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Why Trump relies so much on racist stereotypes

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

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.

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.

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/04/2019 - 04:47 pm.

    Trump is, in fact, a racist. he is also a bully who just throws out the first taunts he can think of whenever he is cornered.

    There is an added dimension to his bigotry: he has found ways to cover it up. Is he anti-Semitic? No! He supports Israel and has a Jewish son-in-law. Is he prejudiced against African Americans? No! He’s pals with Kanye West.

    The cult-like nature of his support feeds into this. His loyalists will look at the window dressing and will not see beyond that (“Look! African American employment is up! How can you say he’s racist?”). It’s easy to believe in something if you think you have to.

    • Submitted by Mark Gruben on 10/10/2019 - 05:17 pm.

      RB Holbrook – I agree. The notion that, because African-American employment is up, Trump can’t possibly be racist is completely bogus. The first statement has no bearing on the other. And, of course, the reverse is true as well; Trump can’t possibly be racist, because African-American unemployment has not risen. Low overall unemployment is not indicative of any sort of preferential hiring based on race.

  2. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/04/2019 - 05:57 pm.

    It may be true. Nobody would care about Trump’s insults if he wasn’t the current occupant of the most powerful office in the country and the world. Republicans can do or say almost anything that the public will never excuse in a Democratic leader or politician. The Republican and the Trump defense is that “both sides do it” which excuses all conduct or language and also eliminate any neutrality in a debate.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 10/04/2019 - 06:21 pm.

    “I suppose a skeptic of Beinart’s argument might say that Trump-haters will find fault with anything he says.”
    “how often he relies on race, gender or ethnoreligious stereotypes in assigning his adorable nicknames”

    Trump will find something personal about anyone that calls him out, or he disagrees with, and that we know is a 10 year old bully child’s rebuttal, bully, when they have no knowledge. It allows the unintelligent to control the conversation, by making personal attacks/smearing the messenger and not addressing the issue. Whistle blower=Traitor, does not address the charges at hand “shoot the messenger” bully everyone. And it appears the the light in the ACT score category, jump right onto the school yard logic/smear/bully wagon for they are also incapable of the intellectual conversation.

    • Submitted by Mark Gruben on 10/10/2019 - 05:30 pm.

      Dennis Wagner – Insofar as Trump’s focus on personal attacks against those with whom he disagrees, or those who criticize him, we’ve seen a nearly-identical trend on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Free speech notwithstanding, such behavior doesn’t seem to be provoked by Trump as much as encouraged, or even inspired, by him. After all, if Trump can do it, I can, too. He doesn’t have to explain himself or justify it, and I don’t either. In a very real sense, it’s a measure of how selfish Trump is. In terms of the national discourse, he realizes that, as he goes, so goes the country. He doesn’t care where he goes, so long as others follow.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/04/2019 - 07:31 pm.

    When facts and logic can’t win the argument, call your opponent names.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/05/2019 - 07:24 am.

    Recently, when the issue of Trump’s racism was discussed, a Fox News commentator said that in fact, Trump never mentioned race specifically, the implication being that because of that, he couldn’t be a racist. But I also remember a video of Mike Wallace interviewing James Eastland that was circulating after some unfortunate remarks by Biden where the indisputably racist Eastland avoided mention of race also.

  6. Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 10/05/2019 - 12:46 pm.

    Everybody knows by now that Donald J. Trump is a racist, and ignorant, to boot. Etc.

    Bit the question is: the racism of Trump’s supporters. Most of them seem to accept without complaint Trump’s own racism. What does that say about them?

    No way around that fact.

    • Submitted by Mike Schumann on 10/05/2019 - 07:11 pm.

      Everybody does not think that Trump is racist, and everybody who supports Trump is not racist. It’s this type of BS that makes Trump supporters dig in deeper and totally destroys the credibility of the opposition.

      • Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 10/07/2019 - 11:01 am.


        I will gift you with the kind of response Donald Trump would make: “I never said that Trump supporters were racist. But many people are asking about it. Many people would like to know about this. AWFUL for America!”

        • Submitted by Mark Gruben on 10/10/2019 - 06:08 pm.

          Connie Sullivan – Part of the problem is in defining and, more importantly, confirming racism, in terms of behavior and attitude. And confirming racism is not the same as proving it.Then, when one considers the reactions of others – or lack thereof – things get very complicated, very quickly. For example, if I use the “n” word, does that define me as a racist? Does it confirm that I am? Or prove it? The reaction of others – or lack thereof – also raises those questions.If you call me on it, does that define you as a racist, or confirm it, or prove it? If a bystander ignores my comment, does it define that person as a racist? Is their silence indicative of anything? Does it define, or confirm, or prove anything? Unfortunately, it seems that – in this instance, anyway – the most forceful voice in the room carries the day, right or wrong. And those labels are sometimes hard to peel off.

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/05/2019 - 03:40 pm.

    Racist comments are no-brainers.
    Trump brings to mind the old definition of chutzpah: killing your parents and then throwing yourself on the mercy of the court because you’re an orphan.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/07/2019 - 09:39 am.

    I wonder how many of the same people who are sooooo “cautious” about labeling Trump “racist” or antisemitic are/were just as cautious when labeling Omar? Could it be that a white guy, even Trump, still gets more consideration?

    Fascism is inherently racist and antisemitic. Trump is a Fascist, we don’t really have to know what’s in his heart, our problem is his dictatorial impulses and his Party’s acquiescence and support for those impulses.

    Look: am I the only one who remembers the time Trump ( I think it was his second or third week in office ), berated a conservative Jewish reporter at a press conference because he didn’t ask the question Trump expected him to ask? And these the Jews that support Trump! Whatever.

    Look, I hate to say it but if you’re asking why a Fascist would rely so heavily on racist stereotypes… you might want to consider the possibility that you’re still not “getting” it. There is a point at which one crosses a line between “caution” and “denial”. Asking questions like this three years into Trump’s presidency looks more like denial than caution to me.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/07/2019 - 09:52 am.

    Connie Sullivan hits a key point. Yes, Trump is an ignorant, racist bully, but those are a dime a dozen, and that’s what I continue to find most disturbing about his time in office. I expected him to be a jerk. What I didn’t expect was that so many of my fellow-citizens would either agree with him (sad, indeed) or be willing to tolerate his combination of chutzpah (see Paul Brandon, above) and bigotry so much that they’d continue to support him, even when they privately disagree or are disgusted (see: far too many Republican officeholders).

  10. Submitted by Al Andresen on 10/08/2019 - 07:47 am.

    Another blathering hit piece by Eric Black. No surprise. (And this coming from an independent).

    Your brand of journalism is specifically why I would never donate a dime to Minnpost and why I quit the Strib decades ago. Who needs this sort of politically motivated drivel?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2019 - 09:14 am.

      It’s always funny Republicans/Libertarian/Reactionary’s call themselves “independents”. I suppose losing all ties and connections to reality IS a form in independence.

  11. Submitted by Richard Steuland on 10/11/2019 - 06:32 am.

    Trump has no original ideas on how to solve today’s troubling problems. He offers nothing of a future vision of something to aspire towards. He has aligned himself as the taskmaster of the most powerful interests that seek to exploit Earth of her natural beauty to line their pockets . His policies offer nothing to the struggling working class or the working poor. All he offers is immoral , hateful ignorance. Most of his base have little experience with people who look different from them. His corruption has continued to be covered by his mean spirited attitudes. It’s time to heal and that means Trump and his supporters must go.

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