Days after the president of the United States tweeted a racist invective telling four Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came,” the administration spin cycle was set to high. President Donald Trump, objectively, declared himself totally not-racist™, tweeting, “Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” On Tuesday, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway was put on the case to help obfuscate and distract, offering up a mind-numbing dissembling of Trump’s not-racist™ racism.
During a question-and-answer session with journalists outside the White House, Conway was predictably asked about Trump’s tweets, and specifically about what countries the president was suggesting the American-citizen congresswomen go back to. Conway paused a beat and shot back to the reporter: “What’s your ethnicity?” “Ummm … ” the reporter hesitated, “why is that relevant?” “Because I’m asking you a question,” Conway interjected. “My ancestors are from Ireland and Italy.” “My own ethnicity is not relevant to the question I’m asking,” the reporter replied. “No, no, it is,” Conway said. “Because you’re asking what [Trump] said about ‘originally.’ ”
If there was any doubt about what’s happening here, Conway’s casual questioning of a journalist’s ethnicity is Exhibit Z of how the Trump administration articulates and then deploys race-based divisions. Conway seems to sense that she’s cornered herself where she’s now demanding a journalist’s ethnicity to make a point that the president isn’t racist. Presumably, she was trying to make the argument: No big deal, I’m from Italy and Ireland, I’m not offended if someone tells me to go back there. This is, obviously, not a like comparison—in fact it’s a dangerous one that reinforces the premise of Trump’s tweets.
Conway, appearing to sense she was on shaky ground, then decided to blow up the entire exchange conjuring instantaneous outrage over … something? “[Trump’s] tired. A lot of us are sick and tired in this country of America coming last,” she shot back. What? “Sick and tired of our military being denigrated,” Conway continued. “Sick and tired of Customs and Border Protection people I was with—who are overwhelming Hispanic, by the way, in McAllen, Texas—sick and tired of them being criticized, being doxed by a bunch of Hollywood D-listers who have nothing else to do but sit on their asses on Twitter all day and try to dox brave men and women who are diving into the Rio Grande to save people who are drowning. ”
Don’t take your eye off the ball. What’s happening here is exactly what you think is happening.