On­go­ing de­bate asks whether Trump is a racist

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NATION - By Peter Baker

WASHINGTON >> As he signed a procla­ma­tion mark­ing the hol­i­day next week hon­or­ing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Fri­day re­called the civil rights leader’s mes­sage that “no mat­ter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are cre­ated equal by God.”

Then came the ques­tions from re­porters.

“Mr. Pres­i­dent, are you a racist?”

He did not an­swer and in­stead headed for the door.

It is a ques­tion many were ask­ing af­ter the latest charged episode in a pres­i­dency that has played out along the na­tion’s racial fault lines from its be­gin­ning. Trump’s com­ment to law­mak­ers that the United States should ac­cept more im­mi­grants from places like Norway in­stead of from “shit­hole coun­tries” in Africa did not sound con­sis­tent with the no­tion that all peo­ple are equal no mat­ter the place of their birth or the color of their skin.

If it were a one-time com­ment, an in­ad­ver­tent in­sen­si­tiv­ity, it would still have stirred a firestorm. But Trump has said so many things on so many oc­ca­sions that have rubbed the raw edges of race in Amer­ica that they have raised the larger ques­tion. A coun­try tainted at its found­ing by slav­ery and strug­gling with that legacy ever since is now led by a chief ex­ec­u­tive who, in­ten­tion­ally or not, has fanned, rather than doused, the fires that di­vide white, black and brown.

“Is the pres­i­dent racist? I would say un­equiv­o­cally yes to that,” said Ge­orge Yancy, a pro­fes­sor at Emory Univer­sity and the au­thor of “On Race: 34 Con­ver­sa­tions in a Time of Cri­sis,” pub­lished in the fall. “That’s not some­thing I needed to hear, this latest thing, to know that he is.”

“Had he said one thing one time, we might say that was a slip of the tongue or it’s an ex­am­ple of un­con­scious racial bias or it was a mis­take,” he added. “But I don’t think this is a case of un­con­scious racial bias. I think this is a case of un­abashed white su­prem­a­cist ideas.”

White su­prem­a­cists agreed. Richard Spencer, the white na­tion­al­ist leader, said Fri­day that con­ser­va­tives de­fend­ing Trump on Fox News should stop say­ing it was about eco­nomics and le­gal sys­tems, rather than race. “It’s ob­vi­ously all about race, and to their credit, lib­er­als point out the ob­vi­ous,” he said.

The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi web­site, like­wise wel­comed Trump’s com­ments. “This is en­cour­ag­ing and re­fresh­ing, as it in­di­cates Trump is more or less on the same page as us with re­gards to race and im­mi­gra­tion,” the site said.

The White House re­jected as­ser­tions that the pres­i­dent is a racist. “This pres­i­dent fights tire­lessly for all Amer­i­cans, re­gard­less of race, re­li­gion, gen­der or back­ground,” said Raj Shah, a White House spokesman. “Any sug­ges­tion oth­er­wise is sim­ply in­sult­ing and be­lies all the re­sults he’s de­liv­ered for mi­nori­ties through­out this coun­try.”

Shah cited record-low un­em­ploy­ment among African-Amer­i­cans, as well as poli­cies in­tended to re­duce crime and drugs and pro­mote school choice in in­ner cities.

Trump’s aides and al­lies ex­pressed frus­tra­tion that his com­ments were be­ing in­ter­preted through a racial prism. They have long said that he is an equal op­por­tu­nity provo­ca­teur, given to us­ing strong and po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect lan­guage to make larger points. In this case, they said, he was ar­gu­ing that the United States should set pri­or­i­ties for who it ad­mits based on merit and skills that would ben­e­fit the coun­try.

“Apart from the vo­cab­u­lary at­trib­uted to him, Pres­i­dent Trump is right on tar­get in his sen­ti­ment,” Robert Jef­fress, the evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor of First Bap­tist Church of Dal­las and a pres­i­den­tial ad­viser, told CBN News. “As in­di­vid­ual Chris­tians, we have a bi­b­li­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity to place the needs of oth­ers above our own, but as com­man­der in chief, Pres­i­dent Trump has the con­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity to place the in­ter­ests of our na­tion above the needs of other coun­tries.”

Trump’s his­tory of racially in­flam­ma­tory episodes traces back to his first days in the pub­lic eye. As a young real es­tate busi­ness­man work­ing with his fa­ther, Trump and the fam­ily firm were sued by the Jus­tice Depart­ment in 1973 for dis­crim­i­nat­ing against black ap­pli­cants for rental apart­ments.

While Barack Obama was in of­fice, Trump was a leader of the birther move­ment, which pro­motes the con­spir­acy the­ory that Obama had been born in Kenya, a claim he did not aban­don un­til 2016, dur­ing his own pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. As a can­di­date, Trump gen­er­ated crit­i­cism for de­scrib­ing unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants from Mex­ico as “rapists”; propos­ing to ban all Mus­lims from en­ter­ing the na­tion; and be­ing slow to dis­avow the sup­port of David Duke, the for­mer Ku Klux Klans­man.

Since tak­ing of­fice, he has con­tin­ued to pro­voke racially charged con­flicts. He as­serted that there were good peo­ple on both sides of a white su­prem­a­cist rally and coun­ter­protest that turned vi­o­lent in Char­lottesville, Va. He has re­peat­edly lashed out at black foot­ball play­ers he deemed in­suf­fi­ciently pa­tri­otic for kneel­ing dur­ing the na­tional an­them to protest racial in­jus­tice, and he as­sailed black col­lege basketball play­ers and the fa­ther of one of them, whom he con­sid­ered in­ad­e­quately grate­ful to him for help­ing free them from a Chi­nese prison.

Peo­ple close to Trump have long in­sisted that he is not racist and that his of­ten crude lan­guage is ap­plied across the board. Omarosa Mani­gault New­man, a for­mer “Ap­pren­tice” con­tes­tant who was one of the few African-Amer­i­cans on the se­nior staff un­til her de­par­ture last month, be­moaned the lack of di­ver­sity in the West Wing and var­i­ous racially charged mo­ments dur­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion but in­sisted that “he is not a racist.”

The event mark­ing the King hol­i­day that Trump held Fri­day was planned long be­fore the up­roar over the pres­i­dent’s latest com­ments, but it put the sit­u­a­tion in stark re­lief.

“When re­porters shout out to Mr. Trump ‘are you a racist’ at an event to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, some­thing is amiss,” said Ron Christie, who wrote a book about his time as an African-Amer­i­can ad­viser in Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s White House. “That the pres­i­dent needs to con­front ques­tions of racism or bias tells you that this isn’t fake news but a painful re­al­ity he must im­me­di­ately con­front.”

NEW YORK TIMES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump shook hands Fri­day with Isaac New­ton Far­ris Jr., the nephew of Martin Luther King Jr., af­ter sign­ing the procla­ma­tion for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Roo­sevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

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