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Donald Trump's Comments Has Deep Roots in a Long Legacy of Racism and State Violence

Donald Trump is the face of a political system mired in corruption, an economic system that is as ruthless as
it is authoritarian, and a culture that has lost its critical embrace of historical memory. (Photo by Gage

Trumping America

Rather than viewing Trump’s comments as a political virus that has deep roots in nativist apoplexy and a long legacy of racism and state violence, his despicable remarks are reduced to an uncivil rant by a bullying member of the billionaire class with no reference to the unmarked status of white privilege and its underlying logic of white supremacy.

By Henry A. Giroux
Donald Trump lit up the mainstream media spectacle by stating in his presidential candidacy announcement, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.... They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." (1) The mainstream press could not let such an opportune racist outburst go unnoticed. After all, it was perfect fodder for fueling the corporate media's never-ending spectacle of entertainment. Mouthed from one of America’s favorite billionaire buffoons, his racist and xenophobic statements have been defended as brave, dismissed as uncivil, or set aside as the colorful discourse of a cantankerous, rich eccentric.

Such commentary collapses into the realm of the personal by privatizing racism. That is, it ignores the deep seated contours of systemic racism and xenophobia and the conditions that promote it, instead focusing on the individual who spouts such poisonous racist language. Rather than viewing Trump’s comments as a political virus that has deep roots in nativist apoplexy and a long legacy of racism and state violence, his despicable remarks are reduced to an uncivil rant by a bullying member of the billionaire class with no reference to the unmarked status of white privilege and its underlying logic of white supremacy. Such commentary at its core is superficial, duplicitous, and represents a flight from responsibility and a politics of denial.

Not only did mainstream media replay Trump's statements over and over again, without any serious criticism, but also they filled the 24/7 news cycle with endless interviews in which Trump defended his remarks, proving the obvious about his arrogance and stupidity. Treated more as an indication of Trump's no-holds-barred personality than as another example of the myth of the United States' claim to the comfortable status of an alleged postracial society, Trump's remarks were viewed as indiscrete and colorful rather than symptomatic of the racial hatred lying beneath the culture of dominant politics.

The real issue that needs to be examined is what kind of society produces a Donald Trump.

The racial cleansing machine was in full operating mode as the dominant media apparatuses rushed to interview a variety of faux commentators about how they felt about Trump's remarks with little attempt to take the high ground and challenge many of the remarks that were made. On the contrary, the only truth or sense of injustice displayed by CNN, NBC, CBS and other major news outlets lies in the assumption that the meaning of any issue rests with making sure that the public is exposed to a narrow array of views in the interest of balance and journalistic objectivity.

According to this logic, balance - not morality, justice or evidence - is the ultimate arbiter of truth. Hence, Trump's vicious, racist remarks enabled the mainstream media to let the American people hear from Sen. Ted Cruz who argued that he liked Donald Trump and was glad he was bringing attention to the issue of "illegal immigration." (2) Former Sen. Rick Santorum joined Cruz in praising Trump for focusing on "illegal immigration," absent of any serious criticism of his racist remarks. (3) Other conservative politicians such as Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Gov. Rick Perry condemned Trump's remarks but nothing was said in the press about how they had played a key role in supporting legislation that was both vicious and racist. (4)

A Long History of Racist Political Candidates

Liberals denounced Trump but said little about the history of both major parties in which policies were developed that undermined the welfare system, created the racist incarceration state and supported a tough-on-crime drug war that decimated Black communities. For instance, Jonathan Chait seems less concerned about a Republican Party that has promoted a number of racist policies such as trying to disable the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and militarizing the southern border than he is about "conservative thought leaders [who] feel compelled to defend Trump's nativist ramblings." (5) Chait's confusion is evident in the title of his article, "Why Are Conservatives Defending Donald Trump?" which should read "Should We Be Surprised That Conservatives Are Defending Donald Trump?"

The mainstream media, conservatives and a number of liberal commentators seem to have allowed Trump's ode to racial cleansing to cloud their sense of recent history. After all, it was only a few decades ago that Kirk Fordice, a right-wing Republican, ended his victorious campaign for governor - orchestrated largely as an attack on crime and welfare cheaters - with a still photograph of a Black woman and her baby. (6) Of course, this was just a few years after George H.W. Bush ran his famous Willie Horton ad and a year before Dan Quayle, in the 1992 presidential campaign, used the racially coded category of welfare to attack a sitcom character, Murphy Brown.

More recently, there is the incident in which the press revealed that then Texas Gov. Rick Perry was "hosting fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters at his family's secluded West Texas hunting camp, a place known by the name painted in block letters across a large, flat rock standing upright at its gated entrance. 'N*****head,' it read." And, of course, the racist invectives aimed at President Obama by a number of Republicans are legion. (7) Bob Herbert in 2009 cited a number of racist incidents aimed at President Obama. He writes:

When a gorilla escaped from a zoo in Columbia, S.C., a longtime Republican activist, Rusty DePass, described it on his Facebook page as one of Michelle Obama's ancestors. Among the posters at [a] gathering of conservative protesters in Washington was one that said, 'The zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin' African.' These are bits and pieces of an increasingly unrestrained manifestation of racism directed toward Mr. Obama that is being fed by hate-mongers on talk radio and is widely tolerated, if not encouraged, by Republican Party leaders. It's disgusting, and it's dangerous. But it's the same old filthy racism that has been there all along and that has been exploited by the G.O.P. since the 1960s.

Frank Rich, at a different time, responded to what can be called the ever-present historical amnesia by politicians and media pundits about the overt racism displayed by the Republican Party in terms that are as apt today as they were when first written. He writes:

Tell that to George W. Bush, who beat John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary after what Newsweek called "a smear campaign" of leaflets, emails and telephone calls calling attention to the McCains' "black child" (an adopted daughter from Bangladesh). Or to Sonny Perdue, the [former] Republican governor of Georgia, elected in part by demagoguing the sanctity of the Confederate flag. (8)

More insightful, liberal commentators such as Eugene Robinson called Trump a "farce to be reckoned with" while Juan Cole argued that Trump failed to use more discrete racial codes because "billionaires and fabulously wealthy people in general are surrounded by yes-men." (9) While Robinson and Cole may be right, their commentary appears to miss the mark. Adding to the chorus of liberal denunciations were the public announcements by a number of corporations that they were cutting their business ties with Trump because of the offensive nature of his remarks. Largely praised in the media, such corporations were applauded for taking the high moral ground as most commentators conveniently forgot that these were the same corporations battling unions, polluting the environment, underpaying their workers and exercising an economic chokehold over the commanding institutions of American life.

What Kind of Society Produces Donald Trump?

In response to all of this fanfare over Trump's remarks, I argue that the recent widespread public and media focus given to his display of racism, narcissism and arrogance misses the point. I think the real issue that needs to be examined is what kind of society produces a Donald Trump.

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