This is turning out to be a disheartening summer when it comes to race relations in our country.
The reelection campaign of President Trump and Vice President Pence appear to be conducting the most overtly racist strategy since Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s independent bid in 1968. Trump is taunting four minority freshman Democrats — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib — with taunts of “go back” to your crime-riddled counties. The problem is three of them were born in the United States and the fourth is a naturalized American. The common denominator is skin color.
You can disagree with these freshmen on politics and policy, but telling elected members of Congress to leave the country is a new low. This is David Duke meeting Joe McCarthy.
U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, who is retiring and thus freed from the shackles of Trumpian political retribution, was the lone Hoosier Republican to disagree, becoming one of four in her party to support a resolution condemning Trump for the incendiary rhetoric. “Today, I voted to condemn the racially offensive remarks the leader of our country made,” Brooks said. “The lack of civility between the executive and legislative branches has reached an unacceptable low. We must remember our words matter and carry great weight.”
For that vote, she received a rebuke from White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, who called her part of the “underbelly of America,” which was a stunning and troubling assessment.
The other Indiana Republicans brushed off Trump’s actions and, thus, will own them. Rep. Jackie Walorski called it a “misguided resolution” that “will only further divide the country.” Rep. Jim Banks said that until House Democrats force “Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee or address her anti-Semitic remarks in any way, it’s hard to take any of their efforts to condemn the President, or anyone else, seriously.” Sen. Todd Young said, “We oughta be focused on our policy solutions and the victories for the American people.”
Beyond Brooks, the closest to a rebuke came from Sen. Mike Braun, who said, “The president is better than that. He knows better. I didn’t like the content of it.” But like Banks, Braun added, “I don’t think he’s a racist.”
There is growing evidence that Trump will continue to play the race card in what is being described as “premeditated” strategy. Until there is a Democrat nominee, he sees the four freshmen known as “The Squad” as the perfect foil.
So how far will he go? My guess is very, very far.
Our Hoosier state, with its own complicated history of racial relations, will not be immune to this contagion. South Bend has been roiled by a police action shooting involving a white officer and a black man. The lone elected Republican in the Statehouse, Attorney General Curtis Hill, is estranged from his party over sexual harassment allegations. And now we watch the former governor and Vice President Pence lend his imprimatur to a troubled fanning of racial embers.
There is political peril in Trump’s racist rantings for the Republican Party he has taken over. A USA Today/Ipsos Poll revealed 68% found Trump’s Sunday tweets offensive, though 57% of Republicans agreed, a third of them “strongly.” So this is red meat for the base. Pew Research found that 55% believe Trump has changed the tone for the worse, though 54% say they are sometimes “entertained” by what he says.
Axios reports that America, as a whole, and swing states in particular, are growing more racially diverse, more quickly. “There is no way Republicans can change birth rates or curb this trend,” explained Jim VandeHei of Axios. “There’s not a single demographic megatrend that favors Republicans. Next year, the entire under-18 population will be majority non-white, according to Brookings demographer William Frey. In less than a decade, the under-30 population will be majority non-white.”
So while Trump savored the MAGA crowd in Greenville, N.C., chanting “send her back,” the reality is that beyond the Trump/Pence reelection, this is a political cul-du-sac for what was once supposed to be Ronald Reagan’s “big tent” GOP.
I was with Gov. Eric Holcomb in New Albany Tuesday night, and he is the antithesis of Trump when it comes to civility and race, easily mixing and conversing with people of all races, creeds and political beliefs. I asked him if he was concerned about the race baiting that roared back this week.
“I just came from the Indiana Black Expo Governor’s Reception,” he said. “I can tell you, I walked away feeling so good. My interaction with all Hoosiers has been very good. No. 1, when I go all over the state of Indiana, something I hear more often than other comments is, ‘Thank you for focusing on Indiana.’ I don’t wake up every day and chase the squirrel. My five pillars rest on a foundation of civility and people will hold me accountable for my words.”
What could confront Holcomb and his GOP over the next 15 months is there is a decent chance he will be challenged by the state’s first African-American Democratic gubernatorial nominee, whether it is Dr. Woody Myers or Sen. Eddie Melton.
So if these racial taunts spiral out of control with the Trump reelect, the ramifications could be beyond any predictable notion. We can only hope that character content Trumps skin color.
Brian A. Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.