During his campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren as "Pocahontas," a crude allusion to Warren's claims of Native American ancestry. And in another example of his unpresidential behavior, he has continued using the slur, this time during a meeting with Senators. On CNN's State of the Union, Senator Al Franken rightfully called out the bigoted comments: "Mr. President...that's racist."
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump took juvenile joy in dubbing his opponents with insulting nicknames. But the crudest example of this was his preferred moniker for Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, to whom he repeatedly referred as “Pocahontas,” based on her past statements about having Native American ancestry.
Trump’s use of that term is bigoted and snide at its core, and it has a deeper and darker intention than simply deriding Warren. As Melissa McEwan noted during the primaries in a powerful response to Trump referring to Warren as “the Indian”:
The Indian. With two words, Trump hit the trifecta — racism, misogyny, and dehumanization.
Throughout the entirety of his campaign, he has relied on precisely those bigotries to attempt to discredit any individual or group with whom he has disagreements.
When he refers to Warren as “the Indian,” he’s not merely being insulting—although that, too—but he is seeking to to discredit her critique on the basis that she isn’t fit to criticize him; isn’t his peer; is less than; isn’t even deserving of recognition of her complex humanity.
One might hope that upon assuming the highest office in the land, Trump would let go of such crass and offensive ways of speaking. But, unsurprisingly, one would be wrong.
Politico reports that, during a meeting with ten U.S. Senators, Trump once again tossed out the “Pocahontas” slur:
During the meeting, Trump also reacted to Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren being silenced on the Senate floor while trying to read a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King and in objection to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions before he was confirmed as attorney general. According to participants in Thursday’s meeting, Trump referred to Warren several times as “Pocahontas,” the moniker he gave her during his campaign, and told the Democrats he was glad Warren is becoming the face of “your party.”
As if the sexist treatment by her male colleagues in the Senate were not enough — when she was simply trying to read the words of a Civil Rights icon into the testimony against an Attorney General nominee with a marked hostility toward the very concept of civil rights — Warren also continues to be targeted with vile and petty barbs from the president of the United States.
One of her colleagues was not shy about calling Trump’s comments out for exactly what they are. On CNN’s State of the Union, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) told host Jake Tapper that Trump’s words were “racist” and “completely unacceptable”:
TAPPER: He was meeting privately with ten Senators at the White House, and he told the Democrats in the room, ‘Pocahontas is now the face of your party.’ That’s an obvious reference to the controversy over Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American heritage. What’s your response, when you see that — ‘Pocahontas is now the face of your party’?
FRANKEN: I heard this from a couple of my colleagues who were there and I — I would have said something. I mean, I’m not —
TAPPER: What would you have said?
FRANKEN: ‘Mr. President, with all due respect, that’s racist. Please stop doing that. I am on Indian Affairs, this is completely unacceptable. You really should stop doing this. It doesn’t serve anybody.’ Something like that.
It is indeed racist, and demeaning not only to Warren herself, but to Native Americans as a people, and as a group that has been marginalized and harshly oppressed in this country ever since white people arrived here. It belittles their very humanity, turning their identity into a childish joke against a woman who dares to challenge Trump.
That the president of the country engages in mean-spirited, racist verbal attacks is not normal. But it is helpful to know that Democrats like Franken are not afraid to call it what it is, and to stand up for those who are maligned by Trump’s words.