Donald Trump crashed his clown car into the Sunday news cycle — voicing inanities about the American judiciary (yet again), and forcing the pitiable Republicans to mop up his mess (yet again).
Humorist Will Rogers used to say, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” But Trump appears to believe that the hole should be big, beautiful, and very successful. After spending a full week attacking an Indiana-born judge for being an inherently biased “Mexican” — thus reminding the electorate, every day, that he’s being sued for fraud in federal court, that he stands accused of scamming money from average Americans — one would think that the guy would give it a rest. But no.
Instead, yesterday, he dug himself even deeper. First, he reiterated his ignorant riff about federal judge Gonzalo Curiel: “I say he’s got bias. I want to build a wall. I’m going to build a wall.” Therefore, according to Trump’s racist illogic, Curiel is allowing the Trump University case to go to trial solely because, as a “Mexican,” he surely opposes Trump’s wall fantasy. What Trump is insinuating, of course, is that any judge with an Hispanic heritage is inherently biased, and thus not fit to judge him.
But this was the fun part: When asked yesterday on CBS News whether he also believes that Muslim judges are unfit to judge him — because of his proposed temporary ban on Muslims visiting America — he quickly replied: “It’s possible, yes. Yeah. That would be possible, absolutely.”
OK, let’s play this out. If Hispanic judges and Muslim judges are deemed unfit because they’re solely motivated by opposition to his bigotry, why stop there? According to Trumpthink, Jewish judges are unfit to rule on Trump University, because surely they’re biased against Trump’s anti-Semitic trolls. Black judges are unfit as well, because surely they’re biased against Trump’s white supremacist dog whistles. And female judges are unfit as well, because surely they’re biased against his instinctive sexism (although His Highness might grant an exception if the judge is a 10).
So basically, by process of elimination, the only judges that Trump deems fit to judge him are white males of the Christian persuasion.
This is all very embarrassing for the moral cowards in the Republican party who have sold their souls to this guy. Every day, between now and November, they’re doomed to be asked whether they agree with his latest outburst. They should just call it The Daily Disavowal. Paul Ryan endorsed Trump last Thursday, and just one day later he had to distance himself from Trump’s remarks about Judge Curiel. (“I completely disagree with the thinking behind that.”) Mitch McConnell did it yesterday (“I couldn’t disagree more”), as did Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker: “I don’t condone the comments, and we can press on to another topic.”
Sorry, we can’t just “press on to another topic.” Trump’s ignorance is too important to just shrug off. Because his denigration of Hispanic and Muslim judges is actually an old discredited tactic, dusted off from the ’60s, when it was used to impugn the credibility of black and female judges. Back then, some litigants insisted that black judges recuse themselves from civil rights cases (because being black was supposedly an inherent bias) and that female judges should recuse themselves from sex-discrimination cases (because being female was supposedly an inherent bias). The assumption, naturally, was that only white male judges, by dint of being white and male, had the requisite intellectual skills to rule impartially.
But a string of rulings have put the kibosh on that tactic. Trump’s bigoted riff is decades out of date. The gist is simple: You cannot toss a judge off a case simply on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. To prove actual bias, you need “extrajudicial” evidence. Has the judge said hostile stuff outside of court about the litigants? Has the judge made remarks outside of court, orally or in a paper trail, that can be construed as generalized bias? Without that kind of proof, recusal motions are routinely thrown out.
One other thing. Why, in the antechambers of Trumpthink, are white males automatically assumed to be free of bias?
Consider Plessy v. Ferguson, although I doubt that Trump is familiar with the 1896 Supreme Court case that validated racial segregation for the next 58 years. Seven white males ruled for racism: “We [reject] the assumption that the enforced separation of the races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is…solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction on it.”
Yup, these white male judges — swayed by the inherent bias in the white supremacist era — decreed, in a separate passage, that legal racial distinctions “must always exist,” and insisted, in the passage I quoted, that any blacks who felt marginalized by segregation were merely imagining it. Seems clear to me that these white males judges had a biased agenda. But I digress.
Actually, I wonder whether Trump’s white male category is too broad. A demagogue who’s being sued for fraud on two coasts would surely want to eliminate all white male liberal judges, all white male judges appointed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama … basically, anyone who he assumes would be hostile to his bigotry.
That’s the Republican nominee, someone who has no clue how an independent judiciary is supposed to work, and his cowed party allies are stuck with the dilemma of when to flee and when to defend. But they get no sympathy from Rick Wilson, an uncowed Republican strategist. This weekend, Wilson sent this warning to his down-ticket brethren:
“You own every crazy, vile chunk of word vomit that spews from his mouth …. He’s not going to change. He’s not going to stop being a shallow blowhard and non-stop-Malaprop. There is no better Trump. He’s not going to become more Presidential or more mindful. Trump doesn’t give a damn about your election. You’re not part of a unified Republican ticket; you’re collateral damage in Trump Rampage Raw WWE 2016. Every day Donald Trump hands the Democrats another sword with which to cut off your political heads. He’s all yours, and there are few paths to escape the blast radius …. Just run.”
Correction: Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s name was misspelled in a previous version of this commentary.