Have you ever witnessed something so mortifying that you wished you were invisible and could slink away unnoticed? I wonder if any Republicans had that impulse last week. Their president did not introduce incapacity for embarrassment into our politics, he just took it to another level.
The week was too much. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) threatened Michael Cohen before a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing. Sebastian Gorka compared Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to Joseph Stalin. Diamond and Silk were treated as A-listers at CPAC.
At the heart of the chaos was Mr. Art of the Deal, hugging the flag and giving another unhinged pep rally speech after returning from his Hanoi summit, where his vanity and dictator envy left him empty-handed, though he fatuously absolved Kim Jong-un in the torture of Otto Warmbier.
At the hearing, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) told Cohen, “You’re a pathological liar. You don’t know truth from falsehood.” Cohen rejoined, “Are you talking about me or the president?”
Not only did Gosar say, “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” the Republicans displayed the schoolyard taunt on a poster. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) had a live exhibit: Lynne Patton, a wedding planner Trump made an administrator at HUD. Meadows thought Patton’s blackness refuted Cohen’s charge that Trump (the birther, Central Park Five slanderer, and Nazi defender) is a racist.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) was having none of it. She said using a black woman as a prop is “racist in itself.” Meadows, who talked in 2012 of sending President Obama “back home to Kenya,” was near tears as he demanded Tlaib’s remarks be stricken. He cited nieces and nephews of color as proof he couldn’t be racist. Perhaps he forgot that our third president enslaved his own black children. Committee chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), whose indulgence of the Republicans may have been in the spirit of giving one’s opponent enough rope to hang himself, persuaded Tlaib to say she wasn’t calling Meadows a racist.
Thus, typically, it fell to people of color to soothe a colleague’s fragile whiteness. Author Robin DiAngelo writes, “White fragility is not weakness per se. In fact, it is a powerful means of white racial control and the protection of white advantage.” Only through a privileged lens can calling someone out on his racism be offensive while deleting black people from voting rolls is fine.
Falsely conflating white identity with national identity divides and diminishes us. You cannot see other people’s struggles if you insist on being the protagonist of every story. We are all in the American project together, and will rise or fall together. We need to take our blinders off.
The day after the hearing, an MSNBC reporter asked a white man in a pancake house, “Do you believe Michael Cohen or the president?” He answered, “I’m gonna have to put my faith in the president.” He followed that with “because,” but I missed the rest as I threw my shoe at the screen. Trump’s performance art distracts his fans from the con job he is pulling on them.
Former Maine governor Paul LePage says that without the Electoral College, white people will be forgotten. Seriously? Reality was in the loo when Trump told the CPAC crowd, “We believe in the American dream, not in the socialist nightmare.” If you’re a Trumpist, socialism is anything that helps brown people, while benefits you receive are considered an entitlement, even if they’re the same program.
If we let ourselves be cowed by Trump’s provocations, if we focus on what stirs the rabble instead of what serves the greater good, we will lose our country and squander centuries of struggle. We must believe enough in ourselves, our values, and our fellow citizens to seize the moment and not be diverted by a demagogue‘s crude cavortings.
Instead of fighting on Trump’s favored ground of fear and resentment, we should impart an honest vision—not just advancing policy goals, but recognizing our diverse human resources as an asset and not a threat, demanding the best in ourselves as in each other, and reclaiming our decency and honor.
That reclamation requires an historic Republican loss.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2019 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.
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