Monday, January 15, 2018

If Donald Trump is not a racist, what is he? A demagogue?

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News January 23-24, 2018.

If President Trump is not a racist and rightly claims  to the press he is ” the least racist person you ever interviewed”,  what is he? For the sake of argument and  to take his word for it, then he is a demagogue who  is using words that he does not believe, playing to  a significant number of those who are in his base of supporters.

The recent  firestorm erupted when President Trump in a meeting with mostly Republican members of Congress and one Democrat over the issue of DACA and immigration was purported to call African countries “s...t holes” and asking "why we need more Haitians ?" It was the acrimony resulting from this meeting that eventually led to the government shutdown because of the President's waffling after outrage erupted from his media friends and from the Freedom Caucus hardliners that refused to support anything that smacked of "amnesty" for the DACA kids.

The purpose of the ill-fated meeting was to hear a bi-partisan compromise proposal on the budget by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin )D-IL) that among other issues that would have funded for a year the wall between the US Mexico and would have given DACA kids status to prevent them from being deported. The tell-tale comment cited by many that Donald Trump was likely a racist was his favoring immigrants from Norway over immigrants from countries with dark skinned inhabitants.  Some   GOP members attending the meeting first claimed they did not recall the s...thole word and later some said they did not hear the exact word . One who was present and  who  declined to deny Trump said those words was Senator Graham . Verifying  it to the rafters was the only Democrat attending the meeting, Senator Durbin (D-IL) .
It is a difficult case to make that Donald Trump is not a racist. There is so much evidence to the contrary. What is a racist, anyway? Googling the definition yields various results, and even long winded opinion pieces. While definitions of what is a racist varies, but what they all have in common is that racists believe one race is superior to another and the racist discriminates against racial groups. Donald Trump has a  lifetime history of words and actions with which he  has frequently shown  disdain for those of color and advocated policies harmful to them. He was the author and main advocate of  birtherism and painted all illegal immigrant Mexicans as rapists and murderers, to name a few examples often cited. He used his disdain of certain racial groups as a whole to rationalize building the wall and intensified deportation policies toward racial groups that have one characteristic in common: darker skin color. As Colorado Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) so succinctly said in an interview in the Washington Post "“.-and on the question of what’s in his heart, do you have any idea-thought... that he would’ve called into question Barack Obama’s birth certificate if Barack Obama were white?”That he is a real life  Archie Bunker of Queens, only richer, is the easiest conclusion to reach.

However, let us assume he has been putting on an act though  in his heart he is not racist. Instead he continues to  speak out  and to act  like he one  because   it has been his shtick that has helped  get him elected and  he has reason to believe it will  continue to work in the future. Reports are that Donald Trump's immediate concern after the "s..hole" (alternative facts: term leaked out, he was assured it would work well with his base and he called those in his base that affirmed that. Later at Mar-a-Lago, he was heard boasting about his comments.   Does that make him a demagogue?

There are a variety of definitions of a demagogue, depending on which dictionary is searched. In ancient Greece it meant a leader of the people, but in current culture, it is defined as  “A politician who seeks to win and hold office by appeals to mass prejudice .Demagogues often use lies and distortion”  (American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy) or “a political agitator who appeals with crude oratory to the prejudice and passions of the mob”  (Collins English Dictionary) .   By those definitions  alone, Trump fits the profile.

The most plausible view of Donald Trump is not the non racist one he says he is nor is he purely using racism as a conscious strategy.  It is a natural, instinctive melding of the two, his own deep  long-  held feelings that joined with his mouth that happened to give him the political wings to succeed.  The conclusions by Slate after  reviewing  all of the polls of 2016 Trump voters on the subject was: “Overt racists aren’t a decisive share of the electorate, but they’re a substantial part of the president’s coalition.”  His approval ratings hover around 39% so  there are those who are willing to ignore  or deny the charges of racism or who  are  offended but not enough to put bigotry at the top of their concerns list.  They will support him for other issues, taxation. entitlements and cultural  issues and reforms. The question is: how many of those who make up his base will stick with him in the future in spite of his racist remarks and  policy positions. The 2018  November Congressional elections will reveal the answer.

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