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Sen. Cory Booker Unleashes His Fury at the “Silence & Amnesia” of Washington Racism and Complicity

"I receive enough death threats to know the reality."

You’ve heard it a thousand times. During hearings or interviews, or anyplace where someone–specifically someone in politics–is being asked to recount details of an event they’d rather not share, there’s a standard answer: “I do not recall.” When asked a direct question about some meeting or private encounter, “I do not recall” is a common go-to response. Of course, we all know it’s a lie. We hear this answer so often that if that many politicians really had that level of memory issues, we’d be wondering if all of Washington DC was experiencing one massive gas leak.

When they say they “don’t recall” something, what we assume these people are really saying is “I can’t answer honestly and I can’t lie under oath, but you can never prove that I do or don’t remember something, so I will offer this unprovable lie as my answer to your question.” If you’ve ever watched a Washington hearing, you’ve no doubt heard this ad nauseam. It’s exhausting, and infuriating. It’s insulting to our intelligence for politicians and staffers and the like to presume that the American people would believe that details of meetings, subjects discussed, and entire meetings themselves could just–whoops!–slip from their memories.

A number of senators and other Washington insiders are now saying they “don’t recall” whether or not the claim that Donald Trump used the term “shithole countries” to describe Haiti, El Salvador, and a number of African nations, is true. Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue both seem to have foggy memories and weren’t sure if Trump said “shithole” or “shithouse.” An important distinction, to be sure.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was asked directly about the quote during a Senate judiciary hearing and she merely said she didn’t hear the word “shithole” being used. When asked if Trump could have used it, she replied, “Anything is possible.”

In this battle over semantics and memory loss, what of course gets ignored are the actual issues these people gathered to discuss in the first place. The fight over Trump’s racist language overshadows the hundreds of thousands of actual U.S. residents at risk of being deported if DACA ends, hundreds of thousands more if Trump ends protections for El Salvadorans, and everyone else hoping for humane immigration protections in the U.S. But sure, let’s argue over “house” vs “hole” some more.

For those of us who are angry at our government, and fed up with the casual manufactured memory lapses that allow our elected officials’ purported racism to remain undocumented, Sen. Cory Booker is with you. In the video above, he unleashes his rage–the rage that feels so familiar to so many of us–on Nielson’s claims that she doesn’t remember hearing that word used. Invoking Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous rhetoric, he told Nielson “This is very personal to me. I sit here right now because when good white people in this country heard bigotry or hatred, they stood up.”

Booker’s anger is a salve. “Why am I frankly seething with anger,” he asks. “We have this incredible nation where we are taught it doesn’t matter where you are from, your race, your color, your religion, it is about the content of your character. The commander in chief in an Oval Office meeting referring to people from African nations and Haitians with them most vulgar language … that language festers.”

“When ignorance and bigotry is aligned with power, it is a dangerous force in our country. Your silence and your amnesia is complicity. Right now in our nation we have a problem. I don’t know if 73% of your time is spent on white supremacist hate groups,” he says, referencing the percentage of violent extremist attacks perpetrated in the United States by white supremacists since 2001.

The fact of the pattern is clear of the threats in this country. I hurt. When Dick Durbin called me, I had tears of rage when I heard about this experience in that meeting, and for you not to feel that hurt and that pain, and to dismiss some of the questions of my colleauges, saying “I’ve already answered that line of questions” when tens of millions of Americans are hurting right now because of what they’re worried about [what] happened in the White House, that’s unacceptable to me.

There are threats in this country. People plotting. I receive enough death threats to know the reality. Kamala [Harris] receives enough death threats to know the reality. Mazie [Hirono] receives enough death threats to know the reality. And I’ve got a President of the United States whose office I respect who talks about the countries of origins of my fellow citizens in the most despicable manner. You “don’t remember.” You can’t remember the words of your Commander in Chief. I find that unacceptable.

Booker, by the way, has a new weekly podcast out now called “Lift Every Voice.” His first guest was Rep. John Lewis. It’s a hell of a listen.

(via CNN, image: YouTube)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.

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