Republicans Condemning Steve King Pretend That Racism Ended in the 1960s

As Republicans line up to condemn Rep. Steve King for his racist remarks, it is fair to ask, “why now?” The New York Times has documented that the man has a very long history of making comments that reveal his embrace of white supremacy. Adam Serwer adds to that by asking, “What’s the Difference Between Steve King and Donald Trump?”

It’s important that Republicans are taking racism more seriously. But that means not only rejecting backbencher congressmen like King. It means recognizing that King believes little that the man in the White House does not also believe. If the rejection of King is more than political opportunism, more than an attempt to portray the party as rejecting ideas that the president they support has embraced, then the Republican Party and the conservative movement will have to do more than censure King. They will have to reject Trumpism, and all it represents.

Serwer gives us a hint at what this is all about when he quotes from an editorial in the National Review calling on Republicans to “dump King” which says, “one of the glories of American history is how we finally shed our shameful racist past.” On Fox News, Britt Hume suggested something similar when he said that, “this whole episode is testament to something very important to understand, which is the great achievement of the Civil Rights Movement was not necessarily the passing of the laws, important as they were…it was also the overwhelming national consensus against racism.”

Even as the government is shut down over this administration’s racist propaganda about refugees, and the nominee to be our next attorney general denies the role that racism plays in our criminal justice system (to name just two examples), these conservatives want you to believe that the whole issue of racism in this country was settled back in the 1960s and their condemnation of Steve King’s most recent remarks proves it. In other words, they’re perfectly willing to make one congressman from Iowa a sacrificial lamb and pretend like that gives the rest of them a pass.

This whole episode reminds me of what Eric Holder said about similar circumstances back in 2014.

Over the last few weeks and months, we’ve seen occasional, jarring reminders of the discrimination – and the isolated, repugnant, racist views – that in some places have yet to be overcome. These incidents have received substantial media coverage. And they have rightly been condemned by leaders, commentators, and citizens from all backgrounds and walks of life.

But we ought not find contentment in the fact that these high-profile expressions of outright bigotry seem atypical and were met with such swift condemnation. Because if we focus solely on these incidents – on outlandish statements that capture national attention and spark outrage on Facebook and Twitter – we are likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines.

These outbursts of bigotry, while deplorable, are not the true markers of the struggle that still must be waged, or the work that still needs to be done – because the greatest threats do not announce themselves in screaming headlines. They are more subtle. They cut deeper. And their terrible impact endures long after the headlines have faded and obvious, ignorant expressions of hatred have been marginalized.

While some people think Republicans should get credit for condemning the most recent remarks made by King, here are some of the actions of the Trump administration that cut deeper and will endure long after the recent headlines about Steve King have faded:

  • An approach to immigration that is based entirely on racist lies
  • A response to school shootings that paves the way for harsher punishment of students of color
  • An attempt to eliminate the basis on which claims of discrimination are made
  • Elimination of all oversight of discriminatory policing by local law enforcement
  • Ongoing efforts to suppress the votes of people of color

The challenge we face isn’t simply the racist words coming out of the mouths of Republicans like Donald Trump and Steve King. They are also not aberrations that somehow slipped through the cracks when this country developed a consensus against racism in the 1960s. At this moment, the entire Republican agenda has been reduced to racist fear-mongering to stir up their base. Condemning Steve King, as welcome as that might be, is nothing but a feeble attempt to pretend that’s not the case.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.