A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

Scuffle over Trump's 'racist' tweet reflects shifting views among parties

Why We Wrote This

To the left, calling out racism is a step toward eradicating the problem. To the right, the term is being flung around recklessly. 

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., (from left) Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S.

Dear reader:

It is against the rules of the House of Representatives to call the president of the United States a racist.

Or rather, it’s a violation of a “precedential ruling of the chair,” based on guidelines laid out by Thomas Jefferson, which have evolved over time to read that “personal abuse, innuendo, or ridicule of the president is not permitted.”

This led to a fracas on the floor of the House yesterday, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi put forward a resolution to condemn President Donald Trump’s “racist” tweets about a group of female Democratic lawmakers of color, in which the president told them to “go back” to their own countries, despite the fact that all but one are native-born Americans.

Republicans objected that Speaker Pelosi was violating the “rules of order and decency,” as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy put it, calling it “a sad day for this House.” Democrats responded that they had a “moral obligation” to condemn “hate, racism, and bigotry.” The Speaker’s remarks were ultimately taken down, but the resolution went on to pass, with every Democrat voting in favor and every Republican but four voting against.

To many on the left, the tendency often seen in the media and other institutions to shy away from direct charges of racism only allows racism to fester.

“There persists a wrongheaded and entrenched wisdom among politicians and elite journalists that to call something racist is to violate etiquette,” writes Doreen St. Felix in The New Yorker. “This logic rests on the illusion that racism is mythically rare, that ‘racist’ is a dangerous slur rather than a common condition.”

During Mr. Trump’s presidency, the needle has moved notably on this front, as many mainstream news organizations like the Associated Press this week labeled his tweets “racist” rather than simply noting that his opponents viewed them that way.

To many on the right, however, race is another area where the left has gone completely overboard. “I’m a racist. You’re a racist. Donald Trump’s a racist. Nancy Pelosi was a racist until she attacked Trump for racism,” writes Trump supporter Roger L. Simon in PJ Media. Such condemnation, he adds, “only makes people hate each other. It creates racism rather than solves it.”

One thing both sides agreed on yesterday: The partisan back-and-forth effectively overshadowed all other congressional business. “This whole day, we haven’t gotten anything [done] for the American public,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., told reporters. “And at the center of this is just one man. All this is based on one man’s words.”

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