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Why Trump relies so much on racist stereotypes

Racism seems like a core Trump feature.

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump's racism seems like a core feature, and probably sincere.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

I don’t claim to understand what’s In Donald Trump’s heart, other than greed, lust for power and a self-love so powerful that it may be a desperate mechanism to hide a fear that he is unworthy of love. Then there’s the racism, which seems strong and goes back to his earliest in public life. (I’m thinking of the Central Park Five stuff, when Trump led a campaign to get the death penalty for five accused rapists, all young men of color, who turned out to be innocent, for which he has never apologized.)

Yes, the racism seems like a core feature, and probably sincere, but some also see it as an important element of his political appeal, and I was struck by a smart analysis by columnist Peter Beinart, who explored it for a piece in The Forward, a magazine mostly for liberal Jews.

Beinart started by raising the possibility that by assigning the nickname “Shifty Schiff” to U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, one of his key current tormenters, who is Jewish, Trump was playing on an antisemitic stereotype of Jews as tricky or deceitful in business matters.

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I’m Jewish, and no fan of antisemites, but I try to be cautious about playing that card. But if you read Beinart’s whole piece, you’ll not only see his point but then he leads the reader into a much larger discussion of how often Trump’s habit of assigning nicknames aligns with derogatory ethno-racist stereotypes.

Take the segment below, where Beinart discusses some of the ways that Trump talks about African-Americans:

Trump does something analogous when challenged by African Americans. He responds with racist stereotypes about their supposed lack of intelligence. When LeBron James criticized him in an interview with Don Lemon, Trump called the CNN host “the dumbest man on television… He made LeBron look smart, which isn’t easy to do.” Trump even called Barack Obama “a terrible student” who didn’t deserve admission to Columbia and Harvard Law School.

Another favored Trump stereotype about blacks is that they’re poor and unsanitary. When Representative John Lewis announced he wouldn’t attend Trump’s inauguration, Trump declared that Lewis’s district was “in horrible shape and falling apart.” When Representative Elijah Cummings challenged Trump’s policies at the border, Trump called his district “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

When women annoy or challenge Trump, “he often calls them ugly,” Beinart wrote:

Look at that face!” [Trump] exclaimed about Carly Fiorina in September 2015, when she was rising in the polls. “Would anyone vote for that?” When Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski criticized him in 2017, Trump mocked her for “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” When Stormy Daniels sued him, he called her “horseface.”

If it’s a Muslim critic, Trump tries to allude to an anti-Muslim stereotype:

After Khizr Khan’s speech at the 2016 Democratic national convention, Trump suggested that his wife, Ghazala Khan, a Muslim woman, had remained silent on stage because “she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.”

I suppose a skeptic of Beinart’s argument might say that Trump-haters will find fault with anything he says. Maybe so. But Beinart’s argument planted a seed in my mind. I’ll be looking to see how often he relies on race, gender or ethnoreligious stereotypes in assigning his adorable nicknames otherwise pushing back anyone who dares to challenge or criticize him. Anyone, even Trump, who wants to respond to critics is more than entitled to do so. But a more secure person can defend themselves without relying on racist or sexist tropes.