Will No One Defend White Supremacy?

Recognizing racism shouldn’t require great political courage.

Not long before I was born in 1969, this country was split between states that had legal segregation of the races and states that did not. The raging debate was whether it was legitimate or even constitutional for state and local governments to have laws and ordinances based on white supremacy. In other words, there was no consensus at all that racism was wrong.

By the time I was in elementary school, however, this was no longer an active debate. Particularly in my New Jersey Ivy League community, it was uncontroversial that racism is wrong or that Martin Luther King Jr. was a moral giant.

I am aware that other parts of the country came along slower and more begrudgingly, but they came along eventually, and you won’t find white supremacy being discussed as something legitimate in any elementary schools today.

That’s progress, right?

I mention this because it’s interesting to see unnamed Senate Republicans criticizing Speaker Paul Ryan for openly conceding that Donald Trump recently made “textbook-definition” racist comments concerning a judge who is overseeing a civil suit against Trump University in San Diego, California.

What’s their complaint?

Well, it seems that Ryan’s honesty contrasts poorly with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s obfuscation and causes them a nasty inconvenience.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s handling of Donald Trump is coming under criticism from Senate Republicans, many of whom prefer the way their leader, Mitch McConnell, deals with the unconventional candidate.

McConnell, the Senate majority leader from Kentucky, has steadfastly declined to call Trump’s criticism of a federal judge “racist,” a term that Ryan (R-Wis.) pointedly deployed.

“It sets up journalists to ask, ‘Do you agree with Paul Ryan that it was racist?” said an aide to a vulnerable GOP senator.

I mean, that’s a shame that people are getting asked whether something is racist, but the real problem is that they’re not willing to say, “what’s the problem with being racist?”

Insofar as Trump’s complaint makes any sense, it’s premised on the fact that he’s so anti-Latino and anti-Muslim that a Latino or Muslim judge could not help but be biased against him. He’s not getting a fair shake in court and he could never get a fair shake in court from hated-minority judges. As a white bigot, justice demands that he be judged by a white bigot. And that’s basically a clear defense of white (Christian) supremacy.

You can make that argument openly if you want to. You won’t convince a majority of the people to agree with you, but you’ll find sympathizers.

Fortunately, the Speaker of the House isn’t one of those sympathizers, and he’s in no mood to tread lightly around the issue.

Paul Ryan said he and Donald Trump spoke on the phone about his attacks on a federal judge, and the Speaker continued to condemn Trump’s criticism on Friday morning, calling the remarks “beyond the pale.”

In an interview on “Good Morning America” on ABC, Ryan — who had already labeled Trump’s comments “the textbook definition of a racist comment” — elaborated on his disagreement with Trump.
“I have [spoken to Trump] and explained exactly what I thought about that comment. I said it publicly and I said it privately,” Ryan told host George Stephanopoulos.

“This is something that needs to be condemned. That comment is beyond the pale. That’s not political correctness — suggesting someone can’t do their job because of their race or ethnicity, that’s not a politically incorrect thing to do. That’s just a wrong thing to say, and I hope he gets that.”

Now, if you happen to be a white supremacist then you don’t think that what Trump said is wrong or that there is any problem with being racist. You obviously disagree with Paul Ryan.

But, if you aren’t a white supremacist then you shouldn’t have any difficulty saying that this kind of racism is unacceptable.

But how do we characterize the person who agrees that white supremacy is wrong but doesn’t want to have to answer questions about it? What do we say about a person who is angry with a political leader for admitting that white supremacy is wrong and praises a political leader of his party who refuses to make that admission?

Look at this:

One GOP senator said he and his colleagues are more upset with Trump’s lack of discipline, which has forced them to play defense instead of talking about the weak economy.

At the same time, the senator added, “nobody was happy with Paul.”

Another Republican senator was more diplomatic: “If he could have gotten his point across without being so definitive and giving Democrats fodder for people lower on the ticket, that would have been good.”

Senate Republicans won’t criticize Ryan publically because they don’t want to pick a fight with the top-ranking House Republican or be seen as defending Trump’s comment, which many thought was ill-advised.

But they have concerns about whether Ryan is thinking enough about how his actions affect the party’s chances of keeping control of the Senate.

Is that a profile in political courage?

Don’t be so “definitive” about calling white supremacy out for what it is!

Like I said, by the time I entered elementary school in 1974, this was no longer open for debate. We all learned that having the organs of state, including the judicial system, support laws that favor whites and disadvantage nonwhites is unconstitutional and morally outrageous.

But, you know, there was a time not long before that when the matter was unsettled. I just never thought we’d have a presidential candidate who would reopen the question.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.