The irony is as thick as Southern molasses: After greeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with an enthusiastic embrace as he defied the American president by speaking to a joint session of Congress this week, the Republic leadership has decided to skip the ceremonies in Selma this weekend commemorating one of the most momentous events in recent American history.
House Speaker John Boehner won’t be there. Nor will Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy or Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? Nope.
They couldn’t send a clearer signal about where their priorities lie. The leader of a foreign land gets carte blanche treatment in an embarrassing display of disrespect for the American presidency, but as for that Black stuff? Not interested.
It’s not just a matter of symbolism. It’s about leadership. About demonstrating that you’re able to rise above partisan political squabbling and unite behind the idea that America has moved on from the brutal, nasty, racist divisions of the past.
Perhaps by their failure to attend, they are sending the message that America hasn’t moved on at all.
After all, research shows that the institutional racism of American leadership has engineered policies and processes that have halted the economic progress of the Black community over the past 40 years. This stagnation has occurred under the watch of lawmakers like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Not only have they demonstrated their lack of interest in a ceremony celebrating an important moment in American history, but they have demonstrated in their laws and Congressional voting that the long-term interests of the Black community are also of no concern to them.
They haven’t even gotten together to try to give some teeth to the Voting Rights Act after it was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.
“It is very disappointing that not a single Republican leader sees the value in participating in this 50th commemoration of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. I had hoped that some of the leadership would attend, but apparently none of them will,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, according to Politico. “The Republicans always talk about trying to change their brand and be more appealing to minority folks and be in touch with the interests of African-Americans. This is very disappointing.”
Sometimes symbolism happens to converge with policy. Sometimes it happens to demonstrate what’s encased in someone’s heart.
When they embraced Netanyahu, these leaders showed that they are far more interested in maintaining global white supremacy than the concerns of America’s Black president—or, of course, in the future of Iran.
“Not only do they have an opportunity to participate in something that is historic in this country, but certainly they’ve lost an opportunity to show the American people that they care,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “Their loss.”
Actually, if their actions continue to match up with their policies, looks like it will be our loss.