From the time that Trump announced his long shot presidential bid, to his meteoric rise in the primaries, to his becoming the Republican nominee, to his securing the requisite Electoral College votes, to his two-and-a half years in office, I adamantly (and frequently) stated that his racist statements were “only fourth or fifth” on my list of reasons why he should not be a serious candidate, much less president of the United States.
First and foremost, I was concerned about Trump’s mental and emotional state. (I feared that his obvious cognitive and emotional deficiencies, combined with his unbridled narcissism, could have catastrophic consequences.) Similarly, I recoiled at his autocratic tendencies — such as calling the media “the enemy of the people,” which is a well-known trope of dictators (and would-be dictators). Further, I believed that Trump’s disdain for the fundamentals of domestic governance (especially the separation of powers), as well as his breathtaking ignorance of geopolitical affairs, were more pressing than his “rapist and murderers” diatribe and “Islam hates us” nonsense. Finally, I was convinced that his immaturity in dealing with world leaders, manifested in both his verbal attacks on our allies and his cozying up to megalomaniacal despots, could lead to a diplomatic disaster — or worse. Repeated mass shootings by Trump-inspired racists have rendered my assessment wrong. Dead wrong.
Specifically, I was incorrect in assuming that Trump’s racist utterings are primarily a disgusting means to a cynical end— namely keeping his base happy. I also erred in assuming that said tendencies did not pose a clear and present danger to the American people (and beyond). However, after having had time to reflect, as well as to witness the effects of this reckless president’s baser instincts, I have concluded that Trump’s embracing of white nationalism shapes his approach to executing his responsibilities. This poses a direct threat to our democracy. How? According to The Wall Street Journal, “Of about 850 current domestic terrorism cases, 40% involve racially motivated violent extremism and a majority of those cases involve white supremacists,” according to the FBI. In fact, Director Christopher Wray revealed that most arrests that the FBI has made this year regarding domestic terrorism have involved white supremacy. Yet Trump keeps fanning the flames that incite violence. The only thing that is potentially worse would be learning that Trump is a Russian agent — wittingly or unwittingly.
Donald Trump’s racist verbal emissions are dangerous not only because they belie his personal prejudices; they are also dangerous because they inform his words and actions. Indeed, a president’s words are actions, and cause myriad reactions. For example, former Vice President Joe Biden has said he decided to run for president after he heard Trump’s remarks following the despicable events in Charlottesville two years ago. Also, several self-identified racists have expressed strong approval for Donald Trump’s words and actions; in fact, many of them have publicly stated that he’s “one of them.” Giving aid and comfort — indeed, presidential cover — to white supremacists is perhaps the nadir of the Trump presidency (so far).
Many of Trump’s apologists — and even some of his detractors — claim that Donald Trump “has no political ideology.” I reject that argument. I agree with famed author Ta-Nehisi Coates that Trump’s ideology is white supremacy. I would note that I am not going to play the game of calling Trump a racist. That’s not only because I can’t state what’s in his heart; also, I don’t want to get bogged down in “proving” that he’s racist. I’ll leave the deeper psychological diagnosis to the professionals. (Besides, Trump’s supporters simply ignore all evidence to the contrary.) To be sure, racism existed in American politics long before Donald Trump came on the scene. To use a well-worn analogy, he did not plow the field of racism. He did not plant the seed. He did not fertilize the ground. But he has watered the plant. Continually.
More broadly, too many white Americans have set the bar for racism ridiculously low. For example, many claim that Trump has not said anything that is “actually” racist. In fact, one of his supporters who was a guest on an NPR talk show was asked if there was anything that Trump could say that would change his mind about whether the president is a racist. He replied that if Trump used the so-called “n-word”, he (i.e., the caller) would condemn him as racist. I could only shake my head in disbelief. Further, millions of white Americans seem not to understand the threat that white nationalism poses to them. Jonathan Metzl explores this reality in his book, “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland.”
In Greek mythology, Apollo gave a woman named Cassandra the gift of prophecy. But because she spurned his advances, he cursed her such that no one believed her prophecies — even though they always came true. I will offer a biblically-based metaphor in support of this ancient tale. The handwriting is on the wall; the American experiment is precarious. We ignore the warnings at our peril.
Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.