In the days after he was excoriated by almost all of the state’s editorial boards, chastised by a Montana group of rabbis, brutally mocked by national journalists for using anti-Semitism as a political crutch, and, most importantly, questioned by his constituents for endorsing President Trump’s divisive, racist tweets about members of Congress, one might imagine that Senator Daines might have decided that a little self-reflection was in order.
But that’s just not how Steve Daines rolls, apparently. Half a dozen constituents have shared a form letter that Daines sent out to them after they expressed concern about his remarks, a letter that demonstrates Daines plans to double down on his xenophobic play as he seeks re-election in 2020.
From the letter:
I do not believe the President’s recent controversial comments were racist. Rather, I believe he was exposing the danger to our country of the anti-American, anti-Semitic movement we’re seeing in the Democratic party.
Perhaps Daines actually believes that there is no one better positioned to evaluate whether a remark was racist than a rich, white dude from Bozeman, but Represenative John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights Movement who marched at Selma and had his skull fractured by white supremacist state troopers, disagreed, telling the House that “he knows racism when he sees it.” I stand with John Lewis.
To expect anyone to believe that an attack on women of color centered on the idea they should go back where they came from was anything other than racist is absurd, and I suspect even Senator Daines knows that.
As for the anti-Semitic trope, it was thoroughly discredited by Talia Lavin in GQ when she wrote this of Daines:
Daines declined to tweet out a statement of solidarity after a white nationalist gunned down eleven Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh; Daines was silent after another white nationalist attack on a synagogue in Poway, just outside San Diego, earlier this year. But when an issue was made of the President’s naked racism, Daines rode up with a cargo of Jews—imaginary Jews, silent Jews, the easiest kind of Jews to employ—to defend him.
Next, Daines slips into propagandistic equivocation, shifting from his claim about Democrats to people who attacked ICE facilities. It’s a move straight out of the right-wing playbook. While there is no connection between the members of Congress Daines and Trump are trying to smear and these attackers, Daines transitions into his claim to suggest otherwise. Even the right-wing National Review discredited this line of specious reasoning when writing about the ICE attacks:
Of course, the reasonable thing to say is that dangerous, violent, lunatics have always existed and will continue to exist, and attempting to attach the blame for bomb-throwing to Democrats or Republicans is absurd.
Next, Daines offers the rhetorical equivalent of a Möbius strip built by Joseph Goebbels:
While I believe we should remain respectful and civil to those who may have different views, I can no longer stand idly by and watch far left socialists hijack the Democratic party with their radical agenda and attack our cherished institutions and American values.
Translated, Daines is arguing that we need to be very civil to people like him who express abhorrent views that empower white supremacists and simultaneously let him demand “civility” when he dishonestly insults fellow members of Congress.
One of the cherished American values we learned in the McCarthy era is that among the least American acts is to label a political opponent un-American for disagreeing. Another, learned broadly during the Civil Rights movement, is that racism has no place in our society. Until Daines learns those basic truths, he’s certainly in no position to lecture anyone, much less members of Congress fighting to keep children out of cages, about what it means to be an American.
Something Daines might want to consider is a relatively simple truth: even if he honestly believes a thing not to be racist, the decent thing to do would be to listen to those who feel the pain of racism rather than attack them.
Finally, after three paragraphs of divisive, dishonest rhetoric, the Daines form letter has the gall to claim that the Senator, who refuses to meet with constituents in town halls because they will disagree with him, is a terribly bipartisan leader who works with both parties:
I was recently recognized as a top bipartisan senator in the United States Senate. I know what it takes to reach across the aisle and come together for the greater good of the country.
Daines is referring to his ranking from the Lugar Center, a ranking that might be difficult to take too seriously given that the year Daines ranked 13th, twelve of the thirteen Senators (including Marco Rubio!) ranked most bipartisan were Republicans.
Another analysis shows that Daines was ranked the 13th most conservative Senator in 2018 and agreed with the positions taken by the President far more often than other members of the Senate.
Daines may indeed express bipartisan views when it comes to renaming mountain peaks and dragging out permanent funding for the LWCF interminably, but his record–and his rhetoric–are that of a partisan who supports President Trump, no matter the cost to our declining political discourse and his state.
It’s also a hard sell for Daines to claim bipartisanship when, knowing just how divisive his support for the President was, he chose to fundraise on it with sponsored ads.
It’s not surprising that Daines’s office responded to the heartfelt concerns about constituents with an offensive, dishonest form letter. Given his belief that he only speaks and listens to Republican voters, it might have been foolish to expect anything else, but all we can do is continue to press him, to remind him that his definition of values does not reflect or represent ours.
Let’s make sure he keeps getting that message, even if he doesn’t hear it.