Everyone is still upset over the feud between the President and the four Democratic freshmen who I believe we are now referring to as “the squad” for some reason. There seems to be an almost universal agreement among the media talking heads that the provocative tweets were deliberately racist. (In fact the phrase “racist tweets” has been running almost non-stop all morning in CNN’s chyron.) The other fount of general media agreement seems to be that not enough people on the GOP side of the aisle or popular culture figures are talking about it.
As to that second score, the Wahington Post’s Karen Tumulty is quite upset with one prominent figure in particular. Where, she wonders, is Barack Obama in all of this during our nation’s hour of need?
Mr. President, it is time. You must speak. Your country needs you.
Eleven summers ago, as you accepted the Democratic nomination for president, you announced: “Tonight, I say to the people of America, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land: Enough. This moment — this election — is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive.” …
President Obama, I understand your reluctance to weigh in on Trump’s latest transgression. You are a respecter of norms, including the one dictating that former presidents steer clear of criticizing their successors. And for all the barriers you shattered, racism was never a topic upon which you seemed eager to hold forth.
But silence now is unacceptable. It is time to make yourself heard.
A remarkable plea to be sure, but to what effect? The two things I wanted to touch on here today are the substance of the original tweets in question and this rather strange distress signal from the Washington Post.
I would first note that I’ve been learning an incredible amount during Trump’s presidency about exactly what is or isn’t racist in the modern world, including things I’d never imagined. (Was anyone else unaware that the finger and thumb “okay” sign so many of us grew up using was a symbol of white supremacy or something?) In this case, the charge of racism is being applied to Trump’s tweets. We should note that “tweets” is plural because there were more than one.
I’ll be the first to say that the comments were definitely on the unpleasant side, but then again I’ve been following the President on social media for quite a while now and I suppose I just don’t notice it as much. But was it racist? If the question had simply been ‘why don’t you go back where you came from‘ one could probably make that argument. I say “probably” because both Italian and Irish immigrants (the latter being arguably among the whitest of white people) heard those same words ringing in their ears for a long time. So perhaps xenophobic would be a better choice than “racist,” but your mileage may vary. Telling someone to “go home” (when their perceived home is not in this country) is clearly a signal that you don’t belong here, aren’t wanted, etc. It’s not a nice thing to say.
But, of course, that wasn’t what the President tweeted. What he actually wrote was, ‘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.’ That was still no bouquet of flowers, but if you’re going to be honest in your criticism it’s worth pointing out that suggesting someone “go back… then come back and show us…” implies a visit abroad, not an expulsion. At least that’s the interpretation of some of the President’s advisers and defenders. It was still rather barbed and confrontational, but that’s pretty much Trump 24/7. We’re all just trying to read his mind at this point, but the shortened versions of his tweets I’m seeing in the press are, at a minimum, not the full story. That’s not good coverage.
With that out of the way, I’m also curious to hear why Karen Tumulty wants Barack Obama to come out swinging on this one and what it might accomplish. Does she honestly think that Donald Trump is going to suddenly change his combative style to mollify his critics if his predecessor chews him out in public? Color me skeptical at best.
And if an Obama speech isn’t going to change Trump’s behavior, then what else does the author expect it to accomplish? Would he rally the nation against Trump? Trust me… all of those capable of being rallied to either side have been rallied. Perhaps it’s just nostalgia for the good old days of POTUS 44 when everything was so much better. Hey, if it makes you feel better, go for it. Obama is a private citizen now and if he wants to give a speech, he’s free to do so. I’m also sure the media would lap it up with a spoon.
But if you think that alters anything going on in Trump World, you’re dreaming.