At the end of last month, President Trump declared that in November, the U.S. would honor Native American heritage. “This month, I encourage all of our citizens to learn about the rich history and culture of the Native American people,” he wrote.
On Monday, he stood in front of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson to thank World War II Navajo code talkers, using the opportunity to mock a senator who claimed Cherokee descent, by using a Powhatan name.
“I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people,” Trump said, after a characteristically vague and nearly meaningless description of the role played by the men, who during World War II served in the Marines, using native languages as a code that the Japanese couldn’t break. Then he added: “You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who, they say, was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas.’”
That is, of course, Trump’s favorite nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who described herself as part Cherokee earlier in her career. Trump’s comment was astonishing. During an event honoring a specific group of Native American veterans of the Second World War, Trump suddenly veered into congratulating the men as exemplars of the all Native American peoples since time immemorial. He did so while standing in front of a portrait of Jackson, infamous for driving Native Americans out of the southeastern United States. And he used the ceremony to snipe at a political rival, delivering a personal insult while using an offensive nickname.