DANA MILBANK: President sets the tone
WASHINGTON -- Just in time for the election, the Trump administration is back to its monkey business.
The acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency is the latest administration figure found to have trafficked racist imagery. HuffPost reported last week on Andrew Wheeler’s “like” of a 2013 post showing President Obama and Michelle Obama looking longingly at a banana held by a white hand.
Wheeler claims he can’t recall the episode. Maybe he was distracted by his efforts to explain more recent undertakings, including retweeting a fanatic behind the bogus “Pizzagate” and Seth Rich conspiracies, and liking a tweet disputing Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations.
This is just the latest case of Trump advisers gone bananas:
-- The chief White House economic adviser who in August hosted a publisher of white nationalists.
-- The White House speechwriter who resigned in August over his participation in a white-nationalist conference.
-- The homeland security adviser who quit in August over his emails with white nationalists using Nazi terminology.
-- Another homeland security adviser who called black people lazy and promiscuous.
-- The AmeriCorps spokesman who disparaged blacks, Muslims, gays, women and immigrants.
-- Other officials, at the departments of Interior and Defense, who championed the “birther” movement.
Exposed by CNN, the Atlantic or The Washington Post, most have lost their jobs.
But why the double standard? These Neanderthals were just aping the president’s behavior.
Trump’s closing theme for the 2018 midterms is becoming a grim reprise of the white-nationalist themes that propelled him in 2016.
In Iowa on Tuesday, speaking of the (European) Americans who settled the plains, Trump said: “These courageous patriots did not shed their blood, sweat and tears so that we could sit at home while others tried to erase their legacy and destroy our proud American heritage.”
Destroying “our” heritage: It’s a common theme of white nationalists, and Trump has deployed a variant six times in the past three weeks. “A vote for Republicans is a vote ... to reclaim America’s true heritage and righteous destiny. We’re losing that with these crazy loco people,” he said earlier this month.
And just which “locos” destroy Americans’ “true heritage”?
In Iowa, Trump began by attacking the “phony protesters” of Brett Kavanaugh (he previously said sexual assault allegations were an evil “hoax”). He moved on to mock Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (“Pocahontas” with “high cheek bones”), Cory Booker (“ran Newark into the ground”), Richard Blumenthal (“Da Nang Dick”) and Dianne Feinstein (the audience chanted “Lock her up!”). Though virtually all Democrats oppose his border wall, Trump singled out two: California Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters. He threw in a shot at Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and ridiculed two Democratic women running for Congress before prompting another “Lock her up” chant for Hillary Clinton.
Judging from Trump’s targets, those defiling American patriots’ heritage are -- by amazing coincidence -- almost exclusively women, racial minorities and Jews. By contrast, he gave a warm shout-out to Iowa Rep. Steve King, the anti-immigrant legislator who said “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
Trump further argued that record-low African American unemployment (the continuation of a trend) justified his message to black voters in 2016: “What the hell do you have to lose?” Trump touted his support from rapper Kanye West and football great Jim Brown before reviving his national anthem feud with black NFL players.
This all flows naturally from the man who, among many other things, demanded Obama’s birth certificate, spoke well of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, disparaged “s---hole” countries in Africa and elsewhere, tried to disqualify a judge based on ethnicity, made false claims about black violence and called Mexicans rapists.
It is also consistent with his personnel (after Nikki Haley’s departure from the United Nations, there will be only four nonwhites in the Cabinet and one in the West Wing, The Post’s David Nakamura notes) and his policy (on family separation and a citizenship question on the census).
But it is depressing that Trump and his Republican allies believe they can hold back a blue wave only by redoubling efforts to make supporters fear that women and minorities threaten “America’s true heritage.”
My colleague Max Boot, in his new book, “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right,” writes that “coded racial appeals had at least as much, if not more, to do with the electoral success of the modern Republican Party than all of the domestic and foreign policy proposals crafted by well-intentioned analysts like me.”
Now it’s no longer coded. Trump might just as well wave a banana.