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.

 

A Revolutionary Matter

Contemplation is radical in that it goes to “the root” (radix) of all our problems. Contemplation is the heart of the matter because it changes consciousness and thus transforms how we enter into communion with God, with ourselves, with the moment. Without the contemplative mind, all our talk about and action for social change and justice can actually do more harm than good. In working for social change, we all get angry, disillusioned, alienated, and hurt. We make mistakes, we don’t agree with others, we discover that change takes longer than we’d hoped and the solution isn’t as simple as we’d imagined. I have seen far too many give up, grow bitter, or just nurse a quiet cynicism when they can’t hold disappointment with a contemplative, nondual consciousness. Action needs to be accompanied by contemplation for us to stay on the journey for the long haul. Otherwise, we’re just constantly searching for victims and perpetrators, and eventually we start playing the victim or perpetrator ourselves.

Contemplation is not a new idea; it’s one of the treasures of our Christian tradition. Jesus himself modeled this way of praying and being. It was taught systematically in monasteries for centuries, for example, by Francisco de Osuna (1492–1540), a Spanish Franciscan friar, whose writing liberated Teresa of Ávila. The desert mothers and fathers in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Cappadocia understood and cultivated it for centuries. While systematic contemplative teaching was largely lost for the last 500 years, today interfaith and inter-denominational interest in contemplation continues to grow all over the world.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI invited Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Church in England, to address the Synod of Catholic Bishops. Williams emphasized the foundational and radical importance of contemplation:

Trump Taunts Christine Blasey Ford at Rally

Playing to the crowd of thousands gathered to cheer him on, the president pretended to be Dr. Blasey testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday. “Thirty-six years ago this happened. I had one beer, right? I had one beer,” said Mr. Trump, channeling his version of Dr. Blasey. His voice dripping with derision, he then imitated her being questioned at the hearing, followed by her responses about what she could not recall about the alleged attack.

“How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. What neighborhood was it in? I don’t know. Where’s the house? I don’t know. Upstairs, downstairs, where was it? I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said, as the crowd applauded. “But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”

.. Then, continuing in his own voice, he said: “And a man’s life is in tatters. A man’s life is shattered. His wife is shattered.” Referring to those who have championed Dr. Blasey’s case, he added: “They destroy people. They want to destroy people. These are really evil people.”

Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, criticized the president’s mocking of Dr. Blasey.

“To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right, it’s just not right and I wish he had not have done it,” Mr. Flake said early Wednesday on NBC. “It’s kind of appalling.”

.. Mr. Trump’s taunts could inflame a struggle over power and sex that has consumed the capital in recent weeks and risked alienating two of the undecided moderate Republicans whose votes will decide the fate of his nomination, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

.. Earlier Tuesday, the president’s advisers were privately marveling at how measured — for him — he had been throughout the controversy around Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. But his patience appeared to run out on Tuesday night, as Mr. Trump seemed eager to charge up his supporters against Dr. Blasey.
.. Mr. Trump’s portrait of Dr. Blasey was met with cheers and laughter by the crowd of several thousand supporters at the Landers Center in Southaven, Miss. And it mirrored the increasingly sharp attacks against her by conservative news media
.. Mr. Trump has expressed similar sentiments in the past in response to sexual misconduct allegations against Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News host who was forced out after multimillion-dollar settlements of sexual harassment claims; Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama who lost after being accused of child molestation; and Rob Porter, his White House staff secretary who resigned after two former wives accused him of abuse.
.. Asked if he had a message to men, the president said: “Well, I say that it’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. This is a very, very — this is a very difficult time.”

The Feigned Victimhood of Bill Cosby, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas

But it is even more jarring in the context of late-stage Cosby, the moral scold, the comedian turned societal heckler who launched that career by literally defending the police shooting of presumably unarmed black men. In a 2004 screed that came to be known as the “pound cake” speech, he said,

People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake! Then we all run out and are outraged: “The cops shouldn’t have shot him.” What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand? I wanted a piece of pound cake just as bad as anybody else. And I looked at it and I had no money. And something called parenting said, “If you get caught with it, you’re going to embarrass your mother.” Not “You’re going to get your butt kicked.” No. “You’re going to embarrass your mother.”

It is difficult to find adjectives equal to the scale of Cosby’s hypocrisy.

.. Cosby’s appeal lay in his representation of a particular node of racial progress.

.. A young Richard Pryor bristled at the anodyne swath of culture that Cosby occupied in the sixties and the pressures it placed on other comedians, particularly black ones, to create humor that soothed the racial anxieties of a white audience.

.. Cosby served as a brief for a particular kind of racial equality. The indignation on Tuesday stemmed from his presumption that, in America, equality means equal impunity.

.. Clarence Thomas referred to the 1991 Senate inquiry into his own history of sexual harassment as a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.”

.. This is the rhetoric of men whose definition of victimhood is the inability to victimize others.

.. If Kavanaugh ascends to the Supreme Court without a formal investigation into the accusations made against him (all of which he has denied), it will be, in part, because a black man established a model for how best to present oneself as a victim in public. This is a form of interracial unity that the country could do without.

.. Cosby and Kavanaugh are twin exemplars of a kind of amoral amnesty. It is granted to men of great talent and wealth and to those born to men who possess either talent or wealth.

.. Cosby’s poverty-hectoring tours and the book “Come On, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors” is the corrosive effect of irresponsibility.

..  He inflicted this trauma at least sixty times over.

.. There is no accounting for the mechanisms of deflection or rationalization that allowed him to behave in this way while simultaneously denouncing others for far smaller concerns, like what they choose to name their children.

He might not ever do what he has demanded of so many others—take responsibility—but he can no longer avoid being held responsible.