Editorial: Why Does Donald Trump Avoid the Word “Racism”?

As mostly peaceful demonstrations continue across the U.S., Donald Trump has not only avoided addressing the systemic racism in the U.S. that motivated the protests, he avoids even saying the word, “racism.” That is, except when he is defending himself against an accusation that he is a racist.

According to an ABC News poll, “74 percent of Americans view the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer as a sign of an underlying racial injustice problem.”

In the past week, numerous leaders and public figures, both Democrat and Republican, have publicly condemned racism in the U.S.—the racism that led to the murder of George Floyd and other African Americans, by police.

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), a Trump apologist, acknowledged that many Americans see the recent killings of African Americans George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor as “the latest disturbing chapters in our long, unfinished American struggle to ensure that equal justice under law is not conditional on the color of one’s skin.”

Trump has been largely silent about racism, and has repeatedly conflated the peaceful protesters with others who have rioted and looted at the scenes of demonstrations. The effect is that his message of “law and order” and of violence against demonstrators seem more reasonable and even heroic, to his base.

“….These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Trump tweeted on May 29. (Twitter flagged the tweet with a warning, but did not remove it.)

The phrase, ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” was first used in 1967 by then-Miami police Chief Walter Headley, and directed at young black men.

Despite Trump’s frequent tweets about the demonstrations, it took him two days to tweet about George Floyd’s death, though the disturbing video of the white police officer pinning Floyd down on the pavement with a knee to Floyd’s neck until Floyd died had been widely circulated.

“My heart goes out to George’s family and friends. Justice will be served!” Trump tweeted.

When Trump finally commented publicly (outside of Twitter) about Floyd’s death, his comments didn’t directly mention racism, but instead only acknowledged the pain of people who have “been through a lot.”

Trump also said, “The family of George is entitled to justice and the people of Minnesota are entitled to live in safety. Law and order will prevail.”

As with so many of Trump’s comments, they were vague enough and multi-purpose enough to satisfy his base in several ways. On one level, the base could use them to defend Trump against an accusation of racism. (“See, he is acknowledging that ‘they’ have been through a lot. He said George’s family deserves justice. That shows he’s not a racist.”) On another level, one could interpret them as showing strength (“He’s going to make sure those bad, looting protesters get what’s coming to them.”)

In the days that have followed, Trump has continued and even amplified his “law and order” rhetoric and signaling to his base regarding the demonstrations that are still taking place daily around the country. In his June 1 address about the demonstrations, Trump slipped in some remarks about defending 2nd Amendment rights:

“I am mobilizing all available federal resources — civilian and military — to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.”

Who among Trump’s base did not interpret Trump’s remarks as a call to arms–  an invitation to the right-wing militia folks to step in and “help” with crowd control during the demonstrations?

Many white people are uncomfortable talking about race and racism, even if they hate it. Many others pretend or imagine that it doesn’t really exist, or that it’s “overblown.” But the blatant, hate-filled racist injustice that stared us all in the face by way of a video of George Lloyd being murdered by a police officer should be enough get almost anyone upset and talking about it. What president (or any decent human being) would not have been moved to immediately address his citizens’ outrage and pain? Our president, Donald J. Trump.

Even so, why has Trump not even pretended to care or be concerned for the millions of people of color in the U.S. whose lives are fraught with the effects of racism? Why has he not even uttered the word “racism,” acknowledged that it’s a national problem, or condemned it?

It’s because Donald Trump knows that his base is not interested. And Donald Trump is only interested in pandering to his base, who serve as his narcissistic reflection. Donald Trump only condemns what he thinks his base will praise him for condemning. He is only outraged when he perceives that someone has insulted or disagreed with him. And he is only moved by what impacts him and his re-election prospects.

“The president is always cognizant of how certain phrases are going to be interpreted by his hardcore base,” says Mark Anthony Neal, chair of the Department of African & African American Studies at Duke University. “He’s never going to talk about systematic racism in that way because he knows that’s something his base is not interested in and doesn’t want to hear.”

Donald Trump’s base doesn’t like it when someone accuses them of racism. Even if they acknowledge that racism exists, they don’t like seeing it as a problem that they’re a part of. And even if they see it as a problem, they don’t think it’s really a very big problem. They see the people who are the victims of racism—the immigrants and migrants and people of color—as the problem. They see Donald Trump as the one to solve the problem.

Donald Trump knows all of that, and he knows that his base wants to hear that it’s ok for them to blame “those people” for what’s wrong in this country, and for all of their feelings. He knows, too, that that adding a second amendment dog whistle, even out of context, makes them prick up their ears for an opportunity to exercise them, as in opposing protesters (it doesn’t matter to them whether they represent Black Lives Matter or whether they’re opportunists looking to make some trouble. Donald Trump has muddied the difference for them). Trump knows that condemning racism might make his base begin to question whether he still has their backs.

Why has Donald Trump not publicly condemned racism? Why, indeed.

Pres. Trump asked how he plans to address systemic racism  |  ABC News

President Trump makes remarks about protests | News 19 WLTX

Editorial: Donald Trump’s Opportunity to Show Up as President Has Passed

Donald Trump has failed this country over and over in the past 3 1/2 years, but the murder by police last week of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, along with the nation’s ensuing distress, offered Trump another opportunity to show up as president. Alas, Trump once again chose not to accept the opportunity.
Racism has always thrived in the United States. Donald Trump didn’t start it, and though he can’t singlehandedly stop it, either, he has a powerful platform from which he could condemn the systemic racism that infiltrates American institutions, and that has led to the brutality and murder of so many people of color, including George Floyd.
We’ve all witnessed how Donald Trump’s base hangs on his every word and places their trust in him, despite his cheating in business, cheating on his wife, degrading women, making fun of disabled people, telling more than 18,000 lies while in office (as documented by The Washington Post), and having a long list of corrupt close associates. Imagine if Trump said words that condemned the racism and supported those who want change. Imagine how his base might, though momentarily confused, begin to change their rhetoric.
Clearly, the above scenario is fantasy. But even if all Donald Trump did were to condemn the police violence against black people that has brought us to this point, or, if he even addressed the nation in some sort of attempt to be empathetic or induce calm, it might offer, even momentarily, some reassurance that there is, after all, someone in the White House who is trying to lead.
But Donald Trump has chosen not to condemn police violence against black people.
Trump has instead turned his condemnation toward the Democrat leaders of states and cities where protests have taken place. Trump has repeatedly told Democrat leaders in Minnesota, including Governor Walz and Mayor X, of Minneapolis, that they need to “get tough” on protests.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted, “Liberal Governors and Mayors must get MUCH tougher or the Federal Government will step in and do what has to be done, and that includes using the unlimited power of our Military and many arrests.”
On Monday, during a phone call with the governors, Trump called them “weak.” Though he berated governors and urged them to be “tough,” Trump himself had hidden in the White House bunker on Sunday, after crowds outside the White House became hostile. It’s possible that the Secret Service persuaded him to retreat to the bunker, but Trump has chosen to hide in a bunker, literal or figurative, each time the country has faced a crisis (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) that called for a president’s leadership.
And on Monday evening, as a group of protesters in Washington, D.C. demonstrated peacefully, Trump decided that, after hiding in the bunker over the weekend, he needed to show that he was a tough guy. It was more important for him to “dominate” the scene than it was to connect with the demonstrators and empathize with their pain.
At Trump’s bidding, and after Trump’s having just said a moment before that he was on the side of the protesters, U.S. Military Police moved in on the peaceful demonstrators. Without provocation, the MPs deployed tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. They were making way for Trump, who wanted to take a stroll through the park to a church so that he could pose for a photo op with a Bible in his hand and impersonate a godly president.
During Monday’s bizarre and disturbing spectacle, Trump also announced that the states should deploy their Army National Guard forces to help with the protests. If states don’t bring in the National Guard, said Trump, he’ll send the U.S. Army.
Despite beating his figurative chest about the protestors and proclaiming himself “the Law and Order President,” though, Trump has remained silent on the topics of police brutality and the police murder of George Floyd.
Now, as in the past, he points to, and magnifies every issue but the real one, taking to Twitter to promote divisiveness, blame, falsehoods, conspiracy theories, and, especially in the case of the current demonstrations, violence.
Earlier last week, in reference to the demonstrations and unrest in Minneapolis, Trump tweeted, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” which was widely seen as a threat to shoot demonstrators. Trump tried to walk back this comment on Twitter, saying that he really meant that shooting was a natural consequence of looting.
Donald Trump either doesn’t understand the difference between the peaceful protesters and the opportunistic looters and rioters, or he just doesn’t care. Or, more likely, he does understand the difference, and is taking delight in the confusion, rallying his base as he provokes the “opposition.”
When the difference between those who simply want to exercise their right to a peaceful demonstration, and those who only come to a demonstration for the looting and vandalism gets blurred, it also blurs the line between the good actors and the bad, giving false justification for the police to “get tough” on all demonstrators. It also perpetuates the narrative that black people who demonstrate, as well as those who demonstrate along with them on their behalf, are “thugs.” Trump knows all this.
The time for Donald Trump to step up and be a president instead of an inciter has passed. Trump has proven beyond doubt that he is not interested or able to take the country successfully through a crisis.
In the span of less than three months, Trump let the country fall into a pandemic that has now killed more than 100,000 Americans. In the span of one week, the nation, under Trump, has become a mass of violence, fire, and fury ignited by a brutal act of racism that Trump has not directly addressed.
We can, and must, vote to protect our unraveling nation from the likes of Donald Trump. With six more months till Election Day, and the country still in the throes of both COVID-19 and the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, however, it’s terrifying to think of how much more damage Donald Trump could do.

Trump tells governors to ‘dominate’ protesters | CNN [2020-06-01]

George Floyd riots: Donald Trump rushed to bunker as protesters surrounded White House | 7NEWS Australia [2020-05-31]