Ira Lacher reflects on a dispiriting week in U.S. politics. -promoted by Laura Belin
We have a racist president. He heads a racist party. So what do we do about it?
In 2008, many of us foolishly believed that America had dug past our historical foundation of racial animosity. That false assumption should have been rudely shattered when Mitch McConnell proclaimed on Barack Obama’s first day in the Oval Office that the Republican Party’s main mission was to make him a one-term president. It didn’t take long for the racists to creep out of the closet, culminating in the disgusting “birther” campaign, largely spearheaded by the worm who’s now America’s racist-in-chief.
Eleven years after a poll found that 6 in 10 Americans believed race relations were generally good, a poll taken this past January reversed it: 6 in 10 Americans believe race relations in America are generally bad. And nearly 6 in 10 say President Trump has helped make it so. Almost 7 in 10 agree that since Trump was elected, it’s been more common to express apparent racism.
But fewer than half of Republicans believe this. When the U.S. House voted to rebuke Trump for telling four American citizen congresswomen to “go back where they came from,” 193 of 197 House Republicans voted “no.”
My aunt, whom I grew up with, had a favorite adage. Loosely translated from the Yiddish, it goes: “When you lie among s**t, you start to stink too.”
So Democrats are faced with a conundrum: Do we nominate a “progressive,” who professes to energize the party’s presumed polyglot base by shaming the Republicans for being an intolerant, whites-only rabble? Or do we nominate a “moderate,” who professes to restore comity and normalcy to government?
Candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders lead the first group. They have been tweeting in support of the so-called “Squad” — U.S. Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley — with the hashtag #IStandWithIlhan. “Trump is stoking the most despicable and disturbing currents in our society. And that very hatred and racism fuels him,” Sanders tweeted. And Warren added, “#IStandWithIlhan against attacks from this racist president[.]”
On the other hand, Cory Booker, who from the beginning has championed his Senate work across the aisle, was more muted. “This is a President who is trafficking in the same kind of toxic tropes that white supremacists use on their platforms,” Booker told CNN’s Jake Tapper. Kamala Harris told CNN Trump was being “irresponsible,” “hateful” and “hurtful. And he has taken the presidency to a new low.”
Joe Biden, who has been accused of cozying up to segregationists during his Senate career, called Trump’s comments a “racist attack” but stopped short of calling the president of the United States a racist.
You can’t do that, many insist. Doing so will only infuriate the independents whom Democrats need to win back the White House. As Tom Friedman wrote in Tuesday’s New York Times.
Dear Democrats: This is not complicated! Just nominate a decent, sane person, one committed to reunifying the country and creating more good jobs, a person who can gain the support of the independents, moderate Republicans and suburban women who abandoned Donald Trump in the midterms and thus swung the House of Representatives to the Democrats and could do the same for the presidency. And that candidate can win!
Barack Obama was such a decent, sane person. And it took him years to realize that the Republican Party, aided and abetted by Fox News and a bevy of don’t-call-us-racists, was bent on seeing him fail. Jimmy Carter, a white Southerner, offered that the reason had nothing to do with politics. In September 2009, nine months after most of America refused to believe the evidence of their own two eyes, Carter said that racism had “bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.”
Obama, who grew into politics as a community organizer, believed that by uncovering a core of common interest, you could sit down with anyone and begin a dialogue. Today we know that to some people, this simply won’t fly, not when you consider the other person unworthy of sitting at the same table. And it is clear, by their near-universal adulation of Trump after his latest racist tweets, that an overwhelming number of Republicans agree.
Does anyone truly believe that this will change, no matter who wins in 2020?
Racism is a festering sore in America. Has been since the founding of the republic. We’ve tried palliating it with legislation, with policy, and by taping over the wound with band-aids. But to effectively heal it, we need to expose it to the air. To do that, we need a candidate who confronts the issue and forces us to deal with it by yanking the band-aid off. It would hurt like hell.
On the other hand, nominating a moderate is equivalent to gingerly peeling off the band-aid — and have it hurt just as bad, for far longer. Faced with that, you may decide it would be just as good to avoid the pain and leave the damn thing on.