President Donald Trump has once again stepped into the doggy-doo of comments that point to being a racist. Tweeted Trump:
The House of Representatives voted 240-187 to condemn Trump’s tweets as racist. The vote largely followed party lines with the exception of four Republicans who voted against their president.
Elsewhere in the supposed Land of the Free, ICE raids are being carried out to apprehend any undocumented people. And migrants/asylum seekers are being detained in what are likened to concentration camps.
The charge of racism has plagued the entire duration of the Trump presidency.
In the run up to the 2016 US presidential election, Hillary Clinton described half of Donald Trump’s base as “deplorables” holding racist attitudes. Indeed, many of Trump’s policies do negatively target people of color and leave working Americans worse off. But is the question of whether Trump is a racist not a distraction for a bigger elephant in the room?
On 11 January 2018 while discussing immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries United States president Donald Trump was quoted as asking, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville was quick to denounce Trump: “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”
Democratic senator Dick Durbin – who was at the meeting with Trump – affirmed the quotation: “Shithole was the exact word used once not twice but repeatedly.”
Trump denied the quotation attributed to him, and he denied being a racist. Republican senator David Perdue, who was also at the meeting, called Durbin’s claim “a gross misrepresentation.”
Nonetheless, criticism of Trump was widespread. The effect will be minimal as Trump appeals to a different base. He plays the patriot’s card to curry favor with the working masses. Hence his nostalgic campaign slogan was “Making America Great, Again?”
What was Trump’s plan to reestablish the greatness of America?
PolitiFact noted that Trump’s campaign promises were targeted at changes to immigration, trade, taxes and foreign policy. Of the top 10 campaign promises, five are clearly aimed against non-White countries.
The pledge to build a wall along the US-Mexican border hearkens to keeping brown-skinned Mexicans out; and to up the ante, Trump stated he’d even make Mexico pay for the wall. Mexico is a country that the US fought, defeated, and forced to cede over half its territory.
A second promise was to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the US. And on 27 January 2017, Trump signed an executive order halting all refugee admissions and temporarily barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. All are countries that the US has attacked militarily in recent times.
Trump then called for tariffs on goods made in China and Mexico. China represents the largest trade deficit for the US. But why Mexico? The US’s trade deficit with Mexico is smaller than that with the European Union (or even just Germany). Hence, the call for imposing tariffs appears ethnically targeted, although Japan, the US’s third largest trade deficit partner, is excluded from the call for imposing tariffs. Japan, however, is a crucial lynchpin for US military objectives in East Asia, hosting several US bases.
Although Trump says he opposed the invasion of Iraq, he maintains that the US ought to have kept the oil fields in Iraq. Nonetheless, he desires another chance to get the oil.
Keeping the oil, however, would require an invasion, long-lasting occupation, and a costly reconstruction.
Trump’s Middle East policy has been intensely and unapologetically pro-Israel as demonstrated by the appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner as presidential advisor and assigning him responsibility for negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine. It is a questionable appointment beyond the apparent nepotism as the Jewish Kushner and his family is deeply connected with the Israeli government and Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu. Thus, it is unsurprising that Trump went against decades of US policy and United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 and recognized Jerusalem/Al Quds as the capital of Israel. UNGA 181 had designated Jerusalem as a corpus separatum to be governed by an international regime. The US embassy move was opposed by a 14 to 1 vote of the UN Security Council, the lone vote against being the US veto. The UNGA also weighed in against the embassy move by a vote of 128 to 9.
In essence, the US has picked sides, marginalized the UN, and is breaking international law by defying the special status of Jerusalem.
Trump has supported Israeli goals through US violence against the Syrian government. He also pleased Netanyahu by decertifying Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement. This he did despite it being contrary to the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the P5+1, and the US government that Tehran is in compliance.
Iran is being backed into an economic corner by sanctions. The worse case scenario is WWIII. Maladroit political posturing and military brinksmanship could foolishly unleash the forces of a war in the region that might spread to engulf the world.
Trump – chagrined that a nuclear deterrent, purportedly within range of continental America, has been achieved by the Democratic Republic of Korea – spoke ominously to the UNGA that “if it [the US] is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” First, North Korea pledges a no-first-use of nuclear weapons. Second, no rational person would suggest for a moment that North Korea would initiate an attack against the US or its allies. Consequently, serious analysts look upon Trump’s genocidal threat as dangerous bloviating.
North Korea’s neighbor, the economic powerhouse China also engenders Trump’s undiplomatic scorn. From a Chinese viewpoint, Trump must be considered a mixed bag.
The slights are many, from offering China’s Communist Party chairman Xi Jinping a burger dinner, side-stepping the one-China policy, haranguing China on North Korea, to complaining about the trade balance as “very unfair and one-sided.” Said Trump, “… what [Xi’s] done is sucked all of our jobs and he’s sucked the money right out of our country…”
Another flashpoint is the South China Sea where the US insists on causing waves by sending warships.
Thus China felt the need, according to some reports, to intentionally unveil China’s most powerful ICBM, the Dongfeng-41, at the time of Trump’s inauguration. Konstantin Sivkov, president of the Moscow-based Academy of Geopolitical Problems, stated: “This is China’s response to threats pronounced by the new US president, Donald Trump.”
Looming over the Pivot to Asia that Trump inherited from his predecessor, Barack Obama, are the dark economic clouds of Trump’s trade strategy that has the debt-ridden US mired in a trade war with China, a spat that is threatening the world economy.
On the Homefront
While honoring Navajo veterans of World War II at the White House, Trump caused a brouhaha by referencing “Pocahontas.” An op-ed in the New York Times excoriated Trump who “once again underscored the degree to which he is openly hostile to people of color — I call that racism and bigotry” … “The Trump Doctrine is White Supremacy.”
Is “Pocahontas” a racial slur? For words to be a slur, then there must be intent. At worst, Trump is an open racist; at best, Trump comes across as blithely ignorant.
In the vein of actions speaking louder than words, Trump’s signing of the Dakota Access Order dismayed the Standing Rock Sioux, aligned Indigenous peoples, and environmentalists opposed to the pipeline project fearing it will contaminate drinking water. Tom B.K. Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, released a statement calling Trump’s actions “insane and extreme, and nothing short of attacks on our ancestral homelands as Indigenous peoples.”
That White supremacism flourishes among a segment of Americans was attested to by violence that flared between the extreme right and counter protestors in Charlottesville, VA that led to the killing of Heather Heyer and injury to 19 people. Trump condemned the murder saying, “I thought what took place was a horrible moment for the country, but there are two sides to a story.” Two days later he repeated his condemnation of “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”
Likeliest there was violence on both sides; seldom will one side remain completely passive in the face of violence against it. However, what critics were seeking was a clear-cut denunciation of racism from Trump without the obfuscation of which sides were involved in the violence.
Trump’s ire was also evoked by the peaceful protests of National Football League (predominantly Black) players who were taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. This was started by blackballed quarterback Colin Kaepernick (no pun intended, but Kaepernick has since been denied employment by the NFL’s all-White team ownership – excluding Pakistani-born owner Shahid Khan who showed solidarity with his players against Trump’s divisive comments) who took a public stand against systemic oppression, police brutality, and the lack of justice for people of color in the US. Right-wingers, however, transmogrified the protests into disrespect for the flag and the US military.
Trump had a suggestion: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired.’”
Trump called the taking of the knee “a total disrespect for our heritage; that’s a total disrespect for everything that we stand for.”
Among Trump’s “we” is a section of the working class whose “cultural anxiety” Trump successfully tapped into at the ballot box. But bolstering military spending and tax cuts that preponderantly reward the wealthy (right-wing Fortune magazine called it a win for big business do little to ease the economic plight of working Americans. The liberal magazine Nation argued that Trump has worsened the worker’s situation:
The rollback of labor rights and protections since Trump took office is staggering. It puts worker safety at risk and guarantees that many workers will earn less, but that’s not all. Measures to help victims of discrimination receive redress are on the scrap heap. Unions are running scared.
Race and Politics
Aside from being ineloquent, is Trump appreciably worse than previous US presidents? A dozen US presidents, including so-called founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were slave owners.
Moreover, is the US not a nation state established through warring against the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and depriving them of their territories?
The first US president George Washington regarded Indigenous peoples as wolves: “both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.” The Haudenosaunee called Washington the “town destroyer” for demolishing their villages.
Thomas Jefferson boasted: “in war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them.”
Andrew Jackson referred to the Indigenous peoples as “savage dogs” and bragged of preserving a scalp collection.
Theodore Roosevelt’s racism was unabashed, “I suppose I should be ashamed to say that I take the western view of the Indian. I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the dead Indian, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian.”
Is Trump a Racist?
Trump denies being a racist. Orrin Hatch, the Republican senator for Utah, agreed, “I know Donald Trump. I don’t think there is a racist bone in his body.”
Trump’s policy plank seems to indicate a racially motivated policy. But does the policy substantially differ from that which the Democrats pursued during their days in political office?
The ICE raids of today hearken back to the Palmer Raids to round up immigrants in the early 20th century. Concentration camps are also not new to the US as Indigenous peoples and Japanese Americans found themselves interred in such facilities.
The focus on whether Trump is racist, and whether Trump has genuine concern for American workers, serves as distraction. A spotlight is usually shone on American leaders who will invariably claim that the US is a beacon on the hill, an indispensable nation, an exceptional nation. Leaders have a role, but they function within a system. History reveals that the US is a system born out of racism, a system whose Declaration of Independence derided the original occupants of Turtle Island as “merciless Indian savages” and removed them from their land, a system that exploited slave labor, a system that currently exploits wage slaves, and is a war-based economy.
Many countries in the world can be described as economic backwaters, yet much of the blame for this can be laid at the feet of the White world for, among other things, a history of colonialism, slavery, economic exploitation, support for dictators, corrupt lending practices, and odious debt.
Trump has had an embattled presidency. A section of the system is fighting Trump – who is also a part of the system. Removing Trump would change the face in the Oval Office, but the system would continue. Deplorable as Trump is, the biggest enemy of a moral universe is the system of militarist-capitalism.