Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump once again turned towards bigotry in the wake of this weekend's massacre in Orlando, Florida, reiterating his call for a ban on Muslim's entering the United States. Republicans, including party leaders, once again attempted to run away from questions about Trump's bigotry.
This was a repetition of a scene from last week, when House Speaker Paul Ryan seemed to be trying to act surprised when he was forced to respond to Trump’s racist comments about a federal judge. After Trump argued that the presiding judge in a fraud case involving Trump University was inherently biased because of his parents’ Mexican heritage, Ryan called it “the textbook definition of a racist comment” but refused to drop his endorsement of his party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
Instead of dropping their support, Ryan and many of his fellow Republicans, along with conservative pundits, have suggested that Trump simply needs to pivot, as though his bigotry were an isolated incident that could be swept away by focusing on other issues.
As Trump’s campaign turns one year old today, we should recognize that these are not isolated incidences of bigotry. Nor is Trump’s racism a new facet of his personality that emerged along with his political aspirations. Over four decades, Trump has associated with and befriended racists, been repeatedly accused of discrimination, and made racist remarks and used racism to garner publicity, all while consistently denying that he harbors any prejudice. Not only is Donald Trump racist, he’s an individual who views racism as a tool for both profit and publicity.
Trump’s Racism: A Tool For Publicity
Trump’s recent political aspirations have been fueled by his role as the country’s foremost birther, questioning whether President Obama is a natural born American citizen and eligible to be president of the United States. This accusation was not simply a far-fetched conspiracy theory. Instead, it was designed to feed the bigotry of the president’s opponents.
A second strand of this bigotry that Trump has played into was questioning the president’s faith and suggesting he might be a secret Muslim.
Finally, Trump gleefully questioned the president’s academic credentials, suggesting that something might be untoward in his college transcripts. According to Trump, Obama was unqualified to attend Columbia or Harvard Law School and was only accepted to these prestigious institutions because of his race.
Trump’s birther bigotry, which began in March 2011 during an interview on Good Morning America, garnered him significant publicity, including a widely broadcast press conference after the president released his “long form” birth certificate in 2011. While Trump was mercilessly mocked for his position, in particular at that year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, it also gave him a new platform on the Right, elevating him as one of Obama’s foremost critics. There was repeated speculation he might run for president himself in 2012, and when he ultimately decided not to enter the race eventual
ly nominee Mitt Romney prized his primary endorsement.
Trump’s path to the Republican nomination in 2016 can be traced directly to this entry into political fray during the 2011 race, when he emerged as a principal critic of President Obama.
The use of racism to garner publicity is not a new tool for Donald Trump.
In 1989, after the brutal rape of a woman in Central Park, five African-American teens were convicted of the crime. Years later, when DNA evidence called into question the conviction, all five were released from prison and received a $41 million settlement from New York City.
Before the initial trials had even begun, Trump used the case to stoke racial tensions in the city, spending $85,000 to run full-page ads in four newspapers including The New York Times and the Daily News. With bold headlines, the ads called for New York to “bring back the death penalty.”
Yusef Salaam, one of the young men Trump insisted receive the death penalty told The Guardian that Trump was the “firestarter.” Civil rights attorney Michael Warren says Trump “poisoned the minds of many people who lived in New York and who, rightfully, had a natural affinity for the victim.”
Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio told The Guardian:
I think he knew what he was doing by taking a side, and I think he knew he was aligning himself with law and order, especially white law and order. I don’t think that he was consciously saying ‘I’d like to whip up racial animosity’, but his impulse is to run into conflict and controversy rather than try to help people understand what might be going on in a reasoned way.
More than twenty years later, long after the five were exonerated, Trump was still defending his attacks on the five young men, tweeting in 2013, “Tell me, what were they doing in the Park, playing checkers?”
He also bragged to a biographer following the city’s settlement with the five men who had been wrongly convicted, “I think people are tired of politically correct. I just attacked the Central Park Five settlement. Who’s going to do that?”
Like with his birtherism, Trump used the Central Park jogger case to stoke
d racial tensions in New York and to earn publicity for himself.
Trump’s Racism: A Tool For Profit
Businesses run by Donald Trump have long faced accusations of racist behavior.
John O’Donnell, former president of the Trump Plaza Casino, wrote in a tell-all book that the GOP nominee once told him, “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
Trump responded by telling Playboy magazine that his former employee was a “f**king loser.” However, he also said, “The stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.”
Another former Trump employee has claimed that black staff were hidden from Trump when he visited the casino with his wife. “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor," said Kip Brown, a former livery driver. "It was the eighties, I was a teen-ager, but I remember it: they put us all in the back."
Racism in Trump corporations was not confined to its owner’s remarks and personal behavior. While fighting against a proposed Native American casino in New York that would have competed against his Atlantic City properties, Trump took out anonymous ads featuring photos of “drug paraphernalia” whose copy read, “Are these the new neighbors we want?” It continued: “The St. Regis Mohawk Indian record of criminal activity is well documented.”
In 1973, Trump Management Corporation was accused by the federal government of discriminating against potential tenants based on race. According to a report in The New York Times, the Justice Department sued Trump’s company for refusing “to rent or negotiate rentals ‘because of race and color.’ It also charged that the company had required different rental terms and conditions because of race and that it had misrepresented to blacks that apartments were not available.”
The evidence was substantial. “One rental agent said Trump’s father had told him not to rent to blacks and that he actually wanted to reduce the number of African Americans in his buildings.” In addition, “three doormen said they had been instructed to deflect blacks who came to Trump buildings to apply for apartments.”
In typical Trump fashion, he countersued the Justice Department for $100 million. The Huffington Post reported:
[Trump’s lawyer] called up the federal official in charge of the case — J. Stanley Pottinger, the head of DOJ’s Civil Rights division — to demand that the lawyer handling the lawsuit be fired. Pottinger told The Huffington Post that his reaction at the time was “I don’t think so. That’s up to me and that’s not going to happen. I called [lawyer] Donna [Goldstein] into my office and said, ‘Keep up the good work.’” The suit, which Pottinger called a “media gimmick done for local consumption,” was dismissed and the judge criticized Cohn for “wasting time and paper from what I consider to be the real issues” - discriminating against blacks in apartment rentals.
In 1975, Trump settled the case, pledging not to discriminate and to provide the Urban League with a list, updated weekly, of available apartments in the properties.
Three years later the Justice Department again cited Trump’s discriminatory practices. The New York Times reported, “The Federal Government charged yesterday that Trump Management, which owns 15,000 apartment units in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, was continuing to discriminate against blacks although it had signed a court stipulation not to do so.”
Trump’s casino properties also faced legal challenges based on their discriminatory behavior. The Trump Plaza Casino was fined $200,000 after managers removed African-American and female dealers at the request of allegedly mob-connected high roller Robert LiButti, who “loudly complained about their presence when he was playing.”
According to documents unsealed in an open records request, “LiButti had, on multiple occasions, berated blacks and women using what one state official described as the “vilest” language — including racist slurs and references to women in obscene terms — and … the Trump Plaza, in order not to lose his substantial business, sought to accommodate him by keeping the employees away from his betting tables.”
Trump claimed he didn’t know LiButti, stating in 1991, “I have heard he is a high roller, but if he was standing here in front of me, I wouldn’t know what he looked like.”
LiButti’s daughter told Michael Isakoff of YahooNews that this was a lie. “Of course he knew him,” she said. “I flew in the [Trump] helicopter with [Trump’s then wife] Ivana and the kids. My dad flew it up and down [to Atlantic City]. My 35th birthday party was at the Plaza and Donald was there. After the party, we went on his boat, his big yacht. I like Trump, but it pisses me off that he denies knowing my father. That hurts me.”
Trump’s denial of contact with Libutti was also put in doubt by his former employee John O’Donnell, who recounted “a meeting between Trump and LiButti aboard Trump’s private helicopter, a Super Puma, in the spring of 1988,” where Trump “agreed to pay [LiButti] $500,000 for a racehorse named Alibi.”
LiButti wasn’t the only racist Trump has associated with.
Trump Racism: Mentors, Friends, and Supporters
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump has received an unprecedented level of support from a number of white supremacists and other assorted bigots. During the primary campaign, he was criticized for initially refusing to disavow the bigotry of former Klan leader David Duke, who endorsed his candidacy. When confronted by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump responded:
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. I mean, I don’t know — did he endorse me or what’s going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.
Only later did Donald Trump disavow Duke’s endorsement, claiming to have been unaware of who the hate group leader was.
Trump’s racist supporters also include Nazis, white supremacists like Richard Spencer, and even secessionists such as Michael Hill.
In truth, Trump has spent his entire adult life consorting and befriending racists. One of his best friends and his lawyer throughout the 1970s and 80s was Joe McCarthy council Roy Cohn, who built his legal practice in New York City. They were often seen socializing together at New York hot spots such as Le Club and Studio 54. It was Cohn who defended Trump against the housing discrimination lawsuits in the 1970s.
Cohn acquired a legendary reputation for bigotry, “often us[ing] the words s**c, n****r and f*g.”
It was Cohn who introduced Trump to Roger Stone. Since the introduction, Stone spent years on Trump’s payroll. According to Media Matters:
Stone tweeted that commentator Roland Martin is a "stupid negro" and a "fat negro," commentator Herman Cain is “mandingo,” and former Rep. Allen West (R-FL) is an "arrogant know-it-all negro." He also tweeted that commentator Al Sharpton is a "professional negro" who likes fried chicken, asked if former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson was an “Uncle Tom,” and referred to himself as a “nigga” with a Nixon tattoo.
Anthony Senecal has worked for Donald Trump for almost 30 years, first as his butler at his Mar-A-Lago club, then as the property’s in house historian. A March profile in The New York Times describes his role a the property: “Few people here can anticipate Mr. Trump’s demands and desires better than Mr. Senecal, 74, who has worked at the property for nearly 60 years, and for Mr. Trump for nearly 30 of them.”
Senecal also has a history of posting violent and racist content on Facebook writing things such as a comment that President Obama “should have been taken out by our military and shot as an enemy agent in his first term !!!!!”
He also called for a “second American revolution” because this “might be the time with this kenyan [sic] fraud in power!!!!!” Additionally Senecal has referred to the president as an “unfeeling sack of camel feces.”
Associating with any one of these individuals would not necessarily be an indictment against the GOP nominee. But over the course of his career Donald Trump has never had any qualms about consorting professionally and personally with racists.
Trump Racism: His Personal Thoughts
Trump’s own views on racism are also revealing. In an NBC special titled, “The R.A.C.E., the acronym for the Racial Attitudes and Consciousness Exam” Trump told the network:
'A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market. I think sometimes a black may think they don't have an advantage or this and that. . . . I've said on one occasion, even about myself, if I were starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black, because I believe they do have an actual advantage.'
Twenty-seven years ago, Trump was displaying the white resentment that has become a hallmark of his campaign for the Republican nomination.
Trump Racism: The Campaign
With Trump’s 40-year track record of racism, the repeated instances of bigotry coming from his campaign should be a surprise to no one, including his prominent Republican supporters.
The attacks on the federal judge, the proposed ban on Muslim immigration, the accusations that Mexicans are “rapists,” and the fact he condones violence against African-Americans at his rallies all fit into a pattern that started long before he launched his presidential campaign.
Republicans hoping that Trump will pivot away from his racism miss the fact that bigotry that has been a hallmark of his business and personal life for decades.