Opinion: The Great Racist Finger-Pointing Debate

Lee Zeldin with John Berman and Kate Bolduan Tuesday morning.
Lee Zeldin with John Berman and Kate Bolduan Tuesday morning.

I just can’t take it any more!

My inbox is crammed to the max with politicians reacting and counter-reacting and counter-counter-reacting to a comment Lee Zeldin made on CNN that Barack Obama’s policies could be seen as racist.

As usual in the crazy media feeding frenzy that happens every time voting season comes around, the sound bites associated with his comments don’t really have much to do with what he actually said, so I’m going to spill the whole thing out here (with minor edits for brevity, repetition, and interruptions from annoying news anchors).

Mr. Zeldin was lucky enough to be a guest Tuesday morning with CNN anchors John Berman and Kate Bolduan, discussing Paul Ryan’s comments about Donald Trump’s comments about United States District Court Justice Gonzalo P. Curiel, whom Mr. Trump said is biased because of his Mexican heritage in his handling of a case involving Trump University.

Mr. Berman leads off by asking if Mr. Zeldin agrees with Mr. Ryan’s assertion that Trump’s comments were a “textbook definition of a racist comment. And by the way, Mr. Zeldin agrees:

“The way I subjectively define racism, I agree as well,” said Mr. Zeldin. “I think that Mr. Trump made a regrettable mistake with his statement. I believe that it’s a regrettable legal strategy. He’s trying to win a case…. I think that we shouldn’t be going after ethnicity and race with a judge to assume that they are unqualified to serve as a judge in a particular case because of it. Mr. Trump believes because of his positions on building a wall that there is a connection…. I’m not aware of this judge being unfit to handle this case because of the fact that he is of Mexican heritage.”

Ms. Bolduan then asked Mr. Zeldin if he’s still comfortable supporting Mr. Trump.

Mr. Zeldin: “Quite frankly, the policies that I have seen from the Democratic Party when you’re microtargeting a community and you are putting blacks together and Hispanics together and certain economic messages and positions on issues. Quite frankly, with the way I define racism, I see it a lot in policies and statements that has taken place…”

Mr. Berman: Are you essentially saying that, yes he’s a racist, but he’s our racist?

Zeldin: No, I think that Donald Trump, as far as his character goes, he isn’t making that statement because he feels like he is superior because he is white and the judge is Mexican. I don’t believe he’s making that statement because internally he feels like he is of a superior race.

Ms. Bolduan: But is a little bit racist ok?

Mr. Zeldin: We can all do a lot better in the way we handle these issues, not just statements but policies as well. Being a little racist or very racist is not ok, but quite frankly the agenda that I see and all the microtargeting to blacks and Hispanics from a policy standpoint, that’s more offensive to me, what I’ve seen through the years, than this one statement…. If he internally felt superior because he is white and he’s not Hispanic. If he felt superior because he was white and he wasn’t black or he was Christian and not Jewish, you could start getting into the weeds internally as far as a person’s character goes. Quite frankly, what I have seen through the years is an offensive microtargeting on policy and rhetoric of campaigns. People want votes.

Ms. Bolduan: Don’t you judge character on people’s words? Isn’t that one of the only things you have to judge a presidential candidate?

Mr. Zeldin: There’s more than just words to define a person, and by the way, aside from words, there’s a whole lot more to define everyone, but you could easily argue that the President of the United States is a racist with his policy and rhetoric…. My purpose here isn’t to just go through a list and call everyone a racist. I’m saying that we all could up our game with rhetoric and policy because America, we are a nation of immigrants. We are a melting pot. I’m from New York. New York is a melting pot. We all can do so much better.

Mr. Berman: Has Donald Trump put you in an incredibly awkward position today in this campaign?

Mr. Zeldin: I don’t feel uncomfortable at all, ’cause I’m comfortable in my own skin and being here and answering whatever questions you have. Primarily for Mr. Trump, it’s a regrettable legal strategy. I don’t think it’s going to help his case. I also don’t think it helps his politics. It was an unfortunate statement that was made.

Mr. Berman: Despite what you said, I don’t think it can be an easy day for you.


Thank you all for reading this far. I do have a point in barraging you with all of this. Now Lee Zeldin is a pretty conservative guy, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following his policies on national issues that he’s been diametrically opposed to Barack Obama’s policies from day one.

He began making those positions known just as soon as he took office. And nothing he could say today about Barack Obama would really surprise me at all. This is the man we elected to represent the First Congressional District. In case you’ve forgotten, Donald Trump did pretty well in the primary out here too. This stuff plays well on the East End. A better question for us all to be asking ourselves right now is, “why is that?”

What I see here when I watch Lee Zeldin speak with these reporters are a few key things:

  1. These two hapless ‘journalists’ couldn’t get Paul Ryan to come on their show, so they decided to spend the morning trying to beat up a freshman congressman who appears completely non-plussed by their ‘tough questions.’ If Lee Zeldin were a witness in a trial, they’d be accused of badgering the witness. If they were print journalists, they’d be accused of asking leading questions. The whole thing is a mess. And while we’re busy watching this sideshow, who is asking Donald Trump tough questions?
  2. ‘What people say’ is most certainly not all we have to go on when we decide who to vote for. Policies speak just as loudly, as Mr. Zeldin well knows. Mr. Zeldin’s policies are a matter of public record. He’s made them quite clear. He’s actually a pretty effective communicator. Whether you agree with him or not is another issue. Mr. Trump’s policies are pretty clear as well. So is his fan base on the East End.
  3. Lee Zeldin is actually making a pretty cogent, post-identity politics point about the state of our country’s policies today. There’s plenty of room for debate on this, but I read his comments as saying, hey, policies that give aid or special treatment to minorities might not actually help minorities. ‘Compassionate conservatism’ plays well with people who aren’t struggling to put food in their mouths every day, and with people who have never personally experienced racism. I get it. A lot of conservatives out there who see this will get it too. And they will think that all the liberals out there who don’t get it are just poking themselves in the eye until the whole world goes blind.
  4. Everyone’s definition of racism is “subjective,” based on how much racism they’ve personally witnessed or been the victim of. Lee Zeldin intelligently defines his own definition of racism as subjective. White people don’t really have a clue what it’s like to be any other color in America. This is a long-overdue jumping off point for a national conversation about race and point of view.
  5. Donald Trump is a calculating, race-baiting political animal who could very well be the next president of the United States. Is he a racist? I can’t imagine he isn’t. But, more importantly, he desperately needs to be liked and he’s perfectly happy to be liked by the most vile racists you can imagine. It’s a textbook case of narcissistic personality disorder, which is really the most dangerous thing about the man. I’m actually cynical enough to believe that Donald Trump is sick enough to say stuff he doesn’t believe and knows is wrong just because he knows it will rile up some nasty people to vote for him.
  6. Lee Zeldin knows he has to hitch his wagon to Donald Trump to keep the First Congressional District. This is all so blatantly obvious I almost forgot to include it as a point. He’s not the only freshman congressman hitching his wagon to Donald Trump, but he is ours.
  7. We have real major issues to address in this country. One of the biggest of these issues is racism. Democrats who are running for Lee Zeldin’s seat are not doing anyone who may actually have been the victim of racism any favors by playing to their base, pointing fingers and making political hay over this exchange.

All of you, please just stop it. Please. Especially the media.

Here’s the whole video, if you really want to watch it:

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

One thought on “Opinion: The Great Racist Finger-Pointing Debate

  • July 1, 2016 at 8:30 am

    To call racism subjective is to excuse it. Southern slave owners thought they were justified in owning human beings. They believed subjectively that they had a right to subjugate an entire race because they thought white people were superior. Mr.Trump is a racist and anyone who supports him, including Mr. Zeldin, is also a racist. At the very least he is a coward for not withdrawing his support For a blatant racist.


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