OK, can we finally stop beating around the bush and say outright that President Donald J. Trump is a white supremacist?
As our nation heads into the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, our gaffe-prone president, who began the week by fending off allegations of mental unfitness, finished it by denying charges that he is a racist.
In a story first reported by the Washington Post and confirmed by NBC News, Trump was speaking to lawmakers Thursday when he angrily slammed their desire to restore protections for refugees from Haiti, El Salvador and some African countries.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” said the President of the United States.
Trump was balking at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa. Instead, according to reports, Trump expressed a preference for immigrants from places like Norway, whose prime minister he welcomed a day earlier and which also happens to be one of the world’s whitest countries.
After a night of broadcasters debating whether to quote Trump’s vulgarity out loud or bleep it, Trump tweeted a denial on Friday morning that he had used such language at all, although Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and other witnesses confirmed the reported words.
“I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians,” Trump tweeted. “Probably should record future meetings — unfortunately, no trust!”
Trust? Two days earlier the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column announced a historic milestone: the president had broken 2,000 in the number of false or misleading claims he had made in his first year in office. And he wonders why there is “no trust.”
By then, the first black female Republican woman in Congress, Utah Rep. Mia Love, who also happens to be the child of Haitian immigrants, demanded an apology from the president, saying his comments were “unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation’s values.”
Rep. Love noted in her emotional statement that her parents “never took a thing” from the government as they worked hard to achieve the American dream. Indeed, that classic story of enterprising immigrants who contribute far more to this country than they take away continues today, despite the ill-informed stereotypes that infect today’s immigration debate.
Trump himself has helped to spread poisonous stereotypes since the day he launched his presidential campaign by calling undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murders,” even though he allowed that “some, I presume, are good people.” More than “some,” Mr. President.
Remember how ESPN anchor Jemele Hill fell into hot water in September for calling Trump a “white supremacist” on air? I thought she sounded too extreme at that time, but now? Her time has come.
Yet the White House was slow to back away from Trump’s reported remarks, according to some reports, because Team Trump figures the hostile edge to his “America First” policy plays well with his cherished base. Indeed, Trump’s hunger for applause from his base at rallies or on Fox News has led him to pander persistently to that far-right minority while thumbing his nose at the rest of us.
How can we forget his rise as a candidate after questioning the validity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, branding Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States and responding very slo-o-owly to disavow the support of the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Since then, Trump’s polarizing politics have fed widespread doubts about his mental fitness, despite (or perhaps because of) his description of himself as a “stable genius,” even before Michael Wolff’s runaway bestseller “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” raised new questions. A January Quinnipiac University poll found a slim majority of American voters (53 percent to 44 percent) say he is intelligent, but 69 percent say he not level-headed and 57 percent say that he is not fit to serve as president.
Yet psychiatric experts tell me that normal evaluation methods probably would prove to be less than conclusive, partly because the debate is fueled and distorted by politics. Besides, troubled presidents like Abraham Lincoln, who biographers say suffered severe depression for most of his life, show that mental illness does not necessarily render one unfit to lead.
But, as Trump has shown, you don’t have to be mentally ill to play on fears and promote white supremacy.
Email Clarence Page at cpagechicagotribune.com.