Earl Ofari Hutchinson
“It was horrible.” That’s Trump digressing from his talks on trade and yet another possible government shutdown to condemn the racist homophobic attack on Empire star Jussie Smollett. Yes, the attack was horrible, but what is even more horrible is Trump having the gall to pretend that he’s revolted by racist, homophobic violence. But then again this is not an unfamiliar pattern with him. After the rampage by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. Trump tweeted a crocodile tear lament that he condemned “all that hate stands for.” Trump’s feigned indignation over the racist violence was loudly ripped for the phoniness and hypocrisy that anything coming from him pretending to abhor racism is. The Smollett feigned outrage is no different.
One would have to reach back to presidential candidate George Wallace in 1964, and maybe toss in GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, to find someone who has so blatantly, nakedly and shamefully pandered to racial bigots to snatch the office as Trump did. His broadsides against Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, blacks and women are almost the stuff of political legend. They need not be repeated here.
Now, here’s what’s telling about his supposed condemnation of hate in the Smollett attack. He used the same template as he did in the Charlottesville hate violence. He carefully and calculatingly did not utter the words “white” and “nationalists” or “alt-right” in his phony denunciation. He certainly didn’t call the attack what it is, namely “domestic terrorism.” Police reported a letter containing a suspicious white powder substance sent to Smollett before the attack. That indicated that this was not simply a random act. Smollett’s family had to brand the attack as domestic terrorism. There is also the issue of the rope around Smollett’s neck that was caught on surveillance camera. A rope and black man’s neck are one of the most powerful and enraging symbol of hate violence against black men. Trump made no mention of that.
Then again, Trump with his feigned shock at the Smollett attack is following a well-worn template that the GOP has used for ages when it comes to a racist crack, dig, slur, by white racists. That is say nothing and do nothing. It only slightly altered the template with Iowa congressman Steve King. But look what it too for GOP congressional leaders to finally lambaste and strip him of his house committee posts. It took years of the vilest and over the top racist slurs by King. And it took the real possibility that King’s racially inflammatory utterances if left unchallenged could cost the GOP dearly in 2020 with the loss of more House seats and even control of the Senate. At the very least, GOP silence on King would have given Democrats a made in heaven big stick to further flail the GOP as the party of bigots.
So, Trump with the Smollett attack used a ploy that goes like this: Issue a pious, indignant statement denouncing the racist quip or act while at the same time being careful not to make any connection between the racist actions and the GOP. During the campaign, for instance, Trump refused at first to reject former Klan Kleagle David Duke’s endorsement, nor any other support from the Klan. But he then proceeded to stare down a supporter wearing a Klan-lettered t-shirt at a campaign rally. Trump was simply following the “shame on you for being an open racist but not the racism” script.
Trump learned from the GOP masters on this score. In 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell flatly refused several direct, angled and nuanced efforts to discuss racism in the tea party. McConnell’s none-too-subtle refusal to weigh in on the issue was in direct response to the NAACP’s resolution demanding that the tea party speak out ― and speak out loudly ― against the racists among them. Long before the NAACP stirred debate on tea party racism with its resolution, a legion of Democrats, civil rights leaders, and even an online petition from an advocacy group, had begged the GOP to speak out against its naked bigots.
No go. The GOP would cut its throat if it denounced its racists and racism and really meant it. The shouts, taunts, spitting, catcalls, Obama as Joker posters, n-word slurs, Confederate and Texas Lone Star flag waved by some tea party activists ― and the deafening silence from GOP leaders during Obama’s early years in office ― was and still very much is an indispensable political necessity for the party.
Smollett could be brazenly targeted and attacked because the “alt-right” and white nationalist movement that Trump has done much to make quasi legit has become, big, bold, and violent. So, for Trump to use anything stronger than “horrible” in mentioning the attack on Smollett would not only be out of character, but the height of hypocrisy. Better to have kept his mouth shut.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Why Black Lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press) He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.