Thursday, July 18, 2019

A racist president of the United States? The case of Donald J. Trump

Since Donald J. Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower in New York on June 14, 2015 and announced his run for the presidency of the United States there have been questions and debates whether or not the real estate businessman and reality television celebrity is a racist. The jury has been out for more than three years but the verdict finally came in on July 14, 2019 by way of a series of tweets by the controversial U.S. president.

On Sunday July 14, 2019 Donald J. Trump, president of the United States, directed a series of tweets at four Democratic congresswomen: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts - saying the four women of color should "go back" to the countries they "originally came from".

The Trump tweets prompted widespread condemnation - and rightly so - mostly from Democrats, and led to a vote on a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to condemn the tweets. The resolution, according to the BBC, denounced the president's "racist comments that have legitimized fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color." The resolution passed by 240 votes to 187 - with four Republicans, one Independent and all Democrats who voted supporting it, according to CNN.

Screenshot of Trump presidential bid announcement, June 2015

Meanwhile on Twitter #RacistPresident was trending.

I even weighed in with a tweet of my own.
The backlash was strong - with media outlets and numerous politicians, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi referring to the Trump tweets as "racist" and "xenophobic". In a tweet on July 14, the Speaker of House stated that when Donald Trump tells four congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to "Make America Great Again" has always been about making America white again. The Speaker said on the House floor that "every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president's racist tweets".

Across the Atlantic, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, condemned the Trump tweets as "blatant unashamed racism". The mayor was among British politicians who signed an open letter of solidarity with the attacked U.S. congresswomen along with almost 14,000 other signatories. British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn referred to the Trump tweets as "racist".

My Take

For many, the racist tweets attacking four congresswomen of color seem to have been the wake-up call that Donald J. Trump harbors racist white nationalist views but for me alarm bells went off way back in 2015 when he came down that escalator in Trump Tower and announced his presidential bid. Some of the things he said on that fateful day were, in my view, plainly racist. He said, for example, that "when Mexico sends its people they are not sending their best… they are sending people that have lots of problems and they are bringing those problems with us. They are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime, they are rapists..."

That was racist - and of course xenophobic.

Trump essentially launched his presidential campaign on a racist platform, and months later he called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on." That again was racist, xenophobic and, yes, Islamophobic. Needless to say, he went on to secure the 2016 Republican party presidential nomination and eventually became the 45th president of the United States. He was not done yet.

Remember Charlottesville?

Following a deadly clash between white supremacists and anti-racism protesters during a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, Donald Trump said during a press briefing that there were "very fine people, on both sides" -- essentially drawing false equivalence between racist white supremacists on the one hand and anti-racism activists on the other.

Long before running for president the Department of Justice filed a housing discrimination lawsuit against Trump and his father. That was in 1973. According to an article on The New York Times titled "No Vacancies" for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias, the Justice Department sued Trump Management for discriminating against blacks after an investigation into housing discrimination against blacks at Trump properties. Both Fred Trump, the Company's chairman, and his son Donald Trump, its president, were named as defendants. The lawsuit was settled in 1975. The New York Times reportedly carried out its own investigation and uncovered "a long history of racial bias" at Trump's family properties in New York and beyond.

Then there is the story of the "Central Park Five" - four blacks and one Latino young teens who were accused in 1989 of beating an raping a white girl in Central Park. The boys were interrogated under duress, according to Vox, and they offered a coerced confession. Trump took out full-paged front page ads in a number of newspapers calling for their execution. DNA evidence exonerated the boys thirteen years later and a serial rapist confessed to the murder -- but Trump refuses to apologize to the Central Park Five, even though they were exonerated and agreed to a $4.1 million settlement with the city of New York. Reading one of the Trump ads in relation to the Central Park Five titled "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY! BRING BACK OUR POLICE!" it is easy to see that Trump attempted to paint a typical white nationalist picture of "us" against "them" in the ad: "I no longer want to understand their anger", he wrote. "I want them to understand our anger". That he refuses to apologize as of the time of this writing compounds his racial bias. It is hard to believe that Trump would have stuck to his guns if five white teenage boys accused of rape were exonerated by DNA evidence.

When it comes to Trump and racism the so-called "birther movement" that questioned President Barack Obama's place of birth and citizenship deserves an honorary mention. Donald Trump led the racist birther movement that spread the conspiracy theory that America's first black president was born in Kenya hence is not an American citizen and by extension cannot be a legitimate president of the United States. The movement, in my view, was based on the color of Obama's skin. It was racist. If Obama were a white U.S. politician - from say Mississippi - there would have been no question about his place of birth or eligibility for the presidency. According to an article on Fortune, Trump began echoing the birther conspiracy theory as far back as 2011.

Drawing from the afore, there is ample reason to believe that the 45th president of the United States is, well, racist.

"Go back to your country" - as Trump told the four congresswomen of color - is a statement straight out of the racist, xenophobic white nationalist handbook. It is a classic hate crime trope, according to NowThis News. Almost every person of color or person of African descent living in the United States (and/or Europe) and has had the misfortune of being confronted by a White nationalist or neo-Nazis must have probably heard it at least once. As an immigrant myself living in Finland I have heard the phrase from people I would aptly describe as racist. I have, for example, heard it uttered by a member of a Finnish neo-Nazi group during one of the group's demonstrations next to s shopping mall in the East of Helsinki. A member of the neo-Nazi group, it is worth mentioning, was later involved in the killing of 28-year-old man during a demonstration by the group in the heart of Helsinki - sparking debate whether or not the group should be banned.

I welcome the backlash directed at Trump for the racist tweets, and the resolution by the House of Representatives condemning the tweets but I am somewhat disappointed that it took so long for Americans, including the media to wake up - if they have woken up at all - to the fact that, as stated by George Conway, a New York lawyer and husband to Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, in an opinion piece in The Washington Post: "Trump is a racist president".

That statement by Mr. Conway encapsulates my take.

Come November 2020 Americans have an opportunity at the ballot box to fix the problem by rejecting racism and all the baggage that comes with having a racist president who puts cruel immigration policies in place such as family separations and putting migrants, including children seeking asylum in cages at the border because he views migrants and asylum seekers as "rapists" bringing nothing but "drugs" and "crime".

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