I found it extremely difficult and frightening to watch the Republican National Convention on its first night, since I had the definite impression that I was witnessing not simply a political gathering, but more distinctly, a neo-nationalist power rally with angry, primarily white and older Party activists.
The following day, I saw a rerun segment of a panel discussion on MSNBC hosted by Chris Hayes, which included Esquire magazine’s Charles Pierce who discussed what he perceived as the “old white people” who run the Republican Party. He argued that the convention is filled with “loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people.”
Before I could take pride in the accuracy of my own perceptions, GOP Representative Steve King of Iowa piped in with a jaw-dropping, though not surprising, quip by retorting:
This whole ‘white people’ business, though, does get a little tired, Charlie. I mean, I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about? Where did any other sub-group of people contribute to civilization?”
“Than white people?,” asked Hayes incredulously. King backtracked a bit and emphasized that in “Western civilization itself” and places where Christianity had a foothold was based on the contributions of primarily white people.
While one might automatically dismiss King as simply an extreme Right-wing nut, the presidential standard bearer of his party, Donald Trump, has moved King’s rhetoric and policies to the center. Throughout King’s infamous political career in the Iowa State Senate (1996-2002), and U.S. House since 2002, he has consistently defended the authority of white Christian people.
For example, he, like Donald Trump, have targeted undocumented immigrants, and rejected the notion that many are high-achieving students. King asserted that they should not receive a pathway to citizenship saying that for every valedictorian who is legalized, “there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
What seemed impossible, Trump actually moved to King’s right flank on issues of southern immigration:
The US has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s problems. [Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”
Donald Trump, arguably the most prominent of the so-called “birthers,” continually accused President Obama of illegitimacy as Commander in Chief by arguing that he was born outside the United States, even well after the President released his official birth certificate. This along with Trump’s supposed investigations into Mr. Obama’s time spent in Indonesia as a child, and inquiries into his African roots on his father’s side coexist as not-so-veiled xenophobic and racist threats.
Steve King was also a prominent and outspoken “birther.” He has consistently tried to define President Barack Obama as “other” by attempting to prevent our President the right of self-definition – an apparent contradiction within a political party that emphasizes rugged individualism, freedom, and liberty.
In August 2012, King made the absurdist accusation during a tele-town hall meeting that though his staff had found Barack Obama’s birth announcement in two separate Hawaiian newspapers, “That doesn’t mean there aren’t some other explanations on how they might’ve announced that by telegram from Kenya.”
In addition, according to King while Obama was running for the presidential nomination in 2008:
When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States…[w]hat does it look like to the world of Islam? I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror.”
Echoing King, Trump has demanded “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” which plays into the rising tide of Islamophobia in the United States.
Trump, King, and other anti-immigration activists connect narratives representing immigrants, migrants, and even visitors to our borders in the language of disease, crime, drugs, alien and lower cultural and life forms, of invading hoards, of barbarians at the gates who if allowed to enter this country will destroy the glorious civilization we have established among the lesser nations of the world.
The 2016 Republican Party Platform has codified the language by defining the “other” as “illegal aliens,” as if they were dangerous and deadly non-human invaders from deep space.
In the course I taught at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa titled “Multicultural Foundations in Schools and Society,” I showed students a video of our “representative” Steve King. Speaking to his supporters on August 21, 2012 at a Le Mars, Iowa, Town Hall meeting, King conjured up a supposed deep and sinister plot to ensnare young and impressionable first-year college students into campus multicultural groups for the purpose of turning them into victims, which he asserted will convince them to work toward the eventual overthrow of this country’s power structure.
King talked about preparing for a debate on the Iowa State University campus on the concept of multiculturalism. He checked out the university’s website.
“I typed in ‘multicultural,’” he stated on the video, “and it came back to me at the time, 59 different multicultural groups listed to do, to operate on campus at Iowa State….And most of them were victims’ groups, victimology, people who feel sorry for themselves.”
Though King attended Northwest Missouri State University from 1967 to 1970, enrolled in courses toward a career as a wildlife officer, he never completed his degree. His political career officially began when he was elected to the Iowa Senate in 1996. While there, he was instrumental in passing the law mandating English as the “official” language of Iowa.
While in public office, he has consistently taken stands championed by the political right opposing affirmative action for women and minorities, marriage equality for same-sex couples, women’s reproductive freedoms, and gun control, among others.
I advise Mr. King – and indeed, the entire Republican Party establishment and membership – that rather than resisting the concepts of multiculturalism and social justice and viewing these as challenges to our country’s very existence, we need to embrace our rich diversity. Even Republican National Committee head, Reince Priebus, announced that the Party must undertake better “outreach” to “minorities” in his “autopsy report” following the GOP’s failure to recapture the White House in 2012.
According to the National Association for Multicultural Education, “Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity as acknowledged in various documents, such as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, constitutions of South Africa and the United States, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. It affirms our need to prepare student for their responsibilities in an interdependent world.
Today, the United States stands as the most culturally, ethnically, racially, linguistically, and religiously diverse country in the world. This diversity poses great challenges and great opportunities. I would advise Republicans and others that the way we meet these challenges will determine whether we remain on the abyss of our history or whether we can truly achieve our promise of becoming a shining beacon to the world.