Trump’s words

De­bate re­vives: Is he a racist?

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - By JULIE PACE

WASH­ING­TON — More than 150 years af­ter the abo­li­tion of slav­ery and more than 50 years af­ter the pas­sage of the Civil Rights Act, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­cen­di­ary com­ments about im­mi­grants have ripped open a jar­ring de­bate in the United States and around the world: Is the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent racist?

To Democrats and some his­to­ri­ans, there is lit­tle dis­pute given the pres­i­dent’s own words and ac­tions. His po­lit­i­cal rise was pow­ered first by his pro­mo­tion of lies about Barack Obama’s cit­i­zen­ship, then by his al­le­ga­tions that Mex­i­can im­mi­grants to the United States were rapists and mur­der­ers.

Dur­ing a pri­vate meet­ing with law­mak­ers Thurs­day, he stun­ningly ques­tioned why the U.S. would ad­mit Haitians or peo­ple from “shit­hole” coun­tries in Africa, ex­press­ing a pref­er­ence in­stead for im­mi­grants from Nor­way, a ma­jor­ity white na­tion.

“Pres­i­dent Trump said things that were hate-filled, vile and racist,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who at­tended the meet­ing and con­firmed the pres­i­dent’s com­ments.

On Fri­day, few Repub­li­cans de­fended the pres­i­dent’s re­marks, and party lead­ers were silent most of the day. Those who did speak out ar­gued the com­ments were merely un­var­nished state­ments on the eco­nomic blight in some re­gions of the world, not an ex­pres­sion of racial pref­er­ence. Oth­ers said Trump, a 71-year-old who rel­ishes re­ject­ing po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, was voic­ing views held qui­etly by many.

“I’ve said all along the pres­i­dent many times says what peo­ple are think­ing,” Repub­li­can Rep. Jim Re­nacci, a can­di­date for Se­nate in Ohio, told Fox News. “Let’s judge the pres­i­dent af­ter what we’ve done. Let’s not judge the pres­i­dent on what he says.”

Trump has re­peat­edly de­nied he is a racist, declar­ing dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign that he was the “least racist per­son there is.” On Fri­day, he of­fered a vague de­nial of his com­ments to law­mak­ers, tweet­ing that he said noth­ing “deroga­tory” about Haitians. He did not ad­dress the re­ports that he dis­par­aged African na­tions and ig­nored ques­tions about the com­ments from reporters.

Yet there’s no doubt that the episode has added new fuel to the charges of racism that have dogged Trump for years, since long be­fore he as­sumed the pres­i­dency. In the 1970s, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment twice sued Trump’s real es­tate com­pany for fa­vor­ing white tenants over blacks. He ag­gres­sively pushed for the death penalty for a group of black and Latino teenagers who were ac­cused of rap­ing a white woman in Cen­tral Park but later ex­on­er­ated.

Now, as pres­i­dent, Trump’s words carry the weight of an of­fice that has long helped guide the na­tion’s moral com­pass and de­fined the Amer­i­can ideal for mil­lions around the world. Al­though the United States has a com­pli­cated racial his­tory, in­clud­ing slav­ery, seg­re­ga­tion and per­sis­tent eco­nomic dis­par­i­ties be­tween whites and mi­nori­ties, Trump’s most re­cent pre­de­ces­sors from both par­ties have used their po­si­tion to pro­mote equal­ity and have en­dorsed im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies that brought mil­lions of peo­ple from Africa and Latin Amer­ica to the U.S.

“What Trump is do­ing has popped up pe­ri­od­i­cally, but in mod­ern times, no pres­i­dent has been so racially in­sen­si­tive and shown out­right dis­dain for peo­ple who aren’t white,” said Dou­glas Brink­ley, a pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian. Brink­ley said Trump was the most racist pres­i­dent since Woodrow Wilson, who served from 1913 un­til 1921.

Wilson sup­ported seg­re­ga­tion, in­clud­ing in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and his poli­cies are blamed for rolling back progress for the emerg­ing black mid­dle class in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal at the turn of the 20th cen­tury. Decades af­ter Wilson left of­fice, Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon made in­flam­ma­tory com­ments about blacks, Jews and oth­ers in pri­vate dis­cus­sions, in­clud­ing say­ing, “Do you know maybe one black coun­try that’s well run?”

Many of Nixon’s com­ments only came to light years later, fol­low­ing the re­lease of tapes from his White House years. Tim­o­thy Naf­tali, a pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian and the for­mer direc­tor of Nixon’s pres­i­den­tial li­brary, said Trump’s most re­cent com­ments were more jar­ring both be­cause they were re­vealed in real time and be­cause they came dur­ing the course of a dis­cus­sion about the laws gov­ern­ing who can gain en­try into the United States.

“This is not an ex­am­ple of a leak that shows the pres­i­dent to be a jerk,” Naf­tali said. “This shows the pres­i­dent is us­ing lan­guage that im­plies he’s think­ing like a racist while mak­ing im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.”

No­tably, the White House did not deny Trump’s com­ments and in­stead en­dorsed the spirit of what he ap­peared to be say­ing. In a state­ment, White House spokesman Raj Shah said Trump is “fight­ing for per­ma­nent so­lu­tions that make our coun­try stronger by wel­com­ing those who can con­trib­ute to our so­ci­ety, grow our econ­omy and as­sim­i­late into our great na­tion.”

Two of the Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who par­tic­i­pated in the meet­ing, Sens. Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas and David Per­due of Ge­or­gia, said they “do not re­call” Trump’s deroga­tory com­ments about Africa. An­other GOP at­tendee, South Carolina Sen. Lind­say Gra­ham, sug­gested the re­ported re­marks were ac­cu­rate: “Fol­low­ing com­ments by the pres­i­dent, I said my piece di­rectly to him.”

Trump’s po­lit­i­cal al­lies have been through this dance be­fore, grap­pling with how to po­si­tion them­selves af­ter a pres­i­dent whose sup­port­ers they covet stakes out con­tro­ver­sial po­si­tions. In Au­gust, af­ter the pres­i­dent said “both sides” were to blame in clashes be­tween white su­prem­a­cists and coun­ter­protesters in Char­lottesville, Va., many GOP of­fi­cials con­demned Trump’s re­marks but main­tained their over­all sup­port for his pres­i­dency.

On Fri­day, sev­eral black sup­port­ers and ad­vis­ers to Trump vouched for his com­mit­ment to the black com­mu­nity af­ter a White House event hon­or­ing Martin Luther King Jr. Paris Den­nard, a se­nior direc­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Thur­good Mar­shall Col­lege Fund, said Trump “un­der­stands this com­mu­nity. He wants to help our com­mu­nity.”

But the par­tic­i­pants point­edly did not ad­dress Trump’s vul­gar com­ments. And other Trump back­ers made clear they wanted to steer clear of ques­tions about whether the pres­i­dent is a racist.

“That’s not some­thing I want to talk about,” for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich said.

In At­lanta, at the con­gre­ga­tion once led by King, the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Bap­tist Church and other faith lead­ers planned a news con­fer­ence to con­demn Trump’s “vile and racist” re­marks made on the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. hol­i­day week­end.

Warnock said it’s hyp­o­crit­i­cal for Trump to sign a procla­ma­tion hon­or­ing King, given his com­ments.

“A gi­ant of a man does not need a procla­ma­tion from a small man like Don­ald Trump,” Warnock told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

AP photo

Rev. Raphael Warnock (left) lis­tens as Rabbi Peter Berg re­sponds to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s com­ments about Haiti and Africa at Ebenezer Bap­tist Church where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached in At­lanta. Warnock and other faith lead­ers con­demned Trump’s “vile and racist” re­marks made on the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. hol­i­day week­end on Fri­day. Warnock said it’s hyp­o­crit­i­cal for Trump to sign a procla­ma­tion hon­or­ing

King, given his com­ments. “A gi­ant of a man does not need a procla­ma­tion from a small man like Don­ald Trump,” Warnock said.

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