By Europaeus *
Continued from Part 6
Is Trump a Racist?
Some details of his early life may help to answer the question. Donald Trump’s language is essentially violent. Like many past agitators, he presents himself as a prophet incapable of being wrong. As professor Henry A. Giroux noted in his America at war with itself (City Lights books, San Francisco, Ca. 2016), Trump “disdains any sense of nuance and uses a discourse of intolerance populated by words such as ‘hate’, ‘kill’, ‘destroy’, ‘attack’, ‘fight’, and ‘smack’, showcasing a strongman mentality characteristic of the style of demagogues such as Mussolini, Hitler, Pinochet – and the like. Trump is essentially an anti-intellectual; who appeals to anxiety, not possibility. He prioritises insults and emotions over facts, evidence, or analysis.” Giroux, op. cit. at 49-50) In reference to journalists, he said at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on 21 December 2015: “I hate some of these people but I’d never kill them.”(G. Richter, ‘Trump: I hate the press, but I’d never kill them’, newsmax.com, 21 December 2015).
“But would he violate international human rights agreements and torture them if the accusations against them cold be framed as a threat to national security?”
Trump trades in insults and uses the punitive rhetoric of humiliation as a weapon to deflect any criticism of his ideas and policies.
At a rally in Bluffton South Carolina in 2015, Trump stated that he would use not only waterboarding but also similar interrogation techniques which “are much worse”, and that waterboarding is “not nearly enough.” (J. Johnson, ‘Torture works’ and waterboarding doesn’t go far enough, Trump says’, bostonglobe.com, 17 February 2015).
Trump call to implement torture as needed burnishes his self-imageas an uncompromising strongman.
As Heather Digby Parton put it in her ‘The unprecedented nightmare of Donald Trump’, “he is actually a fascist.” Trump “maybe the first openly fascistic frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination but the ground was prepared and the seeds of his success sowed over the course of many years. As I have pointed out earlier, we’ve had fascism flowing through the American bloodstream for quite some time.” (H. Digby Parton, ‘The unprecedented nightmare of Donald Trump’s campaign: We’ve openly begun using the F-word in American politics, Salon, 26 November 2015).
That was said of Trump the candidate; Trump the president delivered beyond any warning and expectation.
When he announced his presidential candidacy Trump said the following: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime, the’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” The remark is both factually untrue and racist (S. Chapman, ‘Trump and the myth of immigrant crime’, Reason, 6 July 2015). Is it any wonder that the charge of racism has plagued the entire duration of the Trump presidency – thus far? Rather broadly speaking, Trump’s adversary in Florida during the presidential campaign, John Ellis ‘Jeb’ Bush, a prominent Republican and former governor of Florida, might have been much closer to the truth when he branded Trump as ‘unhinged’.
On 16 July 2019 The U. S. House of Representatives voted 240-187 to condemn Trump’s tweets as racist. The vote largely followed party lines with the exception of four Republicans who voted against their president.
In the supposed ‘land of the free’, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids are being carried out to apprehend any undocumented people. And migrants/asylum seekers are being detained in what are likened to concentration camps.
The charge of racism has plagued the entire duration of the Trump presidency.
In the run up to the 2016 US presidential election, Hillary Clinton described half of Donald Trump’s base as “deplorables” holding racist attitudes. Indeed, many of Trump’s policies do negatively target people of colour and leave working Americans worse off. But is the question of whether Trump is a racist not a distraction for a bigger elephant in the room?
As Trump’s campaign gained support and his commentaries became more vulgar, it became clear that he would win the Republican nomination. Commentators of different cue became increasingly alarmed over Trump’s endorsement of torture, his taste for bulling protesters, and his unwillingness to denounce support from David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, making I clear that he was “a magnet for authoritarian desires” and could pave the way for what Mike Lofgren termed “a fascist political system”. (Giroux, op. cit. at 31).
On 11 January 2018 while discussing immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries President Trump was quoted as asking: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville was quick to denounce President Trump: “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”
Democratic senator Dick Durbin – who was at the meeting with Trump – affirmed the quotation: “Shithole was the exact word used not once not twice but repeatedly.” President Trump denied the expression attributed to him, and he denied being a racist. Republican senator David Perdue, who was also at the meeting, called Durbin’s claim “a gross misrepresentation.”
The fundamental question remains, though “Why have Americans flocked to his rallies and roared in support for his bigoted epithets and militant intolerance? Given how the legacies of white colonialism, enslavement, and Jim Crow politics have influenced the nation for generations – influences that scholars like Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, and Mumia Abu-Jamal relentlessly critique – Trump is just the latest manifestation of a social order that has always been dominated by whites and that has always been deeply racist. Trump exemplifies a no-holds-barred form of intolerance that shares the ideology of hate espoused by armed vigilante groups that bomb Planned Parenthood offices, ambush immigrants on the border, and burn mosques. How else to explain that extremists such as Christian nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan, and white militia groups are flocking to support Trump? The national approval ratings that soar following Donald Trump’s most outrageous statements offer clear testimony to the degree to which forces of intolerance are seething just beneath the glittering corporate surface of a democracy in deep decline. In addition, Trump provides a more direct and arrogant frontman for a society operating increasingly as a plutocracy – a society that glorifies money, excess, and celebrity, and that denigrates kindness, community, justice and equality.” (Giroux, op. cit., 32-33).
Nonetheless, criticism of President Trump is rather widespread. The effect will be minimal as Trump appeals to a different base. He plays the patriot’s card to curry favour with the working masses. Hence his nostalgic campaign slogan was “Making America Great, Again?” (see K. Petersen, ‘Making America Great, Again?, Racism, poverty, violence …,’ Global Research, 23 July 2017).
And, what was Trump’s plan to re-establish the greatness of America? PolitiFact noted that Trump’s campaign promises were targeted at changes to immigration, trade, taxes and foreign policy. Of the top 10 campaign promises, five were clearly aimed against non-white countries.
The pledge to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border hearkens to keeping ‘brown-skinned’ Mexicans out; absurdly, Trump stated he would even make Mexico pay for the wall. Mexico is a country that the United States fought, defeated, and forced to cede over half its territory. It remains no friendly neighbour !
A second promise was temporarily to ban Muslims from entering the United States. So, on 27 January 2017, Trump signed an executive order halting all refugee admissions and temporarily barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. All are countries that the United States has attacked militarily in recent times.
President Trump then called for tariffs on goods made in China and Mexico. China represents the largest trade deficit for the United States. But why Mexico? The United States’ trade deficit with Mexico is smaller than that with the European Union – or even just Germany.
While honouring Navajo veterans of the second world war at the White House, President Trump caused a brouhaha by referring to “Pocahontas.” An op-ed in The New York Times excoriated Trump who “once again underscored the degree to which he is openly hostile to people of color – I call that racism and bigotry” … “The Trump doctrine is white supremacy.” (C. M. Blow, ‘Trump, proxy of racism,’ The New York Times, 30 November 2017).
Is “Pocahontas” a racial slur? For a word to be a slur, then there must be intent. At worst, President Trump is an open racist; at best, Trump comes across as blithely ignorant.
That ‘white supremacism’ flourishes among a segment of Americans was attested to by the violence which flared between the extreme right and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. That violence led to the killing of Ms. Heather Heyer and injury of 19 people. President Trump condemned the murder saying: “I thought what took place was a horrible moment for the country, but there are two sides to a story.” [Emphasis added] Two days later he repeated his condemnation of “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”
Likeliest there was violence on both sides; seldom will one side remain completely passive in the face of violence against it. However, what critics were seeking was a clear-cut denunciation of racism by President Trump without the obfuscation of which sides were involved in the violence.
In Giroux’ words: “Trump is the symbol of a new authoritarianism, which is to say, the sign of a democracy unable to protect and sustain itself. Trump represent corporate domination set free, a political and economic engine that both fuels and feeds on fear and intolerance. (Giroux, op. cit. at 33) He is also the endpoint of a longstanding political system which is “part bread-and-circuses spectacle, part celebrity obsession, and part media money machine.” (T. Engelhardt, ‘Don’t blame all on Donald Trump’, tomdispach.com, 27 March 2018) Trump is the symbol of a frightened society which is increasingly seduced to choose the swagger of a vigilante strongman over the process of collective sovereignty, the gun over diplomacy, and the wall instead of the bridge. Trump’s public rants and humiliating snipes make for great TV, and re, as Frank Rich once argued, “another symptom of a political virus that can’t be quarantined and whose cure is as yet unknown.” (F. Rich, ‘If only Arizona were the real problem’, nytimes.com, 2 May 2010). What the American public needs is an ongoing analysis of Trump’s messaging in the context of the historical legacies of white bigotry and intolerance, and an analysis of how right-wing politics have tapped such bigotry to further the self-serving interests of a small economic elite.” (Giroux, op. cit, at 33).
Aside from being ineloquent, is President Trump appreciably worse than previous American presidents? A dozen of American presidents, including so-called founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were slave owners.
Moreover, is the United States not a nation state established through warring against the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and depriving them of their territories?
The first American president George Washington regarded Indigenous peoples as wolves: “both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.” (D. E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The conquest of the New World, London, Oxford University Press 1992 at 119).
The Haudenosaunee called Washington the “town destroyer” for demolishing their villages. From R. Bainton, Early Christianity (Princeton, D. Van Nostrand Co., 1960, cited in Stannard, at 120).
Thomas Jefferson boasted: “in war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them.” (R. Bainton, Early Christianity (Princeton, D. Van Nostrand Co.,1960), cited in Stannard, at 120.
Andrew Jackson – apparently Trump’s favourite – referred to the Indigenous peoples as “savage dogs” and bragged of preserving a scalp collection. (R. Bainton, Early Christianity, Princeton, D. Van Nostrand Co., 1960, cited in Stannard, at 121).
Theodore Roosevelt’s racism was unabashed: “I suppose I should be ashamed to say that I take the western view of the Indian. I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the dead Indian, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian.” (H. Hagedorn, Roosevelt in the Bad Lands, Boston, Houghton Mifflin 1921, at 355).
President Trump, of course, denies being a racist.
President Trump’s policy plank seems to indicate a racially motivated policy. And does the policy substantially differ from that which the Democrats pursued during their days in political office?
The present Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids hearken back to the Palmer Raids to round up ‘dangerous’ immigrants in the early 20th century. A. Michell Palmer was then U.S. Attorney General. The raids took place in November 1919 and January 1920 during the First Red Scare by the United States Department of Justice under the administration of President Woodrow Wilson to capture and arrest suspected radical leftists, mostly Italian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants – and especially anarchists and communists, and to deport them from the United States. (A. Hochschild, ‘When America tried to deport its radicals’, The New Yorker, 4 November 2019).
Concentration camps are also not new to the United States as Indigenous peoples and Japanese Americans found themselves interred in such facilities. The point on whether President Trump is racist, and whether he has genuine concern for American workers, amounts to a distraction. A spotlight is usually shone on American leaders who will invariably claim that the United States is a beacon on the hill, an indispensable nation, an exceptional nation. Leaders have a role, but they function within a system.
President Trump is having an embattled presidency. A section of the system is fighting Trump – who is also a part of the system. Removing Trump would change the face in the Oval Office, but the system would continue. Deplorable as President Trump is, the biggest enemy of a moral universe is the system of militarist-capitalism. (K. Petersen, ‘Is Trump a racist? – A distraction from the big issue’, Global research, 19 July 2019).
The El Paso massacre has drawn attention to President Trump’s own rhetorical affinity for ‘white supremacy’. Trump has consistently insulted Mexicans, African Americans, and other people of colour. In July 2019 he told four new members of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, “to go back” to where they came from. All four Congresswomen are, of course, American citizens. All but one – Omar – were born in the United States.
Trump’s Republican supporters deny that he is a racist. Who knows? But he is clearly appealing to his followers’ darkest instincts, which are angry, vengeful, bigoted, and prejudiced in ways which can only be described as racist. By stirring up hatred, Trump hopes to mobilise enough voters to be reelected next year.
The President is careful not to incite people openly to commit violence. But many violent people feel licensed by his words to do so. This makes Trump’s behaviour dangerous and contemptible, and he deserves to be called a racist. Some of his critics go further than that. They argue that race should be the central issue of the 2020 elections. Because Trump relies on angry white voters, diversity, anti-racism, and the elevation of people of colour should be the counter-strategy.
This course would be morally justified. The question is whether it would be the most effective way to vote the President out, which should be the main aim of anyone who sees Trump as a danger to the Republic, let alone to people who are targeted by angry racists.
President Trump supporters do not think of themselves as racists and resent the accusation. Quite a number of these people, often from the white working class, voted twice for Barack Obama. The Democrats need to regain some of these voters, especially in pivotal Midwestern states.
But fear of offending Trump supporters who do not regard themselves as bigots is not the only reason to be careful about ‘racialising’ politics even more than it already is. The fact that President Trump plays that game is no reason for his opponents to follow his example. (I. Buruma, ‘The race card in America’, Project Syndicate, 5 August 2019).
President Trump has relentlessly used his bully pulpit to decry Latino migration as “an invasion of our country.” He has demonised undocumented immigrants as “thugs” and “animals.” He has defended the detention of migrant children, hundreds of whom have been held in squalor. And he has warned that without a wall to prevent people from crossing the border from Mexico, America would no longer be America.
“How do you stop these people? You can’t,” President Trump lamented at a 9 May 2019 rally in Panama City Beach, Florida. Someone in the crowd yelled back one idea: “Shoot them.” The audience of thousands cheered and Trump smiled. Shrugging off the suggestion, the president quipped: “Only in the Panhandle [the norhwestern part of Florida] can you get away with that statement.”
This is the kind of humour preferred by Trump. In that atmosphere, the racist invectives aimed at President Obama by a number of Republicans are legion. When a gorilla escaped from a zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, a long time Republican activist, Rusty DePass, described it on his Facebook page as one of Michelle Obama’s ancestors. Among the signs at a gathering of conservative protesters in Washington was one which said: “The zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin’ African.” – with reference to President Obama, of course. (B. Herbert, ‘The scourge persists’, The New York Times, 19 September 2009) It is well known that Trump was the leader of the John Birch Society’s campaign ‘to establish’ that President Obama had not been born in the United States – hence was not qualified to hold the position.
Portions of Crusius’ 2,300-word manifesto closely mirror Trump’s rhetoric, as well as the language of the ‘white nationalist movement’, including a warning about the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Crusius’ ideology is so aligned with that of the President’s that he decided to conclude the manifesto by clarifying that his views predate Trump’s 2016 campaign and arguing that blaming him would amount to “fake news” – another Trump expression.
The extent to which the El Paso shooter was motivated by the President’s words would be fiercely debated in the subsequent days. But some Democrat leaders promptly said that Trump’s demagoguery makes him plainly culpable. Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso until recently running for president, said it was appropriate to label Trump a ‘white nationalist’ and that his rhetoric is reminiscent of Nazi Germany. “He doesn’t just tolerate it; he encourages it, calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, warning of an invasion at our border, seeking to ban all people of one religion. Folks are responding to this.” O’Rourke said on C.N.N. He added: “He is saying that some people are inherently defective or dangerous, reminiscent of something that you might hear in the Third Reich, not something that you expect in the United States of America.” On 4 August, in the afternoon, President Trump announced that he had ordered federal government flags flown at half-staff in honour of the El Paso victims and of the victims of another shooting in Dayton, Ohio.
“Hate has no place in our country, and we’re going to take care of it.” President Trump said in Morristown, New Jersey, just before flying home to Washington. He did not respond to questions from reporters about the El Paso shooter’s manifesto, but said generally that “this has been going on for years” and acknowledged that “perhaps more has to be done.”
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted that O’Rourke’s comments on C.N.N. were “disgusting and wrong” adding, “A tragedy like this is not an opportunity to reboot your failing presidential campaign.”
Regardless of the El Paso shooter’s motivations, Trump throughout his presidency has stoked fear and hatred of ‘the Other’, whether Latino immigrants or black people living in cities or Muslims. Yes, he has not directly espoused ‘the great replacement’ theory of ‘white supremacists’, but he has openly questioned America’s identity as a multiethnic nation, such as by encouraging migration from Nordic states as opposed to Latin America.
Continued tomorrow … (Part 8)
* Europaeus landed in Australia over fifty years ago. Except for the blue skies and starry nights between 02.12.1972 and 10.11.1975 the place has been constantly overwhelmed by what Hannah Arendt called the ‘sand storm’ – a metaphor for totalitarianism.
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