Just when, six years in to the Obama presidency, I think I’m hardened to the deranged anti-Obama rants of conservatives and Republican Party officials, I’ve been reminded that the cesspool of bigotry is bottomless. And that there are always people out there willing to splash around in the filth.
One example of this maxim occurred at a town hall meeting held by Oklahoma Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine. Exactly where and when the meeting was held is at yet unclear; Bridenstine’s office has declined to be specific about it. But, according to a youtube.com video of the meeting, presumably held in his district, Bridenstine listened as a woman in the audience declared that President Obama “should be executed.”
The woman, who is seated and cannot be seen, speaks somewhat disjointedly, but her point is clear enough. “I want to ask you about President Obama,” she says. “He’s not president as far as I’m concerned. He should be executed as an enemy combatant, really. … And the other thing is, too, with Congress doing nothing, that legally allows this moron to make decisions. He has no authority! None!”
Bridenstine laughs, then, matching the woman’s incoherence, says, “Look, everybody knows the lawlessness of this president. He picks and chooses which laws he’s going to enforce or not enforce. He does it by decree. When he can’t create a law through Congress, then he uses – bureaucracies in the executive branch … When he can’t even get that done, then he uses foreign bodies,” and launches into a rambling claim that Obama tried to get the United Nations to subvert the Second Amendment.
Later, at the end of the meeting, when another woman says, “The only way I see out of this is to overwhelmingly change the Senate, so that we can get the S.O.B,” Bridenstine responds: “You’re absolutely right. As long as [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid and the Democrats are in charge … there is nothing to hold this president accountable.”
On Feb. 5, after the youtube.com video went viral, Bridenstine’s office released a statement, contending, “A public figure cannot control what people say in open meetings. I obviously did not condone and I do not approve of grossly inappropriate language. It is outrageous that irresponsible parties would attribute another person’s reckless remarks to me.”
That statement, of course, didn’t explain why Bridentstine’s responses at the meeting indicated his agreement with the comments both women made. One sees this, at best, situational amorality up and down the conservative ladder these days – from Black wannabe-congressional candidate Joshua Black, of Florida, declaring that President Obama should be lynched, to Black wannabe-presidential nominee Ben Carson accusing Democrats of imposing a Nazi-like “blanket of silence over the majority” of Americans.
Equally despicable, on Feb. 12 – Abraham Lincoln’s birthday – the Republican-controlled Kansas House of Representatives approved a bill that, as Daily Beast.com columnist Jamelle Bouie put it, “borrows from Jim Crow to legalize discrimination against gay couples. … [The bill, which still must pass the Kansas Senate] would allow businesses and government employees to deny service to same-sex couples on the basis of their religious beliefs. The law specifies businesses ‘with public accommodations’ – but, in effect, that covers almost everything.”
As Bouie noted, one can see in such actions and hear in such language, common now throughout the Republican and conservative universe, the echoes of ghosts of enormous wrongs—of a time when the use of such language was not just part of the rhetorical lexicon of bigotry, but also of the arsenal of violence. In those days and years and decades and centuries before the civil rights victories of the mid-1960s, the language of bigotry was used as both a goad and a prelude to violence.
Today, however, their use is a sign of the desperation of those who see the American tradition they’ve most valued – the immoral tradition of exclusion – be slowly but surely defeated by its moral twin: the tradition of inclusion. That’s why the president of the United States that Rep. Jim Bridenstine shows no respect for has been twice elected to office, and why the indecent, anti-democratic law the Kansas House approved will undoubtedly soon join the thousands upon thousands of the old Jim Crow laws on the trash heap of history.
They’ll be like dust in the wind.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.