As Democrats rolled out their policing reform legislation on Monday, a reporter asked about Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a Trump ally who claims there is no “structural racism” in law enforcement and who called for an “overwhelming show of force” by the U.S. military to quash racial unrest.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), an African American and a product of the segregated South, responded by paraphrasing a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

Waving an index finger, Clyburn then admonished the young provocateur: “Cotton is from Arkansas. He ought to be ashamed of himself.”

It was good to see Democrats back in the fight. They’ve been largely out of the debate for the past couple of months because of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision not to convene during the pandemic. Presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, broadcasting from his basement, did no better.

They should be rushing to engage this battle, for as the nation grapples with George Floyd’s killing and what to do about persistent police brutality, this much has become clear: There is structural racism in the Republican Party.

Attorney General William P. Barr organizes a violent police crackdown on peaceful civil rights demonstrators so President Trump can stage a photo op. Trump clamors to mobilize the U.S. military against U.S. citizens. Top Trump administration officials deny there is systemic racism in law enforcement.

And in Texas, the Republican chairman of 12 counties and the Texas agriculture commissioner share grotesque postings on social media, including:

  • Declaring George Floyd’s killing a “staged event” to counter the “rising approval rating of President Trump.”
  • Placing a quote about justice from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. over the image of a banana.
  • Alleging that the Jewish billionaire George Soros is paying protesters in an attempt to “start the race war.”
  • Calling the slain Floyd a “brutal criminal” and saying he faked his asphyxiation while a police officer pressed a knee to Floyd’s neck.
  • Showing a bloody scene from a 1992 riot and saying “this is why you don’t brake for ‘protesters.’ ”

This is not the Republican Party of former president George W. Bush, who last week called “for America to examine our tragic failures.” It’s not the party of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, who nobly marched with Black Lives Matter demonstrators on Sunday. Nor is it the party of Colin Powell, who said he will vote for Biden and has no use for the Republican senators who “had nothing to say” about Trump’s abuse of peaceful demonstrators.

Many Democratic members of Congress have been grumbling about the party’s self-imposed quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic. They could have been having daily hearings on the administration’s response to the virus and the accompanying economic collapse.

But the unrest after the Floyd killing seems finally to be rousing Democratic leaders. As Biden flew to Houston to meet with Floyd’s family, Pelosi and other party leaders, wearing Kente cloths furnished by the Congressional Black Caucus, knelt in the Capitol Visitor Center for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time the accused Minneapolis officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

At the news conference that followed, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed to “fight like hell” to get a Senate vote on the policing bill this month. House Democrats plan a hearing Wednesday, a committee vote next week and a House vote as soon as the week of June 22.

The election-year contrast will be sharp. On one side will be Trump, who in recent days retweeted an interview criticizing George Floyd’s character and “martyr” status. The president, in his familiar dog-whistle politics, has been sharing messages about black football players “disrespecting our Country” and saying Democrats would “DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE.” (The Democrats’ bill proposes neither.) Several top Trump officials have claimed that there is no systemic racism in law enforcement, and Ben Carson, the housing secretary and an African American, said there is no longer “real systemic racism” in America at all.

And on the other side will be the plain facts (records show that black males are about 2½ times more likely to be shot and killed by police as white males) and an American public that is more decent than Republicans think. A majority of Americans, and a plurality of white people, now agree that the police use excessive force more often against black people.

If de Tocqueville was right, and America’s greatness still lies in her ability to repair her faults, she will do something this month to repair the systemic racism in law enforcement — and something in November to repair the systemic racism in Trump’s GOP.

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