As a study in contrasts, it will be educational to watch the Democratic contenders in next year’s primary debates. Unlike the 2016 Republican debates in which Donald Trump insulted, intimidated and lied his way to the GOP nomination while making up degrading nicknames for his various opponents, I strongly suspect U.S. senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar will refrain from calling each other insulting names and commenting on each others’ appearances.
In the meantime we can expect to hear the commander-in-chief continue to employ racist and childish nicknames for the Democratic contenders, most famously, his penchant for calling U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.”
Warren had hoped to deter Trump from using the racist nickname by taking a genetic test to prove she has Native American DNA. And, indeed, the test did show “strong evidence” that Warren had a Native American ancestor approximately six to 10 generations ago.
If there is one thing I have learned over the past two years it’s that Trump and his base don’t give a damn about 1. Science and 2. The Facts. So it was no surprise that the test turned out to be a huge public relations disaster for Warren and another win for Trump. Native American groups criticized Warren for the stunt, while the test only served to give Trump more ammunition. “She doesn’t have any Indian blood,” Trump told his supporters in the small Southern Illinois town of Murphysboro. “I have more than she does, and I have none. Right? I have none, but it’s more than her.”
Now as we brace for another two years of dog-whistles, the dynamic may have changed slightly. The president last week gave Warren a gift in the form of another racist tweet. The tweet may show a way for Warren to fight back, a way that won’t backfire like the genetic test.
Last week Trump dog-whistled another racist attack on Warren and all Native Americans when he tweeted: “Today Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to by me as Pocahontas, joined the race for President. Will she run as our first Native American presidential candidate, or has she decided that after 32 years, this is not playing so well anymore? See you on the campaign TRAIL, Liz!”
TRAIL, of course, refers to The Trail of Tears, one of the most tragic and darkest episodes in American history.
Or, for Donald J. Trump, a great punch line.
The Trail of Tears was a series of forced relocations of Native Americans between 1830 and 1850 from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern United States, to areas west of the Mississippi. The relocated Indians were forced to march to their destinations by state and local militias. On the way, they suffered from exposure, hunger and disease. About 4,000 of the 16,543 Cherokee died along the way. Not surprisingly the removal of the Cherokee in 1838 was brought about because of pure greed, i.e., the discovery of gold near Dahlonega, Georgia.
Trump’s FOX News mouthpieces like Brit Hume defended the president’s racist humor by arguing that Trump is an idiot and such a poor student of history that he has never heard of The Trail of Tears genocide.
Tweeted Hume: “Yes, because Trump is noted for his knowledge of 19th century American history vis a vis the native population. Jeez.”
No one is arguing that Trump is not an idiot. But he is also a grand master when it comes to dog whistling. And the tweet was just another example of Trump’s true specialty. Dog whistle politics.
After listening to Warren’s impressive presidential candidacy announcement this past weekend, I suspect Massachusetts’ senior senator is the best candidate in the race right now and the one best positioned to defeat Trump. And I would hope that every time Trump refers to the senator as “Pocahontas” — especially in the presidential debates — Warren responds by reminding American voters that it’s probably a bad idea for a man with a history of making racist jokes about the genocide of Native Americans to call her opponent “Pocahontas.”