This article, by Lee Marcus, is published here with permission of the author.
EXPLAIN IT TO ME, TOM
Children’s literature has a parable for our times in The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen. It goes like this: the emperor engages two clever but lazy weavers for a new suit of clothes. The weavers promise His Majesty a suit that will be invisible to anyone who is stupid, incompetent, or unfit for his position. They make sure that word gets out about it. When at last the emperor parades his new suit before his subjects, not one of them dares to admit that he or she sees no suit. Who wants to be called stupid? In the end, it is a child who cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
I remember as a child thinking how implausible this was. How does anyone deny what she sees with her own eyes?
Well, children’s stories are meant to be fantastic, so no harm done. But later in my childhood I began to hear stories from World War II. Something called a “holocaust,” involving another “emperor,” who decided to murder millions of his own people. He began by belittling those people. Calling them names. Accusing them of hating their country, of being selfish, of doing harm. He loved to regale the public with rhetoric invoking hyper-patriotism and hatred against minorities, especially Jews. Then when he felt he had sweeping acceptance, he began his murderous campaign, and the people looked the other way.
As a young person I was incredulous! How could the German people have allowed Adolph Hitler to murder millions of people in their name? It just wasn’t feasible. “Never again,” exclaimed survivors and horrified bystanders the world over. But for some, that sentiment morphed into something more comfortable: “It can’t happen here.” I believed it myself. The holocaust was so horrific, the German people so … what’s the word … gullible? Anyway, it obviously, certainly, unquestionably CAN’T HAPPEN HERE.
Except now, I think it can happen here. Over the weekend of July 13-14, we all suffered a tweet storm in which the president attacked four freshman congresswomen of color with the perennial racist trope “go back where you came from.” (All four are American citizens, three of them born here.)
A few days later we watched coverage of the president stirring up a crowd in Greenville, NC. He woefully misrepresented the speeches, the policies, and the motivations of all four of the women, singling out Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for the worst of it. The crowd loved it. They ended up chanting, “Send her back!”
This president is deliberately tearing at the fabric of our nearly-all-immigrant nation. In an article entitled, “Trump Goes All In On Racism” (July 15, 2019), Atlantic writer David Graham decries Trump’s “…willingness and eagerness to place racism at the center of his political platform in a run for reelection to the presidency.” The article led with this: “The president’s tweets are an invitation to a racial conflict that pits citizen against citizen, under the calculation that racism itself is a winning political strategy.”
Congress voted to censure the president for his racist remarks, but our local representative, Tom Reed, voted against the resolution.”Having developed a relationship with the president,” he said, “interacting with him firsthand, I am confident in telling you that I do not believe he is a racist.” (Buffalo Evening News, 7/16/19)
So I have a question for Congressperson Reed. What is a racist? Not, apparently, someone who tells people of color, “Go back where you came from.”
Mr. Reed, tell us then. What is a racist? And once you get that formula worked out, I’d like to see you tell it to the experts, in person. Tell it to an audience of African Americans, Native Americans, Latino Americans. Go down to the “camps” at our southern border and explain to the refugees sleeping on concrete floors that our president is not a racist. Say it in the mirror, if you can keep a straight face. And, while you’re at it, explain it to your God.