2020 Election, Higher Education, Idaho Politics, Trump

It’s the Racism, Stupid…

(This piece originally appeared in the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune.)

It is hardly news that in the space of less than a week 28 hard right Republican members of the Idaho House of Representatives publicly went after diversity programs at the state’s largest university, while their moral and spiritual leader once again confirmed his racism in all its shameful detail. 

This is the modern Republican Party: embracing white supremacy, attacking any notion that diversity in a nation of immigrants is to be celebrated and trotting out once again the age-old chestnut that Americans outside the dominant white culture really aren’t Americans. 

Chants of “send her back” erupted at the president’s rally in North Carolina where he continued his attacks on four women members of Congress.
(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump doesn’t bother with dog whistles or code words; he’s an open and unapologetic hater. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump said of four Democratic members of Congress, all women of color, all American citizens.

“In many ways, this is the most insidious kind of racial demagoguery,” said Douglas A. Blackmon, whose book on the treatment of African-Americans after the Civil War won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008. “The president has moved beyond invoking the obvious racial slanders of 50 years ago — clichés like black neighborhoods ‘on fire’ — and is now invoking the white supremacist mentality of the early 1900s, when anyone who looked ‘not white’ could be labeled as unwelcome in America.”

The wing nut caucus of the Idaho House at least tried to dandy up the language of its racism, even if the intent shines like a beacon. “This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture [at Boise State University] becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students,” the legislators said in a letter to new BSU president Marlene Tromp.

The Republicans, led by Rep. Barbara Ehardt of Idaho Falls and including many members of the Education Committee (a misnomer if ever there was one) and Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Eagle, have some how concluded that creating a welcoming, inclusive campus is driving tuition increases. Someone needs to tell these experts in higher education that puny state financial support for colleges and universities is what is driving tuition increases. 

Boise State’s efforts, it’s worth noting, have the laudable objective of trying to expand the diversity of both students and faculty, a goal that ought to be embraced not condemned. The university remains overwhelmingly white, with Hispanic students making up about 13% of the student body. Every major employer in Idaho, including Micron, Hewlett-Packard, the state’s largest hospitals, the Idaho National Laboratory and on and on will tell you of the vital importance to attracting and retaining a diverse work force. These businesses can’t have that work force unless the state’s universities are working to attract diverse students. 

Yet, if your idea of politics and public policy is to always find new ways to divide and incite anger, while scratching the old itch of resentment against “others,” you can willingly ignore the real world, as Trump and his Idaho acolytes do. After all, racial resentment is valuable red meat for “the base.”  

Some political analysts have suggested there is a cunning re-election strategy behind Trump’s latest racist comments. By playing on white nationalist themes, fear of immigrants and resentment against women of color, so the theory goes, he stokes the fever swamp of the Republican base, the only possible path Trump has to re-election. It’s a good theory and if it is true that Trump is both a racist and a cynic then what he is doing is even more reprehensible. The arrogant white privilege exhibited by the gang of 28 Idaho Republicans is no better. 

Diversity and social justice: Not GOP values in Idaho.

Was the letter to the new BSU president really intended for her or was the real audience the alt right fringe that increasingly defines the Idaho Republican Party? It’s hardly a coincidence that the mendacious Idaho Freedom Foundation, a “dark money” funded collection of anti-government cranks with a remarkable record of losing lawsuits, has been peddling the same anti-diversity story. The Freedom Foundation’s president, Wayne Hoffman, wrote recently that he found Marlene Tromp’s commitment to “social justice” alarming. Only in Trump’s America would a commitment to social justice be anything other than normal. 

“The agenda of Republicans has always favored white people,” says Kurt Bardella, a former top aide to California Republican Darrell Issa, “and now for the first time in contemporary times they have a leader who is willing to ascribe words to that agenda.” 

Trump’s Republican Party, and that of his Idaho followers, is increasingly not really conservative, but reactionary in the same way that Barry Goldwater and his followers in the 1960s wanted to turn back the clock. It’s a new “America, love it or leave it” moment. And for good measure Trump and his reactionary enablers salt in a bit of Joe McCarthy nostalgia, invoking a fear of “socialists” and “communists” and equating dissent with a lack of patriotism.

The casual Idaho Republican embrace of racism and nativism embodied in the BSU affair amounts, as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson says, “to collaboration — perhaps ‘collusion’ is a better word — with the president’s assault on diversity and pluralism.” And, of course, the Idaho congressional delegation fully accepts the collusion, a particularly shameful display of gutlessness given the state’s long struggles with neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

“Go back where you came from” is among the oldest and worst racist tropes, a leap beyond questioning a president’s birth certificate or condemning a Mexican-American judge because of his ethnicity. Almost as old is the trick of condemning your opponents as un-American. Dividing Americans by their skin color, their heritage, their religion, and their beliefs is from the playbook of a demagogue. Trump owns that playbook now and Republicans have handed their party to a hateful, petty, racist leader who they follow blindly and meekly. 

Trump was asked this week if he was concerned that he was using the language of white supremacy. “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” he said. The president doesn’t say much that is true, but he’s correct about that. Unfortunately a bunch of those people serve in the legislature and represent Idaho in Congress. 

—–0—–

2020 Election

Order, Order…

“I am not a member of any organized political party,” the cowboy comic Will Rogers famously said. “I am a Democrat.”

Democrats fight among themselves, argue about the future of their party and display a genuine affinity for forming a circular firing squadron whenever an election looms. Joe Biden is being attacked for saying he actually believes in bipartisanship. Bernie Sanders is too old and too socialist, but even he struggles to explain what his brand of socialism really looks like. Kamala Harris was a tough on crime prosecutor and that is somehow a liability. I could go on, but you get the drift. 

Will Rogers

The Twenty-three angry Democrats now running for president is all the proof required that the Democrats are no “organized political party.” 

So, since no one is asking, I offer a Democratic Manifesto for both national and Idaho Democrats to impose some order on the chaos. 

First, the basics: every election is about the future. Donald Trump made the 2016 election a referendum on his version of the future, which ironically – or cynically, or manipulatively – was actually about recreating a vision of the country that never existed. “Make America Great Again” was his slogan. It’s time for Democrats to make him eat those words. 

Ronald Reagan made Jimmy Carter squirm in 1980 by asking a question Democrats should be asking: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Trump partisans will point to a strong economy, but the micro answer to Reagan’s question is clearly: No. 

Karl Rove, the politically smart, but ethically challenged brains behind George W. Bush, always had a formula: attack your opponent at his point of greatest strength. John Kerry was a decorated Vietnam veteran, while Bush arguably dodged the draft, so in Rove World the correct response was to “swift boat” Kerry with attacks on his military record and patriotism. Trump is oh so vulnerable to the same approach and best of all a Democrat need not distort the record as Rove had to in order to pin his ears back. 

Imagine a Democrat with this line of logic: Let’s talk about that Mexican funded wall. Is immigration better than four years ago? Trump will soon have been in office for three years, he had both houses of Congress for half his term – what’s he really done? Well, he tweets a lot. He thinks he’s tough on immigration, but he hasn’t fixed a thing and, if anything, it’s all much worse than when he started. Trump is a failure at the border. 

Trump was going to end our endless wars, but how is that going? He’s incompetent and hasn’t fixed a thing. He hasn’t Made America Great; he’s made the presidency all about himself. 

Biden may be making a major mistake, as he demonstrated this week, in questioning Trump’s intelligence and morals. That cake is baked. Only Trump’s die hard 40% think he’s anything approaching intelligent and as for morals, well just ask Sen. Mike Crapo who said he couldn’t support Trump after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape and then supported him. There is little margin in emphasizing something everyone knows: Trump isn’t all that bright and everyone knows he’s sleazy, and he lies all the time.  

I’m not sure the young mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg will be or should be the Democratic nominee, but he certainly has demonstrated an understanding that elections are about the future. “We face not just another presidential election, but a transition between one era and another,” Buttigieg said this week in a meaty speech on foreign policy. “I believe that the next three or four years will determine the next 30 or 40 for our country and our world.”

Pete Buttigeig, one of 23 Democratic presidential candidates2020

Second, appeal to reason and understand that politics in a game of addition, not subtraction. There is not a person in the country today that voted for Hillary Clinton who is going to vote for a second Trump term. The president is defying a law of political gravity, a very simple law: expand your base, attract new supporters, and keep what you have. Trump has turned those ideas upside down. He’s hoping to win a second term by purposefully not expanding his base of support. The only way this strategy works is if Democrats fail to reach out to the few independent voters who remain or if Trump succeeds in depressing the large and, I would argue, growing anti-Trump vote. 

One way to appeal to these folks is to respond to Trump with a bumper sticker slogan, some variation on: “Time for an adult in the White House.” Even many of his supporters cringe at Trump’s rants, incoherent insults and non-stop lies. 

Third, understand that the modern Democratic Party is defined by its broad coalition, while what passes for the Republican Party is an older, white ideological movement that at the moment stands only for Trump. The Democratic future in the next election and the next is the demographic reality that younger Americans, people of color and women will increasingly decide American elections. 

This would be the place where I throw down the gauntlet to Idaho Democrats, a beleaguered, largely leaderless group that has been operating without a strategy for more than 20 years. Here’s the bumper sticker: Youth, Women and Hispanic Americans. Idaho Democrats don’t just need a strategy they need a long game strategy, one that strives for real political relevance in ten years. Younger Idahoans, people in high school and college today, should be the core of that strategy. Then organize, organize, organize and aggressively bring many more young people into the political process. It would not only be the right thing to do, but it offers a path out of the wilderness. 

It’s an old fashioned notion, I know, but I still believe most elections come down to a question of fear versus hope. Donald Trump won, as every Republican since Reagan has, by emphasizing division, despair and decline. Against a flat-footed, yesterday candidate like Hillary Clinton it worked. In the moment of reckoning coming soon we’ll see if it works again. 

—–0—–