Last week, Jemele Hill set twitter and much of the media world on fire. Indeed, the internet was ablaze when she tweeted “Donald Trump is white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists.” As one can imagine, such a comment did not go down too well in conservative media and other right-wing circles. Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and the usual suspects wasted no time in going in on the ESPN host for her remarks.
White fragility was on the warpath against Hill. Such right wing ire managed to reach the White House where press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued that such a remark was “fireable offense.” Sanders’ comments, in turn, led to several individuals and organizations demanding that the House ethics committee investigate Sanders.
While acknowledging the fact that such government meddling can have a potentially chilling effect on free speech, the primary question at the center of the controversy is: Was Hill wrong in her assessment? Let’s examine the evidence:
And so on. It does not stop here.
Trump has clearly aligned himself with politicians who have well-documented cases of racism in their past. Among them is current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions whose record on racial issues is so controversial that his nomination to a federal district court was rejected after people who worked alongside him testified that Sessions had made racially charged remarks. Sessions allegedly called a Black prosecutor, “boy,” made light about his support for the Ku Klux Klan and targeted the NAACP, accusing the venerable civil rights organization of not being “sufficiently “American” in its values. Speaking of racism, we cannot ignore the fact that Trump rewarded Steve Bannon, who heads the ultra-conservative Breitbart website, as his chief strategist.
In a Daily Wire article, conservative pundit, radio host and former Breitbart.com columnist, Ben Shaprio argued that under Bannon’s tenure as editor, Breitbart unabashedly embraced the alt-right and other White supremacist organizations and outlets and allowed the site to become a magnet for racist, sexist, xenophobes, White nationalists and other assorted racist misfits. Shapiro bluntly referred to the commentary site as a “cesspool for white supremacist meme-makers.”
All of the aforementioned facts aside, Hill’s argument that Trump has surrounded himself with White supremacists definitely pans out. As if anyone needed any more confirmation of this, just look at Charlottesville. During a weekend of violence, Neo Nazis and other White supremacist groups walked the streets carrying tiki torches, chanting racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric that culminated in violence and the death of a 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer when self-identified White supremacist James Alex Fields, 20, rammed a car into her and dozens of other counter protesters. When given the opportunity to denounce such an atrocity, Trump refrained from doing so, but rather, in a brutally confrontational press conference, blamed “many sides ” for the tragic melee that occurred. His remarks garnered praise from White nationalists such as David Duke and Richard Spencer and of number of right wing media outlets.
A few days later, he went further and referred to some White nationalists as being “very fine people.” Such comments prompted a number of conservatives and several Republicans to distance themselves from the president. There have been stories where Trump biographer Michael D’ Antonio and others who have interviewed Trump and certain members of his family, in particular, Donald’s father Fred Trump Sr. and found they were strong believers in eugenics and White intellectual superiority.
To the question of whether Donald Trump is a White supremacist? To quote the old saying. “If it looks like a duck, talks like a duck, quacks like a duck…” The more important question is why were there calls for Hill to be fired for her comments whereas Donald Trump has never paid the price for his blatant White nationalist rhetoric? Many of us who are people of color already know the answer.
Dr. Elwood Watson is a professor of history, African-American studies and gender studies at East Tennessee State University.