Jessica Valenti

The GOP’s Dangerous Cowardice

Americans will remember what Republicans did and didn’t do when faced with a bigot

Jessica Valenti
GEN
Published in
3 min readJul 18, 2019
President Donald Trump speaks during a Keep America Great rally on July 17, 2019 in Greenville, North Carolina.
Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty

Everyone knows Donald Trump is a racist.

From calling African nations “shithole countries” and labeling Mexicans as rapists to his birtherism and saying there were “good people on both sides” of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the president’s racism is clear and unabashed.

To argue otherwise is to ignore reality. Yet Republicans continue to do just that, claiming Trump’s words have been taken out of context or that they can’t know what’s “in his heart.”

That’s why the president’s most recent attack, telling four American congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries, has taken such a hold of the national conversation: Now more than ever, it’s impossible to credibly claim Trump is just stumbling into oratorical snafus rather than peddling in active hatred.

That hasn’t stopped Republicans from trying, though, with many criticizing his tweet without using the word “racist.” New York Rep. Elise Stefanik called it “inappropriate,” for example, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said it was “destructive,” and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski tweeted that his words were “spiteful.” But when the House passed a resolution condemning Trump’s words as racist this week, they voted against it. (In fact, all but four Republicans did the same.)

The GOP’s rhetorical gymnastics — much like Trump supporters’ defensiveness around their president — isn’t self-delusion as much as self-preservation. No one wants to admit that they’re enabling a bigot.

But there’s a reason people are demanding that the GOP call Trump racist without equivocation, beyond the simple fact that it is accurate: If what the president is doing and saying right now isn’t racist, nothing is.

As NPR’s Gene Demby wrote in 2014, “‘racist’ has become a term both monstrous and meaningless, that denotes something so vile and inhuman that no real person might ever meet the standard.”

Which, I suppose, is the point. Frat boys can chant the N-word in a leaked video and their parents will insist they’re not racist, white…

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Jessica Valenti
GEN
Writer for

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.