When I settled in to watch the second round of Democratic debates this week, I was only vaguely interested. I already knew what the marquee candidates were going to say from their prior comments.
Sen. Bernie Sanders was going to do his “old Muppet in the balcony” impression, screaming at everyone within earshot. Marianne Williamson was going to levitate while reading from the Book of Oprah. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was going to do cartwheels across the stage while simultaneously playing the piccolo and doing long division in her head. The next night, Joe Biden was going to make a list of every position he’d ever held in the past and then say, “Psych — only joking!” Sen. Kamala Harris was going to tell us about the role she played in the March on Selma (at the age of 7 months.) And so on.
But something caught my attention, something as unanticipated as it was welcome. When asked Tuesday about President Donald Trump’s supporters in the context of his alleged racism, Sen. Amy Klobuchar made the following comment: “There are people that voted for Donald Trump before that weren’t racist. They wanted a better shake with the economy, and so I would appeal to them.”
I did a double take when I heard those words. I pressed rewind and played the moment again. And again. And a third time. I could not believe that a Democrat, let alone a Democratic woman running to replace Trump, had stated in front of millions of her fellow Americans that some of them weren’t racist just because they wore MAGA hats and voted for the alternative to Hillary Clinton.
My first thought was how much courage it took for Klobuchar to make that statement. My second thought was that my first thought was tragicomic. Up until a few years ago, I never would have assumed that people could be accused of racism by association because they had voted for a particular candidate.
If you belonged to the KKK, you were clearly a racist. If you supported segregation, you were a racist. If you believed that minorities were inferior because of any innate biological quality, or if you denied that racism existed, you were racist. But to be told that your support for a political candidate branded you as a racist regardless of why you voted for him showed such intellectual mediocrity that I didn’t expect to hear the theory bandied about by mature adults.
I was wrong. In the past weeks, the refrain of “Trump is racist” — and claims that his supporters must be too — has once again been taken up by pundits, left-wing activists and a lot of Americans who were angered by his criticism of four freshman congresswomen, my birth city of Baltimore, and Rep. Elijah Cummings. This was just the most recent iteration of that talking point, which started during his campaign with his reference to Mexican murderers and rapists and continued with the notorious “very fine people on both sides” comments after Charlottesville.
What is much more upsetting than accusations against the president — some of which are well-founded, while others are partisan manipulation — are proxy slurs against his supporters. I have been in rooms where educated individuals have sneered about not wanting to “reach out” to Trump voters, as if the mere thought of communicating or empathizing with them is providing comfort and cover to bigots. And they aren’t even hiding their disgust anymore.
That’s why Klobuchar’s comments felt virtually heroic in contrast to the vast majority of her colleagues who are playing the hatred and blame game. The difference between Klobuchar, who is clear on her opposition to Trump, and so many others on the left is that she is willing to examine why someone who is not racist might have pulled the lever for Trump: health care, the economy, social issues such as abortion and same sex marriage, and our national security.
Klobuchar thinks Trump is a racist. But she has the decency not to accuse her fellow Americans of bigotry simply because of some political differences. It’s time for others to back her up.