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Frank DeFilippo: Apologies for Column That Missed Its Target

President Trump has gotten involved in a Maryland GOP election. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, Flickr

Columnists and editorial writers are the folks who come over the hill and shoot the dead after the battle.

Occasionally they miss their target.

Often, they rely on observations or memories and put aside the fundamentals they learned years ago as pick-and-shovel reporters who were taught to double-check everything, even when their mothers say they love them.

It happened to me this week, the first time in more than a half century that a column had to be pulled because it was factually wrong – not fake news, just plain wrong. In my original column, I wrote that the Maryland Democratic Party was choosing to avoid the uproar of disgust over President Trump’s racist rants about four congresswomen of color.

The correct news is that on July 15 the Maryland Democratic Party posted a statement on its website that began as follows:

“On Monday, Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymore Cummings issued a scathing statement in response to President Trump’s nakedly racist calls for U.S. members of Congress to ‘go back’ to where they came from. Congressman Andy Harris [R-Md., 1st] doubled down on Trump’s remarks, saying Monday that the tweets are ‘clearly not racist.’”

Rockeymore Cummings said, in part: “The President’s language thrusts a dagger in the heart of our diverse democracy. The President’s attack is a calculated strategy to energize his base who are clearly receptive to white nationalist arguments that reinforce the blasphemous notion that to be legitimately American is to be a white American.”

The entire statement can be read here.

Skipping several paragraphs where I scolded the Democratic Party for wasting its time and energy on attacking Gov. Larry Hogan (R) who isn’t on the ballot next year, the remainder of my original column stands, as was posted, with apologies for a doozy of a mistake:

Trump started the fury when he tweeted that the four women of color “who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world. . .now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.

“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.”

Do your homework, Mr. President, even if many of your supporters wouldn’t know or care about the difference. The four Democrats, all women of color, that Trump was referring to were Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlalb of Michigan. Three of the four women were born in America, and Omar came to this country 20 years ago as a refugee from Somalia and is a naturalized citizen.

(The punch line here is that two of Trump’s three wives are immigrants and his grandfather was a German immigrant, although in a recent tweet he confused his father with his grandfather. Current wife Melania Trump’s parents had been living in America on green cards and became naturalized citizens last year. Melania Trump’s father, Viktor Knavs, was a registered communist in Slovenia, Melania’s birthplace, according to reports. Trump’s first wife, Ivana, was born in what is now the Czech Republic.)

Trump later incited a rally of flush-faced supporters in Greenville, N.C., to respond to his continued attacks on Omar with the chant, “Send her back,” which he later tried to disavow by saying he didn’t encourage or like it. NBC video of the interlude shows a different story. Trump deliberately paused for 13 seconds for the chant to play out before continuing his attack on Omar. Trump later reversed himself again and characterized the chanters as “incredible patriots.”

A sharply divided House of Representatives adopted a resolution condemning Trump’s racist remarks by a vote of 240-187, reflecting a diverse Democratic majority that advanced the resolution contrasted with a largely mute Republican Party of mainly white men that followed Trump’s stern order to vote against the rebuke – except four defectors who defied the president. All seven of Maryland’s Democratic House members voted for the resolution while its lone Republican, Rep. Andy Harris, voted against, even defending Trump’s remarks as misconstrued.

But in a loopy contrast, the very same House voted 332-95 to kill an impeachment resolution, another matter that cleaves Democrats, with the progressives demanding to plunge ahead but Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisting on a cautious, incremental approach out of fear of jeopardizing the House majority in next year’s elections.

As the Maryland Democratic Party prepares for the 2020 presidential elections, its function is to motivate and create enthusiasm among voters and entice them to the polls on election days. There’s no question that Trump will not carry Maryland in the general election. Anti-Trump fervor is running high but numbers matter if the state is to strut its stuff as the Democratic exemplar that it is thought to be.

There are cautionary signs. Maryland Democrats are clustered along the I-95 corridor. Of the 2.2 million registered Democrats in the state, more than three-quarters are packed into the four populous subdivisions along the corridor: Baltimore City, 304,849; Prince George’s County, 482,939; Montgomery County, 395,097; and Baltimore County, 312,430.

An estimated 30 percent, roughly 1.9 million, of Maryland’s total population of about 5.7 million is black, the largest concentration of blacks outside the Deep South and the eighth largest in the nation. Baltimore City is 69 percent black, and Prince George’s County is 74 percent black. Montgomery County is 14 percent black, and at one point, Baltimore County had the largest growth in black population of any non-black county in America. The Hispanic population of Maryland is 336,390, or 8.7 percent, most of it located in the suburbs around the District.

Frank A. DeFilippo

From the outside looking in, Maryland is considered one of the most reliably blue states in the country. But from the inside looking out, Maryland is politically more black than blue. Remove blacks from the Democratic equation and the party’s power shrinks into a blur of regional traditions that are not as blue as they appear on the TV network electoral maps.

Remember, Maryland has a history of electing Democrats, but it also voted for Dwight D. Eisenhower twice, Richard M. Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George H. W. Bush in 1988. And segregationist George Wallace came within 50,000 votes of winning the Maryland Democratic primary in 1964 and he did win it in 1972 after being gunned down on a Laurel parking lot. Hillary Clinton easily defeated Trump in 2016, 60 percent to 34 percent. And Montgomery County has sent as many, if not more, Republicans to Congress as Democrats.

To Trump, the world comes in two flavors — black and white. There’s no question that Trump is trying to turn the four women into the faces of the Democratic Party. He has re-introduced into the political vocabulary words that have been dormant since the Red-baiting days of the 1950s – communist, socialist, fascist. Trump has also revived another word that is usually reserved for the vilest of people and acts – racist. The word now, unquestionably, applies to him.


Maryland Matters note: Frank DeFilippo’s original July 22 column was based, in part, on incomplete information. In discussing President Donald Trump’s racist tweets against four members of Congress — all women of color — and voting in Maryland, DeFilippo incorrectly stated that the Maryland Democratic Party had been silent on Trump’s tweets. In fact, the party posted a statement about this on its website on July 15. A link to that statement is included in DeFilippo’s revised column. We regret the error.


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Frank DeFilippo: Apologies for Column That Missed Its Target