Opinion: Does Trump’s rhetoric do more harm than good?
Our president recently attacked four American citizens of color who publicly disagreed with his vision for America. Three were born in the USA. One is a naturalized citizen who escaped a war-ravaged country and spent four years as a child in an African refugee camp. Each one has sworn an oath to protect our country. They are elected members of Congress.
Trump said that they should go back to their home countries, that they don’t love America, and that they should apologize to America for comments that they have made criticizing him. During a subsequent campaign rally in North Carolina, Trump supporters shouted, “Send her back!” He then individually disparaged each of the four women.
Trump denied encouraging his supporters at that rally but then changed his mind and thanked them. The Republican Party has largely been silent in the face of the condemnation of our president’s remarks and conduct. The criticisms have included words such as racism and xenophobia (prejudice against people from other countries). Individual Trump supporters have denied those accusations, stating that he is simply being patriotic, that’s just the way he talks, or but while they have some undefined trepidation about his “style’, they believe that he does more good than harm. Many say they, too, are tired of being called racists. (And then they criticize others as socialists without seemingly knowing the meaning of socialism.)
Let’s examine those Trump supporter rationalizations. But first, what does the historical record say about Donald Trump and racism? It says that he has been a racist his entire adult life. The voluminous record says that the President of the United States is a white supremacist.
Trump was accused of racism by the Department of Justice when his real estate company refused to rent to African Americans in New York City decades ago. His own employees provided the evidence against him. He paid money to settle the charges and agreed to advertise open apartments for rent in papers that attracted a readership of people of color. (As president he is now proposing rules that would make proving housing discrimination based on race nearly impossible.)
Trump told his associates that he wanted Jews, not blacks, handling his money. He said blacks were lazy. Trump casino employees are on record saying that when Trump and his first wife were in one of his casinos, that no black people were to be allowed onto the floor.
When five black and Latino teens were accused of raping a white woman in New York’s Central Park, Trump bought a full-page ad in the New York Times demanding their execution. The teenagers were released when the real rapist confessed and submitted DNA evidence matching what was found on the victim. When a monetary settlement was reached for false arrest, malicious prosecution and a racially motivated conspiracy to deprive the accused of their rights, Trump, again, took out an advertisement calling the settlement a disgrace. During his campaign for president he still said that the men were guilty. The denials and alibis of the accused and the confession and DNA of the real rapist could not break through Trump’s racism.
When Trump testified before Congress attempting to prevent Indian tribes from building casinos that might compete with his, he looked at Indian tribal leaders who were present at the hearing and said, “They don’t look like Indians to me.” Trump and his now incarcerated friend Roger Stone took out political ads portraying Indians who wanted casinos as criminals and drug dealers. Does that sound familiar? They paid fines of $250,000 for trying to hide their involvement in the ads that were roundly criticized for their racist nature.
Trump discussed the idea of having a team of blacks vs. a team of whites compete on his Apprentice program. The discussion took place on Howard Stern’s radio show. Even shock jock Stern found the idea to be “disturbing.”
Trump’s racist history is well documented in lawsuits, newspapers, public hearings, and television and radio appearances. More recently, Trump challenged Obama’s birth in Hawaii arguing that our first black president-to-be was born in Africa. Trump criticized a federal judge of Hispanic origin when the judge ruled against him in lawsuits against Trump University. Trump blamed it on the judge’s Mexican heritage. Trump later paid millions to settle the cases. Trump repeatedly refused to denounce the support of the Ku Klux Klan in 2016. He has said that Mexicans who illegally cross the border are rapists, although some of them were nice people. During twenty years as a judge, I never met a nice rapist. Can you even imagine one? When a white nationalist murdered nine black church goers in South Carolina, Trump said that he was sure that there were very fine people on both sides. Wow! Do you Trumpets know any very nice white supremacist mass murderers?
In May of this year, while campaigning in the Florida panhandle, Trump railed against what he called the invasion of Mexicans across our border. A Trump supporter yelled out,” Shoot them!” Trump laughed and said that you could only get away with that in the panhandle. Three months later a white supremacist, using Trump’s invasion rhetoric, drove 600 miles from Dallas to El Paso, in the Texas panhandle, and murdered nearly two dozen Hispanics. The shooter did not get away with it but the white supremacist president and his supporters still do.
What if Obama had said about white people one-tenth of the things that Trump has said about people of color? You Trump supporters would be instantly outraged! Remember your reaction to Clinton’s “deplorables” comment?
Membership in white supremacist groups is on the rise. Race based mass murderers use language that Trump spews at his rallies. Racism and xenophobia infects the internet. Hate crimes proliferate. And Trump, today’s Alabama Gov. George Wallace, has the audacity to accuse African American Congressman Elijah Cummings of being a racist while Republicans are mute. The conspiracy of silence by Republicans only supports Trumps immoral conduct and encourages white supremacists to kill. And as more and more people link Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric to racist mass murders, the president denies it and says that his words bring the country together.
People of color should not have to stand alone to defend themselves against a racist president and his supporters. White people who stand silently amongst racists contribute to the American disease of racism. White people should speak out often and loudly against racism. It’s white people, including myself, who benefit from racism. We must overcome this American malady. And this applies to racist attacks on immigrants.
Should we protect our borders? Of course. Should we let everyone in? Of course not. But why is the border focus only on the southern border? You know, the one where people of color cross? When was the last time you heard of a need to protect our northern border, the one where white people cross every day? And why is Trump not tracking down visa overstays? A 2017 study by the Center for Migration Studies concluded that 42% of the undocumented population in our country, 4.5 million people, were visa overstays. And that that number and percentage grows every year. A wall won’t keep them out. They’re already here. And we know their names. We also know the names of their sponsors.
Eight of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were immigrants. Seven foreigners signed our Constitution. Would there be a United States of America if Patrick Henry, instead of shouting, “give me liberty or give me death” had instead shouted “Go back to where you come you from!” What if the “first shot heard around the world” was not a musket at Lexington but that of colonists chanting “send him back” about Founding Father and immigrant Alexander Hamilton, born out of wedlock in the British West Indies.
Some of you Trump supporters remember being disparagingly called Okies by Californians who wanted your families to go back to where you came from during the Great Depression and dust bowl mass migrations. Do those chants, baseball bats and shotguns bring back fond memories? How about you Italian-Americans? Were your ancestors always welcomed with open arms? I’m the son of an immigrant. My mother was born in Germany. I remember walking home from high school in the good ol’ USA to see a swastika painted on the side of my house by an unknown coward. That was 50 years ago. I still feel it.
You say that Trump’s good deeds as president outweigh his racism and xenophobia? What is more important than giving human beings the respect each is entitled to? Please, tell me what is more important than human dignity? Are you a “good Christian” Trump supporter who has pocketed a few extra pieces of silver during his presidency? How did that work out for Jesus? Aren’t we all God’s children? Why do Trump supporters and Republicans in general put themselves above God and Country?
You say Trump is patriotic in the choice of his words, not disrespectful. I, too, like Trump, was born in New York City. Staten Island, New York, is my place of birth, within view of the Statue of Liberty. You remember the Statue of Liberty, don’t you? It’s the statue that for more than 100 years has encouraged foreigners, poor immigrants, political and religious outcasts, and other “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to, as Neil Diamond sang, “come to America.” It arrived in New York in the same year as Trump’s German grandfather. Perhaps Lady Liberty turned her back when our future president was born and shunned baby Donald? He didn’t get the message.
There is NO room in America for discrimination against people who don’t look like you, worship with you or speak as you speak. If you disagree, then you are part of the problem. And you can choose to be better than that.
I did. When I graduated from college, I applied to the only law school in my small state. When my application was denied, I demanded to know why. I knew a couple of the people who had been accepted by the school. Their college GPAs and law school test scores were significantly lower than mine. One was Hispanic. He was offered a scholarship. The other was female. I was told that the school was forced to implement an accelerated affirmative action program because of deemed deficiencies in the school’s diversity. I was told that my grades and score were better than many who got in.
I was reminded that I was a white, male. I was angry. But I got a job within my college degree. I moved to California and got a job. I went to law school at night as I worked during the day. And I’m proud to say that my Madera-born sons have had many more opportunities having been born in California than if they had been born in that other state. I’m not bitter. I learned from that experience. I chose to not take out the discrimination I felt against me on people who had nothing to do with what happened to me.
You say that Trump doesn’t discriminate. It’s just the way he talks. It’s his style. If you truly believe that then you won’t mind if I call you an ignorant and unpatriotic racist and xenophobe. Hey, man. It’s just the way I talk! I love you.
Do you feel upset because you are labeled as a racist for supporting a racist? Then perhaps you have an extremely small glimmer into what it feels like to be called a criminal because you are born into brown skin? Have you ever taken a moment to wonder how a black child feels when called a racial slur in school by a white child who learned the word from her parents? Have you spoken with local school counselors and administrators who sometimes must protect Muslim students from the effects of “it’s just how the other kids talk”?
I know that “Love It or Leave It” is a favorite phrase among Trump sympathizers. It, like other slogans, fits on a bumper sticker and doesn’t require much thought. But let’s think about it. If all the people who disagreed with you did leave, then you would be stuck with a Trump dictatorship.
People who live in dictatorships don’t do well. Hitler’s Germany. Mussolini’s Italy. Idi Amin’s Uganda. Presently, you might research why people are rioting in Russia, China, and Venezuela. Trump criticized the USA with MAGA to become president. He didn’t leave. And even Merle Haggard later in life softened his “Fightin’ Side of Me” views to say that one shouldn’t have to leave America to improve our country. Diverse views were healthy. He even wrote a song in 2007 called “Hillary” saying that it might be time for a woman to be president.
Please don’t think that whatever truly nice thing that you have done that did benefit a person of color is the same thing as not being racist. Having mixed race family members whom you love doesn’t preclude you from being a racist against others. Tutoring a brown child while you tell black jokes isn’t something to put on your headstone. Racism is eliminated only when your good thoughts and good deeds are consistently the same. Supporting a racist president says a lot about you.
I wish that American conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. were still alive. He, unlike those who today label themselves as conservatives, really was one. He founded the National Review magazine. The magazine is credited with stimulating the American conservative movement in the last half of the twentieth century. He also hosted a television public affairs program from 1966-1999 called Firing Line that I watched intermittently. The show discussed history, politics, people, and ideology. Buckley once said that “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” Buckley debated James Baldwin in 1965. That debate is on YouTube.
Baldwin was an African American playwright, author and activist who interpreted what it meant to be black in a white America. When someone in the debate audience suggested to Buckley that the life of blacks would be improved if more blacks could vote in Mississippi, Buckley immediately said that the problem in Mississippi was not that too few blacks voted. The problem in Mississippi was that too many whites voted. He explained that whites and blacks would be better off if voters were better educated and informed.
Given how polling information today repeatedly indicates that the base of Trump’s support tends to be less educated whites, I can only wonder what Buckley would say? I know what conservative George Will says today. He left the Republican Party in 2016, citing his disapproval of Trump. He called the GOP a cult. It has no ideas. It abandoned conservatism to embrace fear.
I wish that I were a better person. I would like to end my comments with the voice of harmony and unity. Kumbaya. But I’m angry. I, too, am an angry, old white man. But if you are a Trumpet, then my anger is different. I’m not angry because I look back fondly at the greedy, racist America of yesteryear and long to bring it back. In fact, as I look back, I wish that Native Americans had done a better job of homeland security in 1492. I’m angry because I was wrong when I believed that we were starting to leave racism and xenophobia behind when Barack Hussein Obama was elected president.
I’m an angry optimist. We have next year for 2020 hindsight. And we know that with population changes in states such as Texas, Nevada, Florida, Georgia, and others, red states will be going purple and then turning blue within the next decade. Of course, the pundits say that those new blue states won’t be as liberal as California. That’s a good thing. But while I disagree with the coastal wing of the California Democratic Party, I’m not going to chant send them back, accuse them of hating America, or demand that they apologize simply for having political views different than mine. I’ll leave that for the good Christian white supremacist Trump Republican Party.
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Charles Wieland is a retired Superior Court Judge in Madera.