Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

Trump supporters need to confront his racism

President Donald Trump speaks at the Conversations with the Women of America event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington on Jan. 16, MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
President Trump speaks at the “Conversations with the Women of America” event held at the White House on Jan. 16.

What to do when it becomes apparent that the president one voted for harbors racist sentiments?

Actually, let’s shelve the political correctness so often employed when discussing this president, and state it baldly: What to do now that it has become glaringly obvious that the president is a racist?

Well, here’s how two members of the US Senate answered that question:

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Deny and lie.

One can only hope that Trump supporters who don’t share the president’s racial animus use this moment to do an honest assessment of both the man they supported and the reason they backed him.

But honesty isn’t what we’ve seen from Senators Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, and David Perdue, Republican of Georgia. After the story broke last week that Donald Trump had referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries,” Democratic Senator Richard Durbin confirmed publicly that Trump had indeed made that remark. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who was also at the meeting, essentially confirmed Durbin’s account. (Further confirmation comes from Republican Senator Jeff Flake; though he wasn’t an attendee, Flake says that even before Trump’s comments exploded into the news, he had heard about it from meeting participants.)

Enter Cotton and Perdue. In a joint statement, the two initially said they couldn’t recall Trump saying the vulgarity, but that muted formulation soon gave way to outright denials that he had. Perdue even accused Durbin of a “gross misrepresentation” of Trump’s remarks.

Cotton issued a similar denial, though he seemed intent on creating a linguistic loophole for himself, adding: “I did not hear derogatory comments about individuals or persons.” Readers schooled in political misdirection will recognize that though that construction seems to broadly gainsay scatological slurs, it says nothing about comments directed against a country as opposed to its citizens. Alas for too-clever-by-half Cotton, his interlocutor, CBS’s John Dickerson, pressed further, asking if he was saying that the sentiment attributed to Trump was totally phony. Cotton: “Yes.”

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Sadly for this deceitful duo, their flimflam fig-leaf was promptly stripped away by the Washington Post, which revealed that the two are basing their defense of Trump on the assertion that the president said “shithouse,” not “shithole.”

Ponder that for a moment. These two incredibly shrinking senators are denying that Trump used one derogatory term by alleging they heard him use a different one. And on that basis, they set about muddying the truth and providing the president cover to deny his remark. And traduced Durbin, an honorable colleague, in the process.

Taken in totality, their remarks are not just a lie, but a coordinated attempt to deceive the country. If they had any sense of personal honor, these two would realize they have behaved shamefully and shabbily. And in doing so, enabled rather than rebuked racism.

If they had any true integrity, they’d apologize, and not just to their constituents, but to the nation.

Don’t look for that to happen.

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But Trump-supporting citizens need to do better than those Trump-supporting senators.

Unless one is himself or herself a bigot, it should create real discomfort to have the racism of the man he or she backed for president on full display. That said, it really shouldn’t come as a revelation, given both his history and the campaign he ran. Not to anyone who paid the amount of attention that an engaged citizen owes the nation.

The question, of course, is what someone genuinely upset can do now that Trump is in the White House. Not much, obviously. But there are some things.

Let the White House know, by letter or e-mail or phone call, that they, his voters, object strenuously to this kind of outrage. Second, voice those objections publicly in letters to the editor and in Internet forums.

We all have to live with him, but he’s your president, guys. You need to speak up.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.