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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Trump card: racism

Donald Trump is the quintessential jerk.  He is everything that people of good will and good purpose try to avoid.  He is petty, mean-minded, insulting, egregious, possessed by an infantile egotism, and without even the pretense of integrity.   Trump is significant, however.  He represents America's underbelly, that reptilian impulse of the moral dinosaur raging for territory and dominance.  

Trump's dalliance with the notion of running for president has made him the instrument of revelation about the so-called tea party movement.  In his crass appeal to the tea party people as he tries to form them into his base, he has defined the cohesive points of the movement.  Racism is a paramount one.  

As the tea party movement took form, the demonstrators who led in the front lines of the movement and acted as spokespersons were blatantly racist,  displaying signs with racist representations of Obama, racist-tinged slogans, and all the symptoms of race-based contempt that has direct lineage to Jim Crow.  All the claims of people attending tea party events and saying that they saw no signs of racist attitude are disingenuous denial.  The tea party discourse contains all the old racial condemnations, some of them verbatim quotations from old KKK pamphlets, and all the old denigrating stereotypes.  The partiers are crafty enough to avoid overt use of the n-word, but the semantics are identical.  

Trump's emphasis on the birther claims about Obama's actual place of  birth revived and clarified the origins and purpose of the denial of citizenship.  From the "construction" of the Constitution, which decreed African Americans slaves as 3/5  human, to the Dred Scott decision in 1856, the denial of full human status and the rights that accrue has invoked the country of birth and ancestry as disqualifying factors.  The birther claim that Obama was not born in Hawaii but in Kenya and is, therefore, not a full citizen eligible to be president is a repeat of an old ploy for denying black people full human status. 

The other defamation Trump invokes is his assertion that Obama did poorly as a college student but got into the Harvard law school anyway, implying that any academic success he had was provided as a form of welfare and that he did not earn his credits on his own.  That charge resonates with the old stereotypes of laziness, low intelligence, and a lack of gumption and talents. 

Trump practices what has become the tea party defense.  When challenged about the racial stereotypes the plaint is that one cannot criticize Obama without being called racist.  What gives the lie to that plaint is that, like Trump, the tea partiers do not criticize Obama's policies; they launch ad hominem attacks against the man.  And even if they do find fault with a policy, they insist that the policy is defective because the mind and  character that produced it is.  

An erstwhile contributor to the NVB who is now a media analyst compiled a long list of epithets from South Dakota blogs based on racial stereotypes.  The list is long, but some recurring favorites include descriptors such as clueless, not up to the job, mind of a wind sock, free of all thought, confirmed liar, dishonest, childish, welfare addicted, steeped in Marxism, and anti-American.    The authors, more accurately the repeaters, of these phrases are the people to whom Trump caters.

Major figures in the legacy media have called Trump out.   Fareed Zakaria has gently called Trumps charges fantasies.  Bob Schieffer bluntly called him racist. 

One of the most eloquent and damning rebukes of Trump is from David Remnick in The New Yorker:  

What is truly disturbing is the game Trump has been participating in, the conspiracy thinking he was playing with. And here the polls—to the extent that they can be taken as hard fact—tell a disturbing story, in which no small part of the country has believed in a variety of tales about Barack Obama. There is the birther fantasy; the fantasy that Bill Ayers wrote “Dreams from My Father”; the fantasy that the President has some other father, and not Barack Obama, Sr.; the fantasy that Obama got into Harvard Law School with the help of a Saudi prince and the Nation of Islam. There is a veritable fantasy industry at work online and in the book-publishing industry; there are dollars to be made.

The cynicism of the purveyors of these fantasies is that they know very well what they are playing at, the prejudices they are fanning: that Obama is foreign, a fake, incapable of writing a book, incapable of intellectual achievement. Let’s say what is plainly true (and what the President himself is reluctant to say): these rumors, this industry of fantasy, are designed to arouse a fear of the Other, of an African-American man with a white American mother and a black Kenyan father. Obama, as a politician, is clearly not a radical; he is a center-left pragmatist. If anything, he believes deeply in his capacity to lead with subtle diplomacy and political maneuvering, with a highly realistic sense of the possible; in fact, to many he is maddeningly pragmatic.

Let’s be even plainer: to do what Trump has done (and he is only the latest and loudest and most spectacularly hirsute) is a conscious form of race-baiting, of fear-mongering.

The Tea Party types are doing their best to take the country back:  all the way back to Jim Crow and beyond to the Civil War. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States