Take it from a con­ser­va­tive: Trump’s Rush­more speech re­ally was racist

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - MONA CHAREN @monacharen­EPPC

Anum­ber of con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors have rushed to de­fend Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Mount Rush­more speech.

In­censed by press de­pic­tions of the speech as “di­vi­sive and dark,” fig­ures such as Mol­lie Hemingway and Tom Fit­ton rode to the pres­i­dent’s side, as­sail­ing The New York Times as a “left­ist pro­pa­ganda out­fit” (Hemingway) and a “left­ist ad­vo­cacy group” (Fit­ton). “Talk­ing about Amer­i­can great­ness is only di­vi­sive if you hate Amer­ica,” tweeted the Daily Caller.

Rich Lowry penned a col­umn not­ing that the pres­i­dent men­tioned Martin Luther King Jr. and other African Amer­i­can he­roes; that he af­firmed Amer­ica’s ded­i­ca­tion to “equal op­por­tu­nity” and that he con­demned slav­ery. “So where’s the hate?” Lowry de­manded. “Where’s the white supremacy?”

This is the prob­lem: Peo­ple on the right have an anti-racism ac­cu­sa­tion switch (I could also say twitch) that is easy to ac­ti­vate. I have it my­self. There are ex­cel­lent rea­sons to be sen­si­tive about false ac­cu­sa­tions of racism. It’s an ugly charge, and, too of­ten, crit­ics on the left smear good faith ar­gu­ments they dis­agree with — such as those about pref­er­ences or fam­ily struc­ture — as hate­ful and racist. The left has overused the ac­cu­sa­tion so of­ten (see Rom­ney, Mc­Cain, Bush) that it has be­come a mat­ter of cry­ing wolf.

Nor can it be de­nied that peo­ple who tear down stat­ues of Fred­er­ick Dou­glass (for heaven’s sake!), or sug­gest that it may be nec­es­sary to de­fen­es­trate Ge­orge Washington, or who burn the flag in front of the White House, are ig­no­rant ex­trem­ists who should be con­demned and op­posed.

So, let’s stip­u­late that some press re­ac­tions to the Mount Rush­more speech were over­heated.

But the con­ser­va­tive re­flex to re­sist ac­cu­sa­tions of racism is worse than mis­guided in this in­stance.

Why? Be­cause in this case the ac­cu­sa­tion is not false. It’s bla­tantly, ob­vi­ously true.

Where is the “white supremacy”? How about the fact that Trump is threat­en­ing to veto the Na­tional De­fense Au­tho­riza­tion Act if Congress fol­lows through on plans to re­name mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions named af­ter Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als?

This is not a con­ser­va­tive mak­ing the case against racial pref­er­ences. It is not a rea­soned ar­gu­ment about school choice, or wel­fare re­form, or dis­parate im­pact. It is straight-up white supremacy. The Con­fed­er­acy was not the United States of Amer­ica. It was a whole other coun­try.

So, no, that’s not pa­tri­o­tism. It’s kind of the op­po­site.

Trump’s de­fend­ers claim to be­lieve that he is be­ing ac­cused of racism be­cause he praised Amer­ica. Love of coun­try is now be­ing tarred as white supremacy, they cry.

Not quite. There is a his­tory here. Trump’s racial ap­peals have a long pedi­gree — from his Barack Obama birth cer­tifi­cate non­sense, to his re­fus­ing for days on end to con­demn David Duke, to the “Mex­i­can” judge, to the s---hole coun­tries, to “go back where you came from,” to “good peo­ple on both sides,” to “get that son-of-a-bitch off the field.”

Is it the case that so long as Trump does not ac­tu­ally shout “White Power!” from a golf cart, we must for­get ev­ery­thing else he has done and said?

Yes, Trump’s Mount Rush­more speech lauded Amer­i­can great­ness. For some, that im­mu­nizes it against crit­i­cism. But at a mo­ment of height­ened racial ten­sions, when mil­lions of his fel­low cit­i­zens feel em­bat­tled and be­trayed, it’s morally ob­tuse to fail to devote any words of com­fort and in­clu­sion to­ward them. It is not enough to name check Louis Arm­strong or Jesse Owens. A pres­i­dent should ac­knowl­edge that we have not yet lived up to the “true mean­ing of [our] creed” and vow to do bet­ter. It is es­pe­cially im­por­tant to do so on the Fourth of July.

In­stead, Trump spoke of Amer­i­can pro­test­ers in lan­guage usu­ally re­served for for­eign en­e­mies:

“They think the Amer­i­can peo­ple are weak and soft and sub­mis­sive. But, no, the Amer­i­can peo­ple are strong and proud, and they will not al­low our coun­try, and all of its val­ues, his­tory, and cul­ture, to be taken from them.”

Trump’s cho­sen mes­sage on In­de­pen­dence Day was the good news that “I am de­ploy­ing fed­eral law en­force­ment to pro­tect our mon­u­ments, ar­rest the ri­ot­ers, and pros­e­cute of­fend­ers to the fullest ex­tent of the law . ... I am pleased to re­port that yes­ter­day, fed­eral agents ar­rested the sus­pected ring­leader of the at­tack on the statue of Andrew Jack­son in Washington, D.C., and, in ad­di­tion, hun­dreds more have been ar­rested.”

News of ar­rests is sup­posed to make pa­tri­otic hearts swell with pride?

Lead­er­ship of a large, di­verse na­tion re­quires cer­tain grace notes that ev­ery pres­i­dent in liv­ing mem­ory has found it in his heart to pro­nounce on im­por­tant oc­ca­sions.

This pres­i­dent has cho­sen and con­tin­ues to choose divi­sion and vit­riol.

His crit­ics are right.

SAUL LOEB/AFP VIA GETTY IM­AGES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ar­rives July 3 for In­de­pen­dence Day events at Mount Rush­more Na­tional Me­mo­rial in Key­stone, South Dakota.

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