Michael Cohen gave some blockbuster testimony today in front of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the Republican congressmen in attendance. The GOP committee members mostly used their questioning time to discredit Cohen and invent new ways of indignantly saying “How dare you, sir!?” Trump superfan and Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) decided to offer what I’m sure he thought was a slam-dunk rebuttal to one of Cohen’s less-than-jaw-dropping-but-still-important claims—that President Trump is racist.
In his testimony, Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen stated that Trump once told him black people would “never vote for him because they were too stupid.” To push back against the transparently true allegation that Trump is racist, Meadows trotted out… Lynne Patton, a black woman who works for Trump. The former wedding planner to Eric Trump’s and current Housing and Urban Development liaison to Donald Trump, made a surprise appearance standing behind Meadows.
OMG -- @RepMarkMeadows displays a black Trump admin official, Lynne Patton, to push back on Cohen's claim that Trump is racist.— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 27, 2019
"Ask Ms Patton how many black people are executives at the Trump Organization? The answer is zero," Cohen says. ? pic.twitter.com/UV915dYEbV
“She says that as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was racist,” Meadows said. “I’ve talked to the president over 300 times, I’ve not heard one time a racist comment out of his mouth in private.”
Obviously, the “some of my best employees are black” defense has a few holes in it, and the Democratic women of the committee stepped up to school their unenlightened colleagues. First up was Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI).
WOW -- @RepLawrence *goes in* on Mark Meadows for citing one black Trump administration official to argue Trump can't be racist.— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 27, 2019
"To prop up one member of our entire race of black people and say that that nullifies [racist statements] is insulting," she says. pic.twitter.com/6HcVYKx1NT
“To prop up one member of our entire race of black people and say that that nullifies [Trump’s racism] is insulting,” Lawrence said.
But it didn’t end there, Rep. Ayanna Pressly (D-MA) asked Cohen a simple question.
“Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African-Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to the diaspora as ‘sh*thole countries,’ and refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people’ have a black friend and still be racist?” she asked.
“I agree,” Cohen replied.
But things erupted after Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) called out Meadows’ racist pushback against racism allegations. “It is insensitive — the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee is alone racist in itself,” Tlaib said.
WOW -- @RashidaTlaib accuses Mark Meadows of racism for using a black Trump administration official as a prop earlier during the hearing. Meadows interrupts her to "ask that her words be taken down." pic.twitter.com/DK6rjmCNw8— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 27, 2019
Meadows responded by turning his “How dare you!?” tone in the Congresswoman’s direction, asking that her comments be taken down and saying, “If anyone knows my record as it relates—it should be you Mr. Chairman.”
Tlaib clarified that she wasn’t calling Meadows racist, just pointing out that using a black woman as a prop in defense of a racist is a racist act.
Meadows angrily accuses Tlaib of racism for calling him racist pic.twitter.com/4Wj6FcJO6l— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 27, 2019
Meadows indignantly shot back that his “nieces and nephews are people of color—not many people know that!” before accusing Tlaib of racism for saying he was using a black woman as a prop. He also tagged in Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) as his own “black friend” and, despite the aggrieved display, Cummings graciously kept things on track.
brown congresswoman: that thing that happened here earlier was kinda racist and offensive— Wesley (@WesleyLowery) February 27, 2019
white congressman: *sobbing* I AM NOT A RACIST
brown congresswoman: I didn't say you were.
white reporters: can you BELIEVE she called him a RACIST?!
As for Mark Meadows’ own history on race, many people on Twitter are sharing this racist thing he said in 2012:
Here's Mark Meadows, who just sidetracked the entire House Oversight Committee to assure him he's not racist, saying that "2012 is the time we are going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is" pic.twitter.com/90L1xnWf6v— Steve Morris (@stevemorris__) February 27, 2019
Or to put it in terms Meadows might understand:
“I’m not racist! I’ve told some of my best friends to go back to Africa!” https://t.co/h69WwElwMj— David Hill (@davehill77) February 27, 2019
And, while it’s fun to dunk on the ignorant, Meadows’ comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of racism in American politics. Racism is not treating black people like the floor in a “floor is lava” game and charges of racism can’t be rebutted by presenting a single person of color someone hasn’t rejected (or insulted or humiliated, etc.).
Ta-Nehisi Coates explained the insidious nature of racism best when he wrote, “Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.”
It’s a sympathy that lies with Covington high school kids and a skepticism angrily jabbed at Hispanics. It’s who is given the benefit of the doubt to and who is cast a wary glance. It’s a part of our culture, and it can’t be dismissed with a character witness, only by demonstrating true character.