Opinion

Republicans have selective hearing when it comes to racist remarks

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Some Republicans, it appears, suffer from situational hearing impairment.

Present in a room, listening to an audio tape, reacting to a reporter’s questions, members of the Republican Party aren’t able to hear clearly — at least if they’re to be believed.

In the two most recent examples, President Donald Trump is in a dispute with the Wall Street Journal over what he said about North Korea in an interview and Republican senators are providing cover to Trump for racist comments made during a meeting about immigration.

The third example goes back a few years, when a house full of Republicans was suddenly stricken with auditory irregularities when none — at least not on the record — managed to hear Gov. Paul LePage say that “President Obama hates white people.”

Maybe it was an opportune walk to the kitchen for some cheese and crackers. Or maybe it was figurative fingers in the ears.

Either way, when it comes to hearing what the president and the governor said, some Republicans seem suddenly stricken. Speak up there, boss. We can’t believe we heard what we just heard, so we must have misheard or heard something else. In fact, maybe we didn’t hear anything at all.

Trump is in a fight with the Wall Street Journal over a comment the president made about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The Journal reported that Trump said, “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un. I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised.”

The Journal took the quote to mean that Trump has talked or at least tried to develop a relationship with the North Korean strongman. Trump demurred.

Then Trump blasted the Journal — The Wall Street Journal, for goodness sake! — calling the reporting “fake news.”
The White House released a recording of the interview, claiming that the president had said, “I’d” instead of “I.” The Journal released its own audio, which sounds pretty clear that the word was “I.”

The White House is hearing what it wants to hear because the slight difference makes the absurd comment seem, somehow, slightly less absurd. Still absurd, mind you. Just fractionally, less so.

During a meeting with senators last week to negotiate a deal to protect about 800,000 immigrants who came to the United States as children — they’re called Dreamers and the program is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — Trump called Haiti and African nations “sh–hole countries.”

Widely condemned as racist — cause you know, it is racist — Trump’s foul mouth and fouler attitude have caused a scandal and risk scuttling negotiations to fund the federal government and resolve several pending immigration issues.

There were a number of Republicans in the room when Trump made his remark. One Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham, hasn’t been exactly forthcoming, but he’s also refused to give cover to the president.

Graham’s account appears to confirm that of Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who says he heard clearly what the president said.

Others in the room? Well, they heard it a little different. Or not at all.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton had his story down on Face the Nation: “I didn’t hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was.”

Sen. David Perdue told “This Week,” “I’m telling you he did not use that word, George, and I’m telling you it’s a gross misrepresentation.”

Now the White House and its supporters are arguing the president said “sh–house” countries as opposed to “sh–hole.” Yeah, whatever. Still racist.

And that takes us back to LePage and a Republican event in August 2013. Gathered among the faithful, LePage made the outrageous claim that “President Obama hates white people.”

The remarks became public when anonymous sources leaked the remarks to the Bangor Daily News. It was later confirmed by at least two state lawmakers, who also asked to have their identity shielded.

Rick Bennett, the chairman of the state Republican Party at the time, fell into a familiar pattern: “I didn’t hear that,” he told the BDN.

Presidents and governors must be held accountable for their words and actions, and the rest of us have to be held accountable if we decide to cover for them.

Courage means telling the truth, even if it’s not politically expedient. And everyone who decides that they “didn’t hear” or makes a semantic argument about the difference between two profane racist remarks, trying to blur the truth, shows themselves for what they are: Opportunists in the best frame; cowards in the worst.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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