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Opinion | Michael A. Cohen

The racist tropes of Republicans

President Trump spoke in August 2017 after violence in Charlottesville, Va.Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Senator Elizabeth Warren has taken a DNA test that proves once and for all that her claims of having a Native American heritage are true. This comes on the heels of a deeply reported article in the Globe that shows conclusively Warren never received any benefit to her career from identifying as Native American.

This will not stop the president from calling her “Pocahontas,” nor will it stop her political opponents from using the issue to attack her.

Above all, it will not end the casual manner in which Trump and his Republican enablers have come to utilize a racial slur with which to attack her.


Make no mistake, using a popularly known Native American figure as an epithet and stand-in for the larger Native American community is rank racism.

But then again, this type of casual public bigotry, emanating from the mouths of prominent Republican officials, has become depressingly routine in the age of Trump.

There is really no better example than Trump’s regular use of isolated crimes, committed by undocumented Hispanic immigrants, to not just make broad, sweeping generalizations about all Hispanic immigrants, but to call for their deportation.

We’ve been living with these attacks for three years — from Trump calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” when he announced his candidacy, to openly suggesting that an Hispanic-American judge could not be an impartial arbiter of justice in a case involving Trump. But it’s still remarkable that we’ve largely become inured to the president’s consistent use of nakedly racist rhetoric to frame the larger debate about immigration.

Trump regularly makes the same racist insinuations about Muslims, any time a member of that faith, totaling 1.8 billion people, commits a terrorist act. He, along with plenty of other Republicans, regularly accuses black athletes who kneel during the national anthem as being unpatriotic.


Earlier this month, in the midst of the fight over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Trump adopted the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the white nationalist “alt-right” in blaming philanthropist and top Democratic donor George Soros for funding public protests against the confirmation.

Soros has long been a bogeyman and punching bag for Republicans and is regularly accused of being the financial puppet master for liberal causes both in the United States and around the world. The focus on Soros, who is Jewish, reflects a longstanding and unseemly anti-Semitic canard of a powerful and wealthy Jewish figure working behind the scenes to manipulate global events.

As a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League noted, far-right “echo chambers” are replete with shadowy conspiracy theories about Soros. He is accused of attempting to perpetrate “white genocide,” undermine “white civilization,” and foment violence, including racial violence in Ferguson, Mo., and neo-Nazi rallies in Charlottesville, Va.

But such arguments are not merely the province of white nationalists. A bizarrely unhinged Wall Street Journal editorial this month tried to make the case that Soros was behind the anti-Kavanaugh protests, because he has previously funded some of the liberal groups that opposed the Supreme Court pick. It was an argument picked up by other prominent Republicans, including Senator Chuck Grassley.

Racist insinuations by Republicans about Democratic congressional candidates who are black, Asian American, Native American, or have Muslim-sounding names can be found with depressing regularity on the campaign trail this election cycle. Just this week, a prominent Republican club in New York City hosted Gavin McInnes, a far-right provocateur who founded a men’s organization with neo-Nazi links named the Proud Boys. The event sparked violence and led to members of the group beating up counterprotesters on the streets of Manhattan.


Not long ago, trafficking in such obviously racist tropes would have been a political third rail. Today, it’s become the soundtrack of our current political moment, uttered with little fear of serious political consequences. There’s zero indication that the powers that be within the Republican Party will do anything to tamp it down. If anything, it increasingly appears that many have made the calculation that they politically benefit from them.

Perhaps we should be spending more time talking about that than about Elizabeth Warren’s Cherokee heritage.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.