The president’s motives are obvious: He was proudly displaying his white-supremacist racial views, drawing a bright line between his aging white political base and the rest of the country, and clumsily trying to exacerbate tensions within the Democratic Party. But why choose now to lob this political cluster bomb? My guess is that he wanted to change the subject from Thursday’s humiliating surrender, when he had to abandon his quest to put a citizenship question on the 2020 Census that would have guaranteed an undercount of Latinos.
“Trump is a racist” does not exactly qualify as breaking news. But the silence from prominent Republicans is staggering — and telling. It amounts to collaboration — perhaps “collusion” is a better word — with the president’s assault on diversity and pluralism. In the coming campaign, you will hear Republican candidates at every level claim to be colorblind and embrace all Americans regardless of race or ethnicity. Do not believe them. Their failure to speak out now tells us everything we need to know about their true feelings.
The farcical aspect of this disgraceful episode is that, while Trump hoped to further divide squabbling Democrats, he ended up bringing them closer together.
The four Democratic House members he attacked — Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) — have indeed been at odds with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the rest of the Democratic leadership on some issues. Calling themselves “the Squad,” they fought hard against Pelosi’s approach on funding border security. They display none of the meekness expected of first-term members and are unfamiliar with the concept of deference.
Any possibility that this intraparty squabbling would become serious was probably foreclosed by Trump’s attack, which caused Pelosi and others to rush to the Squad’s defense. Apparently living in some kind of bizarro parallel universe, Trump went further on Monday by insisting that the members of Congress he attacked owe him an apology.
The reaction from Republicans? Still crickets.
There’s nothing new about the Republican Party playing footsie with racists, going all the way back to the “Southern strategy” pioneered by Richard M. Nixon. But as Trump has toppled the traditional pillars of Republican philosophy — fiscal responsibility, free trade, markets undistorted by government interference, muscular foreign policy, equal opportunity for all to pursue the American Dream — the GOP is reduced to being the party of no: no on abortion, no on immigration and no on diversity. Following Trump’s lead, the party practices the politics of resentment. Republican politicians appeal to voters not by stoking optimism about what can be accomplished but by stoking fear about what will happen if “they” — the Democrats — gain power.
“They” are portrayed as perhaps living near the coasts, perhaps being intellectuals, perhaps being women, perhaps being African American or Latino or Asian American. “They” are portrayed as the kind of affluent, high-and-mighty people who look down on “ordinary” Republican voters — never mind that Ocasio-Cortez waited tables to support herself, Tlaib grew up in a struggling family in Detroit, Pressley’s father was incarcerated during much of her childhood, and Omar came to this country from a Somali refugee camp.
Trump’s brand of politics is often called “tribal,” but “racist” is a better word. The wedge he is trying to drive, with his attacks on the Squad, is essentially white vs. nonwhite. He also seeks to portray them as immigrants, telling them to “go back” to where they came from, even though Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Tlaib in Detroit and Ocasio-Cortez in New York. Omar, indeed, is an immigrant — a naturalized citizen who enjoys the same rights and responsibilities as any other American, including Trump.
If Republicans believed even a fraction of their rhetoric, they’d be all over Trump. They’d tell him that “telling the people of the United States . . . how our government is to be run” is the right of every American and the duty of every member of Congress. Instead, Republicans embrace Trump’s racism and xenophobia. Blame them just as much as Trump.