According to interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials in the Trump administration, Donald Trump’s behavior in private is … exactly what you might expect, as reported by Greg Miller of The Washington Post.
In unguarded moments with senior aides, President Trump has maintained that Black Americans have mainly themselves to blame in their struggle for equality, hindered more by lack of initiative than societal impediments, according to current and former U.S. officials.
After phone calls with Jewish lawmakers, Trump has muttered that Jews “are only in it for themselves” and “stick together” in an ethnic allegiance that exceeds other loyalties, officials said.
Trump’s private musings about Hispanics match the vitriol he has displayed in public, and his antipathy to Africa is so ingrained that when first lady Melania Trump planned a 2018 trip to that continent he railed that he “could never understand why she would want to go there.
As Miller’s article points out, Trump isn’t the first racist president we’ve ever had. He is, however, the first incumbent president in living memory who has explicitly made racism the cornerstone of not only his tenure in office but his reelection campaign, as well.
As Masha Gessen wrote in her now-famous essay on autocracy: “Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.”
Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture.
But the outspoken racism of this president and the administration he controls could never be mistaken for “‘posturing.” As detailed by Ibram X. Kendi, writing this month in The Atlantic, racism has been the guidepost of nearly all of Trump’s domestic policies from day one, with a constant and obvious goal of eliminating all of the achievements of the nation’s first Black president. As Kendi describes it, “he would make it seem as if a Black man had never been president, erasing him from history by repealing and replacing his signature accomplishments, from the Affordable Care Act to DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.”
And although Trump has not succeeded (thus far) in completely undoing the work of President Obama, it isn’t for lack of trying. He has significantly undermined many of his predecessor’s accomplishments through deliberate sabotage, stealthy rollbacks, or willful neglect. But it was never enough for Trump to simply repudiate Barack Obama.
His end goal is much more comprehensive and mirrors that of the GOP as a whole—to protect and preserve a social hierarchy where whites are always at the top. Through his words and behavior he brought unabashed racism into the mainstream for millions of Americans, the same ones who attend his rallies and wear little red hats, the same ones who cheered as he demonized immigrants during his campaign rallies in 2016. As Kendi sardonically observes, we should all be thankful for what he has forced us to recognize about this country and its high-minded pretensions of equality.
Black Americans—indeed, all Americans—should in one respect be thankful to him. He has held up a mirror to American society, and it has reflected back a grotesque image that many people had until now refused to see: an image not just of the racism still coursing through the country, but also of the reflex to deny that reality. Though it was hardly his intention, no president has caused more Americans to stop denying the existence of racism than Donald Trump.
As Kendi points out, from the time he first declared he would be a “president to all Americans,” Trump’s term in office has been saturated through and through with racism.
Within days of being sworn in, Trump broke that promise. He reversed holds on two oil-pipeline projects, including one through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which was opposed by more than 200 Indigenous nations. He issued executive orders calling for the construction of a wall along the southern border and the deportation of individuals who “pose a risk to public safety or national security.” He enacted his first of three Muslim bans.
By the end of the spring, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had directed federal prosecutors to seek the harshest prison sentences whenever possible. Sessions had also laid the groundwork for the suspension of all the consent decrees that provided federal oversight of law-enforcement agencies that had demonstrated a pattern of racism.
Led by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, the administration worked on ways to restrict immigration by people of color. There was a sense of urgency, because, as Trump said at a private White House meeting in June 2017, Haitians “all have AIDS” and Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” once they came to the United States.
With the template in place, Trump’s reaction to the neo-Nazi murderers marching in Charlottesville, Virginia—that there were “very fine people” in their ranks—should have surprised no one. His attacks on women of color, specifically elected Democratic women of color, and his exhortations that they should “go back to where they came from,” or his characterization of poor African and Caribbean nations as “shithole” countries should have been no surprise, either.
Nor should the actions of the federal agencies he controls through his lackeys as head of the executive branch—from abandoning civil rights enforcement at the Justice Department to ending racial sensitivity training in all of our federal agencies—have come as a surprise to anyone.
With his reelection strategy now dependent on convincing his lily-white base of committed, racist supporters that they are under dire threat from protesters and the Black Lives Matter movement, the sad fact is that it’s hard to imagine how these latest revelations regarding how Trump actually thinks and speaks in private will make any difference to anyone at this point.
That’s how far he’s taken this country down.