By now we are all pretty much familiar with Trump’s latest tweet-heard-round-the-world.
I have started so many columns with that sentence in the last three years I should really keep a running tally.
This tweet, of course is the Elijah Cummings/Baltimore mess. For days now we’ve been accusing Trump of being racist for talking poorly about someone who happens to be Black, and for talking poorly about a city that happens to have a very large Black population. The rules in 2019 are that if you’re White, any non-White person is unassailable regardless of their personal character or their personal responsibility.
That’s just another form of racism if you ask me, but I digress.
For the last forty years (at least) the media narrative on racism has been set in stone. If you’re not a Democrat, you’re a racist. If you’re not a progressive, you’re a racist. If you’re called a racist and you bring up your non-White friends as proof of your heart, you’re a racist. If you bring up Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “content of character” comments, you’re a racist. Most of all, if you must publicly utter the words “I am not a racist”…you’re totally a racist.
I’ve been doing this job for a decade now and Media Relations 101 is to never utter the accusations word-for-word out loud. What happens is that word just gets stuck to you, no matter what context you use it in. This is one of the shockingly attractive qualities of Donald Trump that got him elected. He rarely defends himself in the manner we’re used to seeing from a typical politician – contrite, apologetic, reassuring. Trump just flips the script on his opponents and hurls their own insults right back at them. He is no diplomat and he doesn’t seem to care to be.
So imagine my shock when I woke up to an open letter in the Baltimore Sun from a woman claiming she worked with Rep. Cummings in the past and proudly exclaiming, “Elijah Cummings Is No Racist”. And imagine my equal shock when Rep. Cummings himself retweeted the post, reiterating in his commentary “Elijah Cummings Is No Racist”.
My jaw hit the floor. In all my years in this industry I cannot recall a time when a Black Democrat was cajoled into defending themself against such an accusation. Conservatives gave Obama his fair share of “You’re a racist bigot!” accusations but like most of the insults the Right hurled, he let it roll off his back. Protected by a sycophant media, Obama didn’t need to stoop to such levels. He was too smart for that, and his cool demeanor about it all only made the rest of us look batty.
The progressive Left in the media and political sphere have seized this Baltimore madness as a billy club. They are gleefully swinging it around, sure that this time they’ll connect. This time Trump has crossed the line. This time, he’s going down.
But that’s not what is happening.
Instead what has happened is that Trump’s refusal to play ball has turned the other side into the Washington Generals. Elijah Cummings – a man with an impeccable Civil Rights Era pedigree and a (too) long and notable career representing his district – has been reduced to publicly insisting he is not a racist.
My hand to God, I never in my wildest dreams thought Trump would be smart enough to flip the tables so hard on his political opponents.
To be quite honest, I have questioned for a while whether Trump’s media victories were more of an accident – in part due to the blinding rage the media exhibits on a daily basis, a rage that drains their professional bonafides and causes them to regularly make terrible mistakes – or whether he’s way smarter than people like me ever gave him credit for and he’s playing his opponents like a fiddle.
I’m beginning to think it’s the latter.
Elijah Cummings is not a racist. Neither is Donald Trump. They haven’t even always been enemies and I suspect a lot of Trump’s “bombastic” posturing when it comes to the likes of the Congressional Black Caucus is that up until the day he announced his plans to run for President, they considered him a “friend”. He’s been at tons of fundraisers and parties with CBC members over the years. He’s probably made a lot of donations to Cummings’ pet projects. I completely believe Trump when he says Al Sharpton apologized to him for how he was talking about Trump in public. We don’t have to reach back very far to see these men running in the same social circles. These are games. It is all a game. Trump knows it. Sharpton knows it. Cummings knows it too.
Elijah Cummings wants you to know that he’s not a racist – and that’s probably true.
But in the current form of this game…he is a loser.