GOP Leaders Can’t Denounce Trump’s Rhetoric, But Embrace His Candidacy

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Even Woodrow Wilson, the most overtly racist president of the past 150 years, felt the need to hide his inclinations while running for office. While campaigning, he promised African Americans that he would “advance the interests of your race” if elected and, as a consequence, received more black votes than any previous Democratic candidate.

White supremacist son of the Old Confederacy that he was, Wilson promptly repaid that support by purging the previously integrated federal bureaucracy of all but a tiny handful of its African American supervisors, rigidly segregating all Washington’s integrated federal offices and encouraging the state branches of federal agencies to fire their black employees wholesale. Wilson would go on to invite D. W. Griffith to screen his racist masterpiece “Birth of a Nation” in the White House, and his ringing endorsement of the film’s hysterical distortion of Reconstruction’s history became a powerful recruiting tool in the subsequent national rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.

Donald Trump, the Republicans’ presumptive nominee for president, feels no such compunction. His personal expressions of racial and ethnic animosity are overt and his appeals to similar sentiments among the electorate are clear. (One of the virtues of truly malignant narcissism, I suppose, is that it feels no compulsion to conceal even its most repellant flaws.)

The reaction to Trump’s racist personal assault on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has been particularly instructive on a couple of counts. One is that even in the face of widespread condemnation—including from within his own party—the failed casino operator has insisted that there is nothing even remotely objectionable about his ethnically based slander of a distinguished judge and former federal prosecutor.

By now, too many of us have become hardened to the noxious inanities that spew like toxic spittle from Trump’s sewer of a mouth. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to become so, because it also leads too many of us to excuse the tepid response to this latest outrage by so many senior members of the Republican establishment.

Curiel has the misfortune of overseeing one of the lawsuits filed against Trump in connection with the collapse of his so-called Trump University, which was supposed to educate paying students in the fine points of real estate, but essentially amounted to a high pressure scam. Former students allege they received little or worthless instruction for exorbitant fees and that particular efforts were made to bilk the elderly.

Curiel’s parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the 1920’s and subsequently became citizens. The judge was born in Indiana, where his father was employed as a steelworker, and graduated from that state university’s law school. As federal prosecutor, his pursuit of criminals involved with Tijuana’s notorious Arellano-Felix Mexican drug cartel was so diligent and effective that threats from its gunmen forced him to live for a time on a San Diego naval base.

Outraged by Curiel’s clearly legal evidentiary rulings, Trump has charged that the judge is biased against him because he “is a Mexican” and demanded that he recuse himself. We need not belabor the deeply offensive illogic of imputing misconduct to a person based on their family’s ethnic origins. Any decent American with a modicum of common sense already grasps the corrosive consequences of such conduct. Nor need we explore the implications of Trump’s reckless willingness to assassinate the character of a lifelong public servant with an impeccable record and reputation and what it might portend for a Trump presidency’s respect for the separation of powers. All that is pretty clear to anyone who takes time to think. Two things, though, are interesting.

One of these is the way in which an utterly unembarrassed Trump, rather than accepting the criticism and backing away in some way, has doubled down on his calumnies against Curiel. Over the weekend, he insisted to CNN’s incredulous Jack Tapper, that the judge is incapable of hearing the suit fairly because of Trump’s stand on immigration. “I’ve had terrible rulings, I’ve been treated very unfairly. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage,” the developer said. “I’m building a wall. I’m building a wall.”

Tapper pointed out that Trump is “invoking (Curiel’s) race talking about whether or not he can do his job,” he said.

“Jake, I’m building a wall. OK? I’m building a wall,” Trump responded. “I’m trying to keep business out of Mexico. . .We are building a wall. He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”

Shortly afterward, Trump was asked by CBS’ John Dickerson whether he believed in the “American tradition” of not judging people based on their families.

“I’m not talking about tradition–I’m talking about common sense, okay?” Trump replied without a hint of irony. He went on to tell Dickerson that he also believes a Muslim American judge would be biased against him because of his call for a total ban on all Muslim immigration.

By now, too many of us have become hardened to the noxious inanities that spew like toxic spittle from Trump’s sewer of a mouth. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to become so, because it also leads too many of us to excuse the tepid response to this latest outrage by so many senior members of the Republican establishment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan grudgingly managed to say they disagreed with Trump’s comments, but maintained their support for him as the party’s nominee. So, too, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who simply characterized Trump’s attack on Curiel as “a mistake.”

Exactly what will it take to get these guys to admit exactly what Trump is and where his election well might take the country?

There’s a reason that so many open white supremacists and anti-Semites have been drawn to Trump’s campaign. There’s a reason the Anti-Defamation League has been forced to convene a committee to advise it on how to deal with the torrent of anti-Semitic abuse that rains on Jewish journalists who write critically of Trump or his family. There’s a reason that many of these wretched creatures have come out of the shadows and now speak gratefully of how Trump’s candidacy has empowered them to openly advance their hateful views.

That reason is that they recognize a kindred spirit in Trump. If the Republican establishment can’t recognize that, it’s because they’ve become to accustomed to winking at the prevalence of racist sentiment that has accompanied the GOP’s  transformation into a national white people’s party centered in the Old South.

The question now is whether that tawdry act of ethical accommodation has so hardened their consciences that they no longer the line between party loyalty and betrayal of the national interest.

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