David Brooks, conservative pundit at the New York Times, captures the essential point when it comes to the nastiest issue swirling around Donald Trump, the use and practice of “white identity politics” by politicians on the right:
White identity politics as it plays out in the political arena is completely noxious. Trump … established his political identity through birtherism, he won the Republican nomination on the Muslim ban, he campaigned on the Mexican wall, he governed by being neutral on Charlottesville and pardoning the racialist Joe Arpaio. Each individual Republican is now compelled to embrace this garbage or not. The choice is unavoidable, and white resentment is bound to define Republicanism more and more in the months ahead.
Hold that in your mind, particularly the part about “completely noxious” – coming from a principled conservative yet – along with the part about “each individual Republican is now compelled to embrace this garbage or not.” And then read the unambiguous welcome GOP Senator Roy Blunt has extended to Donald Trump on the occasion of his visit to Missouri:
“I’m glad that President Trump will be in my hometown of Springfield to highlight the economic benefits that tax reductions and other pro-growth policies will have for Missouri families, farmers, and small businesses,” Blunt said. “The president and the Senate have taken important steps to roll back burdensome regulations and create a stronger foundation for economic growth. I look forward to continuing that effort by pursuing changes in our tax code that will increase U.S. competitiveness, boost wages, and expand opportunity for Americans.”
Trump Blunt wasn’t alone. Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill issued a statement “welcoming” Trump to Missouri and signaled that she is also more than willing to chill with a Putin-loving demagogue, whose true metier is spewing racist “garbage” intended to rile up an angry white base, as long as Missouri “moderates” will applaud her good manners – no matter how badly he disses her in the process.
Here’s what she had to say during her recent tour of the state when asked about an effort to censure Trump’s Charlottesville circus-of-the-damned performance:
“Listen, I’m disappointed and discouraged and worried about some of the things that president has said and the tone he’s taken on some issues. But my job out there is not to fight the president. My job is to fight for you,” McCaskill told the crowd about 100 gathered at the American Legion post. “My job is to work as hard as I can representing Missouri families and doing the things that I think will make a difference in your lives. I’m going to stay focused on that.”
Who’da thunk it. McCaskill and Blunt, siblings in political pragmatism. Or should that be cynicism. These responses amply illustrate the point David Brooks was trying to make about he dilemma facing Republicans – except in Missouri it seems to pose a problem for Democrats as well. It has to do with facing up to the fact that “fighting” the president is just exactly what is called for in order to fight for the full range of ones constituents, not just the white, old and angry segment.
What we got from Blunt is what we expected. Slick twaddle over a layer of corruption. So big whoop.
But what we got from McCaskill? A failed balancing act … so thumbs down. But only because we care.
I understand the need to keep the eye on the prize. The little one that comes after the next election, not the big one that has to do with the long-term survival of American democracy. I get the part about focusing political energies on the possible – and non-controversial – good one can actually do. But even from that point of view, would it have really hurt McCaskill too much to just have kept her mouth shut. Did she have to make with the cheery official welcome extended to a de trop sleaze-bag intent on destroying American political and civil norms?
*2nd and 3rd from last paragraph slightly edited; text added (5:51 pm. 8/29).