The incessantly scandal-plagued interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, did not have a good answer for a serious question during a House committee hearing this week. So instead, he just offered up some casual racism.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) questioned Zinke about Trump’s proposed budget that cuts funding for the preservation of internment camps. Hanabusa, as the granddaughter of Japanese Americans who were interred during World War II, expressed her own deeply personal interest in continuing this grant program.
“I believe that it is essential that we as a nation recognize our darkest moments so that we don’t have them repeat again,” Hanabusa said. She asked Zinke whether he would commit to continuing the funding for the program, despite Trump’s planned cuts.
Zinke’s response? “Oh, konnichiwa.”
Hanabusa wasn’t flustered by Zinke’s sad and condescending attempt at greeting her in Japanese.
“I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu,’ [good morning]” she said, “but that’s OK.”
If Zinke thought he was being cute or friendly, he failed miserably. And after Hanabusa instantly put him in his place, other Democratic women in Congress piled on.
California Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, called on Zinke to apologize. “No better example of why we need continued support for historical sites where the rights of Japanese Americans were violated b/c of race,” she tweeted. “Zinke’s comment betrayed a prejudice that being Asian makes you a perpetual foreigner. Intentional or not, it’s offensive. He should apologize.”
California is home to more than 5.8 million Asian residents.
“The internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter,” Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono tweeted at Zinke. “What you thought was a clever response to @RepHanabusa was flippant & juvenile.”
New York’s Rep. Grace Meng called Zinke’s comment, “blatantly insensitive,” and noted the behavior was unbecoming of a cabinet secretary.
And Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth simply wrote, “Nope. Racism is not ok.”
Of course Zinke should follow Chu’s advice and apologize. But casual, and not-so-casual, racism is par for the course for the Trump administration — and no one has offered any apologies yet. And that includes Zinke himself.
Last year, for example, he invoked “native Indians” to defend preserving Confederate monuments.
“Where do you start and where do you stop? It’s a slippery slope,” he said. “If you’re a native Indian, I can tell you, you’re not very happy about the history of General Sherman or perhaps President Grant.”
That, however, paled in comparison to Trump’s insistence that Confederate monuments as “beautiful,” and their removal meant our “history and our culture” is “being ripped apart.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is suing California over laws meant to protect immigrants, a lawsuit described as a “stunt” and a “racist and xenophobic attack,” by California leaders.
Previously, Sessions snidely attacked U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii for ruling against Trump’s bigoted immigration ban.
“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power,” Sessions said, as if Hawaii is a foreign island and not part of the United States.
And that, it seems, was Zinke’s attitude Thursday with a Japanese American member of Congress from Hawaii. Instead of giving her serious question the serious answer he deserved, he tried to dismiss her with his too-cute-by-half failed attempt at Japanese.
It didn’t work.