Is it ever acceptable for elected officials to associate with racists? And if they do associate with racists, is there a statute of limitation on covering the story?
I’m asking for Republicans. Because after Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address yesterday, former Klansman and all-around bigots like David Duke and Richard Spencer tweeted approval of one of the president’s most memorable lines. A number of journalists, as is their wont, took the opportunity to point out that white supremacists were cheering on Trump.
Whether or not the president meant it this way, this is how fringe far-right bigots heard that “Dreamers” line last night. https://t.co/dJmhoAtCMb
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 31, 2018
Whether or not the president meant it this way? Well, polls seem to indicate that a majority of Americans construed Trump’s speech as straightforwardly patriotic, but obviously, many liberals heard a string of dog whistles instead. Certainly the line “Americans are dreamers, too,” which refers to debate over the fate of younger illegal immigrants, is going to be difficult to frame as bigoted when Trump is offering a generous number of these people a pathway to citizenship — probably amounting to the largest amnesty in American history.
Whatever the case, when I saw reporters tweeting out Nazi praise for Trump, I wondered if any of them had asked Congressional Black Caucus members (many of them boycotting the State of the Union and readily available to the media) why some of them had been taped hugging and meeting with the racist conspiracy theorist Louis Farrakhan?
If you think this question is a form of “whataboutism” or seems like old news, it’s not.
It’s true that no politician has control over who supports him, even if politicians occasionally instigate that support. I mean, Farrakhan endorsed Barack Obama’s presidential run in 2008. Hillary Clinton was accused of passive-aggressive racism for even bringing up the topic. “I did not solicit his support,” the candidate explained at the time. “I can’t say to somebody that he can’t say that he thinks I’m a good guy.” Obama was correct, even if his antagonist policies towards Israel may have pleased the Nation of Islam leader who went to Iran to celebrate the anniversary for the Islamic Revolution a couple of years back.
On the other hand, when Obama posed for a photo with the man who claims white people are a “race of devils” and said Hitler was a “very great man” at a Congressional Black Caucus gathering in 2005, it was entirely his fault. We only found out about the picture recently — and thus the new questions — because the Congressional Black Caucus allegedly suppressed photos of Democrats hanging out with a man who spent decades spreading noxious anti-Semitic and racist conspiracies theories to African-Americans.
Obama is now gone. There are, however, 45 members in the CBC leading the resistance against Donald Trump. Four of them — Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, Al Green, and William Jefferson — can been seen here exchanging pleasantries and running through some talking points on the hurricane Katrina response with Farrakhan in 2009.
If Waters and Lee boycotted the State of the Union because of Trump’s supposed racism, isn’t it fair to quiz them on their associations with racists that have now come to light? As far as I can tell, no major news outlet has asked any of these heroes of the resistance why it was okay to coordinate a political message with a man believes that the “lying, murderous Zionist Jews” were behind 9/11. (If I have missed someone asking, I apologize in advance.)
There’s already a striking double standard in the coverage of both major political parties. While every comment from a conservative is parsed for deeper racist meaning, a former Nation of Islam lackey like Keith Ellison became a rising star without any real scrutiny over his ugly past by the larger outlets. Is it bias, or are journalists are too intimidated to ask?
You can imagine, I’m sure, that if there had been a video of members of Congress hugging Richard Spencer or David Duke — both whom, incidentally, get most of their oxygen from media coverage rather than popular support — then boycotted Hillary Clinton’s State of the Union speech, it would be a massive story. And rightly so.