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Trump and his Deplorables

Published by The Nation on Sun, 21 Jul 2019

Hillary Clinton had a point. In September 2016, the Democratic presidential candidate criticized some of her rivals supporters for backing him. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trumps supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right' she said at a fundraiser in New York. The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobicyou name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.Clinton distinguished these people from some of Trumps other supporters, whom she described as people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about themand theyre just desperate for change. She told her supporters that this latter basket included people we have to understand and empathize with as well. That nuance escaped the Trump campaign, which rallied around the deplorable label and said it showed how Clinton was out of touch. Mainstream news organizations tsk-tsked her for breaking a cardinal rule of political campaigning by criticizing the electorate.Two years into Trumps presidency, deplorable seems almost kind. Its clear by now that racism is an animating force of Trumps presidency, yet many of Trumps supporters and most of the Republican Party still back him after every bigoted slight and discriminatory policy he makes. They may not be willing to admit that they agree outright with everything he says or does, but their continued political support makes the distinction meaningless. Even those Republicans who do voice objections to Trump tend to treat each outburst as a discrete incident, thereby denying the obvious, deeper problem. At this stage, to not object to the president outright is to be complicit in his racist presidency.The latest evidence comes from where it often does: the presidents personal Twitter account. Speaker Nancy Pelosi sparred last week with the squad, a group of four progressive freshman House Democrats, leading its most prominent member, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to claim Pelosi was singling out women of color in the Democratic caucus. Trump, for whatever reason, decided to publicly defend Pelosi by saying she wasnt a racist. When those lawmakers then criticized Trump, he responded with an extraordinary series of tweets attacking their citizenship.His hostility is unsurprising. The squadwhich also includes congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressleyrepresent everything that Trump is not. These young women are unsparing in their criticism of him and his presidency; Tlaib famously said they would impeach the motherfucker shortly after she was sworn into office in January. One can hardly blame them for their zeal, since voters first elected them to Congress in the 2018 midterms as part of the electorates broader rebuke of Trump.Even by Trumps standards, it was an extraordinary diatribe. Go back where you came from is a popular taunt among white nationalists, one thats used to instill feelings of otherness and alienation in the target. Its also become a staple of schoolyard bullying against children of color after Trump took office. It did not matter to the president that all four of the lawmakers are American citizens, or that three out of the four were born in the United States. His underlying assertion is that theyand other nonwhite Americanscan never be full members of the American nation by virtue of their race.If this were the first indication that Trump harbored racist views, his remarks would have been a tremendous shock. But it was not. He announced his presidential bid by claiming Mexico was sending murderers and rapists across the border, and campaigned on banning Muslims from entering the United States. He said an Indiana-born federal judge couldnt be fair to him because he was Mexican. He told lawmakers he didnt want immigrants from shithole countries. He constantly taunts Senator Elizabeth Warrens claims of Native American ancestry by calling her Pocahontas. He described the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville as very fine people. And thats just since 2015.Trump, who knows these views helped elect him, doubled down on his remarks in a press conference on Monday, rebuffing criticism that they echoed white nationalists. It doesnt concern me because many people agree with me, he replied. All Im saying is if they want to leave, they can leave. It doesnt say leave forever. It says leave. Trump didnt bother denying that his comments were racist, just that they werent as racist as everyone believed. His assumption that his racist views hold quiet but widespread currency is a familiar trope among racists, too. In their eyes, they are bold truth-tellers amid a silent majority that keeps quiet out of political correctness.Denialism abounds. Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pences chief of staff, argued that Trump couldnt be a racist because Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is Asian American. So when people write the president has racist motives here, look at the reality of who is actually serving in Donald Trumps cabinet, he told reporters. (Chao is married to Trumps most powerful ally in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.) Others tried to define racism down into oblivion. Trumps go back comments were nativist, xenophobic, counterfactual and politically stupid, Fox News anchor Brit Hume opined. But they simply do not meet the standard definition of racist, a word so recklessly flung around these days that its actual meaning is being lost. Hume did not explain how one could be a nativist xenophobe without also being racist.At the same time, by Monday afternoon, a number of elected Republicans chimed in to critique Trump, but not without caveats; some made sure to also criticize the four women lawmakers in question, as if to insulate themselves from potential backlash from the Republican base. POTUS was wrong to say any American citizen, whether in Congress or not, has any home besides the U.S., Texas Representative Chip Roy wrote on Twitter. But I just as strongly believe non-citizens who abuse our immigration laws should be sent home immediately, & Reps who refuse to defend America should be sent home 11/2020.Even moderate Republicans had to make clear that they were offering a qualified defense of their fellow lawmakers. Maine Senator Susan Collins alluded to the squads views on socialism, their anti-Semitic rhetoric, and their negative comments about law enforcement before admonishing Trump to take that [tweet] down. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott noted that the Democratic Party was embroiled in racial controversy before Trumps unacceptable personal attacks stole the spotlight. I couldnt disagree more with these congresswomens views on immigration, socialism, national security, and virtually every policy issue, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey said in a statement. But they are entitled to their opinions, however misguided they may be.What could be driving such tepid responses' Maybe they really disagree with the squads views so strongly that they have to mention them whenever given the chance. Maybe theyre so intimidated by the Republican bases embrace of racist politics that they dont want to distance themselves too much from it. Maybe theyre simply worried that Trump will turn that base against them. Whatever the reason, their hesitation gives the appearance that they dont really oppose Trumps racism. They just want him to be quieter about it.This article was originally published in The New Republicwww.newrepublic.com
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