One of the strangest episodes of recent political history took place last week, when the U.S. House passed a resolution condemning the president of the United States for uttering "racist" remarks.
The oddities of that political action taken by the Democratic majority controlling the House (although joined by four Republicans and one independent) were that it included a violation of the House’s own rules; thus it was nonsensical on its face, it was a complete stunt.
This means it has no chance of passing in the U.S. Senate.
Furthermore, it demonstrated the precarious position in which Democrats now find themselves.
Section 47 of the House Rules, designed to preserve civility in debate, prohibits casting personal aspersions on the president, and one of the explicit forbidden examples is to charge the President with racism.
The presiding officer, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., admonished U.S. House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., (when, introducing the resolution, she levelled the racism charge at Donald Trump) that she was violating the House rules, and prohibited her from speaking for the rest of the day — as the rules provide.
The controlling Democrats overruled this decision, causing Cleaver to abandon the podium.
The source of the ire of the House was President Trump’s criticism of the four freshman Democratic House members, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., four women of color.
The president, noting the four (now known as the Squad) had been constantly critical of the executive branch, particularly its enforcement of our immigration laws, suggested that if the four didn’t care for U.S. policy, they should simply return to "where they came from."
This was a bit inapt, since only one of the four, Omar, born in Somalia, was not a native American.
But were Trump’s remarks — quite similar to the patriotic slogan of a generation ago — "America, Love it or Leave it!" — racist?
What, indeed, does it mean to be a racist?
The definition given by a 40 year-old pastoral letter from America’s Catholic bishops states that "Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of races."
Presiden Trump’s remarks were nothing of the sort.
The president was not disparaging the Squad because of their ethnicity or race, but rather because of their political views regarding immigration.
We are now used to the tactic on the left to brand any political opponent as a racist.
That charge is political dynamite, but it ought at least to be levied, where it is used, with some attempt to be truthful.
The House resolution offered absolutely no proof, and, indeed, not even any mention that the president had argued that any race was superior to another.
It simply proclaimed that he made "racist" statements.
One searches in vain for anything in Article I in the Constitution (that provision that limns the role of the federal legislature) authorizing resolutions condemning purported racism, and, indeed, it is the job of the Congress to legislate, not collectively to engage in virtue-signaling.
The House can initiate impeachment proceedings against officers in the executive branch, but an attempt to do so based on the president’s allegedly "racist" remarks, failed by a substantial bipartisan margin.
The House leadership knows that the president would never be removed by a Republican-controlled Senate, and, at least for the time being, Speaker Pelosi et.al. are not willing to drag the country through what could be a politically-suicidal and ultimately futile exercise.
Given, then, the futility of the "racism" resolution itself (which also could not pass the Senate) why do it, and why flout the House rules in the process?
The explanation must be that Speaker Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues feel that the president poses a grave danger that only the nuclear option of publicly making the racism charge would counter.
At least three of the four squad members represent constituencies that the Democrats cannot afford to alienate in the upcoming election, and the Trump administration’s economic success in lowering unemployment, particularly among African-Americans and Hispanics, could result in the peeling off of some of these historic backers of the Democrats.
President Trump, with his firm support of Israel is also shrewdly picking a battle with Reps. Tlaib and Omar, whose anti-Israel views could well result in the Republicans, in 2020, picking up more of the Jewish vote than ever achieved by their party.
Democrats seem unable actually to defend their open-borders, "Democratic-Socialist," Green New Deal policies in open and robust debate and must thus retreat to the invocation of the bogus racism charge, now, to paraphrase Samuel Johson, "the last refuge of political scoundrels."
The 2020 election will be a referendum on whether substance or smear will prevail.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was recently appointed as a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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