Around this time yesterday morning, Donald Trump published a tweet announcing that he was on his way to the Supreme Court to pay his respects to the late Justice John Paul Stevens. Just 16 minutes later, while en route, the president returned to the issue that was actually on his mind.
Renewing his offensive against Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Trump tweeted that the congresswomen of color are “a very Racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced, and not very smart.”
Part of what made this notable was its familiarity: those credibly accused of racism routinely try to argue that its their detractors who are the “real” racists. As a Washington Post analysis explained yesterday:
Trump is claiming that allegations of racism directed at himself and his policies — and the supporters who embrace them — are themselves examples of racism. Analysis by The Washington Post found that Trump is three times as likely to accuse nonwhite people of racism as he is white people.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. When segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace was asked if he considered himself to be a racist during a 1968 interview, he offered a similar deflection.
“No sir, I don’t regard myself as a racist,” Wallace said, “and I think the biggest racists in the world are those who call other folks racist. I think the biggest bigots in the world are those who call other folks bigots.”
And since so much of the president’s far-right base is convinced that “reverse racism” from minority communities is a societal scourge, it’s likely Trump is accusing his critics of being “very racist” at least in part because he expects his followers to agree.
But just as notable is Trump’s go-to defense mechanisms. Let’s call it the president’s “no-puppeting” problem.
As we discussed a few months ago, Trump has an inordinate fondness for projection: he identifies his faults, and then reflexively projects those faults onto his perceived foes.
When Democrats accused the president of variety of crimes, Trump insisted the “real crimes were committed” by Democrats. When Dems argued the president obstructed justice, Trump replied that it’s the Dems who have obstructed justice.
Confronted with allegations that his political operation colluded with Russian attackers, Trump said Democrats colluded with Russia. Told that the Kremlin supported his candidacy, Trump responded by saying Russia supported Democrats. Accused of being a manipulated pawn for Vladimir Putin, Trump accused Barack Obama of being Putin’s “patsy.”
It’s a tactic that’s come to define his entire approach to politics. Indeed, as we discussed last summer, like an intemperate child, his I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I instincts are finely tuned after extensive practice.
Look no further than the 2016 campaign: whenever Hillary Clinton would criticize Trump, it was a near certainty that Trump would then make the identical accusation against Clinton. After a while, as regular readers may recall, this got a little creepy.
Clinton accused Trump of being unstable and reckless, so Trump said Clinton is “unstable” and “reckless.” Clinton said Trump mistreated women, so Trump said Clinton mistreated women. Clinton accused Trump of bigotry, so Trump said Clinton’s a “bigot.” Clinton questioned Trump’s temperament, so Trump said Clinton had a bad “temperament.” Clinton said Trump makes a poor role model for children, so Trump said Clinton sets “a terrible example for my son and the children in this country.”
And, of course, Clinton accused Trump of being a “puppet” for his allies in Moscow during a 2016 debate. Trump, showing all of the sophistication of a slow toddler, responded, “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet. No, you’re the puppet.”
All of which brought us to yesterday, when the president accused four of his critics of being inexperienced, racist troublemakers who are “not very smart.”
I can think of a certain someone who resembles that remark.