Opinion: GOP sanction of King ignores larger problem of prejudice

Republicans completed, with relative ease, what may be their least painful act of righting a wrong in 2019. They repudiated U.S. Rep. Steve King’s repeated blathering about white supremacy.

The Iowan, in a New York Times interview, set things in motion by lamely wondering why terms like “white nationalist,” “white supremacist” and “Western civilization” have negative connotations.

That’s a thinly veiled way of saying: “Hey, I don’t hate blacks and Latinos. I’m just proud of being white.” From a prominent member of Congress, that’s a dog whistle to organized haters like the Proud Boys, neo-Nazis and their ilk who endlessly complain that the white “identity” is under attack. But it also appeals to a broader range of people who want cover for their own good, old-fashioned racial, ethnic and sectarian biases.

The GOP stripped King of his committee assignments, which is the political equivalent of ordering him to stand silent in a corner, while others enjoy the fruits of congressional seniority.

All good. But the righteousness of the 424-1 vote on the House resolution against the words of King is less convincing than it might seem. King has been serving up similar hateful talk for years. Only now have his party’s leaders determined that they need to do something about it.

Have Republicans simply enumerated a “words you can’t say” list for party members, like comedian George Carlin’s famous seven banned words? Or do they accept that the prejudiced views behind King’s statements are actually prevalent in their party, whether articulated or not? White supremacy, after all, dangerously plays into the president’s America First doctrine.

Trump’s foreign and domestic policy perspectives focus on the supposed victimhood of white Americans and the supposed dangers presented by others deemed to be of lesser status: African-Americans; Latinos, including asylum seekers at the southern border; Syrian refugees and Muslims generally. The list is long, from his travel ban to the government shutdown.

Trump’s willingness to cause devastating financial harm to federal workers with the shutdown is directly tied to his insistence on a pseudo-solution to the pseudo-problem of Central Americans acting out their supposed criminal blood-lust on Americans. It’s a story he tells and retells his supporters in almost pornographic detail, to keep them in a lather.

Of course, it’s not true. Immigrants among us, whether documented or not, commit violent crime at much lower rates than native-born Americans, probably because they’ve come here to work and get ahead. Trump ought to know that, having hired immigrants, documented and not, at his enterprises throughout his career.

However, the Trump brand is xenophobia, whether the foreign bogeymen are immigrants or longstanding U.S. allies. He simply does not want the U.S. engaged in the world, except to dominate and despoil. His attitude is: make them pay or make them suffer. Or both.

What he and his supporters don’t understand is that this attitude carries devastating risks.

Horrifyingly, the deaths of four Americans became an example the day after the House vote on King. Two members of the U.S. military, a contract worker and a civilian, were murdered in a heinous act of terrorism in Syria that took as many as 19 lives total. ISIS immediately claimed credit.

The bombing deaths stood in direct conflict with Trump’s December insistence that ISIS had been defeated, which he argued justifies withdrawing U.S. troops from a peace-seeking coalition with Kurdish-led forces in Syria.

Sen. Lindsey Graham was among the few Republicans who quickly spoke up, questioning whether Trump’s bravado had goaded the terrorists to act. Graham also noted that in Iraq, the U.S. had also undermined the confidence of the people we claimed to be helping, with dire consequences.

Many military leaders today believe that withdrawing U.S. forces in Syria would create a vacuum for others with less benign intentions to fill. Would Turkey attack Kurdish forces as a new front in its decades-long war against ethnic Kurdish separatists? Would ISIS revive and flourish again? It’s a fair bet that Trump neither knows nor cares.

These are complicated and ever-changing scenarios. And we all must admit that U.S. intervention in the region has not always been enlightened or effective. But we owe it to our allies and to the Syrian people of all ethnic groups not to do more harm by impetuous decisions based on domestic political calculus.

So, yes, the Republicans were right to repudiate King. But it’s Trump, not King, whose prejudices are causing the greatest harm at home and abroad. It’s a shame the GOP lacks the backbone to stand up to him.