by Jesse Jackson
Last week, amid the continuing clamor of Trump’s chaos presidency, the question of whether Trump had used the n-word became a media sensation.
Omarosa Manigault Newman, the president’s former aide, claims there is a tape of him using the vile racial slur. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she “can’t guarantee” that a tape doesn’t exist. Trump tweeted, “I don’t have that word in my vocabulary.” The press pursued the question as if this would establish for one and for all whether Trump is a racist.
Say what? Using the n-word has become unacceptable in civilized society, but its use is hardly the measure of racism.
In a brilliant article in The New York Times, Steven W. Thrasher puts this diversion to rest by arraying the many ways Trump has consistently and openly displayed his racial bias. His list included calling majority black nations “s—hole countries,” slandering immigrants as more likely to commit crimes, slurring Mexicans as rapists, and claiming that the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., included “some very fine people.
Thrasher also details Trump’s penchant for insulting the intelligence of African-Americans — calling CNN host Don Lemon and basketball star LeBron James dumb, calling U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters a “low IQ person,” denigrating Manigault Newman as a “dog.”
We can’t allow Trump to dumb down racism, limiting the standard to whether one utters the n-word or not. There is more than enough repeated evidence of Trump’s bias that whether he used the word or not won’t change the self-evident conclusion.
Worse, Trump’s bias is now implanted in the White House. On the stump, he quite purposefully stokes up his audiences with racial slurs, providing powerful permission for his followers to echo his hatreds.
And throughout his administration, racial bias is expressed in the systematic rollback of programs to enforce equal rights and justice under the law.
Trump has encouraged the police to get “rough” with suspects, and his Justice Department has essentially gutted Obama’s initiative to redress systematic bias in America’s urban police forces. His judicial appointees are slowly rolling back affirmative action, furthering the perverse argument that affirmative efforts to overcome racial bias are somehow a violation of the Constitution.
From the Department of Education to the Labor Department and the Environmental Protection Agency and across the government, civil rights divisions have been weakened, their authority and budgets cut. Conservative justices gutted the Voting Rights Act, and now Trump’s Justice Department has weakened efforts to block voting reforms that discriminate against African-Americans, Latinos and the poor.
Republicans who increasingly are becoming the party of Trumpery overwhelmingly express approval of Trump’s “handling” of race. Weakening enforcement of civil rights is immoral. It is also pernicious. When the rights of African-Americans are weakened, the rights of Latinos, of women, of the young and the disabled are also undermined.
Just as the movement for civil rights led to dramatic advances for women, for the young, for the disabled, the abandonment of civil rights enforcement will be widely felt.
This puts a particular burden on Democrats and so-called independent voters. Unlike the Republican Party, the Democratic Party is a ship made of diverse planks. If blacks are abandoned, the ship will sink. If women are discouraged, the ship will sink. If Latinos are stripped off, the ship will sink. If women, people of color and the young are weakened, working people are weakened. We float or sink together.
Democrats have no choice but to stand strong against the rollback of civil rights and the stoking of racial fears that have become the signature of Trump’s presidency.
Some argue that Trump’s racism is longstanding, evident early in his career as a developer. Others suggest that the racial bias is instrumental, reflecting his political judgment that he prospers by dividing the country. The motivation doesn’t matter.
What matters is how we respond. My own firm belief is that Trump is wrong. Americans are better than he assumes. We have overcome slavery and segregation and are building a diverse society that is our strength. We care about equal justice and equal rights. We don’t want to be torn apart by those who hate or to be driven by our fears rather than our hopes. Whether he used the n-word or not, Trump is spreading poison.
The only question now is whether citizens of conscience will come together to counter it.