EDITORIAL: Trump leads divide on racial relations

Staff report
President Donald Trump pauses while speaking at the 2018 House and Senate Republican Member Conference at The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

An ugly debate sparked by a recent series of derogatory Twitter messages by President Donald Trump has demonstrated yet again the depths to which the president has dragged his party, his country and national discourse.

Trump targeted a foursome of freshmen Democratic lawmakers — all women of color — who he claimed, inaccurately, “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world,” before suggesting they “go back” to those countries.

Lost on — or, more likely, ignored by — the president is the fact that three were born in the United States; all four are U.S. citizens.

“Go back to your own country,” or derivations thereof, are well-known tropes that have for generations been aimed at minorities, people of color and immigrants (legal and otherwise). The phrase is unmistakably racist in its origins and intent.

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Trump may claim this was not his intent, but plenty of Americans know just what he meant.

Still, the president and an uncomfortable number of congressional sycophants are defending this language.

As Democratic leaders in the House prepared a wholly appropriate resolution denouncing Trump for his “racist comments,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy defended the president against charges of racism at a Tuesday news conference. He referred to the resolution as “all politics,” a characterization at once dismissive and disingenuous.

White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway, fresh off her non-compliance with a subpoena to appear at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Hatch Act violations Monday, was equally unconvincing. She responded to a reporter’s question about the controversy by snapping, “what’s your ethnicity?”

Not a good look.

And reliable Trump toadie Sen. Lindsay Graham mildly suggested the president “aim higher,” as if the issue were simply a matter of elevating his language.

Trump, for his part, tweeted, “Those tweets were NOT racist.”

The targeted lawmakers were having none of it.

“This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms or it’s happening on national TV, and now it’s reached the White House garden,” said one of the four, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. (The others are Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.)

As Trump’s Twitter-fueled fights tend to do, this story sucked up all the media oxygen — a perhaps not-unintended consequence as stories about the president’s relationship with accused sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein and the ongoing immigration debacle were among those at least temporarily eclipsed.

But America’s views on racial relations continue to deteriorate, and Trump’s persistent racial divisiveness and dog-whistling are a major factor. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to be “president of all the people.” Add that to the president’s mountain of untruths.

And it’s not just this president’s racist and nationalist leanings. He frequently attacks women, people of color and those of cultures not his own — all descriptions of his four most recent targets.

Just as disheartening is the continued failure of Republican leaders to criticize this behavior. Instead, the nation gets justifications, excuses or false claims of political equivalency.

There is no political equivalent to Donald Trump. His divisiveness, self-absorption, neediness, prevarication, and disregard for any and all Americans who do not blindly support him is unprecedented in presidential history.

The nation should not have to argue over whether its president is racist. Lawmakers shouldn’t come under White House attack for their ethnicity, religion or gender. The public ought to have confidence that the country isn’t being led by a divisive bully.

The president, in his hate-filled targeting of four congresswomen and in countless other ways since taking office, offers no reassurance on any of these fronts.