NJ officials are copying Trump’s racism. They’re finding out fast it won’t work here

The Highland Park Planet is pleased to feature occasional columns/op-ed pieces by renowned NJ Statehouse Reporter Charles Stile, columnist for the North Jersey Record. The column first appeared at www.northjersey.com on July 31, 2019.

Daniel P. Leonard, the decorated paratrooper-turned-school board member, lamented on Monday the “learning curve” of life outside the military, where politically incorrect jesting is an accepted part of the culture.

“I just retired after 23 years and the things I could say day to day in the military to the gamut of races and nationalities – you can’t say that anymore,” he said in an interview. 

“It’s a changed world and I’m part of the transition,” said Leonard, a member of the Toms River Regional Board of Education. “I’m part of the old world and I’m moving into the new world.”

Leonard, 42, from Beachwood, also quickly found that new world – the New Jersey of the Donald Trump era — had little tolerance for Leonard’s intolerance, a set of anti-Muslim Facebook posts that pushed the boundaries of politically acceptable speech. 

And he’s hardly alone. Just in the past few days alone, other political officials stirred to anger and defiance by Trump’s toxic, race-baiting reelection strategy have discovered that New Jersey is hostile to the Trump messaging.

Bashing four Congresswomen of color and recycling an old “send them back” racist trope, or trashing predominantly-black Baltimore as a “rat and rodent infested” might galvanize Trump’s reactionary and grievance-fueled base, but in New Jersey, things don’t end well for officials who parrot Trump’s divisive style.

The Sussex County Republican Party chairman Jerry Scanlan grudgingly beat a retreat Monday after coming under fire for hosting a Twitter feed that became a dumping ground for racist and sexist bile. But his belated apology came after first failing to brush past the flap with the Trumpian tactic of deflecting responsibility on someone else.

The Sussex County Republican Committee is under fire for running a Twitter page filled with anti-Muslim comments. (Photo: Sussex County GOP Twitter page)

Incredulously, Scanlan initially blamed the ugly memes and retweets —  which called the four Congresswomen “stupid b*****s,” “radical terrorists, “Whores of Babble-on”  and others – on Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat. Murphy, Scanlan argued, should bear the blame because of his efforts to enforce guidelines for when local law enforcement should cooperate with immigration and customs agents. 

Palisades Park Councilman Henry Ruh resigned and moved out of town amid a scandal over the unauthorized hiring of school security officers. But Ruh had also faced fallout for forwarding racist and sexist chain letters from his personal email account to a group of acquaintances between March 2016 and April 2018.

And then there is the party-switching Michael Saudino, the former Bergen County sheriff who resigned last year after a recording surfaced with Saudino trashing Murphy and his multi-ethnic and racial cabinet choices.

He complained that Murphy’s call to legalize marijuana would “let the blacks come in, do whatever the [expletive] they want, smoke their marijuana” and said that the Gurbir Grewal, the nation’s first Sikh state attorney general, got his job only “because of the turban.” 

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