Last week, I speculated that, after inflaming passions with his comments about protesting black NFL players, Trump would move on and stir up a new and entirely different racial controversy. Turned out I was right, but I’ll be honest: I didn’t imagine he’d do so by attacking the beleaguered mayor of a disaster area, as he did with his comments on San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz after she annoyed him by pointing out her city was not getting adequate relief from the mainland.
In retrospect it makes sense: Trump is the kind of old-school New York landlord who would be as comfortable discriminating against Puerto Ricans as he was against blacks. If he never before said “they want everything to be done for them” about Puerto Ricans who lived in his buildings and wanted their boiler fixed in the winter, I would be extremely surprised.
Also, in addition to being Puerto Rican, Cruz is female, and Trump has had some success in recent years promoting misogyny. (He even used one of his old Hillary slurs on Cruz.) Plus, her country remains ravaged, and if there’s anything else that would excite those such as Trump, it’s the prospect of attacking the helpless.
The president’s factota — press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former Trump caddie and current Trump social media director Dan Scavino Jr., FEMA administrator and Brownie-in-waiting Brock Long, et alia — expectedly backed him up. Also expectedly, Democrats such as Hillary Clinton supported Cruz against Trump.
Republicans not in the Trump orbit, while acknowledging that Trump’s racist outburst may have been “inappropriate,” tried not to get in trouble by complaining too loudly about it. “In tussle with San Juan mayor, Trump makes some fellow Republicans uneasy,” tweeted Politico’s Marc Caputo with a straight face, pimping a story in which Trump was forthrightly criticized by exactly one Republican with an elected office to defend, Florida state representative Bob Cortes; better known Republicans’ quotes were far gentler (example: “This is not a time for politics” — Florida governor Rick Scott).
Rightbloggers — well, you can imagine. Some did the old “Racy? What’s wrong with being racy?” routine.
“The Media Has Its ‘Kanye Moment’ On Trump — CNN, MSNBC Make Disaster Relief All About ‘Racism,’ ” scoffed the Daily Caller’s Justin Caruso. “CNN, MSNBC, and other media outlets are once again rushing to paint Trump as a racist, taking his criticism of San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as proof of his malice against Puerto Rican people.” But for all their talk about dog whistles, Caruso retorted, “Trump never actually said anything about race.” Now, if the president had said, “I hate Puerto Ricans and, believe me, it’s solely because of their race,” then maybe the liberal media would have something.
For the more lawyerly version, see Ann Althouse: “That’s aggravating, when people are suffering, but should it be called ‘demented’ and ‘racist’?” she argued. “I can see why a Trump hater would jump at an opportunity to frame ‘They’ as Puerto Ricans in general and, in addition, to see Puerto Ricans as a racial group being subjected to disrespect because of race.” Given Trump’s excellent record on race relations, it seems only fair to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Others invoked the old folk wisdom that anything that makes liberals mad is MAGA good. “Overnight Trump Unleashed 5 Puerto Rico Tweets Sending Liberals Into MELTDOWN Mode,” said Terresa Monroe-Hamilton at Right Wing News. She fixed the blame instead on the impoverished island territory for being impoverished — “Hell, they shouldn’t be on the verge of bankruptcy, but they are”; poor people, they’re the worst — and on liberals for “gleefully claiming that this is [Trump’s] Katrina” and “salivating over dead bodies.”
When liberals pointed out that not even George W. Bush treated New Orleans’ elected officials like this during Katrina, some conservatives pretended this was praise of Bush and accused them of insincerity: e.g., “Right, ‘WTF we love Bush now’. Get bent,” tweeted red-pill stuntman Stephen Miller.
Samantha Chang at BizPac Review announced Trump had authoritative backup for his claims that things were going great in Puerto Rico: “Former baseball star Curt Schilling is in Puerto Rico, and confirmed that President Trump sent aid to the hurricane-ravaged island in record time.”
Some conservatives bade us spare a thought for the real victim here: Donald Trump.
“Trump Charges into the Democrats’ Trap on Puerto Rico,” headlined National Review’s Dan McLaughlin. You may think the president capable of being an asshole without being tricked into it, but McLaughlin knew better. While tut-tutting Trump’s “self-destructive approach to communications” and “political malpractice,” McLaughlin bade readers understand that “realistically, there is only so much a president can do in this situation,” and how terrible it is that his unfortunate tweeting “plays into every bad narrative about Trump.”
Also, said McLaughlin, Trump’s “complaints about Puerto Rico’s dysfunctional government” were “all true” and “a fair part of the story” — just as “failures of the Democrat-run state and local governments” were the sadly underappreciated reasons for the Katrina disaster, for which, McLaughlin reminisced, “George W. Bush was pounded with merciless partisan spin from the opening hours of the hurricane in 2005, and the Democrats and the media succeeded in casting a partisan narrative in stone while people were still under water in New Orleans.” The bastards!
Thus, per McLaughlin, just as Bush got a bum rap from the Democrats and media, so was Trump getting one — Cruz was “goading him,” the Democrats were “transparently using the occasion for partisan gain,” and the media (which, much like Puerto Ricans, was too lazy and poor to do the “hard, expensive work of sending reporters to the field”) chose to “save money and catch the low-hanging fruit” by mocking Trump. No wonder the poor man was so rattled he found himself — through no fault of his own, mind you! — “walking into their trap” with his “bull-in-a-china-shop approach.” See, he’s just too honest — which is just what his white working-class fans love about him.
Others rushed to adopt this passive-aggressive approach. “There is no doubt the media and the Democrats, working in tandem, look for any opportunity to get this president,” said Patterico’s Pontifications, “so for his sake, he should stop giving them so much to work with.” “The Democrats, of course, are using the tragedy for political gain against the President and the media has been complicit,” said Erick Erickson at the Resurgent, but darn it, the president wound up “predictably taking the bait against San Juan’s Mayor.” While “a mature president would just do his job,” Jay Caruso couldn’t be too mad at Trump: “It’s human nature to be frustrated in the face of adversity. People get emotional. It happens.” The world is full of lures and snares!
Meanwhile, some of the more dutiful operatives went digging for dirt on Cruz: The Daily Caller slithered in with “San Juan Mayor Praised Convicted FALN Terrorist.” Cruz apparently had kind words to say about Oscar Lopez Rivera, a former member of FALN, the Puerto Rican equivalent of the IRA, who marched in this year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. And the Daily Caller found a mayor from another Puerto Rican city who claimed Cruz didn’t go to FEMA meetings. Soon come the rallies where rage-filled honkies will roar to have Cruz locked up.
While Trump’s backers in the conservative media made excuses, Trump’s true believers in the trenches simply reveled in his and their racism. A good example comes from “Former DC Lobbyist, 20y Itn’l Photo Journ-Live-Work Worldwide, DiploCor, Airline Ex” Kate WarRoom Trumper, who tweeted, “PR with their ‘gimme entitlement’ society has bankrupted PR.Nothing has changed. They r sitting back & saying..Fix it..I’m entitled. [shit emoji].”
There, in all its malignant glory, is Trump’s base, folks. And it shows the oft-mentioned divide between the conservative “establishment” and the Trumpkins. The establishment is trying to convince moderates that Trump doesn’t really mean what he obviously means; the Trumpkins, having no phony-baloney media jobs to protect, don’t bother. It would seem a bad sign for a candidate (and the party chained to him) who is presumed to need moderates to win — assuming their votes are still going to be counted.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 2, 2017