Dear Sen. Marco Rubio:
You didn’t answer the question.
Questions, plural, actually. As a result, I find myself addressing you for the second column in a row via open letter — and feeling not unlike Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.” That is to say, “I’m not going to be ignored, Mario.”
But first, let me offer some context for those who are arriving late. Last week, I wrote that “I don’t want to have anything to do” with supporters of Donald Trump. Whereupon you, with a politician’s gift for embellishment, tweeted that I had said people who voted for Trump “should not be heard from or engaged in dialogue.”
So I wrote another column, deflating your embellishment and listing the reasons I find it pointless to debate Trump’s people, including their tendency toward “alternative facts” and their embrace of various bigotries. You returned to Twitter, and there ensued a nightlong exchange in which you contended that most Trump followers “voted for him despite those things, not b/c of them.”
I answered your arguments in good faith. You, with a politician’s gift for selective hearing impairment, ignored mine. I specifically asked you three questions: “What do you stand for?” “What could Trump do to make you say, ‘Enough?’ “ and “What’s the functional difference between being a bigot and just voting for one?”
You gave me cricket arias in response. So let me offer some thoughts. Because space is limited, I’ll leave the first two questions aside. But the third deserves exploration, speaking as it does to issues larger than your slipperiness.
Trump’s bigotry is, of course, a given. Between his housing-discrimination suits, his contention that black people are naturally lazy, his birther nonsense and his assertion that an Indiana-born jurist of Mexican descent was unfit to judge him and his support for neo-Nazis, any argument to the contrary must be regarded as asinine.
And despite your claim that people voted for him “despite” all this, a mounting body of research says just the opposite. Trump’s bigotry was a big part of his appeal for white Americans scared spitless by the notion of a nation where Muslims, people of color and LGBTQ people play ever larger and more visible roles. In an analysis based on data from the 2016 American National Election Study and published in the current issue of Critical Sociology, University of Kansas professors David N. Smith and Eric Hanley put it as follows: “The decisive reason that white, male, older and less educated voters were disproportionately pro-Trump is that they shared his prejudices and wanted domineering, aggressive leaders ...”
But let’s say you’re right, senator. Let’s say there were armies of people who were repelled by Trump’s bigotry, but voted for him anyway. It returns us to my question. What is the functional difference between being a bigot and supporting one?
The answer, which you couldn’t bring yourself to give, is that there is none. If, 10 years ago, I had told you, a Cuban American, that I stood in solidarity with the exile community, then, despite the U.S. embargo, visited Cuba as a money-spending tourist, essentially giving aid and support to the Castro regime, how much would my “solidarity” mean to you? Very darn little, I’m sure.
It’s an axiomatic truth, senator: actions speak louder than words. And the actions of you and 63 million others in supporting this guy are deafening. Now you tell self-serving, conscience-salving lies to cover the reality of what that means, what it says about America, because the truth is too painful to face, much less speak.
But me, I haven’t the luxury of medicating conscience with lies. So we’re done here. If you’ve got something else to say, you know where to find me. But do us both a favor.
Bring answers this time.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.