Dear Mitch McConnell:
Why don’t you just go ahead and call Barack Obama the n-word?
You know you want to. It’d probably do wonders for your blood pressure. And it would free you from the tiresome charade of using coded language to say the same thing. It would also free the rest of us from having to listen.
Your latest vomitus spew came last week, after the former president criticized Donald Trump for the “chaotic disaster” of his response to the coronavirus pandemic in audio leaked from a private conference call with alumni of his administration. He didn’t mention Trump by name, but then, he didn’t have to. Chaos is Trump’s brand.
“I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut,” you huffed in an online interview with a Trump campaign aide. “We know he doesn’t like much this administration is doing; that’s understandable. But I think it’s a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you. … Generally, former presidents just don’t do that.”
But Obama is hardly the first ex-president to speak ill of his successor. Clinton did it, Bush the elder did it, Carter did it, Ford did it. Heck, Teddy Roosevelt called his successor and former friend, William Howard Taft, “a fathead with the brains of a guinea pig.”
And “classless?” You realize, don’t you, that Trump once said it was OK to call his daughter “a piece of ass?”
Point being, you are tying yourself in logical and rhetorical knots here, Mitch. Why not cut through the tangle? Why not say what you mean? Just call him the n-word.
It’s not like the rest of us don’t hear it already in your contemptuous tone. If one didn’t know better, one might think you were addressing a not-so-bright junior staffer who spoke out of turn in a meeting, not a president of the United States. Former GOP Chairman Michael Steele certainly caught your meaning, retorting on Twitter, “I’m sure Mitch is aware that a grown-ass black man who happens to be a former president has agency to speak his mind on how his successor is managing this crisis, especially since his successor has yet to ‘keep his mouth shut’ about him.”
Just say it, Mr. Majority Leader. Why not? After all, racial animus has been part of GOP DNA since the 1960s, when disaffected Democrats, horrified at the idea of African American voting and civil rights, fled to your ranks. For decades, the party wooed them in coded language that hid its meaning behind a fig leaf of deniability. You said, “law and order,” “welfare queens” and “Willie Horton.” You never said “n——r.” Never had to.
Then Obama was elected. Panic surged through your party like an electric shock, and codes were burned like crosses, suddenly insufficient to express GOP apoplexy at this threat to white hegemony. Language that had been opaque suddenly became Windex clear as this Harvard-educated professor of constitutional law was dubbed a “street hustler,” a “subhuman mongrel,” an “uppity” “boy” with a fake birth certificate.
Trump has been a leader in this movement for rhetorical clarity. He’s dubbed Mexicans “rapists,” said Islam “hates us,” told four congresswomen to “go back” where they came from, called black and brown nations “shithole countries.”
So your disrespectful tone toward President Obama, earnest as it is, seems overly genteel and out of step with the moment. This is 2020, Mitch. In 2020, Republicans say what they mean and darn well mean what they say. So go ahead and call Obama the n-word. It would be offensive, yes.
But we both know it would be honest, too.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.