Living through week three of attacks by the president against members of Congress — all persons of color — has felt as though we are stuck in our great-grandparents’ time warp. It’s exhausting. Some have suggested that the best strategy is to ignore him: Don’t give his racist invective more oxygen; move on to the issues that matter to people. Not so fast.
Despite the desire not to amplify his messages of hate, it’s hard. For anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of racism and bigotry (and that’s a lot of us these days), moving on becomes a way of life — the slight at work, being followed in a store or pulled over by the police, an epithet hurled in a restaurant or on the street. But when it’s oozing out of the White House, moving on is not an option, especially for elected leaders. Democrats should not be wrestling with whether to respond when the president throws his spittle into the public space, even if it’s on a daily basis. If we simply ignore him because it’s too frequent and too much, we feed the narrative that this language of hate is acceptable and part of our “new normal.” We cannot.
It’s startling that no matter how pungent the president’s language and sentiment, Republicans are mostly silent — “crickets,” as the kids say. Whether out of fear or weakness, some let us know that they would not choose that language, falling just short of condemning the president or calling out his racism. They avoid the cameras and demur from a comment. They are simply complicit, co-conspirators in the president’s racism.
The White House staff is racing every day to turn the president’s hate speech into a message or a campaign strategy. They take great pains to show us that he has black friends, too: a photo opportunity with black pastors, lobbying for the release of a black rapper, another statistic on black unemployment. All as if to prove that the president is not a racist; he’s just concerned. This requires us to forget the brown children in cages; name-calling against women of color; the Muslim ban; describing a majority-black district as a “rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live” — never mind all of that. The party of Lincoln is six feet under.
Meanwhile, the president is like a man stuck in quicksand, slowly sinking in the muck. Not surprisingly, his racist rants come when bad news is close at hand — his buddy Jeffrey Epstein is arrested; Robert Mueller testifies; subpoenas for his family and staff are set to be enforced; grand jury testimony is sought; impeachment is on the horizon. In the face of all these dark clouds, Trump has surely determined that his only pathway to victory in 2020 is race-baiting his way to a second term. Thankfully, the latest polls show that Trump is even beginning to turn off blue-collar white women who supported him over Hillary Clinton in 2016. College-educated white women took a hike from the Republican Party in 2018 to propel Democrats to the House majority. These women may have been able to hold their noses for a private-parts-grabbing showboat in 2016, but they do not appear to be falling for his snake oil this time.
So, the best course for Democrats requires two tracks, which don’t involve moving on. Lean in, as they say. Acknowledge and denounce his racism. Then, remind voters that the president is race-baiting to rally his dwindling base. Remind voters that the president is trying hard to distract from his failure to deliver on his promises to lower the cost of prescription drugs, to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and to drain his swamp. Democrats should remind voters that Trump is using race to divide the country because he doesn’t want us talking about his misdeeds and corruption.
One only hopes that there are simply not enough racist white men in America left to carve Trump’s path to reelection.