Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Donald Trump's Racism is America's Racism

 By Eric Segall

According to John O'Donnell, former President of Trump Tower Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, Donald Trump once told him that, "Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” In a 1997 interview in Playboy, Trump said, "the stuff O'Donnell wrote about me is probably true." 

Writing in the Atlantic, Ibram X. Kendi recently observed that, "Americans see themselves—and their country—in the president. From the days of George Washington, the president has personified the American body. The motto of the United States is E pluribus unum—'Out of many, one.' The “one” is the president." 

Many democracies have a head of government, usually a prime minister, and a president who performs ceremonial functions like attending funerals or giving speeches after a terrible disaster. In our country, in the words of Kendi, "for better or worse," we place all of that responsibility and pressure in the hands of one person, our President. And the current office holder is not only a racist, but he is using his racism to instill fear among those most ready to believe his lies. This sad state of affairs transcends our Racist-in-Chief but is also stoked by him. The hard question, which I don't answer here, is what to do about it, but the first step of solving any problem is to accept it. And in this case, the problem is American racism as much as it is Donald Trump.

When Donald Trump ran for President, his pre-governmental racism was exposed to the American people. Many media outlets reported that as far back as 1973, Trump's company  was accused by the Nixon Administration of refusing to rent to black tenants. Represented by that all-around evil doer Roy Cohn, Trump filed a counter-suit against the government for 100 million dollars. The case finally settled and, while Trump did not have to admit guilt, his (and his Father's) company did agree to numerous steps to make sure African Americans had access to their apartments on equal terms with whites.

During the 2016 election, Americans also heard about Trump's racist pandering regarding the black and Latino men known as the "Central Park Five." All five were accused of raping a jogger in Central Park and served time in prison for the offense. According to USA Today, "Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise were all boys when they were convicted of raping Trisha Meili. They were then found innocent of the crime after convicted murderer Matias Reyes in 2002 confessed to raping Meili, which was confirmed by DNA evidence. The city awarded the men $41 million in 2014, a decade after some of the men initially sued the city for how it handled the case."

Trump' distasteful role started two weeks after the crime, when he (in)famously took out an advertisement in four New York newspapers saying in bold letters "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK THE POLICE." The rest of the ad contained vitriol about law and order, and Trump doubled down on his pandering shortly thereafter when he said on the Larry King show about alleged criminals in general, “Of course I hate these people and let’s all hate these people because maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done,'” 

In 2013, many years after the Central Park Five were exonerated, Trump tweeted in response to a question, "They were viciously attacking other people in the Park-nice guys?" In 2014, he wrote an op-ed calling the settlement agreement "a disgrace." And, even after he became President, he said about the case, You have people on both sides of that." To repeat, all five men were completely exonerated of the crime. 

In 1992, Trump's casino had to pay a $200,000 fine for removing a black dealer from a table at the alleged request of a racist customer. In 2005, Trump pitched an idea that he have all Black teams compete against all White teams on his show The Apprentice. The idea naturally caused great controversy and never, thankfully, came to fruition.

In 2011, Trump was called by the New York Times our "nation's most prominent birther," claiming President Obama was not born in Hawaii, even allegedly sending investigators to Hawaii to try and examine the birth certificate showing without doubt that Obama was born there. Despite the incontrovertible evidence, Trump continues in private to question Obama's citizenship.

During his 2015-2016 campaign for President, Trump made too many racist comments to document here. Here are just a few low lights as reported by German Lopez in Vox:

He called Mexican immigrants “rapists” "bringing crime” and “drugs” to the US. His campaign centered around building a wall to keep these immigrants out of the United States.

He called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

He called for the recusal of a judge because of his Mexican heritage and his membership in a Latino association.

He repeatedly retweeted racist messages from white supremacists.

He referred to (and still refers to) Elizabeth Warren as "Pocahontas."

Despite all this racism, Trump was elected President of the United States. 

There is no way to soft pedal the painful idea that millions of Americans voted for Trump either despite his racism or even worse, because of it. Although we can't be sure which of those descriptions is more accurate, Trump obviously thinks his base and others view his racism in a positive light because he has spent a lot of time during his Presidency fanning the flames of racial hate. Again the examples are too many to document here but his insulting of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality was openly racist; his "there are good people on both sides" comments about the White Supremacist involvement in the Charlottesville protests was an obvious racist dog whistle (except it was audible to all humans); and his tweet that Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib are “from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” and that they should “go back” to those countries," is yet another example of his hate-infused statements about people of color.

And, of course, over the last year Trump has been crystal clear that he is the "law and order" candidate who will make sure our cities are safe from people protesting police violence against Black Americans. But not just the cities; Trump recently tweeted that the “suburban housewife” would vote for him out of fears that “low income housing would invade their neighborhood” under Joe Biden. This overtly racist reference to "low income housing" was obviously meant to appeal to the worst instincts of white suburban women (and men), a key demographic, and designed to scare them using the old-as-America  fear mongering that black man are out to rape white women.

There is of course so much more ,but this is only one blog post. The point is that Trump has successfully (in terms of attaining and keeping power) used his racism to great advantage without being called out by most current GOP leaders, including (especially) those running for re-election. Moreover, racism has worked for Trump for decades, so in his twisted mind, why not double down on it? And, he might even be right that his racism will help him win.

In a recent blog post, I outlined the roots and causes of present-day institutional racism. There can be little doubt that to be a person of color in America today is to live in a country where, tragically, the color of your skin matters as much or more than the content of your character. The President's history of explicit and implicit racism, shown to the American people during the past and present election cycles, is emblematic of this problem. As I recently wrote here,

Racism is as American as apple pie. It is built into our institutions, our neighborhoods, our courts, our workplaces, and our schools. The social, legal, and economic consequences of racism dominated our politics in 1787, 1868, 1964, and are still with us today. The way forward isn't easy but one thing is perfectly clear. American racism is an American institution. Until we fully accept that tragic reality, and stop pretending that racism only haunts us around the edges, a demonstrably false proposition, real progress will be impossible.

It would be easy for Joe Biden and the left to use Trump's racism against him between now and election day, but would it be effective? I really don't know. Donald Trump's racism is to a great degree America's racism and, if he wins again, we will stand to the world as the country we have always been--a country that is severely divided along racial lines. I don't know if his defeat will seriously help the fight for racial equality but I am confident that his re-election will reflect American racism at its very worst.

6 comments:

Unknown said...

Another great piece. It still feels like we're shouting into a vacuum.

Next time you talk to Pete Dominick tell him thanks for unleashing you on us.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pete Dominick said...

Michael Dorf and I provided platforms for Eric Segall because we love his brand of brilliance and also know he struggles with electronics

kevin gorman said...

Thanks for this perspective. Definitely saving it to distribute as needed!

Joe said...


One thing this piece does is share the blame. Trump is a particularly virulent form of something that taints this country.

As with other bad things, there are degrees. So, if something is bad (let's say a virus, which racism is in a fashion), it can be weak (like a vaccine) or strong. So, how bad Trump matters even if his alternative (and his party is corrupted here -- both sides aren't the same here, sorry) would be bad too.

The piece also suggests that it goes beyond how far the Republican Party itself has gone. On some level, it is broader than that. Even those who are not Republicans don't oppose him enough since on some level he is not completely foreign to our society. So, let's say, certain Democrats went to his wedding(s). Or, he is not seen as so totally improper (my example would be like if a cat ran for POTUS -- we wouldn't have horse race coverage here, so to speak, would we? it would simply be "hey, a cat can't be POTUS ... come on now!"). In so doing, society normalizes him.

And, part of this is that we are still a racist country, who even if we don't like it, accept racism is part of life in some fashion. And, then something really horrible happens, we are upset, but then let it keep on going w/o completely changing things to stop it from happening in the future.

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