Opinion

Calling out racism isn't political. It's our moral imperative.

Racism is wrong. You fight it, you criticize it, no matter the electoral consequences.

President Trump's bigotry is ugly and obnoxious, but it sure seems to be popular with his biggest fans.

On Wednesday night, the president held a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, and renewed his attacks on "the Squad" — four rookie Democrats in Congress, all women of color — and the crowd responded with chilling enthusiasm, erupting into chants of "Send her back!" as Trump singled out Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

We don't use explicitly biblical language much in our increasingly secular society anymore, but sometimes it comes in handy. This is one of those times. We need to be clear about what we saw at this rally: It was racism. And racism is a sin.

An abomination. Wrong. Evil.

It is not merely a breach in decorum. It is not a case of bad manners. It is not just a risky political strategy. It is a sin. Where racism is empowered — politically or culturally — you will mostly find terrible violence against minorities, as well as a proliferation of cages. Racism powered the Holocaust, slavery, and Jim Crow. Racism inspires ethnic cleansing, church shootings, and synagogue massacres. So when racism presents itself to us — particularly when it is justified and encouraged by people in the highest precincts of power — we must push back and fight, even if there is a political cost.

Perhaps that hardly needs to be said in the wake of this week's House vote to condemn Trump for last weekend's racist tweets directed at Omar and the Squad. But the controversy over those tweets has given rise to a genre of hand-wringing punditry and reporting suggesting that Democrats have given the president exactly what he wants by confronting him so forcefully — that appealing to racism is Trump's path to re-election in 2020.

"While Democrats were publicly unanimous in their support of the resolution, some moderate lawmakers from Republican-leaning districts that backed Mr. Trump in 2016 privately voiced their discomfort," The New York Times reported. "They said that while the president's comments had been racist, the party was playing into his hands by spending so much time condemning his remarks."

"The principled case for denunciation is strong. What though of the politics?" Jonathan Freedland added at The Guardian, noting, "Trump's calculation is that he can repeat in 2020 what he did in 2016, winning an electoral college majority by winning in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — and that he can edge a victory in those states by appealing to white voters stirred by racial resentment."

"Anything that takes away from bread and butter issues is playing into his hands," an anonymous Democrat in the House of Representatives told CNN's Jake Tapper.

So what? Racism is wrong. You fight it, you criticize it, no matter the electoral consequences.

Politicians, though, are often cowards. They need to be encouraged to do the right thing. It will be easy for many of them to look at Trump's chanting crowd and decide it's best to avoid the matter. So it should be noted that while fighting racism is the right thing to do, in America it is — thank God — the broadly popular thing to do.

A new USA Today poll says that 59 percent of all respondents — including roughly two-thirds of independent voters — called the president's tweets "un-American." Sixty-five percent said the tweets were racist. Similarly, a Reuters poll showed the president's approval numbers dropped 10 points with independent voters following the controversy.

In other words, Republicans may be on board with Trump, but almost nobody else is. Embracing his racism may help some politicians win GOP primaries — and, thanks to gerrymandering, more than a few congressional districts — but for just about everybody else, it's a big loser.

The logic of "never again" — that we must do everything we can to halt the prejudice driving such profound and violent evil from advancing even one inch — is not conditional on political popularity, nor is it dependent on your like or dislike of "the Squad." It is simply a moral imperative.

As I've said before, there isn't much evidence in American or world history of racism being defeated through passive aggression, or hoping it will subside if we emphasize "bread and butter" issues instead. People of good will must confront it — and its practitioners, like President Trump — loudly and directly. It is the only right thing to do.

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