Opinion: Ron Johnson’s racism is breathtaking by Eugene Robinson

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) at the Capitol on March 5. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Johnson made the comments on conservative talk-radio host Joe Pagliarulo’s nationally syndicated show. “Now, had the tables been turned — Joe, this will get me in trouble — had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.” 

The Post obtained hours of video footage, some exclusively, and placed it within a digital 3-D model of the building. (TWP)

But Johnson described the White mob this way: “I knew those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned.”

As anyone whose brain is not addled by white supremacy recalls, the rioters showed how much they “respect law enforcement,” with their actions leading to the death of one police officer who was defending the Capitol and the injury of some 140 others. One policeman was beaten with a pole bearing the American flag, which is a strange way for his attackers to demonstrate love of country.

Johnson should have been pilloried by his GOP colleagues in the Senate, but none spoke up in outrage — or even mild disagreement. Asked Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” about Johnson’s comments, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) mumbled something about how members “speak for themselves.” That’s not the way it works, though. When it comes to such unambiguous racism, Republicans have only two choices: denounce it or own it.

This was not the first foolish and irresponsible thing Johnson has said about the Capitol insurrection. For a while, he tried to claim the violence was somehow sparked by leftist provocateurs just pretending to be supporters of then-President Donald Trump — until FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified under oath that there was no evidence of any “fake” Trump supporters in the crowd.

But the racism of Johnson’s latest words is breathtaking. As far as he is concerned, a White mob at the Capitol that overruns police lines, smashes windows and ransacks offices isn’t breaking the law. In Johnson’s view, the millions of Americans who participated in Black Lives Matter protests do not “love this country.” And according to him, Black people who demonstrate against police violence and structural racism do not “truly respect law enforcement.”

Anyone who knows anything about American history will recognize this mind-set. I was reminded of something another prominent Republican said many years ago:

“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the White and Black races — that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and Black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race.”

The speaker was Abraham Lincoln in his fourth debate with Stephen A. Douglas, which took place Sept. 18, 1858, in Charleston, Ill. Lincoln’s views on race subsequently evolved, and so did the views of his party. But today’s Republicans have radically devolved — and are becoming increasingly frank defenders of White privilege and position.

Keep Johnson’s words in mind when you hear GOP officials claim that the scores of voter-suppression bills making their way through Republican-controlled state legislatures are merely attempts to guarantee the “integrity” of our elections. If they were — if they had any intent other than to keep Democratic-leaning Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters away from the polls — then surely we would hear Republicans across the land making clear there was no place in the party for views like those Johnson expressed. Instead, we hear only guilty silence.

And sometimes, silence is enough to get the message across. On Jan. 6, when Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) raised his fist in solidarity with the crowd gathering at the Capitol, he didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to.


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