The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Steve King: The idea that every culture is equal is ‘not objectively true’

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What Steve King's 'subgroups' musing says about the party of Donald Trump

The Post's Philip Rucker interviews Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Wednesday, July 20. (Video: The Washington Post)

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on Wednesday defended his controversial comment this week that some cultures contribute more to civilization than others.

"The idea of multiculturalism, that every culture is equal — that's not objectively true," King told The Washington Post's Philip Rucker, less than 48 hours after he asked on live TV what "subgroups" besides white people had made any contributions to civilization. "We've been fed that information for the past 25 years, and we're not going to become a greater nation if we continue to do that."

Here's what he told Rucker:

"Western civilization is the most successful civilization the world has ever seen. And some of the reasons for that is it's borrowed from other cultures along the way, back to Mosaic law, the Greek age of reason, Roman law and the Roman order of government, and the Republican form of government, by the way that we're guaranteed in our constitution. The foundation of our ideological thought is rooted in the enlightenment of Europe and then this country was born at the dawn of the industrial revolution.
... The sum total that's been contributed by Western civilization, it surpasses any other culture of civilization, party because we borrowed from them along the way, and we're flexible enough to do that. And so I don't think we should apologize for our success."

Of course, as my eagle-eyed colleague Philip Bump — who caught King's comment Monday on MSNBC — pointed out, our society is shaped by numerous nonwhite societies, past and present:

Civilization first arose in cities in Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq and Syria. Arabic and Middle Eastern inventors and scientists brought astronomy to the world, which in turn aided innovations in navigation. Critical innovations in mathematics and architecture and medicine originated in the same area. The Chinese contributed philosophical precepts and early monetary systems, among other things. The specific inventions that were created outside of the Western world are too many to list: the seismograph, the umbrella, gunpowder, stirrups, the compass. Oh, and, of course, the non-Western world gave us the numeric system that will be used to tally up the delegates to make Trump the nominee of King's party.

That apparently didn't resonate with King, who told Rucker he originally felt forced to defend his view of how Western civilization became great after Esquire's Charlie Pierce said in the same live TV interview he didn't see much diversity at the Republican convention.

"If you're really optimistic, you can say that this is the last time that old white people will command the Republican Party's attention, its platform, its public face," Pierce said on MSNBC.

"He was disparaging a group of people — a subgroup of people, old white people — and saying they're going to be out of the politics of the Republican Party,” King told Rucker. "That's got to be answered."

What Steve King's 'sub groups' musing says about the party of Donald Trump

Rucker asked King — who has often been in the spotlight for making controversial remarks on race — if his answer wasn't the very definition of identity politics that Republicans love to accuse President Obama of playing.

King said the opposite was true, and that he hoped his conversation could help people see beyond the skin color.

"Our focus on melanin and people's skins — can't we talk about the diversity of ideology? Can't we look at people for their minds and what they can contribute?" he said. "And I'd like to see us go more toward a respect for people's ability to contribute, and I actually want to get to a society where we disregard race."

The Post's Philip Rucker sits down with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Video: The Washington Post)

But thanks in part to him, in a week when the Republican Party is nominating a presidential candidate whose views on race often seem to align with King's, the color of people's skin is very much in the political conversation.