Editorial: There should be consequences for reckless, inappropriate political posts

In January, the leader of Lake County Republican Party defended an offensive social media post that mocked U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren's claims of Native American heritage. He said it was a joke.

Last week, the head of the Illinois Republican County Chairman's Association apologized and removed a post that included a movie poster-style picture of four minority lawmakers as the stars of "The Jihad Squad." He said it was unauthorized and it was a mistake.

We have a more pointed view - these were reckless and inappropriate and contribute to growing racial tensions. They are part of a toxic atmosphere sparked by tweets and comments at the top of the political food chain that is filtering down through local party organizations.

In Illinois, the problem is not limited to Republicans. The Kankakee County Democrats Facebook page was condemned this week for a recent post featuring a MAGA hat and Klan hood with the words "Make American Hate Again." Kankakee County Democratic leaders defended this as a statement about the hypocrisy of the president but conceded "it wasn't in good taste."

What's needed are consequences, not apologies, to force an end to this offensive tone - at least when it comes from political leaders. With the 2020 election on the horizon, leaders must keep the focus on important issues and resist using social media to roll in the muck with race baiting and slurs. We need leaders, above everyone, to be professional and respectful, not foment hate to divide the country.

Mark Shaw was the man in charge of both local Republican organizations in the examples cited above. He dismissed concerns over a meme posted on the Lake County Republican Party central committee's Facebook page in January. The image featured puffs of smoke rising into the sky with text that read "Actual photo of Elizabeth Warren announcing her candidacy for president of the United States."

It appeared one day after Warren, who has been repeatedly derided by President Donald Trump over her claims of Native American heritage, announced she'd formed an exploratory committee to run for president in 2020. "What's the big deal?" said Shaw.

The Illinois Republican County Chairman's Association's "The Jihad Squad" meme was posted with the all-caps text: "POLITICAL JIHAD IS THEIR GAME. IF YOU DON'T AGREE WITH THEIR SOCIALIST IDEOLOGY, YOU'RE RACIST."

That came less than a week after Trump's racist tweets suggesting the four Democratic congresswomen - Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts - should "go back" to the "totally broken crime infested places from which they came." Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley were born here and Omar, a Somali refugee, became a citizen at 17.

Shaw "condemned" the unauthorized post, said it had been deleted and apologized. But that's a bell that can't be unrung. The post was so offensive and dangerous that it demands real consequences. An apology alone isn't good enough. Shaw needs to show some real leadership with a message this kind of behavior won't be tolerated. Whoever is responsible should resign. If that's Shaw, so be it.

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