By Steven Hamelman
If for no other reason than that the office of the President of the United States should inspire respect even in citizens who voted against the current chief executive, one would wish to temper criticism of Donald Trump’s most recent outrage—that is, his performance at the rally in Greenville, North Carolina, on July 17.
But criticism of that performance cannot be tempered. Upon watching the broadcast once again, as well as the next day’s attempt at disavowal, followed the day after that by a disavowal of the disavowal, one is unable to restrain the epithets as they stream forth: tawdry, inflammatory, capricious, snide—President Donald Trump.
Possibly worse than Trump’s caricaturing of Representative Ilhan Omar as an enemy of the United States, and his backing off the mic’ as cries of “Send her back!” rose to fever pitch, was, with few exceptions, the Republican silence in the aftermath. From such deafening silence we can only conclude that (1) Republican lawmakers feel compelled to sacrifice (yet again) their integrity in order to secure their own re-elections, or that (2) Republican lawmakers agree with Trump.
In the first instance, compliance is almost understandable. After all, these legislators have careers and families and, naturally, want to protect their interests. Republicans who object to Trump are mired in the amber of our polarized era. One wrong move, and their days in Washington are done.
The second option is the one that those of us appalled by the rant—and by the man whose rabble-rousing made it inevitable—struggle to understand. I include in this group citizens like me who don’t believe that adherence both to principles of tolerance and to party platform is mutually exclusive.
If a Democratic candidate or incumbent said anything remotely racist, did anything demagogic al on the stump, or made slander his trademark, then I would be excoriating him or her right now, but my Democratic sympathies would remain intact.
No one better represents the Republican failure of nerve than Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Asked for their opinions, many congressmen blathered on about “socialism.” To them, as to the base, Trump’s four targets (Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tliab) threaten the American Way of Life because of their so-called socialist agendas. Ironically, none of these diehard Republicans see that by over-correcting in the other direction, their party daily trends closer to fascism—hardly the best or only alternative to socialism.
In line with his party’s closing of ranks, Graham’s defense of Trump (made in a tweet, of course) was insupportable: “If you are a Republican nominee for President—or President—you will be accused of being a racist. John Lewis compared John McCain’s campaign to being like that of George Wallace. It comes with the territory unfortunately.”
To prove that an accusation of racism “comes with the territory,” Graham cites Lewis’s alleged belief that McCain had something in common with George Wallace. Even if this were true, this sole exception would not prove the rule. Graham has committed a burden of proof fallacy. Not too long ago, George W. Bush was a presidential nominee. Not even his harshest critics accused him of racism.
Similar “reasoning” was heard in Graham’s words to the press: “‘A Somali refugee embracing Trump would not have been asked to go back,’ Graham said. ‘If you’re a racist you want everybody from Somalia to go back because they’re black or they’re Muslim.’”
Error upon error, clout upon clout. Here we have both a correlational fallacy (cum hoc ergo propter hoc) and an either/or fallacy, with a bit of a red herring tossed in for good measure.
No causal relationship can be established between Trump’s defamation of Omar and the possibility that someone of that sort (Muslim, Somalian, refugee) might be “okay” if only she would “embrace” a president with a long history of racism, which has been well documented. (See for example, David A. Graham, et al., “An Oral History of Trump’s Bigotry,” The Atlantic.)
More glaring is the either/or fallacy. For Graham, everybody of that sort would have to be sent back in order for racism to be proved. Demeaning only one American citizen who happens to be a Democratic congresswoman of color from Somalia is not enough for Graham. Trump must treat all such people that way before Lindsey Graham comes around.
Graham doesn’t seem to know that a racist doesn’t always show his whole hand at once. Not all racists join white supremacist movements. Racism manifests itself in numberless ways, some nearly imperceptible, some as clear as day. (That Trump also comes across as plain stinking nasty on the national and international stage doesn’t bother Graham or other senators at all.)
The red herring—Somalia—comes into play too. Of the four members of Trump’s “Squad,” only Omar was born in Somalia. Mention Somalia at a Trump rally, and watch the feeding frenzy begin.
In sum, logical fallacies undermine Graham’s contention that Trump has no problem with liberal women of color as long as they support him. Graham has assumed that a powerful man, even a proven racist, would banish all non-desirables from his presence. That’s akin to saying Strom Thurmond wasn’t a racist because he once slept with a black woman.
As a postscript, Donald Trump, true to form, and emboldened by rhetorical contortionists like Lindsey Graham, decided that the people in Greenville were “incredible patriots.” If only President Trump, Senator Graham, and all those “incredible people” who chanted their support of the President’s character assassination of a political opponent, were aware that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Where does all of this leave us today? Waiting for the next fiasco. They come with alarming frequency. Each new one surpasses the one before it, and the needle of the “normal” keeps adapting to lower standards of political and social discourse in the United States of America.
Steve Hamelman teaches in the English Department at Coastal Carolina University. His academic specialties include American literature and rock music, and he is an avid lifestyle bicyclist. He is a new member of HCDP’s Communications Committee.