“The only thing that the Democrats uniform was missing tonight is the matching hood,” Pierson tweeted early Wednesday morning.
Pierson’s jab was among the discordant notes on a night the president had pitched as a paean to cooperation before mostly sticking to hard-line demands for a wall along the southern border and repeating attack lines against undocumented immigrants.
But Trump did pause to recognize the influx of newly elected Democratic women in the chamber. Trump noted that “we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before,” as freshman firebrands such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) stood while the crowd applauded.
Pierson, who made false claims on live television during the 2016 election about Hillary Clinton’s health and wrongly asserted that President Barack Obama started the war in Afghanistan, was not the only figure affiliated with Trump’s campaign to draw KKK comparisons with the Democrats wearing white.
The Rev. Darrell Scott, who acted as a liaison between Trump and black pastors and served on his presidential transition team, tweeted before the State of the Union, “I see the Dems have their Klan colors on tonight!!”
The tweets echo a talking point for some on the right who have tried to link the Democratic Party’s history with the KKK. As Jennifer Mendelsohn and Peter A. Shulman wrote in The Washington Post last year, those claims are mostly spurious, “ground zero in an online campaign to misrepresent the Democratic Party’s history as uniquely tainted by racism.” The KKK, indeed, infiltrated both parties during the height of its influence in the 1920s, they reported:
Klansmen were influential inside both major parties, pushing racism, nativism, Prohibition and especially anti-Catholicism. In the South, Jim Crow-supporting Democrats made a natural fit for the KKK. But in Midwestern industrial towns full of immigrant Catholics and Jews who voted Democratic, the Klan took root largely among Republicans. The Klan was Democratic in Oregon and Republican in Indiana — two of its biggest strongholds. By the end of the decade, the organization, whose membership remained semi-secret, claimed 11 governors, 16 senators and as many as 75 congressmen —roughly split between Republicans and Democrats.
The real reason Democratic women wore white on Tuesday night was in a nod to the history of the U.S. suffragist movement, whose backers often dressed in white while battling to give women the right to vote. Like many gestures by Democrats on Tuesday, the white outfits were meant as a not-so-subtle jab at Trump and his policies.
“We’ll honor all those who came before us & send a message of solidarity that we’re not going back on our hard-earned rights!” tweeted Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.).
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