On Racism, Riga And Relationships In A Trump World

I’ve been reading up on Riga lately. Riga is the capital and largest city in Latvia. It sits on the Baltic Sea, and it appears to be a very nice place to visit. I can’t find much about golfing opportunities there, and I suspect the bourbon selection is pretty limited, but I guess I could learn to love vodka.

The Riga area is where some of my ancestors lived before they came to the United States more than 100 years ago. It is the place to which I would have to go, if I went “back where I came from,” even though I was born in the old Baptist Hospital on Barret Avenue.

As far as I know, nobody has screamed “send him back” about me at a Republican rally. But I am white, if not exactly Anglo-Saxon white, and male, so while I share many of the political positions of “The Squad,” I haven’t been sent my marching orders by the man in the White House.

Sadly, tragically, deplorably, that is not the case for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Those four women, freshmen members of the United States House of Representatives, have become the obsession of Donald Trump’s scrambled brain over the past couple weeks. They have been steady, vocal critics of the President. They also share the Trump original sin of having ancestors from what POTUS would consider “shithole” countries, even though three of the four were born in America. Two of them are Muslim. All are women of color. With Trump, that is three strikes and you’re out, as in out of the country. Or maybe that’s four strikes.

Many of us, their colleagues, have denounced the President’s attacks on the four women as racist. All of my Democratic colleagues, along with four Republicans and one Independent, voted for a resolution condemning Trump’s words. Too many of my other colleagues, also my friends, have remained silent. I am not mad at them; I am sad for them.

When I was asked by a reporter last week what I thought of those Republicans who did not reject the President’s racist remarks, I was torn. I do not like to criticize people I like and respect. One thing all of us elected officials know is that we work in different environments. That is especially true in today’s political environment, in which many if not most people look at politics as a spectator sport. You are on one team or the other. Red jersey or blue. It’s UK or UofL.

We also understand that for most of us, any electoral threat is more likely to come from our own party in a primary than in the general election. So for Republicans today, criticism of President Trump, even when he has behaved in an unprecedented, reprehensible way, comes with considerable political risk.

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Trump is the alien creature that has invaded the national Republican corpus. He has already eaten away the core principles — fiscal restraint, strong military, free trade, cultural conservatism — that have defined modern Republicanism. Now, on a daily basis, he consumes his party’s soul.

I think I know Kentucky’s Republican members well enough to believe they are mortified by Trump’s behavior. I am sure their heads are near explosion from holding their tongues about his blatant racism. I think about what I would say if faced with someone who savages every fundamental value of my party and my country. Fortunately Barack Obama never put me in that position. And I mean never. Not once.

But these are different times. There is too much at stake to be silent. We have a monster in the White House. We have a President who knows almost nothing about the responsibilities of his office, the issues he faces, or the legacy he is destroying. We have a President who respects no one, including himself.

Last weekend I called Trump the bottomless President, because there is no level to which he will not sink. I’m not sure he can go much lower than the “send her back” chant, but I fear he will find a way. I wish my Republican friends would speak out against the dangerous descent.

Meanwhile, Riga looks like a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Like my four freshmen colleagues, I love my country, and I will continue to work to form a more perfect union. •

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, founder of LEO, has represented Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District since 2007 and is now chairman of the House Budget Committee.

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