The next time a Republican tries to tell you that he or she is an heir to the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, remind them that in 2019, when the GOP had a chance to stand up to the worst kind of bigotry and un-American behavior, the self-styled “Party of Lincoln” was conspicuously and shamefully silent.
In the wake of President Donald Trump’s despicable and racist tweets telling four minority women members of Congress — all American citizens, all duly elected representatives of hundreds of thousands of American citizens of all races, colors, and creeds — to “go back” to where they came from, Capitol Hill Republicans surrendered whatever tattered remnants of their spines remained and were complicit in the face of the worst kind of anti-American bigotry.
All four of the women targeted by Trump — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley — pushed back during a Capitol Hill news conference on Monday night.
“I encourage the American people and all of us — in this room and beyond — to not take the bait,” Pressley said. “This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people that we were sent here with a decisive mandate from our constituents to work on.”
But some Republicans not only took the bait — they swallowed it: hook, line, and sinker.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told the Washington Post that Trump “is not a racist,” and instead was speaking out of “frustration.” Asked if he believed that Omar, who is a naturalized American citizen, should return to Somalia, where she was born, McCarthy said, “No, they’re Americans. Nobody believes somebody should leave the country. They have a right to give their opinion.”
Actually, Mr. Minority Leader, that is precisely what the president believes: “IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country,” Trump tweeted again Monday in a hateful tirade.
Like McCarthy, Rep. Mark Meadows, chair of the hyper-conservative Freedom Caucus (irony intentional?), nearly tore a rotator cuff trying to explain away Trump’s remarks.
Trump’s comments “were not based on any religious preference, on any skin color,” but rather on frustration over “having a crisis at the border and having a whole lot of people weigh in and yet not really putting action to those words,” he said.
Meadows is half right at least. Trump was clearly trying to change the subject away from the massive ICE raids that never materialized over the weekend, and away from disturbing footage of the inhumane conditions in detention camps at the southern border. But he’s dead wrong otherwise.
Taking to Twitter, Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry wrote that he was disappointed to find “that many in the media are just awakening to the anti-American and anti-Semitic comments uttered consistently by some socialist leaders. I invite everyone to join me as we continue strengthening our country and communities.”
Perry is a veteran, sworn to uphold the Constitution and the values it represents. Those values include every American’s constitutionally protected right to criticize the government, as well as Congress’ constitutionally authorized duty and responsibility to act as a check on the executive branch.
Maybe he forgot that. Maybe someone should remind him.
Other Republicans, such as Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, tried to split the difference, criticizing Trump even as they took a swipe at the four Democratic lawmakers. Toomey said in a statement that Trump was “wrong to suggest that four left-wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from.”
But Toomey also said that he “couldn’t disagree more with these congresswomen’s views on immigration, socialism, national security, and virtually every policy issue. But they are entitled to their opinions, however misguided they may be. We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry.”
How hard is it to say, without qualification, that something is wrong? How hard is it to say that the president’s comments are racist, misogynist, and not consonant with the values we hold dear as a country? It shouldn’t be difficult at all.
And yet, hardly any Republican member of Congress could accomplish that simple task.
One of America’s greatest Republican presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, famously argued that it’s “not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public” to say that the president cannot be criticized.
In the case of not only The Squad, but again and again throughout Trump’s bankrupt presidency, Republicans have failed this basic test. It’s now on the voters to remind Trump — and his toadies in Congress — of this failure at the ballot box in 2020.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.