One day more than 20 years ago at Saratoga Race Course, a Dominican woman walked into the playground area where her small sons were enjoying themselves and asked a woman sitting with her husband on a bench if she could “please move over just a little bit” so there would be room for her.
The woman replied, “Why don’t you go back where you belong?”
The Dominican woman’s boyfriend wandered over and she told him what had just been said. He looked over at the woman and her husband and said, loud enough to be heard, “Forget it; some people just have to be idiots.”
Which brings us to Donald Trump, the man who continues to prove that there are no class barriers when it comes to white trash.
AOC’s Designated Bomb-Thrower
An on-again, off-again feud between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and four of her newest members—Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley, Rashida Tlaid and, of course, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—got hot June 25 when Ms. Pelosi persuaded all her members except those four to vote for a border-aid package that the women who call themselves “The Squad” considered insufficient monetarily and didn’t do enough to restrict the President. AOC’s Chief of Staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, responded by calling the moderate Democrats who opposed a more-expansive aid package that would have had trouble being passed “new Southern Democrats,” saying in a tweet that they “certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the ‘40s.”
He singled out for criticism Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, one of two Native Americans to serve in Congress, as enabling a “racist system” by voting for the package backed by Ms. Pelosi.
Those comments by Mr. Chakrabarti, the head of Justice Democrats—the group that played a large role in Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s upset win over 20-year U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley last year—angered more-moderate Democrats, not the least because it violated the protocol under which staff members do not publicly criticize Members of Congress.
Democratic leaders, using their caucus’s Twitter account, asked, “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?”
Speaker Pelosi used old media to deliver a blunter message. In an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd for a piece that was posted July 6, she said of The Squad, “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.”
While Ms. Pelosi emphasized that she was far angrier with Republicans’ resistance in the Senate to doing more to help the families at the border, her salty comments aimed at AOC and company generated far more media attention over the next week. Just as the clash was starting to cool off, in stepped Mr. Trump to stoke the flames by making it racial, with an implicit helping of sexism thrown in.
His July 14 tweetstorm began, “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.”
He continued, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.”
The “go back where you came from” message was even more remarkable than the President’s proper use of a prepositional phrase in a tweet. The know-nothingness of its explicit racism was compounded by the fact that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was born in The Bronx, Ms. Pressley in Cincinnati and Ms. Tlaib in Detroit (Ms. Omar came her with her family from Somalia when she was 12). But it’s unlikely Mr. Trump was embarrassed by getting those biographical details wrong. He more likely was aiming to make the four women seem as alien as possible, rather than being natives of his own city and the battleground states of Ohio and Michigan.
He had topped off his tweets by writing of the “totally broken” countries from which they supposedly came, “These places need you badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
United House Democrats
The outrageousness of his tweets led House Democrats to close ranks against the man who once again had reminded them he was their real enemy. Ms. Pelosi called his remarks “xenophobic” and tweeted, “Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.” She stated in another tweet, “Rather than attack members of Congress, he should work with us for human immigration policy that reflects American values.”
Not likely. Even as the outcry over Mr. Trump’s language grew to include a handful of Republican Members of Congress, he expressed no remorse. His tweets gave greater credibility to previous claims that in a meeting with lawmakers of both parties he had referred to parts of Africa and Haiti as “sh—hole countries,” but anyone contemplating a hunger strike until the President showed some contrition would be missing a whole lot of meals.
During an unrelated event on the White House lawn the following day, the President claimed, “These are people that hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion. Get a list of all of the statements they have made, and all I’m saying, that if they’re not happy here, they can leave.”
He brushed off complaints that his Sunday morning tweets were racist, saying, “All they do is complain. I’m saying if they want to leave, they can leave.”
This was pretty rich coming from the Complainer in Chief, a man whose 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” wasn’t exactly a ringing tribute to the state of the nation, and whose acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention had the theme of “American carnage” and painted a withering picture, particularly in cities, that didn’t square with reality.
But Mr. Trump was someone who began to build his voter base as Crackpot No. 1 in promoting the birther myth that President Obama hadn’t been born in the U.S. and therefore wasn’t legitimately elected. (Funny, how touchy he is about the incontrovertible evidence that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, which places a genuine question mark on his own right to be in the White House.)
What, Him Concerned?
When asked whether it disturbed him that the Sunday tweets got heavy play among white nationalists, the President replied, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me. A lot of people love it, by the way.”
If he seemed a bit too happy that a good part of his base came from the lowest common denominator, it wasn’t surprising. During the campaign three years ago, Mr. Trump expressed pride in how well he did among the poorly educated. If that sounded cynical, it was wholly consistent with his operating style over the course of his checkered career: manipulate your audience, take advantage of any weaknesses presented by those you’re dealing with, and disregard the damage you do to anyone victimized by your maneuvers.
One of the most-revealing aspects of his presidency is that the resignation of Alex Acosta as Labor Secretary July 12 meant that nine of the top 21 White House and cabinet positions in the administration had turned over at least once. By comparison, three of those positions experienced turnover under President Bill Clinton, one under President George W. Bush, and two under Mr. Obama.
Mr. Acosta was one of an unusually high number of top officials who washed out for ethical reasons (others decided the price paid for working for Mr. Trump wasn’t worth it, while some were browbeaten into quitting). Where some of his colleagues were forced out because of financial improprieties, Mr. Acosta’s departure was spurred by increasing focus on the sweetheart 2008 plea deal that as U.S. Attorney in Miami he granted Jeffrey Epstein on sex-trafficking charges. The issue, which surfaced during Mr. Acosta’s confirmation hearings 27 months ago, returned with a vengeance when the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office indicted Mr. Epstein on similar charges July 8.
There is little question Mr. Trump was familiar with the earlier case—he reportedly spent some time in Mr. Epstein’s company, though not nearly as much as Mr. Clinton did—and had remarked for a 2002 New York Magazine interview that Mr. Epstein shared his interest in beautiful women and was known for liking them young. Mr. Acosta’s willingness to let off Mr. Epstein with virtually no actual jail time may have appealed to the President because it was a sign that with enough prodding, he would go along with anything that he was told to do. Mr. Trump’s earlier choice for the job, fast-food chain owner Andy Puzder—who ultimately withdrew from consideration—shared his anti-labor views and advertised his burgers by featuring women in bikinis. That meant he wouldn’t have been flaunting his moral superiority to the President, who has made clear that he values loyalty from his appointees far more than character.
In response to Speaker Pelosi saying that the July 7 tweets once again demonstrated that his campaign slogan had a subtext of “Make America White Again,” Mr. Trump feigned innocence, saying her comment was “a very racist statement. I’m surprised she’d say that.”
It probably pleased him that some of the sharpest retorts to his tweets and comments came from Congresswoman Omar, whose comments about Jews and Israel early in her first year in office smacked of anti-Semitism.
She called Mr. Trump’s claim that she was an al Qaeda sympathizer “ridiculous,” and noted, “This is a President who has said grab women by the pussy. This is a President who has called black athletes sons of bitches. This is a President who call[s} black and brown countries sh—holes, and this is a President who has equated neo-Nazis with those who protest against them in Charlottesville.”
“And,” she added, “to distract from that, he’s launching a blatantly racist attack on four duly elected members of the United States House of Representatives, all of whom are women of color. This is the agenda of white nationalists.”
Mr. Trump seized on Congresswoman Omar’s using the phrase “some people did something” to characterize 9/11, implying she couldn’t bring herself to call the terrorists what they were or name their ideology.
The next day, hours before a vote on a House resolution condemning his July 7 tweets about The Squad as “racist comments that have legitimized increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color” was approved by a vote of 240-187, the President called the measure “a con game” and wrote, “Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!”
He also tweeted, “This should be a vote on the filthy language, statements and lies told by the Democrat Congresswomen, who I truly believe, based on their actions, hate our Country.”
His willingness to continue engaging with The Squad even while insisting his criticisms of them were not racist suggested Mr. Trump would be thrilled to make the campaign about the four women of color just as long as he could plausibly deny racial motives and instead tag them as less than patriotic Americans while highlighting their friction with Ms. Pelosi.
‘The Napoleonic Theory’
“I don’t know if it began as an election strategy or just a way to stir the pot and keep things going between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez and the others,” Bill Cunningham, a political consultant who was Chief of Staff to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Communications Director for Mayor Mike Bloomberg, said in a July 16 phone interview. “It’s sort of the Napoleonic theory: when your enemies are fighting, get out of the way.”
Even though, Mr. Cunningham noted, Mr. Trump generally didn’t have to do much to rev up his core voters, telling Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues to go back “from where they came” “enraged his opponents and tickled his base.”
Asked whether those who have Mr. Trump’s ear might not be concerned about the added strain on race relations that had been created by his remarks, he replied, “I don’t think any of them—his advisers, his family—think that way, or they would have stopped this behavior a long time ago. There’s a poll out showing that among swing voters in some swing states, even if they don’t like him, they like some of the things he says about his critics.”
The person in the most-uncomfortable position because of the burden of acting like the grown-up in the room amid the warring parties was Speaker Pelosi, Mr. Cunningham said.
“The House Members that Pelosi has been trying to protect come from those swing districts” that provided Mr. Trump’s path to victory in 2016, he added. “Someone like Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t have to worry about losing in The Bronx and Queens. If you come from the Midwest, in a district that went for Trump by 10 or 12 points, you’re in for a rough election next year when he’s on the ballot.”
Asked whether the members of The Squad were aware not only of the more-precarious status of persons in those swing states but of the possibility that losses in those districts could swing control of the House back to Republicans, Mr. Cunningham said, “They seem to put that second or third behind the issues that they want to raise. Pelosi has her hands full.”
‘Like She Doesn’t Care’
When I suggested that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez seemed bright enough to understand the House Speaker’s concerns, he responded, “It looks like she doesn’t care what Pelosi’s about, what she’s trying to do. She believes that her issues are more important than holding the majority.”
What didn’t seem to have occurred to AOC, he added, was that this attitude was “not gonna help her when she needs allies to move things through the House. That’s not necessarily gonna be the older members [declining to back her bills]—it’s gonna be members who are maybe 35 years old and in their first term and worried about holding their seats.”
Looking for a parallel during his time working for Senator Moynihan, he cited a Republican, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who had been one of the “Gang of Seven” insurgents who seized power with Newt Gingrich as their leader in the House just as Mr. Santorum became a freshman Senator in 1995.
Mr. Cunningham said Mr. Santorum attacked older members of the Senate, including some Republicans and Democratic stalwart Robert Byrd, who he claimed “were standing in the way. Essentially he was saying that when these guys die, that’s when we’re gonna get things done.”
His power play quickly fizzled out, Mr. Cunningham said, when “Republicans took to the floor and castigated him and told him that was not the way to get things done. It was a moment of bipartisanship; it was based upon good manners.”
The House has never been as concerned about decorum, regardless of which party was in charge. But given the importance of the 2020 election, Mr. Cunningham said, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez would do well to study the House career of another New York Democrat with a brassy style who got under the skin of male elected officials, Bella Abzug.
Notwithstanding the outspokenness that got her the nickname “Battling Bella,” he said, once she got to the House, “She became a very adept legislator, got a fair amount accomplished. She brought her personality, but she brought a keen sense of the issues and found a way to get things done.”
(Ms. Abzug’s six-year career in Congress—during which at one point she was rated the third-most-influential member in a survey by U.S. News and World Report—ended when she ran for the Senate in 1976 and narrowly lost the primary to Mr. Cunningham’s future boss, Mr. Moynihan.)
‘What They Should Do’
“That’s what the young progressives should be thinking about doing now, rather than criticizing their leadership, particularly with the language that they’re using,” Mr. Cunningham continued. “If they think they’re being ignored now, wait until they’re in the minority.”
In Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s case, hope rests in her being young enough to learn from her miscalculations and change.
Mr. Trump on the other hand, has gotten away with his mistakes and character flaws for so long that he’d likely be unwilling to correct his bad habits even if he were capable of doing so.
And on the issue of race, from the Federal housing-discrimination citations he faced along with his father in the 1970s to the ads calling for restoration of the death penalty for the Central Park 5 in 1989 to his birther days, his entering the campaign in 2015 braying about Mexican “rapists” and his general comportment in office concerning people of color, it’s pretty clear he’s beyond rehabilitation.
The “go back from where they came” screed served as a reminder that he was described best, and most succinctly, by Lebron James shortly after Mr. Trump’s 2017 “get that son of a bitch off the field” diatribe to a crowd in an Alabama football stadium regarding players who kneeled during the National Anthem as a protest of how blacks were treated in America.
Using the President’s favorite means of communication, Mr. James tweeted: “U bum.”
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