President Trump on Saturday evening yet again taunted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with the “Pocahontas” nickname, but this time added an apparent mocking reference to the Trail of Tears, the 19th-century forced relocation of Native Americans that resulted in several thousand deaths.
“Will she run as our first Native American presidential candidate, or has she decided that after 32 years, this is not playing so well anymore?” he tweeted. “See you on the campaign TRAIL, Liz!”
Warren’s past claims of Native-American heritage have been a topic of frequent conversation across all three major cable-news networks and among the national political press. The senator, who announced her presidential run over the weekend, recently apologized to the Cherokee Nation for taking a DNA test to prove a supposed Cherokee heritage.
While the president has repeatedly used the “Pocahontas” nickname to jab at Warren’s ongoing heritage controversy, his Saturday tweet became uniquely controversial as the all-caps use of “TRAIL” was largely interpreted as a joke about one of the deadliest tragedies in Native-American history.
But if you’ve tuned into Fox News, you would barely know that controversy existed.
While CNN and MSNBC have since devoted dozens of segments to discussing Trump’s apparent reference to his favorite president Andrew Jackson’s genocidal policy, Fox has largely ignored it altogether.
And when they’ve noted the reference, they’ve seemingly defended it.
On the Sunday morning edition of Fox & Friends Weekend, co-host Ed Henry mentioned the all-caps “trail” and said it was “a little controversial” without explaining why.
“Was it?” a clueless Pete Hegseth replied.
That set up a monologue by co-host Jedediah Bila. “There’s two groups here: Some feel that Trump does not help himself by engaging in this kind of sarcasm, and when he makes references like this,” she said. “And others feel like, you know what, she’s asking for it. She lied about her Native-American heritage for years. He’s doing what he needs to do.”
Hegseth seemed to only recognize the “Pocahontas” reference as being potentially offensive, remarking that Trump is simply a “marketer” who simply gave her a “nickname” to define her “fraudulent stance” on her heritage.
When Henry once again pointed to the “trail” remark, this time noting that it likely referenced the genocidal Trail of Tears, Hegseth offered a bizarre defense.
“No one is making fun of the fact that people suffered and died,” he said. “You can recognize a historical tragedy while at the same time also making fun of someone who misrepresented themselves.”
Bila, too, excused Trump’s apparent mockery of genocide, blaming Warren instead. “In a way, [Warren] was making a mockery because she, for years, lied about her own heritage. And she wasn’t being respectful of Native Americans,” she said.
Two hours later, the weekend Friends mentioned the tweet again. This time, with no mention of the apparent genocide joke, but with a full-blown rant against Warren.
“There’s always some debate as to whether he should engage in this way or not. Is he making fun of her? Should he just stay out of it? But I gotta tell you, when it comes to her, she made a mockery of Native Americans,” Bila said. “I’m sorry, she lied for years about her Native-American heritage, she’s like 1/1,024 maybe Native-American, I mean, it’s insane, and you know, if she’s going to do that, you’ve got to say, look, this is a big joke, this woman she's a complete fraud, and a liar, criticizing the 1 percent, she’s rich.”
Hours later, during the Sunday edition of America’s News HQ, reporter Jacqui Heinrich read the full text of the tweet but did not mention the controversy surrounding the all-caps “TRAIL.”
Also on Sunday, during Howard Kurtz’s MediaBuzz program, liberal commentator Jessica Tarlov snuck in a passing reference to Trump’s apparent Trail of Tears joke during a debate on the president’s calls for bipartisanship during his State of the Union address.
“No one believes that was really genuine,” Tarlov said. “A couple days later we have his attacks on Elizabeth Warren and talking about the Trail of Tears. This president calling for unity and saying we should get away from revenge politics. Nobody is buying it.”
“It’s a two-way street,” Kurtz replied. “The Democrats beat up on him every single day.”
And then on Monday afternoon, Fox’s daytime show Outnumbered dedicated a segment to the Trump tweet, but ignored the Trail of Tears reference entirely—instead framing the social-media post solely around the well-worn “Pocahontas” nickname.
But perhaps the most bizarre Fox News excuse for Trump came from senior political analyst Brit Hume, who suggested the president is too ignorant of American history to have knowingly referred to the genocidal march.
“Yes, because Trump is noted for his knowledge of 19th century American history vis a vis the native population. Jeez,” he snarked on Twitter on Saturday evening.
When asked by CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski if he was seriously defending the president as being too ignorant to have knowingly made the reference, Hume responded, “He says ignorant and offensive things regularly, but he is not noted for veiled references to historical events.”
Of course, this ignores Trump’s dozen-plus references to President Jackson in White House speeches, TV appearances, and tweets; or the president’s previous use of the Wounded Knee massacre—in which U.S. troops killed several hundred Lakota Sioux; and for which Congress issued an apology 100 years later—while attacking Warren.