Racism, Name-Calling and the 2020 Election. How Will CA Congressional Delegation Respond?

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

With blatantly racist tweets now spouting from the mouth of the President of the United States we have may reached a new low for insensitivity to the vast majority of Americans who find such rhetoric abhorrent. 

At a North Carolina rally just the other day, urged on by the president’s special ire aimed at Minnesota Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, born in Somali, the crowd began chanting “send her back,” which Trump apparently did little to restrain.

This brought a sharp rebuff even from numerous Republicans including House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (Bakersfield), who felt compelled to say, “Those chants have no place in our party or in our country.”

The name-calling on both sides (Rep. Omar labelled Trump a “fascist,”)  could be prelude to a presidential campaign that in retrospect might make the bitter Trump-Clinton face-off seem almost polite. 

If so, it could be a race to the gutter with plenty of blame to go around.

However, a new strategy appears to be emerging which doubles down on the president’s inflammatory bromides intended to depict all 240 House Democrats as Socialists after they voted earlier for a resolution condemning his racial taunts. 

McCarthy weighed in unconditionally in support of the Trump strategy, exclaiming, “As a conference, we are united behind his vision to campaign on offense—and expand the map by outworking, out-recruiting and exposing the corrupt, inept new Democrat Socialist Party.”

Even some Republicans are expressing discomfort with this approach. McCarthy and others in his caucus have been given opportunities to break with the president in what would have been an exemplary display of courage. They have chosen not to.

Socialism is something new in the political lexicon. Racism in our culture in not. 

If you take into consideration the mass extermination of the Indians who can make legitimate claims to being the only true native Americans it pre-dated our nation’s founding.

It reared its ugly head most dramatically with the Civil War which exposed the bitter cleavages between the slavery and anti-slavery states that spawned the civil rights movement nearly a century later. 

California was to play a small though significant role in that affair using its inexhaustible gold deposits to help fund the Union cause contrary ironically to past history when the first settlers participated in the utter decimation of thousands of native Indians to prevent them from getting their hands on the gold. 

Yet even long after the phrase “Jim Crow South” has pretty much disappeared from our vocabulary, the virus of intolerance has never been fully eradicated and remains a malignancy that continues to infect our society.

It seems to be a particularly virulent component of the nation’s DNA lying latent beneath the surface for periods just awaiting events or individuals that can trigger it.

Alabama Gov. George Wallace, an arch-segregationist, ran for president as a Democrat three times in the 1960s suffering defeat each time. His defiant stand at the doors of the University of Alabama in 1963 in defiance of a federal court order to allow black students to enter remains an iconic image.

A half-century later the deadly Charlottesville riot in August 2017 precipitated by a group of white supremacists labelled “neo-Nazis” was a stark reminder that if we fail to squelch it racial hate can always find ways to regain footholds.

There were “fine people on both sides” exclaimed Trump to a disbelieving populace which a recent Pew Research poll finds 56% of the opinion that Trump has worsened race relations. 

It also says that at least 4 in 10 Americans are not that concerned.

The racist flames have been further stoked by furor over the Administration’s handling of the migrant crisis separating children from their parents and for doing little to ease the inhumane conditions in the holding centers.

Not content with diatribes against Muslims, Mexicans, Hispanics and other minorities who he has declared unwelcome, Trump seized the opportunity to weaponize four ultra-liberal freshman members of Congress, all women of color, who have gone to battle with House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, over immigration and other issues.

Feeding the xenophobia which he has worked hard to nurture, Trump suggested to these women who have been dubbed “the Squad, ” “If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!”

This racist trope had his fans cheering even if it succeeded at least temporarily in uniting Democrats in defense of the beleaguered quartet who have shown little restraint in challenging House Speaker Pelosi and the party’s leadership.

Nothing new in Trump’s incendiary rantings but it immediately prompted the  extraordinary and unanimous rebuke from House Democrats with a resolution denouncing his intemperate words. 

In pushing for its approval, Pelosi said, “To do anything less would be a shocking rejection of our values and shameful abdication of our oath of office to protect the American people.”

The resolution took pains to include remarks by one of the GOP’s legendary heroes invoking Pres. Ronald Regan’s stern admonition many decades ago that if the nation chooses to shut its doors to newcomers, “our leadership in the world will soon be lost.” 

More instructive is the fact that 187 GOP members—with only four breaking ranks—voted against it—-convincing evidence that Trump has taken indisputable ownership of the Republican Party. With their own careers in mind few dare challenge him.

House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (Bakersfield) was predictably one of the 

“NO” voters. But he appears to be going a step further in advocating a campaign script designed to portray Democrats as “the corrupt new Democrat Socialist Party.” 

The only candidate who openly carries that label is Sen. Bernie Sanders—a popular figure in California in the 2016 campaign but a concern to other contenders on the left who have been quite willing to espouse many of his views but prefer they not share his title.

Socialism still carries some negative connotations. But California liberals may be drifting away from Sanders toward Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and even Mayor Pete Buttigieg as the party is looking for fresh new faces.

Democrats have a more difficult challenge if they intend to unseat Trump in 2020. Attacking racism on the Right is not their strong suit any more than adopting whole cloth the prescriptions of those on the militant Left.

Whether it’s about healthcare coverage, foreign interventions, educational reforms, climate control, economic disruptions, technological advancements, judicial rulings and—yes—illegal immigration– the voters demand safety rails.

The Democrats must prove that they can build even stronger guard rails for all citizens—white, black and brown—who feel the safety nets are being pulled out from under them. Californians who have lost or are in danger of losing their jobs and health insurance are among them.

The migrant crackdowns on which McCarthy and all members of the state GOP delegation are walking in lockstep with Trump is only one element of a seeming desire to play the race card—but nevertheless important. 

Trump’s incendiary pronouncements affect millions of citizens who live here legally, including the so-called young “dreamers” who abandoned their homelands in hopes of finding routes to citizenship, and even the many straining our law enforcement abilities who have justifiable reasons for wanting to escape intolerable conditions where they have lived. 

 These racist taunts coming from any American president are indefensible.

Equitable regulations to limit, control and manage the influx of migrants and ensuring adequate border protection is defensible and would probably satisfy the majority of voters.

Still, many of the 63 million who voted for Trump seem to be tone-deaf to all entreaties to curb the blatant racism which increasingly defines this presidency. 

Barring a dramatic downturn in the economy, a foreign policy disaster or some astounding new revelations he can count on their votes again.

Arguing that the voters misplaced their trust when they chose Trump and trying to convince them of his dangerous missteps and utter failures instead of offering plausible reasons for transferring that trust to another is a losing game in which he is a master strategist

A winning Democrat will likely be someone who can speak to the unmovable middle where a majority of voters historically reside doing as little possible to alienate a growing Left-leaning cohort while attracting independents who swung to Trump or are willing to sit it out.

The astute New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman,  may have been on to something in a column he authored last week which has raised eyebrows. A couple of paragraphs are worth noting:

“Dear Democrats: This is not complicated! Just nominate a decent, sane person, one committed to reunifying the country and creating more good jobs, a person who can gain the support of the independents, moderate Republicans and suburban women who abandoned Donald Trump in the midterms and thus swung the House of Representatives to the Democrats and could do the same for the presidency. And that candidate can win!

 But please, spare me the revolution! It can wait. Win the presidency, hold the House and narrow the spread in the Senate, and a lot of good things still can be accomplished. “No,” you say, “the left wants a revolution now!” O.K., I’ll give the left a revolution now: four more years of Donald Trump.”

Assuming Friedman possesses a reasonably accurate crystal ball, is there such a candidate out there and will California Democrats and their allies nationwide know which choice to make? 

Or do the voters actually have a different “revolution” in mind which might or might not backfire?

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