You’d figure nonwhite candidates for president would be particularly unlikely to descend to old-school racist tactics. In at least one case, you’d figure wrong, as I observed at New York:
The record number of non-white candidates running for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination is a source of pride for Republicans who deny their party has become a MAGA white-nationalist cult. But the candidates themselves often seem to be walking a tightrope when addressing the overwhelmingly white Republican primary electorate. The two South Carolinians in the race are good examples: Black U.S. senator Tim Scott and Indian American former governor Nikki Haley have both touted their ability to overcome racial discrimination as a personal triumph while denying systemic racism is still a problem for the country.
Indian American tech tyro Vivek Ramaswamy hasn’t spent a lot of time talking about the discrimination he might have faced; his whole claim to fame, thanks to lavish attention from Fox News, is being a crusader against “woke corporations” and anything like anti-discrimination policies in the public or private sectors. Predictable as that stance may be, Ramaswamy is now blazing new trails as a non-white candidate peddling racist dog whistles. During an appearance in Iowa over the weekend, his gratuitous attack on Juneteenth as a “useless” holiday that should be replaced with an Election Day holiday drew chuckles and applause from the all-white audience.
Ramaswamy called Juneteenth a “made-up” holiday “imposed under political duress” after the killing of George Floyd. This actually represented a two-cushion shot to the far-right side of the table. His suggestion that we make Election Day a national holiday was accompanied by proposals to get rid of early and electronic voting and impose a national voter-ID system. I’m pretty sure Ramaswamy is too smart to believe the various forms of convenience voting came out of nowhere in 2020 to thwart Donald Trump. They have been spreading state by state for many decades, often promoted by Republicans. So the premise for his dismissal of Juneteeth comes right out of the MAGA fever swamps..
But the idea of Juneteenth’s arising from nowhere after Floyd’s death is either deeply ignorant or malignantly cynical. Juneteenth commemorations of the last slaves to learn of their emancipation in 1865 date back to 1866; the first state Juneteenth holiday was established in Texas in 1980; and before Joe Biden made it a federal holiday, 49 states had official observances. Ramaswamy’s glib dismissal of Juneteenth as “redundant” is even more insulting. Yes, the emancipation of slaves was the first step in the struggle for justice and equality for which Martin Luther King Jr. died, but both the destruction of slavery and the end of Jim Crow were distinct and momentous occurrences in U.S. history.
As anyone with access to Google can establish, Ramaswamy was singing a different tune about Juneteenth when the holiday was commemorated less than two months ago, when he called it “a celebration of the American Dream itself.”
Even then, Ramaswamy was anxious to make sure no white folks imagined that Juneteenth provided any reason for self-examination or discomfort. But he didn’t call it “useless.” I guess he needed some attention that his vast personal wealth couldn’t buy. Or perhaps he wanted to show Trump, his much-admired role model, that he really was learning the ropes.