Like a pox-infested blanket we’re being handed over and over again, Donald Trump once more curdled the national blood today by busting out his old “Pocahontas” joke at an event honoring Native Americans. Pocahontas was a Native American teenager who was captured by English settlers, then married one, whereupon she was paraded about as a “civilized savage” in hopes of attracting more colonists who might come to take her people’s lands. Today’s ceremony celebrated three of the 13 Navajo Code Talkers who survived that slow, sustained genocide, then similarly risked their lives on their usurpers’ behalf to help turn the tide in World War II. This morning they were honored in the White House by the doddering, draft-dodging heir of a German immigrant brothel owner, who trotted out his favorite yuk-yuk because it was literally the only “Native American” thing he could think of and because this is a very special, hacky sitcom level of hell we inhabit.
“I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who, they say, was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas,’” Trump said, a joke as witty as it is concise. Also, fresh: He was referring, of course, to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom he has repeatedly called “Pocahontas” as a way of deriding her claims that she is part Native American, rebuking her disrespect for real Native Americans by using one of them as an insulting nickname. Theirs is a petty, childish feud that literally only matters to Donald Trump, which means it must take immediate precedence over everything, even… whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing right now. Talking about things Donald Trump likes?
“But you know what? I like you because you are special,” Trump then but-seriously-folks’ed, slipping an arm around one of the 90-plus-year-old war veterans to let him know that, hey, he shouldn’t take his intense, racially charged dislike of the Massachusetts senator personally. Not this guy, who was special. He was also pretty good, or so Trump was told by White House Chief Of Staff and General John Kelly, a guy whom Trump called “the chief,” because that’s also Native American-y.
“I said to General Kelly, I said, ‘General, how good’—here he is right there, the Chief; he’s the General and the Chief—I said, ‘How good were these Code Talkers? What was it?’ He said, ‘Sir, you have no idea. You have no idea how great they were—what they’ve done for this country, and the strength and the bravery and the love that they had for the country and that you have for the country.”
Upon learning that they did this thing about which he had no idea, only that it reminded him of himself, Trump felt confident in declaring them “really incredible people” in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson—signer of the Indian Removal Act that led to the forced expulsion and deaths of thousands of Native Americans—because the thin veneer of politesse that once smoothed over the monstrous realities that our civilization is tenuously built on has a huge fucking crack in it and no one seems to care anymore. Trump’s remarks were met with the pained and stony silence that we now must live inside of, wondering when this will all end.
Later, Senator Warren issued a response to MSNBC: “It is deeply unfortunate that the President of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur. Donald Trump does this over and over thinking somehow he is going to shut me up with it. It hasn’t worked out in the past, it isn’t going to work out in the future.”
Whatever modicum of dignity that might have been briefly restored to the national discourse was once again immediately shattered at a White House press conference, where press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the notion that “Pocahontas” is a racial slur “ridiculous,” while also shrugging, “I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career… I think Senator Warren was very offensive when she lied about something specifically to advance her career, and I don’t understand why no one is asking about that question and why that isn’t constantly covered.”
Of course, that “question” was constantly covered when it ostensibly mattered, back during Warren’s 2012 campaign against Scott Brown, when numerous former colleagues and supervisors said that Warren’s ancestry claims had zero impact on her hiring, and Massachusetts voters by and large said they similarly did not give a shit. But we must talk about it again, today and forever, because we built our homes on a poisoned land filled with bones and blood, and this is the curse that has been laid upon us.
Sanders was also asked whether Trump “lacks decency,” the answer to which was the loud buzzing of horseflies inside your mind.