On Monday, September 11th, 2017, ESPN anchor Jemele Hill called president Donald Trump a bigot and a white supremacist on Twitter. While some news outlets, like the iconoclastic Deadspin, called Hill’s comments “pretty standard and well-founded opinions,” others have been less charitable. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Hill’s tweets were “outrageous” and more than implied that ESPN should fire Hill for the tweets.
Sanders’s comments are particularly troublesome considering the First Amendment clearly protects our civil liberty to free speech against government infringement. While ESPN, as a publicly traded corporation, would be well within its right to fire Hill for her expressed political beliefs (or any number of things, really), Sanders’s assertion amounts to an attempt to violate Hill’s first amendment rights.
But, beyond that, as far as I can see, the real issue is whether Hill was correct or not. Is Donald Trump a white supremacist?
The evidence overwhelmingly seems to point to that conclusion.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has recently written roughly 8,000-word article calling Trump “The First White President” that fairly exhaustingly lays out the effects race and white supremacy have had on Trump’s election and presidency. I will not go into that here other than to say it is overwhelmingly a convincing argument. But, a few key data points seem to, if not demonstrate Trump’s relationship to and dependency on white supremacy, at least put the onus on Trump’s increasingly fewer defenders to rebut the claim.
In 1995, five black and Latino teenagers, dubbed the “Central Park Five,” were accused of assaulting and raping a white woman in Central Park. DNA evidence would later exonerate those men and be used to vacate their sentences, but, before that, Trump ran a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for their execution. A public figure publicly calling for a group of teenagers’ executions is eye-raising enough, but what is most troubling is that Trump defended his advertisement and refused to back down from his claim in 2016. Given our nation’s history of false convictions of persons of color, Trump’s position seems inexplicable outside of a combination of hubris and racial prejudices.
But public statements pale in comparison to the history of rampant racial discrimination exhibited by Donald Trump and his father, Fred, in their real estate holdings. Add this to Trump’s promotion of “birther” ideology, espousing for years that President Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya? And his insistence on increasingly diminishing the rights for Hispanic peoples living in the United States by ending DACA, combined with his intransigence on building a wall between the United States and Mexico? Donald Trump, to put it mildly, does not seem to believe that persons of color, especially black people, deserve equal treatment to whites.
Many of the people with whom Trump has surrounded himself also seem to be white supremacists. Just the highlights here. Steve Bannon, for example, was Trump’s campaign strategist and, after the inauguration, White House Chief Strategist. As the former editor of Breitbart, he helped publish articles like this one that laud many white supremacists, such as Richard Spencer. As another example, Trump nominated Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General, even though Coretta Scott King once railed against his potential appointment to a federal judgeship. After talking about his use of “the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters,” King wrote, “The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.” And Trump has a complicated history with David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
And after a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where a white supremacist murdered a counter protester with his car, a rally where neo-Nazis, KKK members, and others marched in support of white supremacy, Trump claimed (and later doubled down on these comments) that there was “blame on both sides.” How difficult is it to criticize Nazis? I am sincerely grateful that my grandfather, who fought in both the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge, did not live to see the U.S. president fail to condemn neo-Nazis and their appalling ideas.
This blog post is not arguing anything that others, like Coates, have not said before (and more eloquently than I am able to say). But, I do think it is important for white people to point out, and condemn strongly, white supremacy and its ascension into the highest halls of power. With this post, I wanted to do that, and, as I always tell my students to do, clearly state my idea and support it with evidence.
Donald Trump is a white supremacist, and his rise to power has been supported by white supremacy. Jemele Hill was neither the first nor the last person to say this. And I agree with her statements.
Let all good Americans denounce white supremacy and all who support it.
Disclaimer: As per University of Arkansas system guidelines, the views expressed in this blog post, as all of my blog posts, represent only myself and not any university institution or other employee. Moreover, I have not worked on this post, nor will I comment on it or interact with it in any way, during regular business hours.