by Keaton Weiss
The Republicans have already decided how to brand the Democrats for the 2020 election cycle: socialism, abortion, and open borders. This will be their line of attack no matter who the Democrats nominate for president. Democrats already know who the Republicans will nominate for president, and they know he enjoys a 90% approval rating within the party, even after this past week, in which he made abundantly clear that he intends to make the 2020 election a full-on race war. So for Democrats, the branding of Republicans is simple: racism, racism, and racism.
After Donald Trump’s blatantly bigoted tweets on July 14 in which he suggested representatives Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were foreign in nature and that they should go back to where they came from, the House quickly drafted a resolution to condemn those tweets. On July 16, all but four Republicans, Will Hurd, Brian Fitzpatrick, Fred Upton, and Susan Brooks, voted not to condemn.
The very next day, Trump’s rally in Greenville, NC took a predictably dark turn when Ilhan Omar’s name came up, prompting crowd chants of “send her back.” While many Republicans were quick to disavow the chant itself, they were equally quick to defend Trump’s lie that he himself didn’t approve of the chant, tried to squash it, and was quick to move on to other topics in his speech. The obvious truth, as documented on tape for all to see, is that he stepped back from the microphone and allowed the chant to continue for 13 seconds before “moving on.”
In the days since, the corporate media has of course done the obvious and necessary work of calling these tweets and chants what they are, which is overt bigotry. They’ve also, however, taken on a less productive task: a search for “good” Republicans who may denounce the president.
To give just a few examples, Chris Cuomo tried his best to get Kansas Senate hopeful Kris Kobach to admit the president’s comments were racist, to no avail. Additionally, Kobach had difficulty answering Cuomo’s question as to whether or not he would support Trump even if Trump were to admit he’s a racist outright. CNN’s Jim Sciutto grilled Republican Rep. James Comer on Trump’s hypocrisy when it came to his own trashing of America vs. his current “love it or leave it” posture towards these four congresswomen of color. Comer maintained that no such hypocrisy exists. Dana Bash pressed GOP Senator Ron Johnson on whether or not Trump’s more recent tweet that AOC’s “Squad” are not “capable of loving our country” was racially charged. Johnson replied by employing the age-old tactic of suggesting that raising the specter of racism was itself racist, and that he would like to move towards a more “colorblind society.” MSNBC’s Morning Joe, hosted by ex-Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, makes appeals to decent, noble Republicans part of their everyday routine, and those appeals have continued in recent days.
Perhaps the media is simply doing its job by reaching out for comment from Republican supporters of the president, and getting their positions on record. But watching these clips suggests that they’re somewhat desperate to find examples of noble, courageous Republicans who will simply and affirmatively, in no uncertain terms, condemn the president’s recent racist words and actions. This compulsion to elevate the “good” Republicans is shared among many of the corporate media’s uncritical consumers, even the liberal ones. It’s reflected in the “resistance” liberals’ constant veneration of John McCain. It’s reflected in their adoring responses to George W. Bush and Michelle Obama’s candy-sharing tradition and their disturbing nostalgia for the Bush years. It’s reflected in people like Bill Maher’s regret for having been too harsh on Mitt Romney during the 2012 election, not realizing just how much worse things could have been. These are just a few of many examples.
This futile endeavor of seeking out virtuous Republicans who will confront Trump’s bigotry is borne of the political and media establishment’s decades-old premise that civil, agreeable coexistence between Democrats and Republicans is both feasible and desirable. But those days are over.
Unlike in 2016, when Trump’s xenophobic dog whistling was just one part of a broader populist, anti-establishment, and (however ironic) anti-corruption agenda, it seems evident, as of now, that his 2020 messaging will be much narrower, and much more pointed in its appeals to racial animus. This means that, as of now, the Republican Party is the party of racism. And the Democrats’ chance to brand them as such is not merely an opportunity, but a responsibility. Furthermore, this branding must be applied to Republican politicians en masse, with no exceptions for the “good ones” like Will Hurd. Nope. Sorry. The only good Republican is an ex-Republican.
“But that’s not fair,” you say, and, in a certain sense, you’re right. But on the other hand, branding has never been an enterprise built on complete intellectual honesty. After all, Snapple isn’t actually made from the best stuff on Earth. Energizer batteries don’t really keep going, and going, and going. VISA isn’t everywhere you want to be. But that’s not the point. The point is that Snapple tastes good, Energizer batteries last quite a long time, and that VISA cards are accepted in more places than Discover and American Express. And the point here is that Republican politicians are, by and large, for all intents and purposes, racists. They’re defending and empowering a racist president who takes every opportunity to rile up his racist base, and, perhaps most importantly, if you’re feeling uneasy about this new tactic I’m proposing, is using racist attacks against four Democratic congresswomen to try and falsely brand the entire Democratic Party as anti-American. So if Hurd, Fitzpatrick, Upton, and Brooks don’t want to branded unfairly, they can do what Rep. Justin Amash did a few weeks ago, and leave the Republican Party.
Now I understand this may be a bit too bold a move for the gentile, old school, moderate Democrats to fully embrace, which is why it will fall to progressives to execute this strategy. And perhaps that’s for the best anyway, since we’re the ones best equipped to do it for a couple of reasons.
First, this is our fight. Trump came after four of ours. We’re not only proud of these four congresswomen for their incredible courage and tenacity they’ve shown over the past couple of weeks, but we’re proud of ourselves for having backed them every step of the way from day one, and for having defended them against all attacks from all sources, including the Democratic Party leadership. And we, as progressives, can make clear to Trump and his racist Republican sycophants that we’re not Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. We’re not a couple of worn out, washed up doormats who respond to such hostile provocation with muddled, incoherent pleas for bipartisanship and civility. Our message is much simpler: You want a fight? You got one.
And second, we as progressives will not make the mistake that the neoliberal centrists made in 2016, which was to use attacks on the opposition as a substitute for pushing a positive, robust, pro-active agenda designed to empower the American people and improve their overall quality of life. Not only will we do both simultaneously, but we’ll also point out, as the Squad themselves did during their press conference, that the Republicans are actually using white identity politics as a substitute for a substantive policy discussion. “We’ll stay focused on our agenda,” AOC said, “Because all of this is a distraction.”
So let’s not shy away from this fight. If Donald Trump wants to get down and dirty with us, we ought to oblige him. If he wants to run his campaign exclusively on white nativism and racial resentment, let’s make that ugliness stick to his entire party, and not fret over collateral damage. Let’s not try and seek out “good,” “decent,” “brave” Republicans to give us that warm, fuzzy feeling of bipartisan unity. If Trump is going all in on racism as a strategy, and his GOP enablers aren’t willing to stand up to him, then our job is not to escort the few redeemable Republicans to their lifeboats so they can row safely to shore. Our job is simply to sink the whole damn ship, and let the “good ones” jump off and swim, should they so choose.
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