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What to Do If Your Leader is Racist?

There are a few different elements to the recent racist display by the president. For one, it was an offense against Massachusetts’ 7th district, Michigan’s 12th district, Minnesota’s 5th district, and New York’s 14th district. The people there chose these representatives, whom the president is free to have political disagreements with, but he’s injuring the basic principles of the nation when he disrespects their constituents.

More importantly, the president is supposed to serve those constituents as much as anyone, so his disrespect is doubled (once for the direct offense and again for the failure as one of their leaders). While some representatives sometimes have reason to be condemned by colleagues or the president, those condemnations must always be careful not to diminish the rightfully owed respect to the constituents.

There are a few noble Republicans who have stood up in objection to the president’s racism. Good on them. Whatever your politics, it’s self-evident that racism has no place.

The racism of the president and the support of those Republicans who backed his statements including Lindsay Graham and Kellyanne Conway are unacceptable. All people have the right to criticize the government. They have the right to prefer different policies, even communism if they choose. While the racists have every right to be racist, racism is stupid and they are stupid for being racist.

The third set of Republicans bothered to condemn the racism but stopped short of calling it racist or pulled out the same both-sides-bullshit that Trump has used before. This is also wrong. It is wrong not to recognize it as racist, because it disconnects the act from the series of acts that constitute the racist legacies of the nation and the world. It is wrong to engage in both-sides because it pretends that the president’s offense was at all justifiable. There is no excuse for his stooping.

The final group of Republicans have stayed silent. This is the group I find most curious. The title of this piece poses a question that I mean. The prospect of confronting a racist president of their own party is not what anyone imagines going into politics. It is surely a difficult position to be in.

As we have seen with the likes of Paul Ryan, once out of office the attitudes of Republicans tend to shift in curious ways. But while in office, for a variety of reasons, they tend to be comfort creatures, closely following what they believe is the politically correct path. I honestly believe most Republicans would jump at the chance to change course, if they knew how and if it weren’t particularly risky to their careers.

Doing the right thing is often risky. It means, for example, that you might end up with a racist president when you share the choice of government with your fellow man and they completely fuck it up. But there is justice in error, that sooner or later the mistakes will cause sufficient motivation to correct course. Which doesn’t answer the question. What do you do?

Quit the party? Go the way of Justin Amash (who also condemned the president’s racism, but had earlier quit over the president’s well-documented instances of obstruction of justice in the Mueller Report)? He’s lonesome, for now. Maybe he’ll be in a position to redecorate the Republican cloakroom when the party finally collapses.

You could seek legislative common ground with Democrats focused on issues of racial and economic justice. Find ways to fight racism one paycheck, one housing bill, one voter registration measure, one educational program at a time.

What else? Ask your colleagues. We know you talk. Talk to the Democrats. Tell them you can’t but you want to do something. I’m sure they’ll be sympathetic, if not a little pissed off you won’t condemn racism. Politics is hard, but the alternative is monarchy, which sucked far worse.


I was reading a ProPublica piece with some first-hand color from a border patrol agent (ProPublica: Ginger Thompson: 16 July 2019: “A Border Patrol Agent Reveals What It’s Really Like to Guard Migrant Children”), and it reminded me a lot of George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” (maybe it was the reference in the piece to Benjamin the donkey in Animal Farm).

I think that’s a lot of what the Republican problem is. While they’re in office, they’ve got that elephant rifle, and there’s the elephant. They do not know better than to shoot the elephant. The lack of imagination, of any other option that they have any idea how it could turn out. They shoot the elephant.