“It’s time for reporters and journalists to be honest with the American people,” warned Harry Reid on the floor of the Senate six weeks ago. “They owe America the truth. Through his words and deeds, Donald Trump is a racist.”
There is NO Such Thing as the Alt Left.
For years, Donald Trump’s racism and sexism have served as Exhibit A in the case against his fitness for the presidency.
The press has made Trump’s bigotry very clear, publishing countless articles, explanatory timelines, and listicles on the topic. And yet, the American people went to the polls and made racist Donald Trump their president-elect. How could this happen?
1. Americans don’t mind that Trump is racist because we’re racist, too.
2.We live in a racist, sexist country, and Trump has given the racists and the sexists the chance to vote their true beliefs. But what about all the counties and states that went for Trump after having voted Barack Obama into office? Maybe Americans are more sexist than they are racist, in the end, and their votes for Trump were really votes against Hillary Clinton.
3. Millions of people—including, for example, the third of Latino voters who lined up for Trump—are living in a world built from outright lies and fake news reports from Macedonia. Some black people didn’t even vote and of the ones who did, well some of them vote for Trump/
4. Perhaps these people didn’t know, or would not believe, the truth of what Trump has said and done. They failed to understand that he’s a racist pig, and so they elected him.
Many Americans—an electoral college victory’s worth, at least—would agree that we shouldn’t elect a racist to the presidency. By that logic, Trump should have been defeated easily; he failed a basic moral test. But if racist is to be a decisive and disqualifying label then we need to have consensus on its meaning.
You could see the disagreements over racism—when and how the term should be applied—throughout the course of the campaign. Trump’s abhorrent message was clear from the outset. “They’re bringing drugs,” he said of Mexican immigrants on the day that he announced his candidacy. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Before that, of course, he’d spent years proudly championing the racist birther movement. Yet for many months to follow, the question of Trump’s status as a racist—whether he had officially earned the label—remained a topic for discussion.
In a televised debate in March, Hillary Clinton dodged the question of whether Trump deserved the scarlet R: “I was the first one to call him out” for his “deeply offensive rhetoric,” she said, adding that “trafficking in prejudice and paranoia has no place in our political system.” But is he, in fact, an actual racist? “People can draw their own conclusions,” she said.
We don’t have to draw any conclusion, Trump did it for us.
In June, when Trump announced he’d been victimized by Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University—because “he’s a Mexican.” (Judge Curiel was born in Indiana.) For those with Hillary, this moment was decisive. “Donald Trump Finally Admits His Campaign Is Racist,” declared the Huffington Post. “Trump’s Attack on a Federal Judge Is an Open Appeal to Racism,” said Slate. “Trump’s Attack on Judge Curiel Is Clearly Racist,” wrote Newsweek. In an interview the following week, CNN’s Jake Tapper gave cathartic voice to this idea: “If you are saying he can’t do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?” he asked Trump, in what would come to be seen as a kind of Welch-McCarthy moment for the Never Trump movement.
We thought if we “proved” Trump was racist and sexist, we’d reach some common ground of moral decency.
But as Tapper said, it came down to definitions. “No, I don’t think so at all,” Trump said in answer to Tapper’s charge. “He’s proud of his heritage. I respect him for that.” Some commentators agreed: He wasn’t calling Judge Curiel inferior, only saying that he might be biased on account of his ethnicity. Brown University economist Glenn Loury pointed out that in other contexts, we’re happy to acknowledge that a person’s background can inform her judgment and perspective.
Even Paul Ryan, went after Trump in June, calling the attack on Curiel the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”
Ryan’s choice of phrase was revealing. In defining racism, he did not cite the dictionary. That’s where one would expect to find the most common understanding of the word.
But Trump’s attack on Curiel does not fit so neatly into, say, the first definition that you’d find on Dictionary.com: “the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.”
In the past few decades, some scholars have stretched the boundaries of the word “Racist” even further: Understanding that people, too, can be racist in subtle, systematic ways. Even if you disavow white supremacy, you might still be subject to its influence, as well as the unintentional form of racial prejudice that social scientists call “implicit bias.” You and I are racist, essentially, in ways we’re not consciously aware of. I mtake somewhat of an issue with thiis assertion. I bedlieve that we are ‘Racist’ only in the context where we have the power to exercise some type of concrete effect over another individual, based solely on their race.
The broader definition of racism as something systemic or implicit has flourished on the left and in academia, because it allows us to talk about the nation’s most important social problems—police shootings, for example—in the most impassioned moral terms without labeling specific people as evil or malicious. (Maybe cops mean well, as a rule, but like the rest of us they suffer from implicit bias.)
This more nuanced understanding of racism calls attention to persistent racial injustice while at the same time framing it in broader, more communal terms. It calls out the problem and invites solutions.
Simply labeling Trump as a racist and misogynist Homo/ Trans phobe hasn’t worked, because when it comes to what those labels mean. No matter what Trump said about or did to women or Muslims, Transgender or black people, millions of Americans will never see him as a racist and misogynist or Transphobic. That’s not about to change.