How Conservatives Deny Racism Is A Problem, While Proving That It Is
On June 17, a young white man entered a predominantly black church in Charleston, SC and killed nine people, all black.
Survivors quickly informed friends, family and authorities the shooter had made racist comments during his rampage.
Based on these and other findings, the local police chief said during an early-morning, June 18 press conference, "We believe this is a hate crime; that is how we are investigating it."
Those were the facts immediately known to the world.
The conclusions seemingly could not be clearer.
But, in the hours and days following this tragedy, conservative pundits and Republican presidential candidates tried desperately to prove otherwise.
Fox News spent June 18 not only refusing to say the atrocity was racially motivated, but also openly asserting it was not. Steve Doocy incredulously stated, "Extraordinarily, they called it a hate crime."
Doocy was inclined, as were many others on the network, to believe it was an attack on Christians, a group to which pundits could claim membership.
The fact that the victims were all black, a group to which pundits did not belong, was just a coincidence.
Such subterfuge may seem normal for Fox News, but it is important to keep in mind that as the largest news network in America, the channel has 1.7 million primetime viewers.
So, its efforts to erase the racial element of the attack potentially impacts how millions of people view it.
This makes the network's actions not only disingenuous, but overtly destructive to public discourse. Of course, Fox is in the rhetoric business. It is not running for leadership of the free world (at least not officially).
However, more than a dozen Republican candidates are, and their response to the Charleston shooting is extremely important as we move through primaries and toward the general election.
As voters, we want to be able to gauge a candidate's honesty, reasoning and humanity. Since the shooting, they have allowed us to do just that.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was shocked by the attack, saying, "You’re sort of lost that somebody could walk into a Bible study in a church and indiscriminately kill people."
Entering an almost all-black church and killing nine black people is, undeniably, discriminate. And Santorum knows it. He just doesn't have the decency to say so.
The former Pennsylvania senator also insisted the massacre was an attack on religious liberty, not a specific race:
"This is one of those situations where you just have to take a step back and say we — you know, you talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before. It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation."
To summarize, Santorum's immediate response to this heinous act was (1) to deny it was racially motivated and (2) to urge people to move beyond it.
To be fair, it had been almost 12 hours since the attack, which had left nine mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters dead. Santorum thought it was time to move beyond the "situation" and talk about the big issue: religious liberty, not racism.
On June 19, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry called the Charleston shooting an "accident" during an interview with NewsmaxTV.
However, he has since said he meant to say "incident," which is slightly closer to "unquestionably racially motivated atrocity that should offend us to our very core."
The former Texas Governor did go on to say, "That deranged individual didn't just take lives of black Americans; he gunned down nine children of God."
Even with the victims' race identified as a component, candidates still wanted to place themselves on the same team.
Marco Rubio gave a 20-minute speech, but it was apparently so chockfull of other important information, he failed to mention the shooting entirely.
To his credit, Jeb Bush, who has been criticized over his selective secularism, was, perhaps, the most forthright Republican candidate.
Although he was initially quoted as not acknowledging it was racially motivated in his speech on June 19, that was untrue.
He did, in fact, say, "Looks like to me it was [racially motivated], but we'll find out all the information."
More importantly, later that night, he said in no uncertain terms, "It breaks my heart that somebody, a racist, would do the things he did."
Admittedly, additional information has come out in the days and weeks following the attack, including racist photos, writings and affiliations.
However, even with only the surface information immediately available, all reasonable individuals could have — and should have — known this was a racially-motivated act of violence.
The question this raises is, why? Why was there a desire to whitewash this incident and make it about almost anything other than race?
There are a couple of likely causes. The most flattering reason is that since most Republican voters are white, racism does not interest them.
The substantially less flattering reason is to say it's because Republicans are racist.
While the Associated Press and Pew studies asserting that fact are interesting (as are the numerous racist comments found on conservative social media), that blanket accusation would be unfair and unproductive.
Generalizations on that scale are never true, and simplifying it in that manner is disrespectful to millions of socially-progressive Republicans.
That being said, if active racism can actually help in the Republican primary polls, then that is worth exploring. On that note, Donald Trump exists.
During his presidential announcement speech, Trump now famously stated, "When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists."
This massive generalization and inflammatory accusation was supposedly only about illegal immigrants, which Trump seemed to think made it acceptable. Most other people did not.
Moreover, there were many who felt Trump's use of "Mexicans" was meant to be a blanket statement for all Hispanics, drastically increasing the number of people who should be offended. (Although, bigotry should offend everyone, not just its targets.)
Fortunately, Trump cleared up this issue by later saying, "It's not Mexicans necessarily. They're coming from all over."
Now El Salvadorians, Guatemalans and Hondurans don't have to wonder anymore. Yes, Trump means you, too.
This has generated a substantial economic fallout, already climbing to an estimated $50 million, as firms move to distance themselves from Trump's xenophobia and bigotry. The free market, as Trump should know, is swift, aggressive and unforgiving.
However, despite everyone's expectations, the political fallout never came. In fact, by disparaging Hispanics, which now make up 17 percent of the US population, Trump has soared in the polls.
This is a major problem.
Following his racist comments, Trump's numbers have tripled in the Fox News' poll of likely Republican voters and quadrupled in CNN's. He didn't just get a little bump. Calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers has sent him surging.
The only reasonable assumption is Trump reached his intended audience with his comments. Perhaps it really is just a matter of addressing illegal immigration, which is an issue Republicans are passionate about.
However, doing so while disrespecting and denigrating a massive ethnic group did not, for some reason, overshadow the message with Republican voters. In fact, it resonated with many.
That should be worrisome.
Trump's comments have also forced other candidates to take sides on the issue, which at least affords voters an opportunity to measure the entire field's cultural positions.
Chris Christie, the former darling of the Republican party, hedged by saying he disliked Trump's comments but liked him as a person.
Ted Cruz saw no need to equivocate, saying, "When it comes to Donald Trump, I like Donald Trump. I think he's terrific. I think he's brash. I think he speaks the truth."
Trump had just called Mexican immigrants rapists, so it is pretty clear where Cruz stands.
Don't let his last name fool you. He is a hardcore Texas conservative through and through, and alienating the state's 10 million Hispanics is apparently not a major concern for him.
He, instead, commended Trump for raising the issue of a porous border, which others have echoed.
These individuals believe such statements are simply a matter of discussing illegal immigration.
But that’s like saying that calling everyone from West Virginia “an inbreeding, cousin-marrying redneck” is simply a matter of discussing genetic diversity.
Bigotry is bigotry, regardless of the subject at hand, and there are correct ways to have a conversation. Trump, Cruz and many others are failing miserably.
Fortunately, other Republican candidates have been more careful, perhaps recognizing that winning a general election without the Hispanic vote is essentially impossible.
Or, perhaps, they're decent human beings. Regardless, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry and Jeb Bush have all criticized Trump for his remarks.
Jeb Bush, the current leader for the Republican nomination, possibly had the most interesting comments on the issue.
Not only did he call Trump's racism "extraordinarily ugly" and "wrong," but he also went on to insist, "It doesn't represent the Republican Party or its values.”
That is precisely what is at the heart of this race issue: We all want it to be unrepresentative of a major US political party, and that may very well be true.
However, Bush went on to say, “There is no tolerance for it." That's clearly not the case.
Trump's polling numbers undeniably prove his statements have been tolerated by many voters. And everyone should take note of that fact.
To clarify, the Republican party is not a party of racists.
However, Trump's rising popularity and the growing anti-immigrant sentiment does seem to indicate those swayed by bigotry and xenophobia are more active and more vocal.
And that is equally troubling.
From the Charleston massacre and the Confederate flag debate to Donald's Trump's comments about Mexicans, it's clear race remains an issue in this country.
Consequently, while leading Republican candidates may not want racism to be at the forefront of the national conversation, it will undoubtedly remain there.
How candidates manage that, and how voters respond, may very well decide the 2016 presidential election.