Guest Columnist

Sen. Ernst must condemn Trump's racism

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa., speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. on Feb. 4, 2020. MUST CREDIT: photo
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa., speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. on Feb. 4, 2020. MUST CREDIT: photo for The Washington Post by Amanda Voisard.

E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one — has been an official motto of the United States since 1782. It proclaims the centrality of national unity. President Donald Trump, who has recently accelerated his exploitation of divisions among us, notably along racial lines, does not live up to this motto. His enablers in Congress, including Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, are silent and complicit.

For example, Trump in recent days retweeted a video in which a man in a car shouts “White Power”; He later deleted the tweet, but he has not condemned it. He is defending statues of Confederate soldiers, all traitors to the country who fought to preserve slavery; he has threatened to veto an important defense bill if it requires a name change for military bases that currently are named for Confederate generals. He has criticized NASCAR for banning from its events the Confederate battle flag, a symbol of white supremacy that deeply offends Black citizens.

Trump calls the coronavirus pandemic “Kung-flu,” displaying contempt for Asians and Asian Americans and implicitly blaming them for the pandemic. He calls “Black Lives Matter” a “symbol of hate.” He has attacked those who march for racial justice as “thugs” who want to “end America.”

I could go on, but I’ve made my point. The man is a racist.

What should those of us who are repulsed by his racism do about it? We should at the least contest it, as I am now. We should vote against Trump in November, obviously. We should not remain silent.

Sen. Ernst is silent. Indeed, while Democrats on Capitol Hill speak out, virtually all Republican senators and representatives are quiet. But, as holders of a public trust, they have special obligations to dissociate themselves from a president who would divide the nation along racial lines. Instead, republicans on the Hill are Trump’s enablers.

It is unclear why Trump’s enablers are silent. I doubt that any of them, including Sen. Ernst, are racists; at least, I have no evidence that they are. But they have failed to hold Trump to account for his racism. Facing criticism from fellow Republicans on this score, hopefully Trump would temper his harsh rhetoric.

There are many reports that, in private, the Republican senators are troubled. Troubled by Trump’s racism and by his waning popularity (as measured by current polls). Republican senators reportedly worry that he will be defeated badly in November and bring down with him up to 11 Republican senators whose reelection races look close. If only four Republican senators lose their seats, the Democrats would take control of the Senate.

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But Trump’s poor prospects for reelection are not reasons for silence. You would think that his poor prospects would lead senators up for reelection to distance themselves from the President at least a little. They could do this most easily by condemning his racism.

Sen. Ernst: Condemn Trump’s racism. If you don’t, you are an enabler and fellow-traveler. Iowans, who are decent and patriotic people, will hold you accountable in November.

Steven J. Burton is the John F Murray Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Iowa.

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