LePage’s racist comment has branded Bridgton

 

By Gail Geraghty

BN Columnist

It’s been a week full of cognitive dissonance, hasn’t it? And irony. On Tuesday Bridgton Selectmen talked about how to go about “branding” the town, but what they didn’t consider was the way we’ve already been branded as a town that tolerates and even celebrates full-blown racism.

Nationally there’s been outrage over the sound bite taken from the hour-long talk by Gov. Paul LePage at last week’s Town Hall gathering at the Municipal Complex. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, let’s repeat it here:

“These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty. These type of guys. They come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we've got to deal with down the road.”

No one reacted when he said that, in responding to a question about combating Maine’s drug epidemic by Bridgton resident Cathy Fink. They laughed, in fact, when they heard the obviously inner-city black-sounding nicknames. The crowd was overwhelmingly supportive of LePage, with two selectmen, the town manager and Bridgton’s local representative sitting in the front row. At the end of the hour-long meeting they gave him a standing ovation.

Juxtapose that with the explosion of outrage that came two days later when the quote went national. The Huffington Post called it “full racist,” and the game was on. People compared LePage to Trump, with the right championing the willingness of both men to be courageous and speak the truth, and the left calling them hate-filled fear-mongering ignoramuses, and making dark jokes about Trump picking LePage as his running mate. As one commenter in the Huffington Post put it, “It's good to hear a Republican speak his mind, openly and honestly. He is honestly a bigoted racist, and sees no problem with it. Maine, you can do better.”

Lest you fail to see that LePage is racist, that he is using the worst fears of working class people to get what he wants — consider the robo-calls now going out to Iowa voters that are funded by a white nationalist PAC. Jared Taylor, editor of the white supremicist American Renaissance magazine, has no qualms saying during the robo-call, “We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.”

LePage has no qualms either saying the people of Maine don’t need drug-dealing black men impregnating our young white girls. And this isn’t the first time he’s played that card. In a letter last year announcing his intention to veto the Legislature’s budget, he included mug shots of four drug dealers, three of which were black, and juxtaposed them with photos of crying babies, saying, “This budget is soft on drug trafficking, results in drug-addicted babies . . .”

Oh, yeah, this man wants to keep Maine white as long as possible. No matter how much he professes to support drug treatment programs as a tool for addressing our opiate abuse crisis, it’s clear his main focus is still on increased law enforcement, and increased law enforcement must focus on preserving our lily-white demographics. If that’s not proof of racism, then consider how Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, defended LePage’s comments, as quoted in Amy Fried’s column in the Bangor Daily News:

“When I see a twenty-something black guy decked out in bling grocery shopping with a chubby white girl in Bangor, my educated guess is that he’s a drug dealer from New York, and she’s a native Mainer welfare queen.”

But I realize that I’ll never get some people to recognize the threat of allowing racial comments to go unchallenged, so no more about that needs to be said. Besides, for the most part LePage has done the media a huge favor, and we owe him our thanks.

The time has come to admit the ugly reality that there is indeed a very real undercurrent of racism in Maine that has been virtually ignored by the press. In Maine and, yes, in Bridgton, we are in massive denial about our racism because it is largely unconscious. The truth hardly ever rises to the surface until something outrageaous like this happens and we’re forced to consider the assault on our values that results when we see yet another story about an out-of-state black drug dealer being arrested in Maine. It happens, and it seems to be happening more and more — which is not to say there aren’t plenty of white redneck drug dealers running around here as well.

As LePage said at the Town Hall meeting in Bridgton, more than once, I believe, that “You can disagree with me, but you can’t disagree with the facts.”

Facts are only one part of a much bigger picture, however. It’s right to celebrate LePage for speaking his mind — God knows we need more of that in our politicians right now. But it’s very wrong to celebrate and support him when he says something stupid, which even he admitted was “foolish” for him to say. As he told the reporters at the post-slip press conference, “Get your heads out of the sand.” There are so many more important issues for us to be debating.

Like this one — why is it that when the one person at the Bridgton meeting stood up to challenge LePage, saying, “I disagree, sir. You are a bully. You say things that aren’t true and you do things that aren’t right” — why is it that several people in the audience told him sharply to “Sit down! Sit down!”

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