July 11, 2024

Don’t Believe Trump When He Claims He’s Not Racist

Trump does not deserve a single Black or Hispanic vote. Nada. None.

Clarence Lusane
Donald Trump in 2016

Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio.


(Dennis Van Tine / STAR MAX via AP Photo)

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.

Former president Donald Trump often finds himself on the defensive against accusations of racism. He regularly denies the charges, distorting his record and resorting to his “Black friends” defense, while attempting to throw the allegations back at liberals. However, he never explains why he is the favorite son of the one group in society about whose racial bigotry there can be no debate: avowed racists.

Since Trump emerged as a public political figure, they have been resolute in their loyalty to him. Are Trump’s African American allies like Senator Tim Scott or Representative Byron Donalds, or Latino ones like Senator Marco Rubio, truly ignorant of his unapologetically racist champions? Or is their blind ambition to share a ticket with him (or be close to power) simply more important to them?

In 2016, when Donald Trump first ran for president, just about every self-declared white nationalist, white supremacist, Klansman, neo-Nazi, and fascist in the country supported his candidacy. And that’s no exaggeration.

One of the longest-running white nationalist journals in the United States, American Renaissance, is edited by notorious racist Jared Taylor. In January 2016, during the primary race in Iowa, he circulated a robocall that stated, “I urge you to vote for Donald Trump because he is the one candidate who points out that we should accept immigrants who are good for America. We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated White people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.”

Trump was also cheered on by the Ku Klux Klan’s official newspaper, The Crusader, which calls itself the “Political Voice of White Christian America.” Though it said that it wasn’t necessarily endorsing Trump, its urge to ally with him was all too clear. Under the front-page headline banner “Make America Great Again,” Pastor Thomas Robb wrote, “While Trump wants to make America great again, we have to ask ourselves, ‘What made America great in the first place?’ The short answer to that is simple. America was great not because of what our forefathers did—but because of who our forefathers were.… America was founded as a White Christian Republic. And as a White Christian Republic it became great.”

And then there was the David Duke crisis. On February 24, 2016, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Duke stated to his white radio audience, “Voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.” When Trump was later asked on CNN about his support from the then-most-famous racist in the nation, his reply was, “Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know.” Not exactly an unequivocal denunciation.

Current Issue

Cover of July 2024 Issue

And not true in the least. Trump, who claims the best brain and greatest memory on earth, suddenly got amnesia when it came to the way he had spoken out against Duke in 1991 when that figure ran for governor of Louisiana, and, in 2000, when Trump rejected affiliation with the Reform Party in part because of its links to Duke. At the time, he called Duke a “bigot” and a “racist.”

Trump conveniently forgot that past history of his during that CNN interview, as he clearly calculated the nature of his base and where it overlapped with Duke’s. After blaming a faulty earpiece (which, curiously enough, seemed to work fine for the rest of the interview) and evidently fearing swift blowback, Trump rejected Duke’s support the next day.

Duke, however, was undeterred and continued to back him in an enthusiastic fashion. After the election, he even tweeted, “Make no mistake about it, our people played a HUGE role in electing Trump!”

Other racists celebrated as well. At a gathering in Washington, DC, Richard Spencer, leader of the white supremacist alt-right movement, declared: “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” He was speaking to a crowd of nearly 200, many of whom responded with Nazi salutes. You won’t be surprised to know that they expressed no confusion about what Trump represented.

“Stand Back and Stand By”

In August 2017, within months of being in office, the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, produced a clear opportunity for Trump to denounce racists, Neo-Nazis, and Klansmen who marched to the chants of “White lives matter“ and “Jews will not replace us.” Instead, unlike nearly every other elected official on the national scene, Democrat or Republican, he flubbed his response. After a press conference or two, where he equivocated and went off-script to wax admiringly about “very fine people on both sides,” he ultimately denounced the far-right racists. However, he pointedly agreed with their demand that generated the march in the first place—their objection to the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park. Trump has decried the dismantling of Lee statues on a number of occasions, including in Charlottesville, where he called it “sad” and “so foolish.”

In 2020, after four years in office, he arguably received even stronger and more violent support from his far-right and white nationalist backers. Those years included his anti-(non-white-)immigrant fight to “build the wall” on the US-Mexican border, his rejection of immigrants from the “shithole countries” of the Global South, the aspersions he cast on Black-dominated cities, and his endless racist statements about Black athletes, elected officials, women, and protesters.

Then, of course, during the 2020 election campaign, far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Boogaloo Boys, and others—many with openly racist members in their ranks—rallied around Trump and became his frontline soldiers after he lost. He famously told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” but not to stand down. They showed up at most “Stop the Steal” events and were front and center during the January 6 insurrection, where Black police officers reported being called the “n-word.” Trump now refers to that same crew as “warriors” and “patriots,” ignoring the Confederate flags, antisemitic symbols, racial slurs, and nooses that were ubiquitous that day.

In 2020, some in the racist community were smarter in signaling their support for Trump without formally endorsing him. David Duke, however, once again unabashedly came out for him, while suggesting that disgraced media propagandist and ex–Fox News host Tucker Carlson be added to the ticket as his vice-presidential choice. Carlson seemed like a particularly sensible possibility to Duke because, even while at Fox, he had been a proponent of the “white replacement theory,” the argument that undocumented (and even documented) immigrants of color are part of a larger conspiracy by unidentified liberals and Democrats to supplant white Americans and white American culture with something distinctly (and all too literally) darker and more disturbing. Of course, Trump subscribed to that thesis as well.

The “Anti-White-Feeling” Former President

In 2024, there is little doubt whom the nation’s racists will once again be backing for president. Only recently, Trump spewed lies and misrepresentations at a—yes!—white-dominated gathering in an obscure Black church in Detroit, while denouncing that city as “hell” and “totally corrupt,” and describing black communities as dangerous and depressed. He did not, however, repeat for that crowd and representatives of the national media present that day his pledge to address so-called anti-white racism or to make it a priority should he become president again. As he said in a Time magazine interview, “If you look right now, there’s absolutely a bias against white [people] and that’s a problem.” He offered no examples of that “problem,” but it fit in squarely with the belief of 58 percent of his supporters that “racial minorities” are favored over whites in the United States.

The Nation Weekly

Fridays. A weekly digest of the best of our coverage.
By signing up, you confirm that you are over the age of 16 and agree to receive occasional promotional offers for programs that support The Nation’s journalism. You may unsubscribe or adjust your preferences at any time. You can read our Privacy Policy here.

Trump also claims that he is a victim of anti-white racism from “radical vicious, racist prosecutors” in Georgia, New York, and Washington, DC. They are going after him, he insists, simply because he’s a white man and not because he committed any actual crimes.

Trump will undoubtedly continue to claim again and again, all too disingenuously, that “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” but the folks who unabashedly support him to the hilt certainly think otherwise. The Trump campaign faces the awkward and inconvenient truth that he has never lost the full-scale support of the nation’s most hardcore racists.

And no wonder! No matter how often he pretends to be free of bigotry, his racist worldview manifests itself at every turn. In his recent “debate” with President Joe Biden, Trump made his usual hateful statements against immigrants (of color) and added that they are “taking black jobs now and it could be 18. It could be 19 and even 20 million people. They’re taking black jobs and they’re taking Hispanic jobs and you haven’t seen it yet, but you’re going to see something that’s going to be the worst in our history.”

By “black jobs” and “Hispanic jobs,” of course, he was referring to his belief that only certain kinds of work define those communities. It should be taken for granted that he wasn’t referring to engineers, lawyers, office managers, professors, veterinarians, or any positions of a professional or middle-class nature. He sees Black Americans and Latinos as nothing but the lowest-paid, lowest-status workers in America.

In fact, Trump never has anything genuinely positive to say about the Black community, which he sees—just to start down a list—as crime-ridden, dirty, and rodent-infested. Nor does he ever identify any of the groups or individuals in such communities who are working on solutions to the issues they face. That doesn’t fit the view of the former president and many of his followers that communities of color are linked only to dysfunction, decay, and (implicitly) inferiority.

Naturally, Trump was wrong on all counts. First, there is no evidence (and, of course, Trump didn’t present any) that immigrants are taking jobs from Black and Latino Americans. As The Washington Post noted, “The Black unemployment rate remains near historic lows and wage gains are at all-time highs.” In fact, the lowest Black employment on record occurred under President Biden when, in April 2023, it fell to 4.8 percent.

In addition, unlike Trump’s implication that Black people only occupy low-level manual labor jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost half of all African Americans work in professional, management, or office jobs. That would undoubtedly be a revelation to Trump, since in the dozens of businesses he’s started, very few Blacks and Latinos are ever found in high-level or professional positions.

Rather than let Trump get away with his endless series of canards on race in America, interviewers should ask him some pointed questions that are simply never asked in Trump-friendly or Trump-fearful media venues. Three come to mind: Why do you continue to receive such wholehearted support from avowed racists? What is the “anti-white racism” (or “anti-white feeling“) that you so often talk about and why do you consider it more of an issue than racial discrimination against communities of color? Why should Black voters in Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, among other places, vote for someone who spent weeks after the 2020 election desperately attempting to disqualify their votes?

Trump does not deserve a single Black or Hispanic vote. Nada. None. His ongoing gaslighting about his record and his appeal to extremists and racists should doom him to the lowest Black and Hispanic vote support in the last 100 years in election 2024.

Thank you for reading The Nation

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply-reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Throughout this critical election year and a time of media austerity and renewed campus activism and rising labor organizing, independent journalism that gets to the heart of the matter is more critical than ever before. Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to properly investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories into the hands of readers.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Clarence Lusane

Clarence Lusane is a political science professor and interim political science department chair at Howard University, and independent expert to the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance. His latest book is Twenty Dollars and Change: Harriet Tubman and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice and Democracy (City Lights).

More from The Nation

Workers digging a hole to install a cable

Working-Class Americans Prefer a “Hand Up” to a “Handout” Working-Class Americans Prefer a “Hand Up” to a “Handout”

Working- and middle-class Americans take pride in their work. If Democrats want to win their votes, they need to acknowledge and appeal to that pride, not dismiss or patronize it....

Rethinking Rural / Erica Etelson

Republican vice presidential nominee Senator J.D. Vance speaks at a campaign rally in Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on July 20, 2024.

The Tragedy of J.D. Vance The Tragedy of J.D. Vance

Vance could have been a key player in addressing the roots of the opioid crisis. Instead, he went in another direction.

Gregg Gonsalves

Vice President Kamala Harris stands in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 20, 2024.

Beware the People Who Claim “America Isn’t Ready for a Black Woman President” Beware the People Who Claim “America Isn’t Ready for a Black Woman President”

Even as Kamala Harris consolidates the entire Democratic Party behind her campaign, there will be people telling her she can’t win because she’s a woman of color. 

Elie Mystal

In a 1881 political cartoon, Charles Julius Guiteau approaches President Garfield at the White House to ask for a diplomatic post. Guiteau assassinated Garfield in 1881.

Why Are Presidential Assassins Such Sad Sacks? Why Are Presidential Assassins Such Sad Sacks?

What would-be killers of the US commander in chief have in common is that they aren’t fervent ideologues; they’re outcasts.

Zack Budryk

The torch has been passed: Vice President Kamala Harris with President Biden at the White House in May.

By Withdrawing in Favor of Kamala Harris, Joe Biden Proves That Only the GOP Is a Personality Cult By Withdrawing in Favor of Kamala Harris, Joe Biden Proves That Only the GOP Is a Personality Cult

Democrats acted as a proper political party, while Republicans remain in thrall to a dangerous authoritarian.

Jeet Heer

President Joe Biden, left, and Vice President Kamala Harris on the Truman Balcony of the White House in Washington, DC, on July 4, 2024.

Joe Biden Cements His Legacy Joe Biden Cements His Legacy

Abandoning his reelection run and endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris took courage and vision. Other top Dems are joining.

Joan Walsh