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Donald Trump: Decades of bigotry

Donald Trump is adept in disguising his bigotry in code. Photograph: (Getty)

WION Delhi, India Sep 08, 2016, 08.48 AM (IST) Jeff Halperin
In presidential races facts aren’t exactly the first casualty, but they get badly wounded. Ironically, the more scrutiny and coverage a fact receives, the more it gets obscured by deflection and counter-messaging. This is especially true for the surreal 2016 presidential election where facts, even when presented accurately, seem too incredible to believe.

But the charge that Donald Trump is racist is not a media manufactured scandal borne out of the presidential race, it’s a decades-old pattern that must be kept in mind to understand what a threat he’d be if elected president.

In 1973 Donald and his father Fred Trump were taken to court by the Department of Justice for allegedly keeping African Americans from renting their apartment units. Superintendents wrote “C” on the applicant’s lease, standing for “colored”; Supers told prospective black clients rent was higher than it truly was, to keep them away; Black people were told there were no vacancies when really there were, a pattern which happened repeatedly with white testers sent by the government.

There are important takeaways here. One, Trump is adept in disguising his bigotry in code. Two, he manipulated the legal system to walk away from this with a relatively untainted brand by settling without admitting wrongdoing, which he accomplished by using his famously aggressive, mob-connected lawyer Roy Cohn to counter sue for $100 million dollars and grinding the court down for years.  

Trump was ordered to comply with various measures to ensure no further discrimination would take place. Within three years Trump was back in court for not meeting the conditions of the settlement. The department of justice said “racially discriminatory conduct by Trump agents has occurred with such frequency that it has created a substantial impediment to the full enjoyment of equal opportunity”.
Trump still believes in things long after they’ve been debunked. It’s like he’d rather be factually wrong than politically correct.

In 1989, five African American youth were wrongfully charged with the assault and rape of a white woman in Central Park in one of the most widely-publicised trials of the 1980s. It was a textbook “trial by media”, inflamed by non-other than Donald Trump, who took out full-page ads in four NYC newspapers, at his own expense, calling to “Bring back the death penalty”. Documentaries and testimony makes it clear this trial was about race, not evidence.

Years after the five were released from jail after being exonerated by DNA evidence, when it was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trump had called for five innocent people to die, he still has not apologised or expressed regret. Just the opposite:

This is the key to understanding Donald Trump’s bigotry: Trump’s views do not change after he is proven to be 100 per cent factually wrong.

This pattern repeats itself today: Trump retweeted crime statistics that weren’t simply false, or even grossly and dangerously so, but easily disprovable.
The source he cited isn’t just dubious, it literally does not exist. Any journalist, or any normal person, would be humiliated to learn they publicly cited a bona fide bogus source. The logical response would be to either get a credible statistic to support the same conclusion, or, in the absence of that, change the conclusion and apologise. This particular instance is especially egregious because the false data supports the dangerous and patently untrue narrative that African Americans pose a fatal threat to white people, a narrative which seems to be used to justify systemic racism.

The internet is full of listicles about Trump’s prejudice on the campaign trail, but I want to emphasise the nature of it rather than the volume. No amount of proof changes his mind. Trump still believes in things long after they’ve been debunked. It’s like he’d rather be factually wrong than politically correct.

Remember, Trump’s fluency in racial code (“dog whistling”) allows him to be racist while, in a strictly technical and superficial sense, denying that he’s racist; Maybe a court didn’t force him to admit wrongdoing, but could anybody confidently say Trump wasn’t, and isn’t, deeply and unrepentantly prejudiced?

Reading between the lines, insofar as it’s necessary to, is a matter of watching the violence at his rallies, listening as he himself threatens to beat up Black Lives Matter protestors, and exploring the growing alt-right world he’s inspiring.

But lately Trump has pretended to care about African Americans. “What the hell do you have to lose?” is what he said of them, to a room full of white people. This statement may as well be preceded by “everybody knows I don’t care about black people, but…”. African Americans get this: Polls show their support of Trump is somewhere between three and zero per cent. “Dividing America” doesn’t begin to describe Trump—his supporters include North Korea, ISIS, and various people affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Yet polls (like all of them, possibly flawed) put Trump near Clinton. Trump's very real and very dangerous bigotry is corrosive. There will be jokes every time he says something outrageous, and Trump-Fatigue makes people tune him out altogether. But remember, If Trump becomes president, both official and unofficial and legal and physical violence will be perpetrated against minority communities.

The election should be about a range of important, complicated matters, but the pathetic and depressing fact is all other considerations are moot: Trump's toxicity alone makes him simply unelectable.

Jeff Halperin

Jeff is a writer and editor from Toronto, Canada.

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