The president of the United States has spent days on end attacking four nonwhite lawmakers, telling them to “go back” to their countries, even though three of the four were born in the United States. He plainly singled them out in no small part because they are members of racial, ethnic and religious minorities.
After taking blowback, Trump kept up the attacks, while simultaneously suggesting there’s nothing racist or questionable about this display in the least. Even as he did that, he continued to tell them to leave the country if they find fault with it. To be clear, Trump isn’t telling everyone who criticizes this country to leave it — he’s just directing this at lawmakers he originally targeted due to their status as minorities.
The House of Representatives, by voting on a resolution condemning Trump, made a rousing institutional statement against this display of racism and white nationalism, thus offering a case for a civic patriotism in contrast to Trump’s illiberal ethno-nationalism.
It is constantly demanded of Democrats that they offer “an answer” to Trump’s nationalism. Well, this was a real statement in that direction. Democrats rose to the moment, when the moment required something big of them. Good.
But, dispiritingly, some moderate Democrats now think the party is going too far. Behold this startling passage in the New York Times write-up of the ongoing battle:
While Democrats were publicly unanimous in their support of the resolution, some moderate lawmakers from Republican-leaning districts that backed Mr. Trump in 2016 privately voiced their discomfort. They said that while the president’s comments had been racist, the party was playing into his hands by spending so much time condemning his remarks, according to centrist lawmakers and senior aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
This is just terrible. To be clear, I’m sympathetic to the plight of moderates. It’s true that they inhabit districts that are far more Republican-leaning than, say, those of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of “the Squad.”
Some of the positions House moderates adopt are understandable. I personally favor an impeachment inquiry, but recognize that moderates might have legitimate political hesitations, and also recognize that the arguments against launching one are not wildly absurd. On immigration, the Senate border supplemental that moderates ultimately supported was far worse than the House version in terms of protections for migrants, but the Senate version was far better than nothing, and backing it was not unreasonable.
But when it comes to Trump’s racism, such political skittishness is baffling and indefensible.
According to the Times, moderate Democrats feel that too much time has been spent on talking about Trump’s racist remarks. But this isn’t just some parlor debate with no real-world consequences. Trump is sending a signal to the country that it’s acceptable to treat racial, ethnic and religious minorities as fundamentally not belonging to the American nation.
It’s something Trump is doing with relish, something he is flaunting his power to do with impunity, something he’s doing because he believes it will energize his base — that is, something he’s doing with the express purpose of exciting and enraging millions of Americans to cheer along with him.
Virtually the entire House GOP caucus has defended this conduct, with some Republicans even claiming that there was nothing racist about this display, thus further aligning one of the two major parties with Trump’s white nationalism.
No amount of time condemning this — no amount of time spent telling the country as loudly and urgently as possible that it is wrong, and that the Democratic Party stands for the proposition that it is entirely unacceptable in a president — is too much.
The Times also reports that moderate Democrats grew particularly upset over a procedural dust-up involving the House resolution. Republicans formally objected to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion that Trump’s attacks are “racist," casting it as a breach of decorum, and the House vote to strike her words from the record failed, with Democrats opposing it along party lines. But that was too much for some of the moderates:
They were particularly angry about being asked to vote to condone Ms. Pelosi’s breach of the rules, which two of them described as throwing moderate lawmakers “under the bus” in order to help the speaker shore up support among progressives who had been alienated by her feud with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her allies. One lawmaker described the upshot of the extraordinary episode as “another week burned on his terms instead of ours.”
Again, I’m more sympathetic to the political challenges these moderates face than others are. But this is simply nuts. It’s absolutely desirable for the speaker to firmly align herself with these lawmakers in the face of Trump’s abusive and bigoted attacks, whatever separate motives she might have that are rooted in intra-caucus politics. The party should unite in their defense.
As for the notion that this is time wasted fighting on Trump’s turf, that’s just utter madness. There’s little doubt that these types of racist displays produced the large popular backlash that delivered Democrats control of the House. Yes, many candidates won by talking about health care and local issues. But the grass-roots energy that boosted organizing and voter turnout was to no small degree driven by that backlash against Trump’s racism. It’s part of why moderates won, too.
And again, this is only the latest manifestation of Trump’s racism. Trump is not just engaging in regular racist provocations; he’s deliberately trying to energize millions of Americans around those provocations. Trump revived his attacks on African American football players in the belief that doing so “revs up his political base.” After Trump refused to unambiguously condemn white-supremacist violence, Trump reportedly felt “vindicated," because he believed his base would cheer him for it.
Many GOP lawmakers are protecting and defending all of this — or at best standing by in silence while it continues.
Moderate Democrats: No matter how purple your district is, if you can’t explain to swing voters why Trump’s racist and white-nationalist displays and provocations are unacceptable in terms that they’ll understand — if this isn’t a fight you want to have — then you should ask yourself what the heck you’re doing there in the first place.