No re­buke for racist tweet?

Trump treats Trail of Tears as a laugh­ing mat­ter, but GOP is silent

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - [email protected]­ MICHAEL HILTZIK

Among Pres­i­dent Trump’s in­dis­putable ac­com­plish­ments in his mere two years in of­fice is that he has made overt racism ac­cept­able once again in po­lit­i­cal dis­course for Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tives.

The lat­est ex­am­ple came from Trump him­self on Satur­day, within hours of Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s an­nounce­ment of her pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy.

Ev­ery­one ex­pected Trump to en­gage soberly and frankly with the Mas­sachusetts se­na­tor’s core mes­sage of in­come in­equal­ity and the rig­ging of the Amer­i­can econ­omy in fa­vor of the rich.

Just kid­ding! Ev­ery­one ex­pected Trump to re­spond with the ut­most crude­ness and crass­ness. He didn’t dis­ap­point.

Trump tweeted: “To­day El­iz­a­beth War­ren, some­times re­ferred to by me as Poc­a­hon­tas, joined the race for Pres­i­dent. Will she run as our first Na­tive Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, or has she de­cided that af­ter 32 years, this is not play­ing so well any­more? See you on the cam­paign TRAIL, Liz!”

A num­ber of points need to be made here. One is that Trump ap­pears ac­tu­ally to be proud of his in­fan­tile “Poc­a­hon­tas” taunt, which he’s been wield­ing against War­ren for a cou­ple of years. The in­sult refers to fam­ily lore of Na­tive Amer­i­can her­itage that War­ren has cited.

Sec­ond, the voices of Repub­li­can of­fi­cer­hold­ers, who should be shout­ing con­dem­na­tions of this racist tirade from the rooftops, are silent. Why is that?

Mitt Rom­ney, the for­mer GOP can­di­date for pres­i­dent and a newly minted U.S. se­na­tor from Utah, has tried to po­si­tion him­self as the grown-up un­der the Repub­li­can tent, notably with a Jan. 1 op-ed in which he promised to “speak out against sig­nif­i­cant state­ments or ac­tions that are di­vi­sive, racist, sex­ist, an­ti­im­mi­grant, dis­hon­est or de­struc­tive to demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions.” As far as I can tell, he hasn’t spo­ken out about the Poc­a­hon­tas slur since his swear­ing-in, and thus far he seems to have said noth­ing about Trump’s lat­est tweet.

Third, Trump’s ref­er­ence to the “TRAIL” in all cap­i­tal let­ters looks like a ref­er­ence to the Trail of Tears, the geno­ci­dal re­moval of In­dian tribes from their East­ern home­lands dur­ing the pres­i­den­cies of An­drew Jack­son and Martin van Buren in the 1830s. As many as 4,000 tribal mem­bers died dur­ing the forced re­moval, un­der­taken so that their lands could be turned over to white farm­ers and gold prospec­tors. More on that in a mo­ment.

Re­mark­ably, one de­fense be­ing raised to Trump’s al­lu­sion to the Trail of Tears is that he’s too ignorant to be aware of the Trail of Tears. That’s the tack taken by Brit Hume of Fox News, re­spond­ing to a tweet from Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith slam­ming Trump for hav­ing “used the mur­ders of In­dige­nous peo­ple as a punch­line.”

Hume replied, also by tweet: “Yes, be­cause Trump is noted for his knowl­edge of 19th cen­tury Amer­i­can his­tory vis a vis the na­tive pop­u­la­tion. Jeez.” Per­haps Hume be­lieves that Trump is much more cog­nizant of Amer­i­can his­tory vis a vis the na­tive pop­u­la­tion in the 16th and 17th cen­tury, the era when the real Poc­a­hon­tas lived. Or maybe he’s im­ply­ing that Trump was think­ing of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing “Happy Trails to You.” Jeez, in­deed.

If Hume is right, by the way, shouldn’t we ex­pect Trump to is­sue an apol­ogy for a state­ment he now knows could be mis­in­ter­preted? We should ex­pect that, but no one is hold­ing their breath.

Does Hume’s de­fense of Trump’s racist ref­er­ences to Na­tive Amer­i­cans ex­tend to the Repub­li­can Party as a whole and to its sed­u­lous fol­low­ers?

Here’s how the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee head­lined its re­sponse to War­ren’s can­di­dacy on Satur­day: “Faux­c­a­hon­tas’ Fail­ure To Launch.” GOP Chair Ronna Rom­ney McDaniel, Mitt Rom­ney’s niece, thought this gibe was suf­fi­ciently hi­lar­i­ous to tweet out the ar­ti­cle un­der her name. Ja­cob Wohl, a right-wing pro-Trump blog­ger, tweeted a pho­to­graph of War­ren al­tered to give her a quiver of ar­rows and an In­dian head­band, over the text: “If you’re like me, you CAN’T WAIT to see Trump turn the cam­paign trail into the ‘Trail of Tears’ in 2020.” Ob­vi­ously, the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship’s in­dul­gence of racist mock­ery gives peo­ple like Wohl the green light to run with it.

Does Brit Hume not un­der­stand that Trump’s and the RNC’s as­so­ci­a­tion of War­ren’s eth­nic­ity with “Poc­a­hon­tas” or “Faux­c­a­hon­tas” is a racist in­sult to all Na­tive Amer­i­cans by its re­duc­tion of all Na­tive Amer­i­can women to a Dis­ney­fied stereo­type? (Ac­cord­ing to his­to­ri­ans, Poc­a­hon­tas was the daugh­ter of an Al­go­nquian chief; the story of her res­cue of the English colo­nial­ist John Smith in 1607, now part of our cul­tural legacy, is of­ten treated by his­to­ri­ans as at least partly myth­i­cal.)

The scari­est as­pect of all this is that it places the in­tel­lec­tual bank­ruptcy of Amer­i­can cam­paign re­port­ing on dis­play once again. The cam­paign press’ fix­a­tion on War­ren’s eth­nic­ity is, as Matthew Ygle­sias of Vox puts it suc­cinctly, not an er­ror but a choice. The is­sue has been dressed up by news­pa­pers and ca­ble chat­ter­ers as an ar­gu­ment not over whether War­ren has Chero­kee blood, but whether she used her pur­ported Na­tive Amer­i­can her­itage to win ap­point­ment and pro­mo­tion at a series of law schools, ul­ti­mately Har­vard.

That’s an ef­fort to make the at­ten­tion paid to this fake is­sue look se­ri­ous and pro­found, but it’s a trans­par­ent dodge. In Septem­ber, the Bos­ton Globe, War­ren’s home­town news­pa­per, pub­lished a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion of this claim of pref­er­en­tial treat­ment. Here’s its con­clu­sion:

“The Globe found clear ev­i­dence, in doc­u­ments and in­ter­views, that her claim to Na­tive Amer­i­can eth­nic­ity was never con­sid­ered by the Har­vard Law fac­ulty, which voted re­sound­ingly to hire her, or by those who hired her to four prior po­si­tions at other law schools. At ev­ery step of her re­mark­able rise in the le­gal pro­fes­sion, the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for hir­ing her saw her as a white woman.”

Per­haps crest­fallen by this con­clu­sive de­bunk­ing of the orig­i­nal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for mas­ti­cat­ing the eth­nic­ity is­sue into a slurry, the cam­paign press has now re­for­mu­lated the is­sue. Now it’s sup­posed about how mal­adroitly War­ren has “han­dled” the is­sue and what that says about her abil­ity to gov­ern as pres­i­dent.

This will en­cour­age round­tables on CNN and the other ca­ble chan­nels to con­tinue gnaw­ing on the bone — and avoid­ing the is­sue of eco­nomic fair­ness that re­ally mat­ter to Amer­i­cans that War­ren has placed at the cen­ter of her cam­paign. What­ever War­ren has said about be­ing part-Na­tive Amer­i­can, Trump’s overtly racist jeer is im­mea­sur­ably worse, and hasn’t been re­ceiv­ing a nanogram’s worth of the at­ten­tion it deserves.

If you’re con­cerned that cov­er­age of the pres­i­den­tial race in 2020 will be as inane as the cov­er­age in 2016, or worse, here’s proof that you should be ter­ri­fied.

Let’s re­turn to the ques­tion of the ex­ploita­tion of the Trail of Tears by Trump and his min­ions. There’s some dis­agree­ment among his­to­ri­ans whether the term should ap­ply to the gen­eral pol­icy of forced mi­gra­tion im­posed on South­east­ern tribes af­ter en­act­ment of the In­dian Re­moval Act of 1830, or only to the re­lo­ca­tion of an es­ti­mated 17,000 mem­bers of the Chero­kee Na­tion in 1838, as well as Choctaws and three other South­east­ern tribes.

As the Ap­palachian writer John Ehle re­lated in his 1988 book “Trail of Tears,” the up­root­ing of the five tribes dis­rupted their so­cial and fam­ily co­he­sion. “Deaths were nu­mer­ous, suf­fer­ing was in­tense, and … the govern­ment of the Chero­kees, once promis­ing, was de­stroyed.”

The In­di­ans had been con­fined in prison camps be­fore they were trans­ported. Fed an un­fa­mil­iar diet of meal and pork, the mis­ery and sick­ness started there. “The diet, the filth of the camps, the flies feed­ing at the slit trenches and vis­it­ing the food and hands of the peo­ple” were deadly. They marched in freez­ing weather, of­ten bare­footed. There was malaria in the sum­mer; small­pox “struck the Choctaws and be­came an epi­demic among them,” Ehle wrote.

“Many of the deaths were of in­fants whose nurs­ing moth­ers were ill with in­testi­nal dis­eases.” The ul­ti­mate toll is un­cer­tain, but is gen­er­ally placed at 4,000, in­clud­ing 2,000 thought to have died in the camps.

This act of geno­cide is the mo­ment of Amer­i­can his­tory that Trump and his fol­low­ers choose to turn into a joke. No re­porter in­ter­view­ing a Repub­li­can leader or of­fice­holder should let the in­ter­view end with­out getting that politi­cian’s re­ac­tion to this level of racism on the record. No jour­nal­ist should over­look the rank racism of the Repub­li­can cam­paign theme. Racism, whether wielded against black, His­panic or Na­tive Amer­i­can in­di­vid­u­als or groups, is the Amer­i­can sick­ness, and to avoid call­ing it out is shame­ful.

Scott Ol­son Getty Im­ages

THE CAM­PAIGN press’ fix­a­tion on Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s eth­nic­ity is not an er­ror but a choice.

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