Politics & Policy

What’s the Point of Labeling Trump a Racist?

President Trump speaks with reporters on Air Force One, November 2017. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
It’s one thing to debate his statements and actions, another to analyze his policies through the lens of an insult.

Is President Trump a racist?

The media have obsessed over this question for years now. This week, the dam seemed to break. After Trump’s alleged statements questioning why America needed more immigrants from “sh**hole countries,” virtually every anchor on CNN called Trump a racist. So did multiple writers for the New York Times; that newspaper even ran a supposedly comprehensive list of Trump’s racist activities. Not only did the media declare Trump a racist, they demanded that Republican members of Congress do so as well — and then they asked if Republicans were soft on racism if they refused to do so.

The media patted themselves on the back for this exercise. No matter that they’ve already accused Trump of virtually every crime under the sun. Labeling him a racist, they think, demonstrates their willingness to “speak truth to power.”

Now, let’s stipulate a few facts. First, Trump makes racist statements, from his attacks on a “Mexican” judge to his willingness to wink at the KKK to his quasi-defense of some of the “good people” in the Charlottesville white-supremacist march. Second, Trump’s worldview is not openly racist — he’s not a representative of Richard Spencer–type white supremacism, declaring black Americans lesser, for example.

With that in mind, let’s now ask a simple question: What’s the point of labeling Trump personally a racist?

The media’s first answer is the most obvious: They say they must speak the truth. But calling Trump a racist isn’t fact-based reportage — it is, by its very nature, opinion. It may be correct opinion; that’s arguable. But if the goal is to impute a motive to a politician that he doesn’t openly state, we’re in the realm of speculation. Worse, we’re in the realm of inconsistent speculation: The same media that label Trump racist book racist and anti-Semite Al Sharpton, champion Louis Farrakhan-booster Keith Ellison, and laugh off the radical rhetoric of Black Lives Matter advocates. The media find the courage to call people racist only when they disagree with them politically.

There’s another reason the media are labeling Trump himself racist: This alleviates the requirement to honestly assess his actions and statements. Rather than analyzing whether a given statement is racist, or whether it could be interpreted otherwise, the media simply use Trump’s alleged racism as a skeleton key answering every question. Trump says he wants immigration restrictions? It must be racism. He slams radical Islamic terrorism? Racism. He condemns violence in inner cities? Racism. Each of those statements could more plausibly be read as non-racist, but the charge of racism papers over all shoddy analysis.

Which leads to the third reason the media seem so eager to label Trump a racist: If they label Trump racist, they can pillory anyone who disagrees as a representative of broader American racism. The media take a Trump statement — say, Trump’s excoriation of MS-13 — and pillory it as racist, then claim that public support for Trump is evidence of widespread white privilege and institutional racism. The syllogism is simple: Trump is a racist; only racists support a racist; Americans who support Trump are racists.

We can’t have a productive conversation that starts from the premise that Trump is a racist, and that every action he takes is therefore covered with the patina of racism.

All of which requires us to ask a question: Is this framework useful? Perhaps Trump is a racist. Perhaps not. Either way, we can have a productive conversation about whether particular Trump statements or actions are racist. But we can’t have a productive conversation that starts from the premise that Trump is a racist overall, and that every action he takes and every statement he makes is therefore covered with the patina of racism. That conversation is about insults, not truth.

None of this excuses Trump’s idiotic and obscene statements. And none of it means that the media are wrong to criticize those statements. But applying the “racist” tag to Trump as a human being isn’t journalism. It’s laziness and opportunism masquerading as bravery. And it only alienates Americans who would prefer to analyze events and statements with clear eyes, rather than through the prism of Trump’s supposed bigotry.


The Exhausted Trump Racism Charge

Trump’s ‘Sh**hole’ Comments Double Down on Identity Politics

Sh**storm of Comments Harm Trump’s Agenda

— Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of the Daily Wire.


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