Do you think President Donald Trump is a racist? Even if you think it’s an awkward question to ask, we should all think about our answer, especially Republicans and those who voted for Trump. If your answer is yes, you’re morally bound to do something about it.
I pose the question not because of something Trump has said specifically, but because of the punishment imposed on Steve King, a Republican congressman from Iowa, after he made some racist comments recently.
In an interview with The New York Times earlier this month, King posed this question: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
Apparently King needs to be reminded that these words are offensive because white nationalists and white supremacists, claiming to be acting in defense of racial purity, caused the deaths of millions of people during the Holocaust and throughout history, and have been involved in an untold number of attacks since then. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 2017 there were 121 neo-Nazi groups and 72 white supremacist groups operating in the United States.
King, who has a long history of making racist remarks — and who once claimed that some immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert” — wasn’t expelled from Congress after his comments were published by the Times, but was removed from all his committee seats in the House of Representatives. Other representatives are calling for his resignation.
But if King has been punished for his remarks, should Trump, who has also made racist comments, be punished as well? Can a president be punished in the same way as a lawmaker?
In a recent episode of “60 Minutes,” Anderson Cooper asked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman congresswoman from New York, if she thought Trump was a racist. Her answer was unequivocal: “Yeah, yeah. No question.”
Later, on Twitter, the 29-year-old representative — the youngest woman ever elected to the House — went into more detail: “The president defended neo-Nazis who murdered a woman in Charlottesville. The Department of Justice sued him for not renting to black tenants. He launched his campaign by calling Mexicans ‘rapists.’ He banned Muslims. The president is racist. And that should make you uncomfortable.”
Trump did indeed kick off his presidential campaign in June 2015 by focusing on Mexican immigrants. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
That is an openly racist remark.
But there’s more. In 2016, Trump suggested that Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge then presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University, could not be impartial due to his ethnicity. Trump said in a CNN interview then that the case represented a conflict of interest because Trump wanted to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and Curiel was “of Mexican heritage.”
Believing that someone cannot do their job well because of their racial or ethnic background is one of the worst manifestations of racism. And that’s the thinking Trump played into. (It should be clarified that Judge Curiel, whose parents are Mexican, was, in fact, born in the state of Indiana.)
The president doesn’t think he is racist. “I’m the least racist person that you’ve ever met,” he said in a TV interview with CNN’s Don Lemon in late 2015.
It’s impossible to get into Trump’s head. I don’t know what’s in there. But I am well aware of what has come out of his mouth. And what I’ve heard are racist remarks.
What kind of punishment does a president who has said such things deserve? The only thing worse than a politician who unashamedly voices his prejudices is a group that tolerates his views, cheers him on and emulates his behavior. We have known about Trump’s racism for a long time, yet some 62 million Americans still voted for him.
But King’s punishment indicates that a change may be coming. I hope it goes beyond that.