BY GARY EDMONDSON
Glen’s family was one of the few Catholic families in our small Indiana town.
Our teacher asked for any endorsing speeches. Glen stood up and opened by saying, “I’m not going to vote for John F. Kennedy because he’s a Catholic.”
While my proud Protestant self was smugly agreeing, he broke his pause and continued. “I’m going to vote for him because he’s the best candidate running” [or words to that effect].
A quick lesson in rhetoric – and prejudice.
I had been thoroughly schooled in the anti-Catholic bigotry of the community. John Kennedy’s first loyalty was to his church. If he were elected, “the Pope in Rome” would be telling him what to do.
It’s fortunate that 10-years-old can’t vote. It’s unfortunate that some of them never mature.
I would say fast-forward to today – except the rhetoric is more of that 1950s retro-bigotry that President Trump endorses at every opportunity. This time the target is not Catholics, but Muslims.
On April 12, our Racist-in-Chief re-tweeted an attack on Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar for stating the obvious fact that after the Sept. 11, 2001 cowardly attacks, American Muslims faced increased instances of discrimination and hate attacks.
As reported April 15 in The Hill, “Omar … sparked controversy late last week over March comments she delivered to the Council on American–Islamic Relations [CAIR], a Muslim civil rights group, circulated across conservative media. Omar condemned people who blamed all Muslims for the 9/11 attacks based on the actions of a few extremists.
“CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties,” she said.
Critics found “some people did something” too mild a description of the heinous attacks, and re-posted the comments over footage of the destruction inflicted.
Never one to miss an opportunity to stir anti-Muslim hatred, Trump re-tweeted the message completely out of the context of the meeting.
Even prior to this controversy, Politico reports, “a Trump supporter from upstate New York was charged with threatening to shoot Omar. She also was the target of a bomb threat at a Muslim-American civil rights event last month in Los Angeles.”
After the president weighed in, Jake Johnson of Common Dreams reported:
Rep. Ilhan Omar on Sunday issued a call to confront the rise of white nationalism in the United States, noting she has seen an increase in death threats since President Donald Trump tweeted an out-of-context clip of her recent remarks on the bigotry Muslim Americans faced after 9/11.
“Since the president’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life – many directly referencing or replying to the president’s video,” the Democrat from Minnesota said in a statement Sunday night.
“Violent crimes and other acts of hate by right-wing extremists and white nationalists are on the rise in this country and around the world,” Omar added. “We can no longer ignore that they are being encouraged by the occupant of the highest office in the land.”
As a result, The Hill noted:
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-MS, said he has ordered a review of security in place for Omar in Washington and in her Minneapolis district. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, announced a day earlier that she spoke with the sergeant-at-arms to ensure U.S. Capitol Police are conducting a security assessment to protect Omar, her family and her staff.
“He is really putting the congresswoman’s life at risk,” Thompson said of Trump.
And the Bigot-in-Chief’s response, according to Splinter?
Nevertheless, Trump dismissed the threats against Omar’s life and questioned the congresswoman’s patriotism instead, telling the reporter: “She’s got a way about her that’s very, very bad, I think, for our country. I think she’s extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country.”
Trump’s comments came the same day one of his 2020 campaign aides claimed that the death threats against Rep. Omar were entirely her fault.
Rep. Omar is not the only Muslim woman in Congress. And by mid-May, the racist president and other racist Republicans were twisting the words of Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib into hate speech rants.
And when there are no words to be taken out of context, Republicans such as Coffee County, TN, District Attorney Craig Northcott can be counted on to just spread random hatred.
In an on-line debate with a fellow Republican, who was trying to convince Northcott that he should represent all of his constituency, “Northcott,” according to HuffPost, “jumped in to claim that Islam is not a legitimate religion and that being a Muslim is no different than ‘being part of the KKK, Aryan Nation, etc.’ He said that every Muslim ‘by definition’ supports an ‘evil belief system whether they understand/act on it or not.’”
Kudos to the young GOPer who was trying to preserve what little is left of party morality, but the acquiescence of most Republicans lets us know where they cower.
As reported by The Huffington Post, Omar answer to these attacks was, ““When someone like the president tweets something like that, it’s not an attack only on myself, but an attack on all Muslims … women of color … on immigrants and refugees. That message was being used to vilify anyone who shared an identity with me … to say you don’t belong.”
She and Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who is Jewish, also addressed the rise of American bigotry in a joint op-ed piece for CNN, relayed by the HuffPost:
“As a Muslim American and a Jewish American elected to the United States Congress, we can no longer sit silently as terror strikes our communities,” the congresswomen wrote. “We cannot allow those who seek to divide and intimidate us to succeed.”
“Whatever our differences, our two communities, Muslim and Jewish, must come together to confront the twin evils of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic violence,” they added.
American racism traces back to our treatment of Native Americans from the outset and then the evils of slavery. But neither of those constituencies had any political power for hundreds of years.
But the arrival of Catholics in the mid-1800s [“Irish need not apply”] spurred the first political movement based on bigotry. It was first called the Native American Party [without irony, I suppose] before settling on the American Party in 1855.
Of course, contemporaries knew better, and we’ve known them since as the Know-Nothing Party. It’s good to know the GOP has such high aspirations.
– Duncan resident Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party