On Monday, The New York Times went full-out in its attempt to finally stick President Trump with the “racist” label. That comes in the aftermath of Trump's reported comments stating that America doesn't need more immigrants from "s***holes" — a statement that could be read as clear racism, or alternatively, as a critique of the diversity visa lottery's reliance on place of origin as sole determining factor. Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) had the most honest take on those comments: "I can't defend the indefensible. You have to understand that there are countries that struggle out there. But their people, their people are good people and they're part of us. We're Americans."
First, the Times ran a piece by Charles Blow labeling Trump a racist; that’s nothing new, since that’s been Blow’s take for months. The major piece, though, came courtesy of David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick. It was titled “Donald Trump’s Racism: The Definitive List.” Leonhardt is, of course, the associate editorial page editor at the Times; two days ago, he wrote another editorial titled, “Just Say It: Trump Is a Racist.” In that piece, Leonhardt described his view of Trump’s racism this way:
Is it possible to defend some of his racially charged statements by pointing out that something other than race might explain them? Sure. Is it possible that he doesn’t think of himself as a racist who views white people as superior to nonwhite people? Yes. But the definition of a racist — the textbook definition, as Paul Ryan might say — is someone who treats some people better than others because of their race.
Now, it’s true that Trump has behaved in racist ways and said racist things. But the goal of labeling Trump a “racist” overall isn’t to shed light on the motivation for his particular policies — it’s specifically to obfuscate the distinction between statements and activities where explanations other than race hold sway, and statements and activities where the only explanation is racism. Labeling Trump a racist isn’t an exercise in clarification for the media, but an excuse for painting with the broadest possible brush in order to avoid responsibility for case-by-case reporting and evaluation.
Take, for example, Leonhardt’s and Philbrick’s list of Trump’s “definitive” racism. It contains instances that are clearly racist — stating that a judge of Mexican descent would be unable to adjudicate his Trump University fraud case fairly because of his ethnicity; Trump refusing to condemn the KKK on live television in the middle of the primaries; Trump stating that there were “good people” marching in an anti-Semitic, racist torchlight parade in Charlottesville.
The list also contains instances that, if accurately reported by third parties, are obviously racist: a former hotel executive stating that Trump said, “laziness is a trait in blacks”; a New York Times report stating that Trump said all Haitians have AIDS; Trump’s federal housing case, which Trump disputed.
But then Leonhardt and his co-author name a bunch of instances they call racist where there is no evidence that race is the motivating factor: Trump pointing at a rally attendee and calling him “my African-American over here,” which was Trump being a moron, not a racist; Trump calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” which was designed to slap her for her misappropriation of Native American heritage for her own political purposes; Trump’s support for Roy Moore in Alabama; Trump’s support for Joe Arpaio.
They even name instances in which Trump was obviously not being racist as racist incidents: Trump criticizing crime rates in inner city communities and suggesting that he wants to make life better for minorities who live there; Trump complaining about the growing threat of radical Islamic terrorism abroad; Trump ripping MS-13; Trump calling President Obama lazy — a critique that had little to do with Obama’s race, and more to do with Obama’s perceived work habits (Trump’s a hypocrite on this score, by the way, but not a racist).
Now, there are instances that lie somewhere in between: Trump’s birtherism, for instance, was probably more calculated pandering than it was outright racism, gross as it was in its own right; Trump’s continued statements on the Central Park Five (Trump has never admitted a mistake in any circumstances, and his original stance was widely shared publicly for reasons other than race).
Herein lies the problem for the Left. There are three reasons to point out Trump’s alleged racism: first, for purposes of simple truth; second, to drive Trump’s approval ratings down; third, to alleviate the burdens of the media in assessing actual reasons behind various policies.
The problem with the first rationale is that the media rarely actually hit politicians with this label; they’ve never used the “racist” description for obvious racists like Al Sharpton, for example. Perhaps Trump is a racist — he’s certainly made racist comments. But “objective” media outlets either have to apply the same standard to everyone, or they have to stop using the epithet outright.
The second rationale seems more likely: the media despise Trump, and they’re willing to call him any name in the book to drive down his approval ratings. “Racist” is the strongest charge in the political book, and throwing it has real consequences. And if the public doesn’t reject Trump, the Times can have the added pleasure of pointing to institutional white privilege and racism, which bolsters their desired narrative anyway.
Finally, there’s the third rationale: the media don’t want to bother actually analyzing what Trump is doing. It’s easier to simply call people racists, then labeling anyone who disagrees a co-conspirator in racism. That’s what the Times does by lumping all these instances in together: they’re suggesting that anyone who agrees with Trump on MS-13, for example, must be a racist.
Trump may well harbor racial animus. And that’s worth pointing out, particularly in the instances where such animus is clear. But the media’s desire to paint every instance with the brush of racial animus is an obvious political ploy, not honest journalism.