Thursday, February 28, 2019

Elijah Cummings, Enabler

Closing Wednesday's hearing with Michael Cohen, House Oversight Committee chairperson Elijah Cummings Of Maryland delivered a statement described as "stunning" and "riveting." Charlie Pierce recognized it as an effort at "reassertion of democratic forms and norms, institutions and prerogatives," such as when Cummings asserted

When we're dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and do nothing? Did we play games, and I'm tired of these statements where, "Oh, this is the first hearing..." This is not the first hearing. The first hearing was in regard to prescription drugs. Remember? A lady sat there, and her daughter died because she couldn't get $333 a month in insulin. That was our first hearing. Second hearing, HR 1, voting rights. Corruption in government. Come on now. We can do more than one thing and we have got to get back to normal.

 But on another matter, count Cummings' approach as a FAII, long-term.. Let Vox's Dara Lind set it up with

But the most contentious moments between Democrats and Republicans on the committee were about racism — or rather, whether it was appropriate to use the word “racist” to describe first Trump himself, and then Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC).

The exchanges — a morning back-and-forth between Cohen and Meadows, followed by a very heated argument between Meadows and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) at the end of the day — exhibited a lot of the worst problems with the way people talk about racism in the early 21st century, and Trump’s racism in particular.

Cohen accused Trump of being “a racist” as a way to establish that Trump was a bad person. Meadows countered it by pointing out an individual black person close to Trump: former Trump Organization employee and current Housing and Urban Development official Lynne Patton.

This is not is a helpful way to talk about racism. But when Tlaib and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) pointed this out during their questioning, they were accused of violating congressional decorum.

Tlaib said Meadows’s use of Patton as a “prop” was a “racist act” — an accusation Meadows took as an allegation that he himself was a racist. Meadows’s ensuing effort to defend himself against the accusation Tlaib wasn’t making culminated with an awkward profession that he counts Committee Chair Elijah Cummings, who is black, as a friend.

Lind then explains what should be clear but isn't:

Meadows didn’t quite pull the full “I have a black friend” maneuver, in which an individual defends against claims of racism by saying they respect individual black people — instead, he paraphrased Patton’s own assessment that Trump isn’t a racist. But he is saying that because a black woman who has known Trump for years says that Trump is not a racist, he cannot actually be a racist.

It is not a helpful- or honest- way of talking about race.  Meadows' ploy was reminiscent of the 1950s-1960s "some of my best friends are colored" line (which suggests the meaninglessness of having elected a black President).  Although some people making that claim in a presumably less-sophisticated age were lying, it's likely many were telling the truth.

Yet, instead of Cummings stating simply that as an African-American and congressman he is confident that Meadows is not racist, he reinforced the North Carolinian's argument.  After assuring the committee that Tlaib was not accusing Meadows of being a racist, Cummings asserted "First of all, I want to thank the gentleman for what you said. If there is anyone who is sensitive in regards to race, it's me. "

Sensitivity, however, is not the same as wisdom. Cummings added

Mr. Meadows, you know, and of all the people on this committee, I've said it and gotten in trouble for it- that you're one of my best friends. I know that shocks a lot of people... And I can see and feel your pain. I feel it.

That shouldn't shock anyone because racially-biased whites can have black friends. A 2009 Pew survey found that 86% of whites, as noted here,  "who think that most blacks aren’t intelligent, law-abiding, honest, hard-working and/or generous have African American friends."

Whether Meadows is an actual "racist," fitting the textbook definition of racist, here is the fellow whose pain Representative Cummings feels:

Everyone should be allowed one stupid statement, though...

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