Mark Meadows and the Victim Card By Kashana Cauley

Accused of a racist act, the congressman threw a fit.

Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, objected to a statement from a Democratic member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee during testimony from Michael Cohen on Wednesday.

Representative Mark Meadows

President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress with evidence that the president had committed campaign finance violations and is of terrible moral character. But it turns out the real victim wasn’t our democracy.

It was Mark Meadows, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.

Mr. Meadows somehow managed to turn a hearing about whether the president broke the law into a minutes-long temper tantrum. He whined that it was wrong for Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, to say that Mr. Meadows’s decision to invite a black woman, Lynne Patton, a Department of Housing and Urban Development official who attended the hearing in her personal capacity, as a prop to show that Mr. Trump couldn’t possibly be racist, was itself a racist act.

Earlier in the hearing, to rebut Mr. Cohen’s charge that the president is racist, Mr. Meadows asked Ms. Patton to stand. Without letting her speak for herself, Mr. Meadows recalled her saying, “There is no way she would work for an individual who is racist.”

He blew up only when Ms. Tlaib said his use of Ms. Patton was a racist act: “Just because a person has a person of color, a black person, working for them does not mean they aren’t racist,” she said, referring to Mr. Trump. “And it is insensitive, and some would even say the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself, ” Ms. Tlaib concluded, meaning Mr. Meadows. 

That’s when Mr. Meadows lost it, insisting that Ms. Tlaib’s comments about him be stricken from the record and whipping out the “some of my best friends are black” defense.

“You and I,” he said to Representative Elijah Cummings, the Oversight Committee chairman, who is black, “have a personal relationship that isn’t based on color.” He insisted that he couldn’t be racist because he had nieces and nephews of color. 

It was a performance that he’s clearly hoping will win him one of next year’s Oscars. He defended his record on race, so we should cast aside that time in 2012 when he embraced the racist birtherism theory to his supporters by saying that “2012 is the time we’re going to send Mr. Obama back home to Kenya or wherever it is.”

Mr. Meadows threw a fit during a hearing where Mr. Cohen claimed the president had said black people were too stupid to vote for him and had called African nations “shithole” countries. There was actual proof of Mr. Trump’s racism on offer, and Mr. Meadows chose to flip out about an accusation instead. It appears that to him, accusations of racism are more dangerous than racist acts themselves.

Mr. Meadows’s hissy fit and Ms. Tlaib’s words feel like a microcosm of where we are right now in America on race. The tide may be turning. The increased visibility of people of color in all sectors, including Congress, and the fearlessness of people of color to speak out about racism are moving us forward. 

It’s all too easy, given the past demographic and ideological makeup of Congress, to picture a version of yesterday’s hearing where there was no Rashida Tlaib there to remind us that racist acts outweigh accusations of racism. 

Where no woman of color stood up against a white man’s insistence on trying to distract us from evidence of racist acts by focusing on his hurt feelings.

Mr. Cummings, in his closing remarks, said that he thought America was “better than this,” a statement that referred to Mr. Trump’s alleged crimes. But it could have also been applied to Mr. Meadows’s belief that accusations of racism are worse than the real thing.

As a country, are we better than this? Yes — Rashida Tlaib showed us that we can be.

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