to mention by future employers — because, well, “because Gorsuch” or “because corporate tax cuts,” they may be surprised. Their ongoing buffoonish defense of Trump may turn out to be the most memorable thing they have done in public life.

If Trump’s attempt to disassociate himself from lawyer Michael Cohen’s hush-money payment proves untenable — and who believes Cohen paid for this out of the goodness of his heart? — will the religious mop-up squad give him a second mulligan for lying? Maybe they should find out how many paid-off women are out there before offering more absolution.

.. The price one pays for defending Trump is self-humiliation, as one aide and ex-aide after another have learned.

.. After Mnuchin whined that Todd was focusing on the “wrong things” instead of the economy, Todd bore down:

TODD: You keep saying that’s what we should be focused on, then why can’t the president be focused on that, sir?

MNUCHIN: I think the president has been very focused on that.

TODD: Would you call last night’s speech a focused speech on that?

MNUCHIN: I wasn’t at the campaign rally, as you know. But again don’t take these campaign rallies and focus them on that’s what it is, okay.

TODD: So should we stop covering the campaign rallies? Do you think it’s a mistake then for us to cover them at all? That it doesn’t matter what he says? If it doesn’t matter what he says there. If we are to dismiss everything he says at a campaign rally as I think you’re trying to imply, then are you saying we should cover these things?

MNUCHIN: No, you’re putting words in my mouth. I wasn’t in any way saying you should dismiss that whatsoever. . . .

TODD: When he uses vulgarity to talk about individuals, what are they supposed to tell their kids?

MNUCHIN: Well again, I’ll be with my kids this morning, and I’ll be focused on them on what the president is doing to protect the United States, it’s citizens, and more importantly it’s economy.

TODD: So he’s not a moral– don’t worry about his values, don’t worry about him as a role model.

MNUCHIN: I never said that whatsoever. So I don’t know why you’re putting these words in what I’m trying to say. Okay. So again, I am very comfortable with what we’re doing, okay? And again I think you’re trying to take this out of perspective, and implying something I’m not saying.

TODD: Fair enough, what do you…what are you supposed to say when he’s using these vulgarities, to kids?

MNUCHIN: Again, I think you should be focused on what the policies are. He’s using these vulgarities in the context of a campaign rally and obviously there were a lot of funny moments on, on, on that rally.

TODD: Yeah, they were hilarious. Anyway, Secretary Mnuchin. I appreciate you coming on, again.

.. His record of normalizing Trump will define his tenure as secretary just as much as his role in passing a tax bill.

.. Evangelical leaders, Mnuchin, the hordes of GOP apologists, Trump’s current and former White House staff — all of them — have chosen to ignore, minimize or even defend Trump’s vulgarities, lies, racism, misogyny and anti-democratic antics. If they think they can escape accountability by peers and by history — not to mention by future employers — because, well, “because Gorsuch” or “because corporate tax cuts,” they may be surprised. Their ongoing buffoonish defense of Trump may turn out to be the most memorable thing they have done in public life.

Situation Normal …

He seems simply incapable of thinking institutionally, and instead he does something like the opposite: He confuses the relationship between the institution he serves and himself, expecting it to serve him. This means we often effectively don’t have a president, in the constitutional sense of the term.

.. “Amid global anxiety about President Trump’s approach to world affairs, U.S. officials had a message to a gathering of Europe’s foreign policy elite this weekend: Pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain.”

.. senior administration officials and senior members of Congress are asking people with concerns about Trump to just ignore him and pay attention instead to what his administration is doing, which often has fairly little to do with what Trump says.

.. we are asked to see only a tax cut and a great parade of judges when we think of Trump’s governing record.

we shouldn’t become too desensitized and should take note of the character of some of what now pass for everyday occurrences. To note them is not to charge the president with treason or with any other crime or to suggest he’s becoming an autocrat, nor is it to defend his predecessor’s (or his election opponent’s) misdeeds. To note them is not to deny that anything worthwhile has been accomplished this past year. And to note them is also not necessarily to propose any immediate remedy. A mature citizen knows those aren’t always available.