Michael Arceneaux
July 15, 2019 11:36 am
SAUL LOEB/AFP, Getty Images

Author Michael Arceneaux discusses Donald Trump’s racist comments about Congresswomen Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib following Paul Ryan’s decision to only condemn President Trump when he left office.

On Sunday, Donald Trump was racist, which is not especially shocking at this point, but somehow, he managed to up the ante.

On a day he sent ICE agents to terrorize immigrants in major cities across the country, he told select congresswomen—the ones who aren’t white—to go back to their “home countries.” Three of them are American-born and all are American citizens, but white people love to tell non-white folks to go back to their ancestral lands, as they themselves pretend to be native Americans. A lot of people in Washington have either professed their outrage over Trump’s attack or totally ignored it altogether. Most of the latter are Republicans who want to benefit from Trump’s political control and will never dare say he deserves consequences for his reprehensible words and actions—people like former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is now trying to complain about Trump despite never bothering to comment when it could have actually mattered.

It’s long been my estimation that Paul Ryan is a racist, a shill for corporate interests and the ultra wealthy, a hypocrite, and more than anything, a fraud. He was never the policy wonk he was portrayed to be; even when he was a political neophyte, his actions quickly suggested he would behave in the same fashion as any other hack taking up space on Capitol Hill. Based on such attributes, you would have thought that he and Donald Trump might’ve ended up political besties.

True enough, they had their little rift in 2016 when, in response to the infamous Access Hollywood tape where then-candidate Trump effectively admitted to committing sexual assault, Ryan backed out of a campaign event. He claimed he was “sickened by what [he] heard,” and professed that “women are to be championed and revered, not objected.” However, he didn’t call on Trump to resign.

I imagine that Trump always knew Ryan couldn’t stand him, but Ryan never admitted it for fear of Trump’s power. If Ryan stepped out of line with the president, it could doom his tenure as Speaker of the House and his seat in the House of Representatives altogether. Unsurprisingly, now that Ryan has retired and such fears are no longer any of his concern, he wants to speak like a man who lives without fear.

Tim Alberta’s new book, American Carnage, chronicles how many anti-Trump Republicans like Ryan wrestled with the reality of President Trump, and then learned to fall in line. The Washington Post received a copy of American Carnage, and in their reporting, revealed how Ryan apparently really felt about Trump’s actions as president—you know, as if it matters now.

Ryan depicted Trump as uneducated about the government—as if that needed further explanation, but sure. “I told myself I gotta have a relationship with this guy to help him get his mind right,” Ryan recalls in the book. “Because, I’m telling you, he didn’t know anything about government…I wanted to scold him all the time.”

Wanted to, but never did at a time when it could have actually made an impact.

Still, Ryan assures us that it could have been so much worse. “Those of us around him really helped to stop him from making bad decisions. All the time,” Ryan argues. “We helped him make much better decisions, which were contrary to kind of what his knee-jerk reaction was. Now I think he’s making some of these knee-jerk reactions.”

I don’t see how Trump is any less impulsive and cruel than he was prior to Ryan running away, but people tend to tell themselves lies in order to suit their own interests. In the case of Paul Ryan, that means trying to portray himself as less of an impotent political leader than our memories can easily recall. Why now? Well, imagine if Trump doesn’t get re-elected. There will be quite the fight to regain control of the GOP—something I imagine a still young Paul Ryan might consider a prime opportunity to reenter political life, and maybe even seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

“We’ve gotten so numbed by it all,” Ryan says of Trump’s vile behavior as president. “Not in government, but where we live our lives, we have a responsibility to try and rebuild. Don’t call a woman a ‘horse face.’ Don’t cheat on your wife. Don’t cheat on anything. Be a good person. Set a good example.”

Paul Ryan had absolutely nothing to say when all of this was taking place because he didn’t want to block the passing of a massive tax cut that benefits major corporations and not the public, despite promises from Ryan and his ilk. This will likely be revealed as the scam that it was when the economy takes a downturn—but when that happens, Paul Ryan still won’t give a damn. If anything, he’ll just argue for his previous goal of decimating Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare.

Such predictable antics are exactly why nothing Paul Ryan said in that little book matters.

Even so, Trump didn’t take long to respond, obviously.

Taking to Twitter, Trump blasted Ryan over his failed 2012 vice presidential bid, then blamed him for the lack of border wall funding that he told his supporters would be provided by Mexico. Trump then said it was Ryan’s fault that Republicans lost their House majority in last year’s midterm elections.

I can’t think of anything more boring than a racist plutocrat fighting a loudmouthed bigot over policies that benefit rich white men. But if there is any Republican to sort of salute for possessing some nominal level of principle, it’s Congressman Justin Amash who called on Trump to resign from the presidential race in 2016. Amash has officially quit the Republican Party because he just couldn’t take it anymore.

While Ryan tries to save his image in American Carnage, Amash says of his colleagues, “These guys have all convinced themselves that to be successful and keep their jobs, they need to stand by Trump. But Trump won’t stand with them as soon as he doesn’t need them. He’s not loyal. They’re very loyal to Trump, but the second he thinks it’s to his advantage to throw someone under the bus, he’ll be happy to do it.” In response to reports of Ryan’s comments in the book, Amash took cues from his old colleague and declared the obvious: “He was one of Donald Trump’s biggest enablers,” and “it’s ridiculous” that Ryan waited until after he left office to level criticisms at the president.

Although Paul Ryan’s words don’t hold much weight now, if he was going to speak about his enabling behavior as House Speaker, he could have said something more aligned with Amash’s sentiments. At least it’s more honest. At least it speaks to what really motivates Republicans like Paul Ryan who say nothing about Donald Trump’s behavior—which somehow only gets worse—until it’s too late to mean anything.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the newly released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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