Can we stop pretending to be shocked when a member of the Trump administration — or one of its prominent supporters — emits a squib of stinking racism?
In the latest episode, which should have surprised exactly nobody, former Donald Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie shouted at an African-American guest on a Fox News show: “You’re out of your cotton-pickin’ mind.” The guest naturally took exception, noting that his family members had picked cotton as slaves. Fox News officially scolded Bossie, an employee of the network, with a two-week “suspension” — and he tweeted a dutiful apology.
But while everyone noted the apology and moved on, the underlying problem remains. The political culture embodied by Fox News, Donald Trump, and David Bossie is steeped in racial antagonism as both strategy and ideology. And to anyone who knows the history of these people and institutions, their outbursts of bigotry are numbingly routine.
Look more closely at Bossie, a figure whose history on the Republican right dates back to the Reagan era, when he dropped out of college to work on political campaigns. He soon joined up with Floyd Brown, the Citizens United impresario responsible for the infamous “Willie Horton” ad that helped to bring down Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988. That ad featured a mug shot of Horton, a convicted murderer, with a frightening scowl and a bushy Afro. This race-baiting classic was so offensively divisive that George H.W. Bush sought to avoid any association with it — although there was plenty of evidence that his campaign consultant Roger Ailes had been involved in its production. At Citizens United, where Brown worked closely with Bossie, they were proud to claim credit for the Horton ad.
That Bossie was attracted to the vilest of racists became even clearer four years later, when he and Brown showed up in Arkansas to bring down Bill Clinton. They latched onto “Justice Jim” Johnson, a vintage segregationist politician whose corrosive hatred and ancient prejudices were a parody of extremism. He had run for governor as the candidate of the White Citizens Councils, a marginally more respectable version of the Ku Klux Klan. He had whipped up the mobs that assaulted black students during the historic 1957 confrontation at Little Rock’s Central High School. He even lived on a farm that he named “White Haven,” where he plotted against Clinton with Bossie and Brown.
When the pair published a ludicrous anti-Clinton booklet titled Slick Willie, which accused the Arkansas governor of a long list of offenses that included promoting socialism and witchcraft (as well as coddling the state’s black citizens), its acknowledgments included a “special thanks” to Johnson.
Flash forward to 2018, and here is Bossie, a top political lieutenant of an openly racist president, appearing on the cable network that Ailes created, where he blurts a stupid racial epithet. Bossie is an appalling character with a long rap sheet, but he is really nothing special on today’s Trumpist right — where ambitious hustlers like him have long been eager to promote prejudice, against any vulnerable minority, if that advances their candidate or party.
Does Bossie hate people of color, or Mexican-Americans, or the little immigrant children this administration is victimizing? Did Roger Ailes? Does Trump? It is impossible to know their hearts. But by their poison fruits, we already know them. These “conservatives” have spent decades doing what they still do every day, which is to weaken our country by dividing its people against each other by race and ethnicity for personal gain. More and more, they are assisted by a hostile foreign power in that effort.
We all can see where this is leading, as we watch the victimization of disfavored people, the abrogation of their human rights, and the building of camps to imprison them. Don’t act surprised when we get there.