CUPP: Dems fought imaginary racism, but the GOP can’t see the real thing

SHARE CUPP: Dems fought imaginary racism, but the GOP can’t see the real thing

U.S. President Donald Trump presides over a meeting about immigration with Republican and Democrat members of Congress, including Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill. (left) in the Cabinet Room at the White House Jan 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C. | Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The post-racial America we were promised by many of President Obama’s true believers seems more like a fleeting hallucination — or the kind of dream you wake up from not quite sure if it actually happened — than a remote reality.

In fact, many argue race relations only worsened under Obama, and helped deliver unto us Donald Trump, the larger-than-life personification of eight years of Democratic identity politics gone awry. Others may say he’s merely what happens when generational racism naively believed to have been eradicated was instead just dormant, and has been awakened.


Either way, here we are. And we all have a choice to make.

Looking back on these pivotal moments, when parties decide what short-term calculations they are willing to make for immediate gains, recent history is fraught with warnings.

Just look back at 2012. It was a tough year for America — tensions were high as Obama was running for a second term against Mitt Romney.

Coming into 2012, Obama’s approval rating was under water, and the left was worried. So, in their desperation, they pulled out all the stops. “Romney once strapped a dog to the roof of his car!” they told us. He was also supposedly a miserly scrooge who hated poor people, even though he’d given millions of dollars away in charity. He was a sexist pig whose “binders full of women” proved he’d . . . tried to hire lots of women?

Republicans were also racist, Democrats insisted. This wasn’t a new or inventive charge, of course. But this time, the evidence was embarrassingly feeble.

Liberals alleged Republicans like Romney were using coded racial language — dog whistles — to signal to underground white nationalists and racists that, well, Obama was in fact black.

But the very real dog whistles of Richard Nixon’s 1960s “Southern Strategy” these were not.

In 2008, Slate writer Timothy Noah wrote that mentioning how “skinny” Obama was “can’t avoid being interpreted as a coded discussion of race.”

Over Obama’s first term words like “angry,” “apartment” and “Constitution” purportedly became racist dog whistles when Republicans used them, Democrats said earnestly.

By 2012, Chris Matthews was telling us that the word “Chicago” was code for “black.” Lawrence O’Donnell was insisting that it was racist to bring up Obama’s golf game, because, Tiger Woods was black and “these people (Republicans) reach for every single possible racial double entendre they can find.”

Democrats’ short-term calculations had the desired effect: Obama was reelected. But I’d argue that they are now paying a hefty price for these and other absurd identity-politics stunts.

After all, we have a sitting president who believes that some neo-Nazis are “very fine people.” He thinks a judge’s Hispanic heritage should disqualify him from sitting on the bench. (The judge was born in Indiana.) Famously, he said Mexicans coming to this country were rapists, drug dealers and criminals.

He wants to admit more people from places like Norway, where less than 2 percent of the population is not white, rather than from African and Caribbean countries like Haiti, where less than 2 percent of the population is not black. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

Democrats had played a dangerous game to get Obama reelected, minimizing the scourge of actual racism, which is quite obviously still alive and well in pockets all around the country.

And now I would tell my Republican friends and colleagues: You too are playing a dangerous game. To the pundits who spin for him, the lawmakers like Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue who lie for him, and the operatives who think this is all worth it in order to get “an agenda” passed:

Dismissing or straining to explain away Trump’s racist comments with cutesy semantics or arguments that defy common sense will not convince anyone that Trump didn’t say what he said, or that he didn’t mean it the way he meant it.

It will not divert attention back to the very real questions we might have about the efficacy of the visa lottery program. It won’t scrub away the hardened patina of bigotry that is forever shellacked on this presidency and those who support it.

All Trump supporters are doing by defending the president’s words is paying garbage-laced lip-service to people who believe America was best when it was whiter; who believe immigrants only take instead of giving; who wish we could go back. That generation is not the future; they are the very imminent past. When they are dead and gone, what will Trump’s defenders have left to show for their defense of the indefensible?

Contact Cupp at

This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.

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