Kellyanne Conway, U.S. President Donald Trump’s advisor, asked a very odd and potentially troubling question on the very day her impetuous, mercurial and unpredictable boss tore into four Democratic congresswomen in a racially-charged rant during which he advised them to “go back” to the “places from which they came.”
During a press conference on the grounds of the White House, Andrew Feinberg, a Breakfast Media reporter, asked Conway which countries she thought the president was referring to when he launched a tirade against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna S. Pressley.
By way of reply, she blurted out, “What’s your ethnicity?”
To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time in modern history American history that a White House counsellor had publicly asked a reporter doing his job such a brazen and outlandish question.
Conway could have answered his legitimate question in a professional and straightforward manner. Alternatively, she could have dismissed, ridiculed or simply ignored it, consigning it to an “alternative” universe. Instead, she embroiled herself in a controversy that should never have arisen in the first place.
When Feinberg, a Jewish American, asked Conway to explain the relevancy of her strange, seemingly racist question, she went off on a tangent. “No, no, because I’m asking you a question,” she countered. “My ancestors are from Ireland and Italy.”
What, in fact, did she really mean?
At first, Feinberg said he was baffled by her question, which came out of the blue.
Later, he described her question as “bizarre,” but tacitly rejected an astute observation by CNN reporter Chris Cillizza that Conway was implicitly asking for proof of his religion or ethnicity before she would deign to answer his question.
“No, I don’t think she was being antisemitic,” Feinberg tweeted.
So what message, if any, was she trying to convey?
Could it be she was insinuating that Feinberg somehow had an affinity with the four congresswomen?, as Jewish Telegraphic reporter Andrew Silow-Carroll speculated. Or was she engaging in a subtle but dangerous form of antisemitism?
Clearly, the dustup weighed on Conway’s conscience.
“This was meant with no disrespect,” she said of her question in a boilerplate tweet. “We are all from somewhere else ‘originally.’ I asked the question to answer the question and volunteered my own ethnicity: Italian and Irish. Like many, I am proud of my ethnicity, love the USA & grateful to God to be an American.”
To give her the benefit of the doubt, she may have been sincere and was actually telling the truth. But who knows?
In all probability, we will never be sure why she chose to ask Feinberg such a pointed, clumsy and totally unnecessary question.
Be that as it may, Conway’s question should be a source of concern to anyone who cares about normal democratic notions like tolerance, decency and equality.