The presidency of Donald Trump has stoked the flames of racism across the country. While we cannot blame President Trump for lighting the flames of social unrest and racial division, he has certainly used his bully pulpit to pour fuel on the flames.
Trump’s history of racist behavior extends long before he ran for president. In the 1970s the Dept. of Justice sued Trump’s family business for refusing to rent to tenants on the basis of color and race. In 1989, Trump reportedly paid $85,000 to print full-page ads in four New York newspapers calling for the conviction and death penalty of “the Central Park Five”, five black teens who were falsely accused of raping a Central Park jogger. The teens were subsequently exonerated after a confession from the actual rapist in 2002. During President Obama’s term in office, Trump became the most public spokesperson for the “birther” conspiracy which asserted that Obama was born in Kenya, not in Hawaii, and therefore ineligible by law to be president. Obama later released his long-form birth certificate proving his birthplace.
Trump began his campaign for the presidency declaring that Mexico was sending “rapist and drug dealers” into our country. He later disparaged the credibility of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a native of Indiana who is of Mexican heritage, in an attempt to falsely imply that he could not render an impartial ruling over the class action lawsuit against Trump University because of his heritage. Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, called Trump’s assertion about Curiel’s heritage “racist”. Nevertheless, it is not completely clear when President Trump became the poster child for white supremacy in America. However, he has done very little to distance himself from the rhetoric and agendas of such groups. One could argue that Trump’s support amongst white nationalists and other hate groups was solidified when he openly rejected the acceptance of immigrants of color from “s*thole countries”, when he locked the children of immigrants in cages, when he called for a ban of Muslims entering the country, when he hired Steve Bannon, founder Breitbart News – a self-proclaimed platform for the Alt-Right as his chief advisor, or when he called white nationalist and neo-Nazis who marched in the streets of Charlottesville “fine people.” Perhaps it was when he called NFL players who chose to kneel in protest against police brutality “sons of b**ches”, or when he stood on the dais at a recent campaign rally proudly proclaimed, “I am a nationalist.” One could also consider the moment when he sent troops to the border to stop we he declared “an invasion” of sick and desperate migrants from requesting asylum. Nonetheless, Trump’s racist dog whistles have inarguably been a catalyst of social unrest and have now become a proverbial bullhorn for racist groups to rally behind the Republican Party.
While it is clear that racism has always been a staple of American society, it has not since the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, been more overtly embedded within the political strategies of Republican candidates for office, many of which, with the exception of those who are retiring from office, have remained silent on the racist remarks and belligerently brazen antics of the president. Trump has demanded loyalty from Republican policymakers in exchange for a broadened base wroth with once fringe ideological policies that are now pulling the Republican Party farther to the right and are currently contributing to the ever-increasing sociopolitical tribalism. Trump has openly ostracized those within his party who have refused to “accept his embrace.” At a now infamous press conference at the White House following the mid-term elections where Democrats regained the house, Trump attempted to shame fellow Republicans who did not accept his invitation to rally for them or align with his agenda. He lampooned them with an assertion that they lost their races for failure to associate themselves with his platform.
With racism at its core, this tribalism fueled by the president’s own incessantly violent and divisive rhetoric has produced anger and fear within is most loyal supporters. This anger and fear fueled mostly by debunked racist conspiracy theories that Trump has often shared via Twitter, has led to a wave of violence against innocent people of color, Trump’s staunchest political critics, and most notably against mainstream targets of Trump’s campaign rally rants such as Rep. Maxine Waters, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and CNN.
There is a way to end the Trumpian wave of racial intolerance. The solution requires Americans from both major parties and all ethnicities to stand together, fight for each other, acknowledge our differences, and turn them into bridges across the raging moat of fear, hate, and despair. We change the tides of hatred by voting for candidates across the political spectrum that proactively resist policies that create social and economic disparities that adversely affect people of color. We have a responsibility as citizens of this great country to hold our political leaders accountable when they move our country in a direction that does not create social and economic equity for the most marginalized groups. Finally, we must all recognize that aside from the divisive social construct of race, there is truly only one race, the human race.
Antoine Pierce is an author and President of the Better Boys Initiative in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.