Another day, another attack by President Donald Trump on people of color. The list is growing lengthy now, the stream of invective nearly nonstop. Trump’s comments are getting meaner, too, and more overt, and they are emboldening racists all over the country to abandon even the pretense of a dog whistle and just say the quiet part right out loud.
In this latest round, Trump went after Rep. Elijah Cummings, a 13-term congressman who chairs the House Oversight Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus. Cummings drew presidential ire for having the temerity to fulfill the oversight role of his committee. That got him a weekend-long presidential tantrum in which Trump denigrated his district, which includes Baltimore, as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” The resulting backlash spurred Trump to go further, calling Cummings, the son of sharecroppers and a descendant of enslaved people, a “racist.” For good measure, Trump threw in a verbal assault against the Rev. Al Sharpton, asserting that he hated “white people and cops.”
This latest spew comes, of course, on the heels of his rants against four congresswomen of color — all American citizens, including Minnesota’s Rep. Ilhan Omar — telling them to “go back” to their “crime-infested” countries, and following a House vote to condemn his remarks. There’s more — far more — than can be listed here.
It would be absurd if it weren’t so painful and damaging. Trump’s position gives him a global megaphone. He chooses, again and again, to use it to amplify ignorant, hateful views. There’s a clear body of evidence that they are part of a consistent, well-established strategy to foment racial tensions. Worse, they serve as cues to his followers to do the same.
Trump’s bag of tools when going after opponents is neither deep nor sophisticated. There are no facts in it, no arguments rooted in belief or principle. Rather, it is a nasty mish-mash of infantile nicknames (Cummings has now been dubbed “King Elijah.” Why? Who knows), racist tropes, mockery and demonization, limned through by an endless belief in his own superiority and victimhood.
To understand how utterly consistent this pattern is, go back to January 2017, when Trump chose the occasion of his first Martin Luther King holiday as president to attack Rep. John Lewis, a black civil rights leader.
These are not “feuds,” as some in the media have labeled them, even if the attacked parties respond. They are verbal assaults by the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. They are also damaging and serious.
This is not normal for a U.S. president, and if it becomes the norm, the nation will be the poorer for it.