Gov. Matt Bevin is not among them. But it’s heartening that some prominent Kentucky Republicans are distancing themselves from President Donald Trump by clearly denouncing white supremacist groups and calling for the removal of a Confederate statue from the Capitol Rotunda.
Republicans who condemn white supremacists can put their words into action by defending voting rights that are under siege from Republican governors and legislatures around the country.
In Frankfort, Senate Republicans have obstructed efforts to end a draconian ban on voting by people who have served felony sentences. This ban disenfranchises 1 in 4 black Kentuckians of voting age, the nation’s highest rate of minority disenfranchisement, a shameful distinction. One of Bevin’s first acts as governor was to reverse an executive order that would have streamlined voting-rights restoration for many.
In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans could back their post-Charlottesville rhetoric by restoring the Voting Rights Act. A Supreme Court decision in 2013 unleashed a bevy of laws aimed at suppressing the black vote. By restoring the historic federal law’s overturned provision, Congress could proactively protect the ballot box from a Jim Crow repeat — and put real meaning into McConnell’s admirable words.
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Without naming President Donald Trump, McConnell on Wednesday disavowed the president’s insistence that the Nazis and Klan were no more to blame for the deadly violence in Charlottesville than were protesters who countered the white supremacists. McConnell’s statement was a response to reports that white supremacists plan to rally against the planned relocation of two Confederate monuments in Lexington.
“The white supremacist, KKK, and neo-Nazi groups who brought hatred and violence to Charlottesville are now planning a rally in Lexington. Their messages of hate and bigotry are not welcome in Kentucky and should not be welcome anywhere in America,” McConnell plainly said. “We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head.”
Bevin, on the other hand, is throwing in with Trump, insisting that the counter-protesters are as blameworthy as armed groups waving Swastikas and calling for subjugating blacks and Jews and who were in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. One of the white supremacists rammed a car into a crowd of people, killing a woman and injuring others.
On a Huntington, W.Va. radio show Tuesday, Bevin said he agreed with Trump that “racial hatred” is coming from “all sides.” Questioned later by reporters at the Capitol, Bevin threw out a word blizzard that was more confusing than clarifying, but included: “There’s no side in any of the hatred that is more right than the other side that is spewing hatred.” Sorry, governor, being a Nazi or KKK is unequivocally worse than standing against Nazis or the KKK.
Bevin likened moving Confederate statues to actions by Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin and ISIS. He said that many figures in U.S. history would stand up to 21st century scrutiny no better than the Confederate leaders who made war on the United States to preserve slavery. Bevin said “hate and bigotry has no place whatsoever in Kentucky,” but like Trump, his moral equivalence gives support to the worst forces of hate and bigotry.
Better for Kentucky is the path called for by Sen. Will Schoeder and former secretary of state Trey Grayson, both Republicans from Northern Kentucky, who stood in the Rotunda on Wednesday, the day after Bevin’s waffling, and called for moving the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis away from the heart of government to a museum.
Said Schroeder, “Why would Kentucky want to showcase what has become a symbol of hate in one of our most sacred places?”
As moral clarity battles moral equivalence, Republicans, especially McConnell, should reflect: Their dog-whistled racial appeals during the tenure of our first black president enabled and inflamed the politics that produced Trump, who is now using the presidency to normalize the vilest forms of bigotry and hate. Also, their actions to protect the rights of minorities would carry more weight than any words.