By now much of America and the world have made up their minds about President Donald Trump. Call him what you will, but he doesn’t generally follow the biblical adage of turning the other cheek. Mess with him and you’ll feel his wrath. During the 2016 Republican primaries he described white men such as Gov. Mitt Romney as a penguin, Gov. Jeb Bush as a wimp, Sen. Marco Rubio as Little Marco. He has lambasted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a white woman; torn into white Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and belittled many of his white cabinet members before dumping them.
The president is now in a scorched earth spat with Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. Cummings is one of the president’s more vocal critics. Perhaps even more irritating to Trump is that Cummings is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and has used it to investigate presumed presidential wrongdoings; including what the committee seems to consider questionable actions of White House aides First Daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner. Cummings is also a leading voice favoring impeachment. As Trump would normally tweet: “So sad!” But instead of such a mundane tweet, Trump tore into Cummings, calling his district, which includes a large part of Baltimore, "a rat and rodent infested hell in which no human would want to live." Those are harsh words to lay at the feet of a pillar of the Democratic Party. The tweet brought torrents of abuse raining down on the president. Major Democrats and a few Republicans excoriated him for going beyond the pale. They declared him a racist for calling Baltimore a rat infested hell.
It got so bad, or ridiculous, that Victor Blackwell, a black CNN news anchor became emotionally distraught on-air while reporting on the tweet. Blackwell took umbrage at Trump’s repeated use of "infested" when describing black communities. He called such terminology racist. Well, gosh darn and aw shucks. Webster's Dictionary defines infest as "to spread in or over in numbers large enough to be harmful or offensive." The silliness of the decriers was made sillier when televised news clips showed massive rats scampering in the background of news reports. Even black Baltimoreans laughed at the silliness as they admitted their city indeed suffered from rats running amok.
Then Cummings defenders' politically correct world fell apart when an Aug. 6, 1999, news clip showed him at a House committee hearing saying: "This morning I left my community of Baltimore, a drug infested area where a lot of the drugs we’re talking about today have already taken the lives of so many children. The same children that I watched 14 or 15 years ago as they grew up, now walking around like zombies." Yes, that’s right; "drug infested" … "zombies." Aren't zombies the living dead? Does that frank assessment of Baltimore from 20 years ago make Cummings racist? The true racism is that we didn’t hear the Democrats and liberal pundits raging about Cummings’ choice of words; as they did about Trump. Isn’t this stark double standard of condescension to minorities by liberal elites another form of racism?
Who should be blamed for the ineptitude of many minority leaders that’s glossed over so as not to cause offense? Who’s to blame for not calling out Al Sharpton and other race hustlers? Yes, Sharpton of the infamous Tawana Brawley fiasco. What about the Rev. Jesse Jackson calling New York City Hymie Town? Didn’t that have the double whammy of being racist and anti-Semitic? What about President Obama’s derisive jibe about people clinging to their guns and Bibles? Wasn’t that racist and anti-religious?
Calling someone a racist cuts both ways. Sen. Kamala Harris won kudos during the first round of last month's Democratic Party debates for calling out Vice President Joe Biden for actions he took decades ago. But were Harris and Sen. Corey Booker also racist when they ganged up on Biden during the second part of the debates? What about rappers and homeboys? They spew the N-word ad nauseam, but woe betides any white person who does. Have blacks co-opted the word or are they being racist? The fact is, when we accuse someone of being racist, we’re making a subjective judgement. We’re merely expressing an opinion. Of course, over time and in heightened political circumstances, such an opinion hardens and becomes lethal, as during the Civil Rights era. But nowadays it seems we’ve bandied the word around so much it has lost its sting. Not very long ago, we’d call someone prejudiced if they strayed from racial orthodoxy. It was a sort of Purgatory leading either to redemption through good deeds, or banishment as a racist if the objectionable conduct continued.
While neither racism nor racists should be tolerated, neither should we rush to judgment. Unpleasant as it might be, if someone is stating facts, that should be put in context. Sometimes, especially in the white hot heat of today’s politics, things are expressed inelegantly or undiplomatically. President Trump perhaps personifies taking that to the extreme, but we should not allow our culture wars and political correctness to stymie expressing certain truths. The current national introspection is a good thing but must be based on facts, not emotions. This period is but a blip in our country’s almost 400-year history going back to when the Pilgrims arrived in 1620. It is doubtful our country faced any greater peril than the Civil War. In his first inaugural address delivered in March 1861, President Abraham Lincoln seemed almost to be reaching across time to us. He said:
“We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this proud land will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Amen, to seeking those better angels.