Shirley Sherrod: A Reminder of Racism in Politics and the Importance of Voting with Conscience.

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( Remember Shirley Sherrod? Relatively few people do. Ms. Sherrod was hired in 2009 to work for then President Barack Obama’s USDA as its Georgia Director of Rural Development — the first African American ever to hold that position. Several months into Sherrod’s tenure, the late propagandist Andrew Breitbart purposely smeared her by releasing a video of a speech that she had delivered to the NAACP. In a move that should have surprised absolutely no one, Breitbart deliberately edited the video to make it appear as though Sherrod had discriminated against a white farmer.

Shirley Sherrod: A Reminder of Racism in Politics and the Importance of Voting with Conscience.

Of course, the exact opposite was true. (One can easily find the unedited video online.) Sherrod detailed how she helped the farmer avoid foreclosure of his family farm. She did so despite the fact that he had treated her poorly when he came to her for help. This occurred roughly a year after another incident with racial overtones. That situation led to the so-called “Beer Summit” between President Obama, then Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, and then Police Sergeant (now Detective Sergeant) James Crowley.

These affairs were just two of hundreds, if not thousands, of efforts that were cynically designed to falsely paint President Obama as a racist. The incidents caused copious amounts of misplaced (and fake) outrage from Republicans, who incessantly waged an openly racist campaign against him. Their disdain for Obama’s imagined racially discriminatory behavior would dog him during his eight years in office.

In contrast to Obama, the GOP’s standard bearer, former President Donald Trump, routinely makes overtly racist comments (e.g., “the Kung Flu”). Trump also gave succor to white nationalists in Charlottesville and took concomitant actions (e.g., his Muslim ban) while he occupied the Oval Office. Raising the stakes even higher, these days Trump cannot seem to disassociate himself from Nazi language — not that he’s genuinely interested in doing so. And I’m not talking about people like the “Soup Nazi”; I mean actual Nazis.

For example, Trump has repeatedly channeled his inner Adolf Hitler by paraphrasing Mein Kampf. Specifically, on several occasions he has asserted that immigrants — specifically those who are from Africa, Asia, and South America — are “poisoning the blood” of America. He has denied using that phrase in the same way that Hitler did when he went on anti-Jewish tirades. Trump issues his insincere denials even as he uses the phrase in the same sense that Hitler did. Tragically, outrage from the Republican Party has been, at best, muted. Indeed, they expressed more opprobrium when President Obama wore a tan suit.

More recently, a pro-Trump website posted, then deleted, a video that spoke of a hypothetical Trump election victory this year. The video was infamous because of its reference to a “unified Reich”. Reich, the German word for “empire” or “nation”, is best-known as a Nazi term. Trump’s campaign disavowed any knowledge or support for the video, but what do his myriad other words and actions say about him and his party?

I cannot believe that I have to ask this question about a major political party’s presumptive presidential nominee in 2024: How many bites at the “Nazi fruit tree” does one get before being discarded as a serious political candidate?

During Trump’s first presidential campaign, not to mention his four years as president, there was a great deal of debate regarding the extent to which people should take Trump “seriously” as opposed to taking him “literally”. This included not only his blatantly racist statements about Mexicans beginning in 2015; it also included his hyperbole about virtually anything (including the size of his inauguration).

Yet, today, after years of disgusting rants, there can be no excuses or claims of ignorance regarding Trump’s view of what America should be. Have I now become the one who is engaged in hyperbole? No. Trump’s once (and perhaps future) presidential staff and advisors include Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka. All these men have, quite reasonably, been viewed as racial extremists.

So, what are we to do as a nation? We have the opportunity to vote with a clear conscience. We have the opportunity to eschew false equivalencies. We have the opportunity to vote for our hopes rather than surrender to our fears. No person is perfect; neither is any candidate. However, we should not pretend that all flaws are equivalent and equally impactful. It’s time to do the right thing. No more excuses.

Written by Larry Smith