I think there’s a link between Sunday’s monstrosity – the appalling views of U.S. Rep. Steve King on race, heritage and what it means to be an American – and Monday’s fresher catastrophe, the Congressional Budget Office prediction that the GOP’s Trumpcare tax-cut-for-billionaires-disguised-as-health-care would rob a whopping 24 million people of their insurance.
It’s that they both mean there are millions of people in this country whom top Republicans see as somehow less than human.
The thundering pace of news in 2017 almost stampeded past King’s words – a tweet that was cast as an unqualified endorsement of European ultra-far-right politician Geert Wilders. But such racist and destructive sentiments coming from a senior, influential American lawmaker should be neither ignored nor dismissed. And yet his comments are being ignored by the people who matter: President Trump, his aides and other leaders of the Republican Party. The silence is just as outrageous as the original comment.
King wrote that “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Simply put, the eight-term Iowa congressman insists that America’s destiny is a form of ethnic purity, or white nationalism. The identity of “somebody else” and their babies – Muslim or Latino or African American – isn’t 100 percent clear, although it’s definitely someone who doesn’t look like the very white, very Christian Steve King. It is, quite simply, the most racist comment by a member of the U.S. Congress in decades.
King’s congressional colleague, Georgia Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis, whose bravery in the civil rights marches of the 1960s made him a true American hero, called the Iowa Republican’s words “bigoted and racist” – suggesting “there is one cultural tradition and one appearance that all of humanity should conform to.” U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California, also an African American Democrat, tweeted: “My ancestors were brought here in chains. I’m the daughter of a veteran. But to Steve King, my family & I are just ‘somebody else’s babies.’ ”
Maybe to his perverse credit, King went on TV and radio Monday and didn’t apologize. He meant what he said, and he said what he meant. In a way, his offensive tweet was a grand culmination, both of a long career of offensive remarks like calling then-President Barack Obama “very, very urban” as well as a full embrace of European-style, anti-Muslim ultra-right nationalism.
There was something very 2017-ish – and very disturbing – about the seeming casual acceptance of King’s remark by leading Republicans. I should qualify that: by leading white Republicans. King was criticized by GOPers like Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, Florida U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (Cuban American) and Jeb Bush, whose wife is a Latina. But their less diverse colleagues went MIA.
None more so than Trump and his team. When reporters at Monday’s White House briefing pushed press secretary Sean Spicer to respond to King – the equivalent of placing a baseball on a tee for 6-year-old Little Leaguers – Spicer whiffed. He said he’d have to ask the president.
While former Klan leader David Duke and white supremacists on Stormfront were tripping over each other to praise King, Trump – who must have sprained his tweeting thumbs with his outburst against Obama 10 days ago – is repeating his disturbing pattern of either slow responses or radio silence when it comes to condemning prejudice against nonwhites or non-Christians.
You could say that King’s stance – and the seeming Republican acceptance of it – has been a slow train coming. When I immersed myself in the rise of the tea party at the start of the decade, I saw up close how nothing motivated their movement more than their fear that the United States was just a few years away from a nonwhite majority.
But it all feels different now, because it is different. Steve King now has a close ally in the White House, a few steps away from Trump, in top presidential adviser Steve Bannon. As The Washington Post reported Monday: “Bannon’s and King’s shared view that Western civilization is under threat by immigration and refugees dates back to before either man got on the Trump train.” Before now, racial anxiety was a disgusting tool to persuade working-class voters to elect Republicans with a pro-business agenda. Today, King, Bannon and Trump – who has been effusive in praising King over the years – are in a position to make white nationalism no longer just an election year come-on but now the core business of the federal government.
And so we’re seeing it in all their early moves – in the Muslim-targeting travel bans (both Classic and now Lite); in the “unleashing” of ICE agents in a fear campaign against the undocumented that’s aimed at driving out immigrants already here and preventing new ones from showing up; in the “great, great wall”; in a plan for “merit-based” immigration, which is really just a scheme to limit immigration; and in the “law-and-order” approach to urban policing.
Which brings us back to Monday’s news on health care – and the awfulness of the plan that could see a population nearly as large as Texas lose coverage over the next 10 years and jack up short-term premiums, mostly to pay for a $500 billion tax cut that targets the rich. Those 24 million people losing their coverage? To the bill’s architects, they were just “other people’s babies” not worthy of the full benefits of civilization.
Maybe the White House could have condemned King’s comment if it had just been empty words with nothing behind it. It gets a lot harder when those words – adored as they are by David Duke and various others wearers of white hoods – are also the official policies of the United States.
The time for any good and decent Republicans to condemn Steve King and his views on race and national identity has pretty much expired at this point. Silence and weasel words are a clear indication that the now GOP owns King’s philosophy.
And we shouldn’t be surprised, as they’ve been purchasing it on the layaway plan for years.
Will Bunch is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.