Bookman: Georgia’s junior senator misplaces his outrage

August 8, 2019 8:00 am

The president is set to fly into Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta Friday morning, then attend a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. David Perdue in Buckhead before heading downtown for an afternoon event. Zach Gibson – Pool/Getty Images

That’s outrageous,” U.S. Sen. David Perdue said last month, responding to a controversy over tweets in which President Trump attacked four female members of Congress.

To Perdue, it wasn’t outrageous that Trump told those four women of color to “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came,” as if they didn’t belong here, as if they were less than real Americans. It wasn’t outrageous that all four women are U.S. citizens, and that three of the four were born and raised right in this country.

No, what outraged Perdue, what got him angry, was the suggestion that Trump’s tweets were racist in any way. So let me add to the senator’s outrage: Those tweets by the president were racist to the core. They were racist in meaning; they were racist in intent. Those are slurs directed at people of color, and only at people of color, to diminish them and keep them in their place.

Trump, for example, is the child of an immigrant, in his case an immigrant from Scotland. But because he is white, his citizenry and place in America are presumed to be valid and automatic, while second-generation Americans of color enjoy no such presumption.

Other Georgia Republicans – at least some of them – recognized the ugly message in Trump’s words and tried to back away from it. Sen. Johnny Isakson called them “totally inappropriate.”

“I wasn’t elected to make excuses or explain the statements of somebody else, and so I’m just not going to do that,” Isakson said. That’s not exactly a stirring condemnation, but it’s something.

In a sense, I’m glad that Perdue has taken this stance, because it clarifies the stakes. Few elected politicians in Washington have been more worshipful of Trump than Georgia’s junior senator. At every turn, in every Trump-manufactured crisis, Perdue has defended the indefensible and excused the inexcusable on behalf of the man whom he calls “an American Churchill.”

And next year, an election looms. An election in which politicians can be held accountable for what they’ve said and done. An election in which the state of Georgia and the entire United States will either validate or reject the direction in which the likes of Trump and Perdue want to take us. An election in which we tell the world and each other who we really are, as a state, as a nation, as a people, and also what we aspire to become in the future.

Perdue is betting that we are still the Georgia of 1968, when a third-party candidate and racist by the name of George Wallace carried the state in the presidential election. He is betting that despite demographic and economic change, the embers of fear and resentment can again be fanned into a hatred so blinding that voters will ignore tax cuts that were handed out to billionaires and corporations, that they will overlook Perdue’s talk of “saving” Medicare and Social Security by slashing benefits, that they will re-elect leaders committed to stripping health insurance from millions.

I look at the numbers, and I look at my fellow Georgians, and I think he’s going to lose that bet. Last year, in an off-year election when Republicans are presumed to have an advantage, a black woman came within 55,000 votes and 1.4 percentage points of becoming Georgia’s governor. Next year, with both Trump and the sycophantic Perdue on the ballot to be affirmed or rejected, with our choices clarified beyond real doubt, I think we break with our past and the future arrives.

“The truth is incontrovertible,” as the real Winston Churchill once said. “Malice may attack it; ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.