Yesterday, Ted Cruz, the Texas Senator currently at risk of losing his seat to Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, did something weird. Hours before he was set to debate his opponent at Southern Methodist University the Senator tweeted a video of his O’Rourke speaking in an African-American church, pointing out the injustice of the Dallas police shooting Botham Jean, an unarmed Black man, in his own apartment and then trying to justify it by claiming he had marijuana in the place. As you can see below, the Cruz campaign was even kind enough to add in subtitles:
The fact that he tweeted such a clip with the expectation that it would reflect poorly upon O’Rourke is, in some ways, a commentary on the dueling realities in American politics. In one world, the very idea that such an incident would occur is horrifying, a perversion of an institution whose literal job description is to protect and serve, not murder and inflict terror. In the other, shittier world that Ted Cruz lives in, the video is an indication of... something, I guess? That this is what the cops are supposed to do? That possessing marijuana should be punishable by death? That Ted Cruz assumes everyone in Texas is racist?
The plot thickened last night during the pair’s debate, during which Cruz accused O’Rourke of referring to the police as “modern day Jim Crow,” which O’Rourke denied. But, as The New York Times pointed out, O’Rourke had described “racism within the criminal justice system, including racial profiling and unjust police shootings of people of color... [as] ‘the new Jim Crow’” while speaking at Prairie View A&M University days before the debate. While what O’Rourke actually said and what Cruz said he said weren’t technically the same thing — O’Rourke was more than likely referencing Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book The New Jim Crow, which examines the justice system as a whole — it was good enough for Cruz, who gleefully issued a press release calling O’Rourke out on the perceived gaffe. For good measure, the Cruz campaign uploaded video of the speech, sending it out with yet another smarmy tweet:
In the wake of last night’s #TXSenateDebate the New York Times (!!!) called Beto out for falsely denying that he called police officers “the new Jim Crow” --> https://t.co/Qpn6kYs8hQ— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) September 22, 2018
Watch video of Beto’s speech and judge for yourself:
While it’s debatable whether or not the footage vindicates Cruz on a factual level — again, O’Rourke was talking about systemic issues and not specifically the cops — what O’Rourke is actually saying in the clip scans as completely reasonable and what most people would want to hear from a young Democratic Senate candidate. Cruz’s apparent belief that O’Rourke’s words suggest something else, meanwhile, suggests that the Senator views the world through a deliberately cruel and cold-hearted frame and assumes his fellow conservatives do as well. If the idea that the same set of words might have two completely different interpretations depending on who hears them is intrinsic to the modern Republican worldview, then the best we can hope is this: That when it comes time to pick between recognizing injustices when they occur and demand they be stopped, or denying their existence so that they may perpetuate, the majority will opt for the former. And, whether he realizes it or not, Ted Cruz might be broadcasting the message that things don’t have to be this way.