Several Democrats had to hit reverse yesterday from their criticism of Donald Trump’s use of the word “lynching” to describe the impeachment push against him. Within hours, research showed that some of the same Democrats stampeding toward microphones to excoriate Trump used the term to describe criticism against other Democrats in the past. That includes, especially, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, as the Washington Post noted late yesterday.
The oddest apology came from Joe Biden, however, who wants everyone to know that, er … he had no idea what this meant when he said it? Just to make this context clear, here was Biden in 1998 describing the Republican “lynching” of Clinton via the constitutional process after Clinton committed perjury and obstruction of justice in a deposition:
BIDEN: It seems to me that the process is being demeaned. And I have great faith in Henry Hyde, but ‘ol Henry better get on the job. Because unless he figures out how to corral this, no matter what happens, even if the president should be impeached, history is going to question whether or not this was just a partisan lynching, or whether or not it was something that in fact met the standard, the very high bar that was set by the founders as to what constituted an impeachable offense.
Does that sound like a word choice in the heat of the moment, or a well-crafted if emotionally charged argument? It was an attempt to play a race card on House Republicans, part of a pattern that Biden has created over the years. Few Republicans will forget Biden’s claim that Mitt Romney would “put y’all back in chains” in 2012’s presidential election. The Boston Globe, not exactly a bastion of conservative thought, ripped Biden for his attempt to play a race card at that time and offered a thought experiment that has turned out to be prescient:
When Vice President Joe Biden warned a Virginia rally of hundreds of African Americans that Republican efforts to loosen bank regulations meant “They’re going to put y’all back in chains,” Stephanie Cutter, Team Obama’s deputy campaign manager, said the president would have “no problem with those comments.”
But imagine if Republican Paul Ryan uttered comments like that. Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president would be pilloried for racial insensitivity — and so would Romney. In the fight for civility and substance over pointless hyperbole, Biden may not be the worst offender. But he’s an offender nonetheless, and he should apologize.
Keep that in mind as we get to Joe’s 22-years-too-late apology. Biden argues that Trump’s use was different because “he chose his words deliberately,” implying that the word “lynching” just flew out of his own mouth on its own volition in 1998:
This wasn’t the right word to use and I’m sorry about that. Trump on the other hand chose his words deliberately today in his use of the word lynching and continues to stoke racial divides in this country daily. https://t.co/mHfFC8HluZ
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 23, 2019
This is utter nonsense. The video itself shows Biden also deliberately choosing the word “lynching.” He didn’t stumble over it or use it out of context. It was the climax of a series of conditions in his argument to conclude that Republicans were an out-of-control mob that its leadership had failed to “corral” and that a lynching would be the result. It’s impossible to argue that Biden didn’t deliberately craft that argument around the concept of lynching itself, on purpose.
What about the Boston Globe’s thought experiment? The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips fulfills its prophecy this morning, attempting to excuse Democrats’ use of the word while condemning Trump. Why? Phillips’ excuses are (a) “we’re more culturally aware now,” (b) “the media landscape is different from the ’90s,” and (c) … orange man bad:
Trump said it: This is the big one for a few reasons. One is that Trump is president of the United States, so his words carry more weight than those of a member of Congress. He’s also white, and the majority of lynching victims were black. For the most powerful (white) person in the world right now to compare his plight of an impeachment inquiry, where lawmakers are following very real evidence, to the gruesome, death-by-torture mob mentality that claimed the lives of thousands of powerless black men was especially dissonant. It was Trump’s extreme victimhood on display, and it’s possible he truly believes he has been wronged on a par with lynching victims, writes The Fix’s Eugene Scott.
But perhaps the most notable reason Trump’s lynching comments drew a major outcry was because the president no longer gets the benefit of the doubt that he is innocently using offensive language. He has a history of making racially inflammatory and even outright racist statements. Demonizing people of color and stereotyping black communities have been part of his campaign since day one. He also has a well-documented lack of empathy for people who are struggling.
Combine those things, and it’s hard to believe that Trump did not mean to draw a direct contrast between what’s happening to him now and the real lynchings of the 19th and 20th centuries. Especially when one of his top supporters in Congress, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), clarified that for Trump, this is “a lynching in every sense of the word.”
These are distinctions, not differences. Biden may not have been president in 1998, but he was the Senate Judiciary chair and a major political figure serving as the president’s proxy on CNN, for crying out loud. The media landscape has changed since the 1990s, but that has diminished CNN as a platform; it had a much more prominent place in the media firmament than after the explosion of online news sources that followed a few years later. The claim that “we’re more culturally aware now” is an absurdly arrogant claim; enlightenment did not jusy drop upon us as a gift from the Class of 2008. Everyone understood what lynching meant in 1998 too, and Biden used it for that reason.
This is nothing but an excuse for using double standards when it comes to Trump. His tweet was dumb and overwrought, yes, but so was the shrieking and hair-pulling that followed, much of which was directly hypocritical — perhaps no more so than with Joe “Put Y’all Back in Chains” Biden.