Crit­ics find pat­tern in Trump’s den­i­gra­tion of prom­i­nent blacks’ in­tel­li­gence

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY DAVID NAKA­MURA david.naka­mura@wash­post.com

paris — Pres­i­dent Trump’s ver­bal as­saults against black re­porters, can­di­dates and law­mak­ers has re­newed crit­i­cism that the pres­i­dent em­ploys in­sults rooted in racist tropes aimed at mak­ing his African Amer­i­can tar­gets ap­pear un­in­tel­li­gent, un­trust­wor­thy and un­qual­i­fied.

Over the past sev­eral days, in­clud­ing be­fore he left Wash­ing­ton for an Ar­mistice Day cer­e­mony here this week­end, Trump has launched per­sonal at­tacks against a trio of black fe­male jour­nal­ists. He ac­cused one of ask­ing “a lot of stupid ques­tions.” He de­manded an­other “sit down” at a news con­fer­ence and fol­lowed up later by call­ing her a “loser.” He lam­basted a third for ask­ing, in his view, a “racist ques­tion.”

Trump re­cently called Tal­la­has­see Mayor An­drew Gil­lum (D), a gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date in Florida, a “thief,” and de­clared that Stacey Abrams, the for­mer mi­nor­ity leader of the state House in Ge­or­gia and the Demo­cratic can­di­date for gover­nor there, was “not qual­i­fied” for the job. A fea­ture of his cam­paign ral­lies ahead of Tues­day’s elec­tions was mock­ing Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters (D-Calif.), a black law­maker who has been highly crit­i­cal of him, and call­ing her a “low-IQ per­son.”

Trump’s sup­port­ers say he fights all op­po­nents with equal gusto, and he has gone af­ter other re­porters in an es­ca­la­tion of his war against the me­dia since emerg­ing from the bruis­ing midterm elec­tions — most no­tably strip­ping the White House pass of CNN’s Jim Acosta.

But the pres­i­dent’s rhetoric to­ward prom­i­nent African Amer­i­cans is be­ing sin­gled out as far more of­fen­sive.

“His sup­port­ers are right, he does at­tack ev­ery­one. That’s clearly true,” said Adia Har­vey Wing­field, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity in St. Louis who writes fre­quently about race and gen­der. “But there’s also a clear com­mon­al­ity in the at­tacks he lev­els against peo­ple of color and black pro­fes­sion­als. Th­ese are straight out of his­toric play­books about black work­ers and pro­fes­sion­als in par­tic­u­lar — not be­ing qual­i­fied, not be­ing in­tel­li­gent or hav­ing what it takes to suc­ceed in a pre­dom­i­nantly white en­vi­ron­ment.”

The lat­est ex­am­ple came Fri­day when the pres­i­dent stopped on the South Lawn of the White House on his way to Marine One to field shouted ques­tions from the as­sem­bled me­dia. He was asked sev­eral ques­tions about the role of Matthew G. Whi­taker, who he ap­pointed as act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral Wed­nes­day, as well as about sev­eral other top­ics.

But when Abby Phillip, a CNN cor­re­spon­dent, asked whether Trump wanted Whi­taker to rein in the spe­cial coun­sel’s on­go­ing Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he snapped.

“What a stupid ques­tion that is,” Trump replied to Phillip, who is black. “What a stupid ques­tion,” he re­peated, point­ing his fin­ger at her. “But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid ques­tions.”

The at­tack prompted an out­pour­ing of sup­port from fel­low jour­nal­ists, Democrats and oth­ers for Phillip, who pre­vi­ously cov­ered the White House for The Wash­ing­ton Post. Many praised her for ask­ing the most im­por­tant and per­ti­nent ques­tion of the day.

But Trump’s sup­port­ers rev­eled in the ex­change, hold­ing it up as an ex­am­ple of Trump show­ing his tor­men­tors who is the boss.

“If you ask stupid ques­tions, be pre­pared for @realDon­aldTrump to call you out. #MAGA,” Har­lan Z. Hill, a Repub­li­can op­er­a­tive and com­men­ta­tor, wrote on Twit­ter to his 171,000 fol­low­ers, link­ing to a video clip of the ex­change. The tweet had racked up more than 1,800 retweets and 5,000 “likes” within a few hours.

Sev­eral White House of­fi­cials did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment for this re­port.

Trump has as­sem­bled a largely white ros­ter of se­nior ad­vis­ers. Sec­re­tary of Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment Ben Car­son is the only African Amer­i­can among the Cab­i­net and se­nior White House staff.

Since tak­ing of­fice, the pres­i­dent has re­peat­edly ques­tioned the in­tel­li­gence of black pub­lic fig­ures. Per­haps most vi­cious have been his per­sis­tent at­tacks on Wa­ters as “low IQ” and call­ing her the de facto leader of the Demo­cratic Party.

But Trump has sim­i­larly called CNN’s Don Lemon the “dumb­est man on tele­vi­sion” and, af­ter Lemon in­ter­viewed bas­ket­ball star LeBron James, said in a tweet that the tele­vi­sion an­chor, who is black, “made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do.” James had been crit­i­cal of Trump, call­ing him a “bum” af­ter the pres­i­dent re­voked an in­vi­ta­tion for the NBA cham­pion Golden State War­riors to visit the White House amid re­ports that the team didn’t want to at­tend.

Trump also has called Rep. Fred­er­ica S. Wil­son (D-Fla.) “wacky” and dis­par­aged his for­mer aide Omarosa Mani­gault New­man as a “dog” af­ter she wrote a tell-all book that ac­cused him of us­ing racist lan­guage.

“There is a pat­tern,” said April Ryan, who has cov­ered the White House for Amer­ica Ur­ban Ra­dio Net­works since Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s sec­ond term and now is also a CNN po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst.

Dur­ing a for­mal Trump news con­fer­ence at the White House on Wed­nes­day, Trump de­manded that Ryan “sit down” af­ter she re­peat­edly at­tempted to ask him a ques­tion about al­leged voter sup­pres­sion in the midterms. Trump was so steamed about it that he brought up the in­ci­dent again Fri­day dur­ing his im­promptu per­for­mance on the South Lawn, call­ing her a “loser” in a ram­bling an­swer to a ques­tion about Acosta.

More re­cently, Michael Co­hen, who served for years as Trump’s per­sonal lawyer be­fore they sev­ered ties af­ter Co­hen was in­dicted, said he had heard Trump use racist lan­guage in the past. Asked about the al­le­ga­tions at the White House on Wed­nes­day, Trump flatly de­nied it. “I would never do that and I don’t use racist re­marks,” he said.

Dur­ing the news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day, Trump sought to turn the ta­bles on his ques­tion­ers af­ter Yamiche Al­cin­dor, a White House cor­re­spon­dent for the PBS New­sHour who is black, asked if he had em­bold­ened white na­tion­al­ists on the cam­paign trail with his rhetoric.

“I don’t know why you’d say that. That’s such a racist ques­tion,” Trump said, as­sert­ing that he has the high­est job ap­proval rat­ings of his pres­i­dency among African Amer­i­cans.

Ed­die Glaude Jr., chair­man of the African Amer­i­can stud­ies depart­ment at Prince­ton Univer­sity, said Trump’s lan­guage was not a dog whis­tle be­cause “it is not sub­tle.” He com­pared Trump’s at­tacks on the in­tel­li­gence of black pub­lic fig­ures to “The Bell Curve,” a widely dis­par­aged 1994 book that con­nected in­tel­li­gence to race.

“He does it over and over again,” Glaude said. “It’s im­por­tant for us not just to re­duce it to Trump just be­ing trans­ac­tional and un­der­stand this as a cen­tral part of who he is.”

EVAN VUCCI/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

On Fri­day, Pres­i­dent Trump told CNN jour­nal­ist Abby Phillip, a CNN cor­re­spon­dent, that she asks “a lot of stupid ques­tions.”

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