Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he would contribute $5 million to Barack Obama’s charity of choice if he releases his college transcripts and passport. While his request and subsequent Twitter postings are laughable, they coincide with countless other disrespectful statements made about the president by the Republican Party recently.
The GOP’s blatant disrespect of Obama is a poor reflection on the nation’s political leadership and undermines both parties’ boasts of
American exceptionalism. Republicans’ behavior toward this president has gone well beyond political rhetoric and crossed over into the muddy waters of this nation’s long history of cultural ignorance and racial hatred.
Trump’s YouTube challenge to Obama was packaged as an effort to hold the “least transparent President in the history of this country” accountable to the American people. The former presidential candidate voiced concerns on behalf of those who “know very little about” Obama on account of his alleged unwillingness to share the details of his past.
Through his $5 million proposition that would inevitably be ignored, Trump made the point that Obama’s desire to maintain secrecy was more important to him than his willingness to support a social cause. Sadly, Trump echoes the sentiment of all those who believe that our president fails to be “enough” on any of the following counts: nationality, faith, education and experience.
President Obama is still viewed through a lens of suspicion despite his widely read memoir, his days as the only senate member of the Congressional Black Caucus and his tenure as commander in chief. But the GOP isn’t leaving much to the imagination. They are instead painting a very specific picture of who Obama is, using racial code words and evoking historical stereotypes about African Americans.
In the words of former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, Obama is “the best food-stamp president in American history.” Former New Hampshire governor John Sununu has used the adjectives “dumb,” “incompetent,” “lazy” and “detached” to describe the president. Sarah Palin used the phrase “shuck and jive” to describe his statements on the attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney infamously accused Obama’s administration of being eager to “just send you your welfare check.”
During Obama and Romney’s recent presidential debate on foreign policy at Lynn University, both men spoke of America as the leading militaristic, economic and cultural powerhouse in the world, questioning our nation’s standing only when it served a particular rhetorical end. They upheld the notion of American exceptionalism, which paints the picture of a “city upon a hill” that serves as a beacon of hope and democratic inspiration to its global neighbors.
That image of America in all her glory gets tarnished when our political leaders cannot see one another as equals and belittle one another’s humanity.
Indeed, when hearing the Republican Party’s ongoing disrespect of Obama as an extension of their own invisibility within the GOP’s political priorities, black men (and women) are challenged to speak out by turning out to the polls. This is a true example of the American exceptionalism that the GOP has conveniently dismissed.
Bloomberg reports that a newly formed super PAC, Black Men Vote, has been funded by Prakazrel Michel (better known as “Pras” of the legendary hip-hop group the Fugees) as a response to the blatant disrespect for Obama. According to their site, Black Men Vote “is committed to engaging, educating, and mobilizing 18-34 year old black men in Ohio and Virginia.”
In response to a question about what the super PAC seeks to accomplish in the final days before the election, Jeffrey “Jeff” Johnson, communications director of the Super PAC, said, “From engaging the hard-to-reach Somalian community in Columbus to utilizing local DJs and artists to pull young men in Cleveland, we are putting dollars on the ground to turn out a demographic most have ignored. Increased turnout by black men in Ohio can make the difference for the president.” The work of Black Men Vote poses an important “let your voice be heard” charge to the African American community.
In the end, it has always been the refusal of everyday Americans to be ignored and undermined that has propelled American exceptionalism. It would be wise for the GOP to keep in mind that our greatness has not only rested on the backs of those citizens who understood their own worth, but — more importantly — that it has also rested on the backs of those who equally valued their neighbors.
Rahiel Tesfamariam is a columnist and blogger for The Washington Post and The RootDC. She is the founder/editorial director of Urban Cusp, an online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. Follow her on Twitter @RahielT .