Despite two and a half years of evidence to the contrary, the talking heads’ side of the mainstream media still insist that Donald Trump is a man of cunning. His recent racist tweets aimed at attacking Elijah Cummings and the Squad is a ploy, they maintain, intended to distract from the recent Mueller hearings and the House Judiciary Committee’s nascent impeachment inquiry. They ought to know better than that, if for no other reason than Trump’s pathological lack of impulse control. His endless stream of Twitter insults aimed at other human beings exists for one reason and one reason only, because it always has. It’s what he does. Donald Trump has never had an unspoken thought, and he hates a lot of people. That accounts for the volume of his tweets.
Not only that, the media chose the wrong battle ground upon which to take a stand against Trump’s racism. They will never be able to convince the more moderate of Trump’s base that Trump is racist based on his tweets. (The more radical of his base love that he’s a racist, of course.) To the extent that Trump’s moderate base is able to articulate so arcane a concept, they simply cannot see racism in his tweets, no matter how carefully the argument is advanced, no matter how diligently they are led by the hand. If they knew the word they would know that the argument is semantic, and therefore futile. Nothing short of use of the “N” word fired in anger at a specific person will convince them otherwise.
Trump’s racism is not to be found so much in what he says, as it is to be found in what he does not say, what he refuses to say. If the media would only focus on that, they would get a lot farther in convincing some people, particularly if they could confront Trump with it.
Donald Trump insists that he “is the least racist of anyone anywhere in the world.” Of course he does. Even the Ku Klux Klan insists it is not a racist organization. Disavowals means nothing. But one thing Donald Trump will never do, not in a million years, is renounce white supremacy. No one seems to be willing to ask him, “Mr. President, as you are not a racist, will you renounce white supremacy?” I guarantee you he won’t do it. He will find a way, possibly from the playbook of Kellyanne Conway, to avoid a direct answer, and then change the subject to Obama or “crooked” Hillary.
Indeed, in the two and a half years Donald Trump has infested the West Wing, the closest thing to a characterization of white supremacy Trump has ever come is to say that many of them are “fine people.” That’s it. Otherwise he has nothing at all to say about the subject.
That the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter was a white supremacist was, I am sure, a huge disappointment to Trump. You can bet had the shooter been an undocumented worker, particularly one of color, then you wouldn’t be able to get Trump to shut up about it. The only characterization Trump will use for the gunman is that the man is “wicked.” Presumably the shooter was one of the wicked ones among a group of otherwise “very fine people.”
If Trump really isn’t a racist then he should be willing to say certain things. He should be willing to acknowledge that racism is a problem in America that desperately needs to be addressed. Racial inequality, he should be eager to admit, is a foundational impediment to justice, and at the root of many police shootings. He should be able to do all that and more, and above all he should be willing to announce in loud, clear and unequivocal terms that white supremacy is a poison on the American landscape and must be discouraged through education and intolerance for hate speech. But he never will. And therein lies Donald Trump’s actual racism, hiding in plain sight, for all to see.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.