Last week, a number of journalists, radio hosts, pundits and ordinary folk have worked themselves into an understandable frenzy over President Donald Trump’s alleged reference to Haiti, Nigeria, El Salvador and other Third World countries as “shithole” nations. He did not stop there. He argued that the United States should make an effort to recruit immigrants from Norway. Just think about it! The statement alone speaks volumes. It is the most blatant and arrogant form of racism.
Although the president denied making the remarks and some GOP congressmen in the meeting disputed the accusation, others who attended the meeting, such as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the president did indeed make such odious remarks. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he spoke to Trump directly about his disturbing comments. Others in attendance remained disturbingly silent while Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., took to the Sunday morning talk shows to adamantly defend Trump, arguing that the president’s remarks were taken out of context.
The silence and, in some cases, defiant denials by a number of Republican lawmakers – many of whom were at the meeting – all but confirms the validity of what was reported by the media. The fact that the White House reinforced the president’s actions with a lengthy statement declaring Trump’s support for the American people was downright arrogant and appalling.
The deafening level of silence among large swaths of the GOP (save for Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, whose parents come from Haiti, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s tepid denunciation, etc.) is very troubling and speaks volumes of either unspoken support or a submission to cowardice. I guess it is hard to defend the indefensible.
There is no doubt that Trump views such controversy as pacifying his political base – one that is largely nationalistic and xenophobic. This was evident when far-right and White-supremacist websites such as The Daily Stormer, Breitbart News Network and Stormfront praised and saluted his comments.
Understandably, the fallout was swift. On Jan. 11, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon was on fire as he took no prisoners when he tore into the president and his supporters and defenders, ripping them to shreds for refusing to call out the comments for what they were: undeniably racist and deeply entrenched with White-supremacist sentiments. Lemon went so far as to dismiss one of his panelists, former Virginia Trump campaign co-chairman John Fredericks (he later bought him back) and demanded an apology from the conservative radio host. The Congressional Black Caucus and a number of Democratic senators have proposed a resolution censuring the president for his atrocious and arguably sinister remarks.
The fact is that for all the men and women who express shock, whether genuine or feigned, at Trump’s routine racist outbursts, such a reaction is getting old and tired. As columnists Jamiles Lartey of The Guardian and D. Watkins of Salon.com have skillfully and candidly expressed, anyone with a reasonable amount of intellectual acumen and intelligence should be well aware of Trump’s penchant and long history of racial invective. Examples abound, among them:
The list goes on and on. The message Trump was not so subtly sending to everyone, supporters and detractors alike, was that White people are his preferred group of immigrants. Black, Latino and other non-White immigrants are not welcomed.
Those who argue that the reason for Trump’s popularity is largely based on economic issues are being intellectually dishonest. The evidence speaks otherwise and points directly to race. If you do indeed fall into this category, you need to cut to the chase and call out Trump and his comments for what they are – vile, undiluted racism! It is the red meat, catnip and ambrosia he feeds to his reactionary and racist followers who long for or envision a return to an America pre-1960s, a utopia that never existed. To put it bluntly, Trump is the most overtly racist president since Woodrow Wilson.
To blame Trump for the evolution of racism would be dishonest. He has had plenty of forebears. However, it would be spot on to make the case that he has done everything he can to manipulate, divide and tear us further apart. Such behavior from a commander-in-chief is nothing short of, well, deplorable.
Dr. Elwood Watson is a professor of history, African American Studies, and Gender Studies at East Tennessee State University
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