Let’s not mince words: Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist.
Some will think this an outrageous label to apply to the frontrunner for a major party’s presidential nomination. Ordinarily, I would agree that name-calling is part of what’s wrong with our politics.
But there is a greater imperative not to be silent in the face of demagoguery. Trump in this campaign has gone after African Americans, immigrants, Latinos, Asians, women, Muslims and now the disabled. His pattern brings to mind the famous words of Martin Neimoller, the pastor and concentration camp survivor (“First they came for the socialists…”) that Ohio Gov. John Kasich adroitly used in a video last week attacking Trump’s hateful broadsides.
It might be possible to explain away any one of Trump’s outrages as a mistake or a misunderstanding. But at some point you’re not merely saying things that could be construed as bigoted: You are a bigot.
It has been more than a quarter century since Trump took out ads in New York newspapers calling for the death penalty for “criminals of every age” after five black and Latino teens were implicated in the Central Park jogger case. The young men, convicted and imprisoned, were later cleared by DNA evidence and the confession of a serial rapist – and Trump called their wrongful-conviction settlement a “disgrace.”
Since then, Trump led the “birther” movement challenging President Obama’s standing as a natural-born American; used various vulgar expressions to refer to women; spoke of Mexico sending rapists and other criminals across the border; called for rounding up and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants; had high-profile spats with prominent Latino journalists and news outlets; mocked Asian accents; let stand a charge made in his presence that Obama is a Muslim and that Muslims are a “problem” in America; embraced the notion of forcing Muslims to register in a database; falsely claimed thousands of Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey; tweeted bogus statistics asserting that most killings of whites are done by blacks; approved of the roughing up of a black demonstrator at one of his events; and publicly mocked the movements of New York Times (and former Washington Post) journalist Serge Kovaleski, who has a chronic condition limiting mobility.
He hasn’t gone after Jews recently, but his backers have, and Trump was uncharacteristically silent when prominent booster Ann Coulter, responding to Republican candidates’ support for Israel in a debate, tweeted: “How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?”
Though all Trump supporters surely aren’t racists or bigots, even a cursory examination of social media reveals that many are. Those supporting Trump tend to be white, less-educated and middle-aged and older – those who are anxious and angry because they are losing ground as the American economy changes. An analysis of the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll by my colleague Scott Clement found that Trump, who has the support of 14 percent of registered voters overall, does particularly well among white men who aren’t college-educated (24 percent) and white, non-evangelical Protestants (27 percent), but gets only 3 percent of non-whites and 5 percent of those under 30 years old.
This doesn’t mean Republicans or conservatives generally are bigoted. I wouldn’t label any other candidate in the GOP field that way (though Carson’s remarks disqualifying Muslims from the presidency crossed the line) and Trump, though leading in the polls, lacks the support of most. Thirty-two percent of Republicans supported Trump in the latest Post poll, which means 86 percent of the overall American electorate hasn’t embraced him.
Trump’s rivals for the nomination are slowly and haltingly finding the courage to call the man what he is. Chris Christie on Monday criticized Trump’s treatment of Kovaleski. John Kasich, after last week’s Neimoller video, issued an ad Monday showing Trump’s mockery of Kovaleski’s disability and saying Trump isn’t “worthy” of the presidency.
Some Trump defenders claim the candidate isn’t racist but simply “careless and undisciplined,” as John Hinderaker of the conservative website PowerLine put it. When I called in last week to a radio show Hinderaker hosted, he defended the treatment of the black man at Trump’s rally (“he was obviously being disruptive and he was a big burly guy”), Trump’s tweet falsely blaming African Americans for most killings of white people (“he just fell for some bad data”) and Trump’s embrace of a Muslim database (“that was brought up by a reporter”).