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What's fair to Donald Trump should be fair to Keith Ellison

President-elect Donald Trump raises his fist as he

President-elect Donald Trump raises his fist as he speaks during the first stop of his post-election tour, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Cincinnati. Photo Credit: AP

Republican president-elect Donald Trump, as everyone knows, launched his campaign with insults to women, Muslims, Mexicans and other minorities -- and without apologies to anybody. He won election anyway.

Now we have Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, frontrunner for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, receiving renewed scrutiny of his past statements in support of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan and other radical figures --which he renounced at least 10 years ago.

Can Ellison, 53, the first Muslim elected to Congress (and, along with Andre Carson, an Indiana Democrat, one of two now serving in Congress), receive what Trump requested throughout his campaign, to be "treated fairly"?

I don't fault the Anti-Defamation League for raising questions about Ellison's bid last week, although I think they would have benefitted from talking to him first. The statement from ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt cited statements about Israel in a 2010 speech by Ellison as "deeply disturbing and disqualifying."

The statement was released the same day as a new CNN report detailed Ellison's past defense of Farrakhan, whose past statements about Jews and Israel enflamed tensions nationwide, beginning with the Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign.

Ellison responded to the ADL in an open letter, describing himself as a "strong supporter of the Jewish state, voting for more than $27 billion in aid to Israel."

He described his quotes about Israel in question as "selectively edited and taken out of context" by an unnamed person whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has called an "anti-Muslim extremist."

Nevertheless, he said, he looked forward to working with the ADL more in the future.

The ADL statement dealt a setback to Ellison's bid, in which he has emerged as frontrunner. His wide-ranging endorsements include Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Ellison forcefully renounced his association with the Nation of Islam and its leader Minister Louis Farrakhan in 2006 after it became an issue during his first run for Congress. Local Republican bloggers had published his old law school columns and photos connecting him to the black separatist organization and even speaking favorably of racial separatism and slavery reparations.

But that was a different, far more radical Keith Ellison, he says, than the one who was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2002.

When his former activism emerged as an issue in his 2006 campaign, his renunciation of those past associations was clear and forceful. "I have long since distanced myself from and rejected the Nation of Islam," he wrote at the time, "due to its propagation of bigoted and anti-Semitic ideas and statements, as well as other issues."

The new quotes unearthed by CNN came from his earlier period. Although Ellison had defended the right of others to speak, CNN did not find anti-Semitic statements that he had made himself. Even so, he said, he regretted his earlier reluctance to properly judge those who did make anti-Semitic and homophobic statements.

I find it ironic that Ellison's remarks, for which he has apologized, were brought to my attention partly by angry readers who had defended Donald Trump's right to insult entire groups of people with no apologies. Is Trump's demand to be "treated fairly" too precious to be extended to Democrats?

I don't recall any apology, for example, for Trump's phony birther campaign in which he led us on a merry chase after President Barack Obama's birth certificate that he had to know was bogus from its very beginnings.

The closest he has come to an apology for his various blows against "political correctness" came in a 90-second videotaped acknowledgement of regret for a decade-old audio tape in which he boasted about grabbing women's genitals. Does accountability matter anymore?

That's why I don't disagree with the nonpartisan ADL or anyone else who wants Ellison to account for his past controversial statements. If politicians are not accountable to the public for what they say or do, our democracy is meaningless.

But those who say they have changed for the better should be allowed to prove themselves. "Give him a chance," is the mantra we hear from Trump loyalists, now that he is about to be sworn in as president. Fine. But Ellison deserves a chance, too.

E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@tribune.com.

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