We’re optimists about American democracy in the long run, but nowadays the long run looks longer all the time. The bonfire of inanities in the last two days between Donald Trump and Democrats over who’s the bigger racist, or real anti-Semite, or greater disgrace to the nation is a new low even by recent standards.
Mr. Trump started the bonfire, as he so often does, with a Sunday
barrage telling “‘progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen” who are critical of the U.S. to “go back” to the countries from whence they came. He seemed to be targeting the four hard-left Members of Congress, all minority women, who’ve been brawling with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the direction of the Democratic Party.
Conservative journalist Brit Hume offered a succinct summary in calling Mr. Trump’s comments “nativist, xenophobic, counterfactual and politically stupid.” Three of the four women were born in the U.S., and “go back” is a taunt immigrants have heard in America for more than two centuries. It was used against Catholics, against the Irish, Germans and Italians, against Chinese and Japanese, and in our day most often against Mexican-Americans. A President of the United States shouldn’t sink to such a crude nativist trope, but then we repeat ourselves.
As for politically stupid, Mr. Trump rescued Democrats from an intra-party feud that had been escalating for days. A smart opponent would have kept quiet and let it continue. But Mr. Trump intruded into the spotlight and let Democrats unite in denouncing him.
Mrs. Pelosi was suddenly again on comfortable ground denouncing Mr. Trump for “making America white again.” Only days earlier the four progressives had been accusing Mrs. Pelosi of playing dirty by singling out “women of color” for criticism. Mrs. Pelosi now says she’ll hold a House vote condemning Mr. Trump’s comments, trying to associate all Republicans with Mr. Trump’s words.
Monday was consumed with another round of dueling insults with the press corps seeming to echo Democrats in calling Mr. Trump a racist, Mr. Trump denying that he is, and the President’s allies saying Democrats are anti-American. The debasing of the “racist” charge into common political currency is the larger tragedy here because it will carry less weight when it’s used against the white supremacists who really deserve it.
The best political advice for Mr. Trump came from Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senator, who said Monday that the President should “aim higher” and focus on the extreme policies of Democrats, not insinuations about their race or national heritage.
Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to understand that Democrats want the 2020 election to be about his words and behavior, rather than the results of his economic policies. They’ll lose a debate over results, but they’ll win if the election is a referendum on character.
Democrats want Mr. Trump to sound as if he’s the one who believes half the country is a “basket of deplorables,” to quote the line that so damaged Hillary Clinton in 2016. They want an atmosphere of chaos and national division so voters who are up for grabs will be so tired after four years that they’ll gamble on a Democrat even if they worry about the candidate’s policies.
It may be hard to believe in this climate of partisan discord and contempt, but most Americans still prefer a politics that is less divisive and aspires to our better angels.
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