Yes, It Is Ethical and Appropriate to Call Trump a Racist
A large chunk of the country is up in arms about recent tweets and public comments made by the president that seem to project a, well, super racist tone. In a recent swarm of posts, he’s dubbed a group of four Congresswomen the “squad” and has called on them to basically go back to where they came from.
….and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
It is necessary in this case to note that the four Congresswomen he’s honing in on are all women of color. Also of interest is that three of the four were born in the U.S., making this the country “from which they came.” The president is ginning up campaign support on past comments made by these elected officials that criticized the U.S. role in various situations.
The last time I checked, it was not only legal, but appropriate to criticize the country’s actions in an effort to better the nation and its role on the global stage. Not all citizens will agree with critics, but it is a Constitutional right, intentionally written into doctrine by framers, to criticize the U.S. government.
Donald J. Trump’s staunch defenders argue that his rhetoric is less racist than it is patriotic. He claims he is simply sick and tired of people speaking ill of the “greatest Country (sic) in the world.”
…opinion, they’re Americans. Now I’m entitled to my opinion, & I just think they’re left wing cranks. They’re the reason there are directions on a shampoo bottle, & we should ignore them. The “squad” has moved the Democrat Party substantially LEFT, and…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2019
But the concept of patriotism has been hijacked to imply that if you do not believe the country is perfect in its current form, you are somehow an “enemy of the people.” That terminology, much like the “go back to where you came from” adage, carries racially historical precedent and it is impossible the president and his administration are ignorant to that dog whistle.
And so begins the argument about what constitutes racism and at what point journalists are justified in applying the word to his behavior.
Instead of trying to parse the ethical boundaries in today’s strained world of journalism, let’s look to history for an example of what can happen when the press chooses not to call it as they see it.
Some have grown tired of the word “Nazi” being thrown around carelessly, but it is unavoidably wedded to today’s circumstances and Trump’s rise to power eerily mirrors that of Adolf Hitler. If we cannot recognize the similarities when they arise, we are doomed to repeat history and it is not an act of bias to shine light on the topic.
Live Science published a piece in April 2016 detailing Hitler’s rise to power, drawing on several experts and biographers.
According to that article, Hitler neglected to show signs in his youth of the dictator he would become. He was raised by strict father to follow in his footsteps as a bureaucrat and later “sponged off of his mother.” He was not particularly dynamic or talented and failed to succeed as an artist. He felt shunned and grew bitter until he found his calling in right-wing rhetoric under guidance of Gottfried Feder and Karl Alexander von Muller.
Hitler finally found himself recognized by people he admired, not as an artist, but as a nationalist.
Note: Trump has expressed on many occasions that he felt shunned by the New York City elite and the press. His success was built on his father’s real estate empire and his mother supported him financially as he attempted to create a name for himself, which would later become plastered to the front of every building he touched. Both men were desperate for acceptance and were commonly dismissed until they found homes in right-wing nationalism.
Although Hitler was hard-pressed to make friends in social circles, he found a flair for the drama in his public speaking style.
Karl Schleunes, author of “The Twisted Road to Auschwitz: Nazi Policy Toward German Jews, 1933-39” said of Hitler:
“He’s really sort of a dull person, except when he appears before an audience, when somehow, a switch is turned on. He could milk an audience and shape it and get it to feel.”
Hitler’s success as party leader coincided with a “chaos and resentment” already present in Germany and he was able to tap into fears around food and coal shortages after millions of Germans died during WWI. They needed someone, or many someones, to blame for the defeat and subsequent dire circumstances. Jewish people filled that role with conspiracy theories and Hitler repeatedly played that tune in his messaging.Protesters hold signs depicting pictures of Donald J. Trump and Adolf Hitler side by side. Photo courtesy of Sky News.
Note: The U.S. had been involved in its longest running war at the time Trump officially entered the political scene. The economy had just tanked in historical fashion and was making a slow, but steady comeback. For many citizens, that recovery was not moving fast enough and families were still suffering. It was a time of deep resentment following the financial crisis of 2008 and the election of the nation’s first black president stoked some very real racism. The time was ripe for a nationalist push in 2015-2016, much like it was in 1933.
In order to shore up support, Hitler painted himself as a beacon of good old fashioned values. He was portrayed as a good family man who loved animals, and the press gladly forwarded that image onto the public. But as historian Despina Stratigakos told Live Science:
“He’s being presented as a good man, a moral man, and the evidence for that comes from his private life.”
“It’s fabricated, but it’s very effective.”
Note: Trump is notorious for his exaggerations and fabrications of his own success as businessman and family man. It is widely known that he courted the press and manipulated his own public image for decades.
Hitler was able to rile up a base by arbitrarily appointing the Jews and “other” groups as “enemies of the people.” The rhetoric was common among dictators, including Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong — Nazi propagandists merely picked up the old trick and managed to propel its impact to the point where ordinarily decent people turned their heads as millions were brutally murdered.
Note: Trump’s use of the exact same language in reference to the press and to those four Congresswomen is not only haunting but utterly frightening in light of how that language has been used in the past.
Back to the question of the day: Is Trump a racist?
Perhaps, it is better to ask the question with a more obvious answer. Was Hitler a racist? Is there any doubt that the man who orchestrated genocide based on a push for purity was not in fact a racist? I think not.
Does it matter if someone spewing racially incendiary language actually believes the ideology they prescribe? If the result is a populace ready to out the “others” because they feel threatened – if ordinarily decent people are warped by nationalist fervor – do the intentions of leaders really matter?
The facts are what they are. Trump and Hitler share an uncomfortable number of similarities in their rise to power and the messaging that got them there. The U.S. president is currently demonizing whole races of people and anyone who dares challenge him. Hitler did the same – and we know how that story ends. Some argue that comparing Trump to Hitler is a bridge too far, but when the president purposefully resurrects Hitler-esque language and ideology, is it really going too far to state the obvious? The U.S. leader is far from being the evil German dictator, but it is undeniable that he is employing many of the same methods, and that does not appear to be coincidental.
So, is Trump a racist? Yes, yes he is. And yes, blatant and unchecked racism is a dangerous quality in a leader. The press has every right and responsibility to say so.