Reprinted from the Chicago Tribune July 24.
In recent days, Republican and Democratic organizations in Illinois shared tasteless, race-based images on social media. Encouragingly, both sides renounced the posts and vowed to do better.
Voters should hold them to their pledges.
Recently the Illinois Republican County Chairmen’s Association posted an image of four Democratic U.S. congresswomen amid firearms and flames on a movie-style poster emblazoned “The Jihad Squad.” U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota figures most prominently, wearing a hijab and holding a weapon. She is surrounded by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. The four progressive freshmen lawmakers are often referred to as “the squad.”
The image appeared on the group’s Facebook account days after attendees at a rally for President Donald Trump shouted “Send her back!” about the Somali-born Omar, who is a U.S. citizen. Trump backed off at first, falsely claiming he had attempted to tamp down the chanting, then reversed course and referred to the people in the crowd as “incredible patriots.” This was ugly rhetoric. In Chicago, Muslim leaders said the political fabric had become “problematic and poisonous.”
Soon after, the Kankakee County Democratic Party tweeted an image comparing red Make America Great Again caps — a signature emblem of Trump supporters — to Ku Klux Klan hoods. Putting forward that image costs Illinois Democrats the high ground. “One side is as bad as the other,” people think, throwing up their hands.
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Political satire is nothing new. It aims to shock. But play the game, own the consequences. When a would-be satirist crosses the line from edgy commentary to offensive race-baiting, from tough criticism of political ideas to attacks based on personal identity, public outcry is deserved. Anyone who deliberately fans the flames of racism is reprehensible, period.
Both the Republican and Democratic organizations in Illinois reacted to criticism responsibly. They removed the offending posts from their social media accounts — if only after being taken to task — and promised to encourage higher-minded dialogue. We hope they mean it.
The 2020 election is — wait for it — 468 days away. That’s a lot of time for civil discourse, or gutter-level attacks. The era is divisive and filled with nastiness. There will be plenty more outrages to come, warranted and not. There won’t be much statesmanlike leadership from the White House to elevate the tone of campaign season.
No one should be shocked by dirty tricks and cringeworthy missteps. We certainly aren’t. But that doesn’t mean voters shouldn’t demand better from politicians and their organizations.
Good taste and judgment can prevail.