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STEVE SEBELIUS: A week of farce

It was a week of farce.

It started Sunday, with a series of tweets from President Donald Trump, directed at a group of four freshman congresswomen, women of color all, whom Trump said “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.”

Three of the four — they’ve dubbed themselves “the squad” — are originally from the United States of America. The fourth, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., emigrated from Somalia, and became a naturalized citizen when she was a teenager.

Tweeted Trump: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.”

Trump was immediately assailed as a racist, although Republicans defended the president. Scott Adams, author of the Trump-explaining book “Win Bigly,” said the latter sentence made the tweets more “New York trash talk” than racially motivated hate speech.

Trump later insisted he did not have a racist bone in his body. But it’s not his bones that are in question. Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” And Trump’s mouth has spoken an abundance of things that are downright ugly.

On Tuesday, Democrats responded, drafting a resolution in the House that “…strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color….”

That resolution was adopted on an almost party-line vote. But before it was, a sub-farce erupted on the House floor: Republican members objected to the resolution and Speaker Nancy Pelsoi’s speech supporting it, saying it was against House rules to characterize the president’s remarks as “racist.”

Perhaps House rules were the reason most members of the GOP held their tongues about the president’s tweets?

Holding Trump accountable

Democrats were forced to admit Pelsoi’s remarks were out of order, but a vote to strike them from the House record was defeated on a party-line vote.

Some, including Nevada’s own Rep. Mark Amodei, the lone Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, condemned the resolution and said he would not enter “social media battles which are based largely on personalities.” Many others, however, opined that it was important to hold Trump accountable for his words, that failing to condemn them was acquiescence.

But in what way was Trump “held accountable”? Was anyone who didn’t think Trump was racist before suddenly persuaded that he was bigoted? Was any defender of the president suddenly chagrined to be in his corner?

Perhaps more pressing: Was anything of substance accomplished while the House was busy passing the resolution, or debating whether the word “racist” could be uttered in the gilded House chamber? If part of Trump’s intent — as some analysts suggested — was to merge the progressive wing of the party with its more moderate leaders, did not the resolution advance that goal?

But wait, there’s more.

On Wednesday, Trump held a political rally in North Carolina, where his criticism of the squad prompted the crowd to begin chanting “send her back” in reference to Omar, who Trump and many others have criticized for making anti-Semitic remarks. (The House, in fact, passed a previous resolution condemning intolerance that was sparked by the controversy surrounding Omar’s comments.)

Chant condemned

The chant was widely condemned, not only by Democrats, but Republicans, too. Matt Brooks, the president of the Republican Jewish Coalition and no fan of Omar’s, said the chants were “wrong, vile and don’t reflect who we are as Americans.” He’s right on all counts.

On Thursday, even Trump came very close to actually apologizing. The president said, “I was not happy with it. I disagree with it.”

If only he could have somehow addressed the crowd, asked them to stop the chant, reminded them that Omar — with whom he disagrees, obviously — was still a member of Congress, a naturalized fellow citizen and a human being entitled to some level of dignity!

Trump claimed he’d begun speaking quickly to tamp down the chant, but video shows he paused for 13 seconds before resuming his remarks, not a word of which denounced the chant.

If only there was an example on the campaign trail of a politician at a rally who had to reprove an audience for saying something wrong. If only somewhere in history someone had, for example, labeled former President Barack Obama “an Arab,” and a Republican opponent had gently replied, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign’s about.”

That kind of an example would have been useful for Trump. Sadly, he seems to dislike the late Sen. John McCain more than all four “squad” members combined.

Of course, by Friday, Trump had reversed course again, calling the chanting crowd “very fine patriots.”

Where was Samuel Johnson to cap the week of farce with his pre-Revolutionary War reminder that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel?

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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