By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
President Donald Trump insulted three black women reporters, something that seemed to shock more than a few people. It was even headline news for a day or so.
The bigger shock would have been if he hadn’t bad-mouthed the black reporters. The demeaning of the women was no accident. It was just another moment of pique and agitation by Trump.
There were perfectly good reasons why. In August, polls taken by YouGov and the Economist got little media and public attention. However, they gave yet another clue why Trump shamelessly race baits every chance he gets.
The polls found that the great majority of Trump supporters don’t think there is anything wrong with using the N-word. Nor do they think anyone using the offensive term is a racist. Nearly all see nothing racist about the N-word and said they have no problem voting for someone who uses the offensive epithet.
By sharp contrast, the great majority of Democrats say just the opposite; the term is offensive and has glaring racist overtones. Who does or doesn’t use this blatantly racist epithet is less important than the underlying political implications. A lot of people don’t have any problem with crude, naked bigotry.
In fact, numerous polls have found that Republican voters are far more likely to say that whites, not blacks and Hispanics, are more likely to face racial discrimination. No matter how many studies confirm rampant discrimination against blacks in hiring and promotions, gaping racial disparities in the criminal justice system, education and health care, and the number of police killings of blacks, Republican voters are unshakeable in their belief that whites are the prime victims of discrimination.
The message that race baiting won’t offend many is not lost on Trump. A week before the mid-term elections, he reached deep into the Republican’s racist playbook and tore out the Willie Horton page. That is show the picture of a non-white lawbreaker, blame his law-breaking on the Democrats, and thereby scare the bejesus out of white voters enough to drive them to the polls.
There’s evidence this ploy worked in Florida and Georgia where the Republican contenders for governor got enough white voters out to apparently beat back a challenge from two black Democratic challengers.
But long before the 2018 mid-terms and the attack on the black reporters, Trump figured out that race baiting could rocket-launch him to the front of the GOP presidential pack. The instant a multimillion-dollar settlement was announced in 2014 with the five young African-American and Latino youths falsely convicted and imprisoned for assault and rape of a jogger in New York’s Central Park in 1989, Trump loudly ranted against the settlement and did everything possible to whip up another round of racial hysteria over the case. And why not?
When the case broke in 1989, he shelled out $85,000 to four newspapers to splash an ad demanding the death penalty for the five. The tossing of the case and the overwhelming evidence that the men were innocent meant nothing to Trump.
The record of Trump’s line of naked bigotry has been unbroken. He was ripped by the Justice Department for blatant racial discrimination in his apartment rentals and when cornered on his racist exclusion he blithely said that if he didn’t discriminate his other tenants (meaning white tenants), would flee from his units and the city.
Even before Trump tossed his hat into the presidential ring, his well-timed racist digs, quips and slurs were carefully and calculatingly designed to get the tongues wagging, another round of invitations on the talk show circuit, and in the case of the Central Park Five, an invite to pen his race-tinged scribblings in an op-ed column.
His cynical but well-calculated race-baiting ploy worked to masterful perfection with the Birther issue. Trump knew that while the issue had been thoroughly discredited and disavowed by every leading GOP presidential candidate in 2012, a significant number, if not most Republicans, actually believed or wanted to believe that Obama’s birth was a legitimate issue to dump back on the political table.
The resulting avalanche of lawsuits and petitions filed in various state courts that contested Obama’s U.S. citizenship showed there was some mileage to be gained for Trump to continue to wave the issue around. The payoff was that he conned enough newsrooms, talk show hosts and legions of the GOP’s inveterate Obama bashers to chat up a Trump presidential candidacy.
Trump got what he wanted. Tons of fresh media attention, a momentary seat at the GOP presidential candidate’s chat table, and starry-eyed idolization from legions of ultra-conservatives and untold numbers of unreconstructed bigots.
In the White House, it’s been more of the same. A racist dig, or tweet, a bash of black reporters, a Willie Horton reprise, the aim is always to tug at the emotional strings of the Republicans’ core constituency —white conservative, rural, and blue-collar workers. This guarantees lots of headline coverage, public chatter and more distraction. Those are all pretty good reasons for Trump’s racism.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Make a Democratic Blue Wave More than Talk” (Amazon). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.