This Is No Distraction


Carolyn Kaster/AP


It has been another of those weeks in Donald Trump’s presidency that should put a knot in the stomach of every American from now until the Earth caves in.

Starting on Sunday, after Nancy Pelosi greased the skids, the president began attacking four first-term Democratic congresswomen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, as “racist,” “Anti-America,” and “Anti-Semetic,” and “pro-Al Qaeda.”

The attacks continued over the next several days. “IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE!”, he tweeted on Monday, before calling the quartet “vile,” “hateful,” “disgusting,” and “filthy.”

None of this should come as any surprise. Trump is a white supremacist, and his white supremacy is not a distraction from anything else he is or any executive order or piece of legislation he wants to sign.

His white supremacy is his raison d’être. It’s why he is the president of the United States and not an aging former reality television huckster with a casino. It’s how he will try to win re-election in 2020.

But the Democratic party, even some of its best and brightest minds and hearts, does not seem to understand this and does not understand its gravity.

On Tuesday, for example, as Trump was escalating his attacks against Omar and her colleagues, Hawaii senator Brain Schatz tweeted “Just because they are racists doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to take away your health care.”

The implication was clear: don’t fall for this. Don’t chase the shiny object. Stay focused. Healthcare. The rigged economy. Bread-and-butter issues. Ignore the white supremacy, the incitement to violence, the unfiltered, uncompromising hatred.

Schatz has made a habit over the last two-and-a-half years of issuing these eye-on-the-ball missives. He’s not the only one.

In the last several days, there has been an extraordinary amount of handwringing in traditional political media about how Democrats who are responding to Trump’s racism are somehow playing into his hands.

The Editorial Board of The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Trump’s aim of stoking an endless culture war puts his political critics in a bind. They can take his bait and fight back, participating in the divisive distraction he’s designed to energize his supporters, or they can ignore his outbursts and risk normalizing his terrible behavior.”

That’s right. Per The New York Times, fighting back when the president tells four congresswomen of color to leave the country is merely “participating in the divisive distraction he’s designed.”

In the midst of all of this, Jake Tapper put Richard Spencer on CNN, the House debated parliamentary rules regarding the acceptability of calling someone a racist on the floor, and Trump went to Greenville, North Carolina, attacked Omar, and stood contentedly as the watching crowd chanted “send her back.”

The reaction to that display, from far too many, was more of the same.

“The president is desperate,” Elizabeth Warren tweeted. “Calling out his racism, xenophobia, and misogyny is imperative. But he’s trying to divide us and distract from his own crimes, and from his deeply unpopular agenda of letting the wealthy and well-connected rip off the country.”

Warren means well. She shoots straight. The problem is that she fundamentally misunderstands who Trump is and what he means in just the way that Schatz and The New York Times do.

Donald Trump isn’t trying to distract us from anything. Unlike his biggest donors, he is not most driven by the prospect of cutting taxes for the wealthy or stripping healthcare from the poor or destroying the environment.

He’s happy to do those things, sure. But that’s not the endgame. The endgame for him and the thousands of people who rallied with him in North Carolina is something else entirely.

These people are advocating for the deportation of an American citizen – not because she broke any law, but because she “hates America.” Not the real America, mind you, but the America that exists in their minds, where everyone is white, everyone is Christian, everyone is conservative, and everyone wears red hats.

They’re advocating for fascism. What happened at that rally, what is contained in Trump’s tweets, what has been happening at the border, none of that is misdirection. It’s the real deal.

How real? The president is trying to get Ilhan Omar killed.

He is arguing that a precondition for non-white people immigrating to the United States – for living in the United States at all – should be pledging allegiance to him politically.

The White House has ceased even attempting to articulate a more acceptable or constitutional view of what makes an immigrant deserving of a place in this country.

On Tuesday, Marc Short, Mike Pence’s chief of staff, went on Fox to argue that Trump cannot be a racist because he appointed Elaine Chao, who was born in China, to be his (corrupt) transportation secretary.

But Omar, like Chao, immigrated to the U.S. legally. What is the difference between the two?

Well, the next day, the Vice President’s office cleared it right up – writing to Matt Cohen of Mother Jones to say that while Chao is “dedicated to giving back and serving her country,” Omar “seems content to criticize America at every turn.”

You see? There are good immigrants, and there are bad immigrants. Lindsey Graham said roughly the same thing yesterday: that if you are African and female like Omar is but you read Quillette, then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

“I really do believe that if you’re a Somali refugee who likes Trump, he’s not going to say go back to Somalia,” Graham told a Fox News host. “A racist says go back to Somalia because you’re Somali or Muslim or whatever. That’s just the way he is.”

According to one of his most cravenly ardent defenders, the only thing that can confuse Trump’s racism is his narcissism.

But that racism is not a vice or a quirk. Trump’s approval rating with Republican voters increased after he started attacking Omar and her colleagues. Those attacks are the centerpiece of his agenda and the core of his power, incited and magnified by a powerful media ecosystem that profits immensely from them.

If Trump is not effectively opposed, his march towards fascism will continue. He should of course be impeached for his ideology, but the people with the answers, at this point, largely cannot be found in the halls of the capitol or at Iowa corn feeds.

The people with the answers are historians and activists, in classrooms and communities, and they are trying to tell us what we’re on the brink of. We all must listen to and act with them, as best we’re able.

He’s a white supremacist. He’s a white supremacist or he doesn’t exist in politics in any meaningful way, and he knows it. The seriousness of the threat he and his movement pose to vulnerable people and our democracy cannot be overstated.

If you want to focus one just one thing, this is it. This is an American crisis.

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