Sen. Ron Johnson: Remember The '60s, When Expressions Of Racist Fascism Were Cool?
Republicans have twisted themselves in knots over the past week trying to defend Donald Trump's racist comments about Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. The four congresswomen have the audacity to criticize America's government while in possession of brown skin and lady parts. This is very different from the Tea Party revolt of 2010 or Trump's own 2016 presidential campaign, which he never shuts up about. White people are entitled to trash the government and the changing culture they resent. This land is not in fact your land. It's theirs. They have a deed and everything. Brown people should feel grateful that America's letting them crash in their basement. It's downright rude to complain that the basement is cold, damp, and smells like cat pee. If they don't like it, they can leave. It's not their house.
This sentiment is racist to its core, but Republicans are experts at arguing in bad faith. During an appearance yesterday on CNN's "State of the Union," Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, whose ass we should've retired in 2016, attempted to whitewash the expression "America, love it or leave it."
Johnson's right: "America, love it or leave it" is not a new sentiment. The Klan used it for all their racial terrorism needs. Mother Jones noted that country singer Ernest Tubb wrote a whole song on the subject where he ranted about hippies. That's why it's interesting to see Johnson fondly recall the simpler, prejudice-free times of the 1960s. We thought conservatives hated the decade of free love and feminism. Now it's the benchmark for racial harmony. White people barely consider slavery racist; we're not sure they're subject matter experts. They're either not experiencing it or they're actively promoting it. We're not accusing Johnson of the latter, but he does sound like he missed the entire Civil Rights Movement.
Historically, "love it or leave it" was a specific message and warning to marginalized groups: "Love it" was the country, government, and people actively oppressing them. "Leave it" usually happened suddenly at the end of a rope. Trump and Republicans today are covering a tune that Martin Luther King heard daily in the '60s. The concern trolling over how King was stirring up "hatred" is similar to the pablum Johnson spouts about "healing the racial divide." In both instances, the expectation is that unity is found only when minorities stop complaining and love America, racism and all.
Lindsey Graham and other partisan hacks might claim "love it or leave it" is somehow non-racist, and sure, if you're a Candace Owens, tap-dancing embarrassment, there's a place for you at the table, right next to the dog bowl. That's as true now as it was in the 1960s. But we don't find equal-opportunity fascism that encouraging, either. It seems antithetical to a nation that was founded by white guys whining about how other white guys with better accents treated them. The only positive version of "love it or leave it" is the long-running HGTV series.
On "Love It or List It," everyone usually "loves it" because while Hilary Farr is a fucking genius, people are generally resistant to major change and will only tolerate superficial tweaks to their status quo. Trump supporters embraced his attacks on the country because he promised to restore the status quo, to put all marginalized groups back in their place. But we're not happy in the basement anymore and we're going to say something about it. Our name is on the deed, as well.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.