Navajo 'code-talkers' deserved better from Trump
SAN DIEGO -- Riddle me this: What is more racist? Jabbing at a white person by calling her "Pocahontas," or that same white person claiming Native American lineage in a way that may have taken a job meant for an actual Native American?
I'm going with No. 2.
Donald Trump owns the media. He knows where our buttons are, and how to push them. And now, in what has become standard operating procedure during the Trump era, the media is once again all worked up over the wrong things.
We've been talking for days about how President Trump is "racist" because he ruined what should have been a lovely moment at the White House honoring three Navajo "code talkers" of World War II by appearing to once again refer to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as "Pocahontas."
By the way, allow me to make a quick comment about the "r-word." I always cringe when Trump says something racist. Of course, I also cringe when I hear the liberal media call him out for saying something racist. The reason for all the cringing is that I have a fairly good memory.
And here's what I remember: For much of the media, the first whiff of racism from Trump, as a presidential candidate, came in December 2015, when the real estate mogul proposed what became known as a Muslim ban. The Trump campaign would later clarify that what the GOP hopeful was talking about was simply applying stricter scrutiny to immigrants and refugees from a specific list of countries that were known to sponsor terrorists. But it was too late. The idea had taken hold that Trump wanted to ban followers of a particular religion from entering the United States. For many, that was racism.
But, as this was happening, in the Latino community, there was a feeling of: "What took you guys so long?" Six months earlier, Trump had kicked off his campaign by kicking Latinos in the head with a scurrilous attack on Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists. He said that Mexico wasn't sending its "best" people, and that the United States had become a dumping ground for its neighbor's problems.
And this wasn't racism? Many media outlets barely used the word. And when they did, it was often framed narrowly as something for Mexicans to worry about -- instead of added evidence of Trump's ugly habit of playing racial politics.
So liberals, spare me your moral outrage now that you've rediscovered Trump's racist tendencies. At this point, it's not worth much.
Instead, in the wake of Trump's "Pocahontas" outburst, Americans should be talking about three things: the story of the "code talkers," which is fascinating; Warren's opportunistic attempt at cultural appropriation, which is foul; and Trump's juvenile psychological defect of saying whatever inappropriate thing pops into his head, which is frightening.
As creatures of Washington, Warren and Trump are not likely to acknowledge wrongdoing or change their ways.
So let's focus on a more admirable group: the code talkers.
It's a great story. Originally, there were 29 Navajo recruited by the U.S. Marines during World War II specifically due to their language skills. Presented with the challenge of coming up with a way for Marines to communicate with one another that the Japanese couldn't decipher, the recruits spent months developing and memorizing a special code based on their shared Navajo language. Assigned to all six Marine divisions, the Navajo code talkers took part in every assault in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. The Navajo "code talk" baffled the Japanese, stumping their expert code breakers. The messages got through. And in the process, countless American lives were saved -- thanks to the Navajo.
And the irony to all this is that, throughout the last part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, there was a government-sponsored policy of forced assimilation imposed on Native Americans. It included attempts to strip them of their language by punishing those who spoke it, especially the children who attended government-run boarding schools whose mission was to "de-Indianize" the native people. Had those repugnant efforts been successful, there would have been, in all likelihood, no Navajo code talkers to celebrate today.
That's the story Trump should have told at the White House, as he attempted to honor a few of these heroes. He should have shelved the politics, and focused all of his attention on the Navajo.
But this would have required something that the president doesn't have much of -- class.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is email@example.com. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.
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