Montanans woke up on Sunday morning after Christmas to a sour gift from our Secretary of State. Corey Stapleton saw fit to use a taxpayer-funded website and email to send us a note about what he learned on his trip to Israel. This small misuse of our resources has become standard in Secretary Stapleton’s office. What he wrote in that message, however, has become all too standard in the Montana GOP.
The writing is so embarrassingly scattershot that I hesitate to engage with it. Comparing Jewish people with French settlers with Palestinians – it’s a startlingly uninformed document. Shockingly so.
But then Secretary Stapleton applies Social Darwinism to Native Americans. “Species, languages, races all adapt and assimilate or they fade away,” he writes. And there it is. The ugly, hard kernel of his argument.
This bankrupt line of reasoning has a terrible history, used against Jewish and Native American peoples alike to dehumanize and oppress. He at least gets that comparison right. And now it’s on a taxpayer-funded website. The highlighted quote of the document is this racist dog-whistle gem: “When is it better to blend tribes together, and when is it better to keep them apart?”
We should not be surprised. From Congressman Gianforte’s fearmongering over refugees to his donations to white supremacist legislative candidates, to Attorney General Fox lauding a fast-food chain for its homophobia, to various state legislators openly consorting with white nationalist separatists, to Auditor Rosendale moderating a far-right racist Facebook group, there is a moral rot at the top of the Montana GOP. We all know this.
I sat on the House floor in our state’s Capitol as one GOP representative accused Native Americans of committing genocide against their own people. And he repeated the libel that they ate dogs. The most that the GOP “leadership” could muster was a weak half-apology before sweeping it under the rug.
Various GOP Reps threateningly planted condoms and jars of lubricant on their colleagues’ desks who had voted in support of Medicaid. The Speaker of the House – technically my boss – was the first and only follower of a Twitter account mocking one of my disabled constituents. As I said, there is rot in the Montana GOP.
And yet we have come to expect this as the standard among the elected officials of the Republican Party. And the MT Democratic Party has let them get away with it. Calling out racism and harassment and bigotry comes at an electoral cost, the political class tells us. So we are supposed to accept the unacceptable and to remain silent.
I represent a state house district that voted for President Trump by 11 points. Just two years later those same voters elected me, a progressive Democrat. I was told that I should hide my affiliations with Missoula’s refugee community. I was told to hide my past activism against the Muslim ban. To hide my volunteer work with Planned Parenthood.
I was told to hide anything that could be construed as “too liberal.” Think about that. MT GOP candidates spew bigotry, fear, and racism, yet the political class thought I was the one who needed to keep my mouth shut.
But as one of the few Democrats in this state who has won over Trump voters, I can tell you unequivocally that our values beat the MT GOP’s every single day. Indeed, they are Montana values. But we must lead with them. The thousands of voters I spoke with at their doorsteps weren’t activated by fear or bigotry. They just wanted to know that the person they voted for had their back – that I would fight for them.
When Democratic candidates refuse to make the case for our shared community values, when we refuse to tell the voters what we stand for, we normalize the bigotry we see on the other side. Montana voters respect a candidate that fights for what they believe in, tells you who they are, and does not accept the unacceptable. That’s it. The political class needs to stop assuming Montanans’ only cross-party quality is racism.
We need to change: It doesn’t matter that Secretary Stapleton’s ramblings are incoherent at best. It doesn’t matter that at this point it’s just another sign of the moral rot in MT GOP leadership. Tolerating Stapleton’s racist drivel, tolerating condoms left on legislators’ desks, tolerating all this fearmongering and bigotry and pettiness demeans public service itself – regardless of party. And it demeans the Montanans we serve.