Yesterday, Thursday, January 11, 2018 was the day that President Donald Trump’s xenophobic bigotry became undeniable.
In a White House meeting with Congressional leaders of both parties, Trump balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and African countries, demanding to know why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than people from places like Norway.
This was not the first report of Trump making bigoted remarks at a White House meeting. Previously, it was reported that at an Oval Office meeting in 2017 with Cabinet officials and administration aides, Trump complained about admitting Haitians to the country, complaining that they all had AIDS, as well as Nigerians, who he said would never go back to their “huts,” according to officials who heard the statements in person or were briefed on the remarks by people who did. Of course, the White House vehemently denied last month that Mr. Trump made those remarks.
Down through the years, numerous examples of Trump racism and bigotry have been reported by the most highly reputed journalists in the media. The best compendium of bigoted actions and statements by Trump is contained in an article entitled “Is Donald Trump racist? Here’s what the record shows,” written by the esteemed Trump biographer, Michael D’Antonio and published by Fortune Magazine on June 7, 2016. The link to the article follows: http://fortune.com/2016/06/07/donald-trump-racism-quotes/.
In the past, Trump sycophants and acolytes always found inventive sophistic ways of denying Trump prejudices against minorities and women. Due to his poor impulse control, however, he blurted out his hateful thoughts this time in front of the Democratic Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin as well.
Accordingly, the White House could not and did not even try to deny the blatant Trump bigotry. Instead, the White House Deputy Press Secretary issued a statement reinforcing the Trump message of xenophobic bigotry: ““Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.”
This statement should surprise nobody with an honest and opened eye view of Donald Trump. On immigration, Donald Trump is the spiritual successor to Breckinridge Long, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Assistant Secretary of State during the Second World War who refused to permit entry into America of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. And like Trump, Long used the countries of origin of Holocaust refugees as a pretext for denying admission of these Jewish refugees into America, spuriously claiming that they would be inclined to spy for the Nazis or Soviets.
When I heard the latest Trump morsels of hatred, I could only think of my Eastern European Jewish grandparent and great-grandparent immigrants to America fleeing Czarist persecution and pogroms. The Donald Trumps of their era of immigration, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, used the countries of origin of these immigrants as a basis for attempting to bar their entry into America. They claimed that due to their residing in countries that did not have the prevailing culture of America, these non-English speaking immigrants could never be assimilated. Trumpian xenophobic bigotry did not begin with Donald Trump.
Donald Trump, however, is now encountering something he has not been subject to in the past: Repudiation of his bigotry by other Republicans. Congresswoman Mia Love (R-Utah), America’s first Haitian-American member of the House of Representatives condemned the Trump remarks and demanded an apology. And two strong Republican conservative Senatorial allies of Trump, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Orrin Hatch of Utah have criticized his statements, Hatch demanding a detailed explanation.
For me as a Republican my entire adult life, it is most gratifying for me to see these Republican members of Congress putting country over party. I must say, however, that I have been profoundly embarrassed until now at Republican reluctance to repudiate Trump anti-minority prejudice, even when he said that there were good people marching on the side of the Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists in Charlottesville.
When Trump announced his presidential candidacy in 2015, I wrote a column comparing the Trump 2016 campaign to that of George Wallace in 1968. Unlike Trump, however, near the end of his life, Wallace apologized and repented his past bigotry, something Trump will never do. Accordingly, perhaps it was unfair of me to compare Trump with George Wallace. A more appropriate comparison would be to compare Trump with his fellow demagogue of massive white rallies, Gerald L. K. Smith.
In New Jersey, yesterday’s conclusive final proof of Trumpian xenophobic bigotry poses a special dilemma for Republicans, particularly for the four GOP members of the House of Representatives seeking reelection: Rodney Frelinghuysen, Leonard Lance, Chris Smith, and Tom MacArthur.
All four of these gentlemen are good friends of mine. None of them has a scintilla of bigotry in their souls.
They will experience more acute pressure to repudiate Trump than members of Congress from other states. New Jersey is one of the most racially and ethnically tolerant states in the nation. And in this regard, the New Jersey Republican Party has a particularly proud tradition of inclusiveness of people of all races, ethnic groups, and religions.
Two recent Republican governors have honored New Jersey most profoundly by exemplifying this tradition. Tom Kean conveyed the magnificent message of “the politics of inclusion.” And Christie Whitman never failed to appeal to the best in people with her slogan of “New Jersey: We are one family of many faces.” How antithetical this is to the Trump message of disparaging people of color from “shithole countries!”
If these four Republican incumbent Congressmen do not condemn Trump bigotry, they will be viewed by their constituents as condoning it. This perceived condonation of bigotry will give their Democratic opponents a lethal issue which could well result in the reelection defeat of these GOP incumbents.
Thus, there is both a political and moral imperative for Rodney Frelinghuysen, Leonard Lance, Chris Smith, and Tom MacArthur to put country over party and repudiate in no uncertain terms Donald Trump and his shameful racism, prejudice, and xenophobia. I am hopeful that they will, and I pray that they will.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman