“You just can’t expect to say blatantly racist stuff and expect to keep your job unless you’re the president of the United States.Tweet of Matthew Miller, May 29, 2018, former spokesman at the Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder, currently a news analyst at MSNBC.

Roseanne Barr

Do not forget that in the uproar over Roseanne Barr’s vicious and racist tweets that she merely emulated the man she admires so much, President Donald Trump. I do not mean to suggest that Trump instructed her or wrote her tweets. And, certainly, Barr provided ample proof of her racism long before Donald Trump entered the White House. The list of her hatreds is long and shameful, and her trading in conspiracy theories offers ample proof of why no one should take her ravings seriously.

Except Barr is emblematic of those racists who perhaps have been emboldened by Trump’s ugliness — for which he has paid no price, so far — to publicly vent their hatreds instead of hiding in the nooks and crannies of modern American culture and the internet. Race is, after all, the great dividing line in American history and society. While the abominable treatment of the continent’s native population is a horrendous crime in our nation’s history, slavery — along with its attendant racism — is considered America’s original sin. Slavery and racism stain the country founded on the basis that “all men are created equal.” American history may be read as a long struggle to overcome the historical legacy of slavery and racism, and most people would agree that progress has been made. Certainly, the election of an African American to the presidency in 2008 seemed to many a sign that racism — while not fully gone — had been consigned to the dungheap of history, a sign, perhaps, that we had, indeed, overcome.

A drawing making the rounds of right-wing websites.

President Barack Obama, unfortunately, paved the way for Trump’s election. Obama’s presidency proved divisive, not because of his policies or his words, but because of who he was. A segment of Americans — hard to quantify but large enough to matter — never accepted the presence of a black man in the White House. Obama was hardly a saber-rattler. He catapulted to national prominence with his rousing 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, a paean to national unity. He spent much of his presidency tailoring his policies in a futile attempt to win bipartisan support. Obama’s emergency measure to right a sinking economy contained far more tax cuts — a Republican wish — than job creation, which would have provided faster relief. And, his signature Obamacare relied on the kind of market incentives dear to the heart of all good conservatives. If, that is, they could have put aside their visceral dislike of Obama.

Republicans met Obama’s appeals to bipartisanship with contempt. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (a Kentucky Republican) promised to make Obama a one-term president. He failed at that, but he managed to obstruct much of Obama’s programs and prevent the approval of Obama-appointed judges, including Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. 

That was the “nice” part of the opposition to Obama; the nasty part was typified by the racists who crawled out of the woodwork, none worse than Donald Trump, who cut his political teeth pushing the despicable “birther” nonsense. “Birtherism” was not Trump’s first foray into racism, but it was his most notorious, and, combined with his xenophobic anti-immigrant message, racism helped propel Trump into the presidency. The euphoria over the election of an African American as president ended eight years later with his replacement by the racist, demagogic, misogynistic, xenophobic, and frequently lying Trump.

Valerie Jarrett

The racist-in-chief is also the enabler-in-chief. Valerie Jarrett, the focus of Barr’s racist tantrum, understands Trump’s responsibility. “The tone starts at the top,” she said, “and we like to look up to our president and feel as though he reflects the values of our country.” Trump certainly reflects the values of a significant number of white people in America. The damage he is doing to the nation is incalculable (and, I am not even discussing paying off porn stars, demeaning remarks about women, and mocking a disabled reporter). This year, at least 10 white supremacists are running for office, not including the odious Don Blakenship, who fortunately lost the West Virginia Republican senate primary. Hate crimes have increased since Trump became president, according to a number of organizations monitoring that sort of behavior. 

President Trump defending white supremacists, August 15, 2017.

Trump willingly stokes racism. He calls immigrants “animals” and refers to “shithole countries.” He defended white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, calling them “very fine people.” Is this cynically manipulative or does he simply not know what he is saying? Hard to tell, but what difference does it make? Either way, he enables the haters, as the example of Roseanne Barr shows. And, he cannot even bring himself to condemn her tweets. Rather than being appalled at the comparison of African Americans to apes (a long and ugly trope in Euro-American culture), Trump responded to Barr by making the incident all about himself, as he usually does. The head of the network that carried Barr’s show, the president tweeted, “never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn’t get the call?”

That is right, Mr. President. You “didn’t get the call” because you do not deserve it. Matthew Miller may be correct that you cannot say “blatantly racist stuff and expect to keep your job unless you’re the president of the United States.” But, that does not mean the people who abhor racism are not keeping a tally. And, Republicans who fail to recognize Trump’s complicity in the upsurge of racism and who are, therefore, complicit themselves by their silence are included in that tally.

Posted June 1, 2018


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