By Robert A. Vella
President Trump’s dubious public remarks after the deadly domestic terrorist mass shooting in New Zealand on Friday have raised legitimate questions about his character. Many are asking:
Is President Trump a white supremacist?
In my opinion, it’s obvious that he is. Although I don’t know Trump personally, I can make that judgment based on the overwhelming evidence provided by his public persona and actions especially those as President of the United States. Do I know what’s in his heart or in his mind? Of course, not. No one without intimate knowledge of the man possibly could; and, even those who are so intimate can’t be sure either. All of us are a unique mix of many things which can and do change from circumstance to circumstance and particularly over time. Only a thorough psychological examination by highly skilled medical professionals could even attempt to accurately assess a person’s current state of mind and such science is far from perfect.
Some people who do know Trump intimately, such as his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, have openly stated that he is racist. Others patently reject that opinion such as his family members, close associates, and his political allies. Who is telling the truth? How can objective outside observers make the correct determination? To find acceptable answers, we must first examine the three levels of guilt.
Guilt by Admission
In his 1963 inauguration speech as Governor of Alabama, George Wallace proudly declared:
“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
Wallace was defiantly advocating for white supremacy during the rising civil rights movement which was demanding the desegregation of public schools. Nobody in America could deny Wallace’s racism after such a powerful admission. While civil rights advocates were appalled by his speech, many blacks actually respected Wallace’s bold honesty. For them, it was better to know up front who their enemies were than to wonder about who was persecuting them from behind white hoods.
A decade later, however, Wallace came to regret his racist past. In 1979, he admitted:
“I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.”
Guilt by Association
Former Louisiana state representative and candidate for state senate, governor, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and U.S. President, David Duke portrayed himself as a well-dressed, business-oriented, advocate for white people. He insisted, despite being a Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, that he and his organization were not “anti-black” but rather “pro-white.” When Duke resigned from the KKKK in 1980, he said that it was due to their violent activities which he couldn’t control; however, some Klansman had reportedly accused him of using the organization’s funds for his own personal purposes (years later, in 2003, he went to prison for defrauding his political supporters). Regardless, Duke’s departure from the Klan conveniently coincided with his pursuit of a career in politics which was quite enduring but largely unsuccessful.
Duke ran for office mostly as a Republican, but also as a Democrat and Populist Party candidate (he was also a member of the American Nazi Party and Reform Party where he supported Pat Buchanan’s 2000 presidential campaign). However, the GOP considered Duke as politically toxic and didn’t want anything to do with him if they could avoid it. Consequently, Duke’s political career could never gain any real momentum, and he served just a single term in the Louisiana state house.
More of a charlatan than anything else, Duke was branded as a racist not just because of his stated white supremacist and anti-Semitic views, but also because of his associations with such hate groups; and, rightly so in my opinion.
Guilt by Action
Since the very beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump’s behavior and official actions provide ample circumstantial evidence of his racism. From his open hostility towards NFL players who were simply exercising their free speech rights by kneeling during the national anthem, to his description of violent white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville as “very fine people,” to his labeling of Latin American and African nations as “shithole countries,” to his constant barrage of insults and abusive immigration policies targeting Central Americans, and to his callous disregard for the increasing incidence of domestic terrorism committed by white supremacists (e.g. the mass shooting massacres at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand), an accurate picture of the man can be readily seen.
It does not matter what’s actually in Trump’s heart and mind. It does not matter that he doesn’t openly describe himself as a white supremacist like George Wallace did. It does not matter that he doesn’t have a long history of white supremacist associations like David Duke does. What matters is how Donald Trump conducts himself as president. It is his official behavior which defines the man and his racism. Trump is what he does, not what he wants us to believe.
Some, especially his Republican supporters, dismiss Trump’s racist behavior as just political rhetoric designed to energize his xenophobic base. But, this is a weak excuse at best. To practice racism in the name of political expediency is indistinguishable from racism in the name of white supremacy for those who are the victims of racism. A bullet fired from the gun of hate kills the same as a bullet fired to curry political favor. Suffering and death see no difference.