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Zirpoli: If it tweets like a duck ...

“I want to talk to the Trump supporters for a moment. I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know why you like this guy.”

Those were the words of Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina trying to understand why Republicans would support Donald Trump when he was running to be the leader of his party. He went on to say that Trump was a “race-baiting xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn’t represent my party.”

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While the rest of Graham’s assessment still rings true today, he would be proven wrong about Trump not representing his party. In fact, the Republican Party has become the party of Trump, and Graham has since joined the club.

Trump and his supporters insist that they are not racists. But they struggle to explain why they belong to a political party where white supremacist, Klan members, and other self-proclaimed racists feel at home.

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According to a study by The Washington Post, hate crimes against people of color, Jews, and Muslims have increased every year in America since Trump announced his candidacy for president. The Post also found that counties that host Trump rallies see a significant increase in hate crimes afterward.

When women of color in Congress advocate for better education and health care for all Americans or advocate for children at the border, Trump says that they hate America. Yet, he is the one who has repeatedly criticized our military, generals, veterans, intelligence agencies, the Justice Department and the FBI. And he calls our free press “the enemy of the people.”

Trump continues to say we need to make America great again. If a minority woman in Congress stated that we needed to make America great again, would she not be chastised by Republicans for believing that America wasn’t already great?

Trump has called America “the laughingstock of the world.” Picture for a minute Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota saying this about America during a speech at the United Nations as Trump did. I can hear Republicans now. But when Trump said it, they were quiet as a mouse. Why such a double standard?

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Trump says that some minority members of Congress should “go back and fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” That would be Trump’s America, of course. Telling people of color to go back where they came from is an old white supremacist slogan. In 1957, “Go back to Africa” was chanted by White Supremacists when black students integrated schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was also a common theme of George Wallace’s presidential campaign. In fact, if you watch film of Wallace’s campaign rallies, they sound very much like Trump’s rallies today.

As Jack Shafer of Politico wrote recently: “Not since George Wallace ran for president as an overt racist in the 1960s and the 1970s has a national candidate so willingly and vocally embraced bigotry for political ends.” While the times and personalities have changed, the words of ignorance and racism remain the same. Like Wallace, Trump uses race as a political tool to maintain the support of his mainly white male base. (Note that Trump’s rally chants, “Lock her up” and “Send her back,” both target women.)

As Peter Baker for The New York Times wrote: “Over decades in business, entertainment and now politics, Mr. Trump has approached America’s racial, ethnic and religious divisions opportunistically, not as the nation’s wounds to be healed but as openings to achieve his goals, whether they be ratings, fame, money or power, without regard for adverse consequences.”

Why are most self-proclaimed white supremacist and Klan members Trump supporters? Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League responds to this question by noting that they share the same talking points. “It’s hardly surprising that we’ve seen many white supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-Muslim extremists celebrating Trump’s outbursts. To bigots, these types of comments are not just a dog-whistle, they’re a bullhorn validating their beliefs.”

Republicans at the state level are following Trump’s lead. Republican Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee signed a proclamation last week honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, a white supremacist and the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. Why? Because the Republican-controlled state legislature mandated by law that Forrest and other “Confederate heroes” be honored annually. What is it about Republican Party values that inspire them to honor members of the KKK in 2019?

You may believe you don’t have a racist bone in your body, but it is difficult to argue this point when you make racist statements or you honor people who make racist statements. When you approve of people or organizations that promote racism when you honor and defend them, you are not only demonstrating your approval of their values, you are confirming your own.

Tom Zirpoli, program coordinator of the human services management graduate program at McDaniel College, writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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