Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the new book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Michael D'Antonio: Trump's racially charged and false rhetoric is not just him kicking it up a notch for campaign; he has long history of this
He says Trump risks inciting the worst in others and what we see is a troubling reflection of the genuine Trump
After a protester who shouted “black lives matter” was assaulted by members of the crowd at one of Donald Trump’s rallies, the presidential candidate said on Fox News, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”
Hours later he took to Twitter to spread a false and inflammatory set of crime “statistics” purporting to show, among other erroneous things, that 81% of whites who were killed last year were victims of black assailants.
According to the FBI, 82% of whites killed in 2014 were attacked by whites. The false information in Trump’s message was attributed to a nonexistent organization identified as the “Crime Statistics Bureau – San Francisco,” but the true source appears to be an Internet poster who uses a modified swastika as an identifying symbol. (ThinkProgress.com identified the source.)
The FBI data are easy to obtain, but a check could have ruined the post. Trump added more insult to the injury by keeping the illustration in the original: a photo of a young African-American man dressed to look like a thug raising a pistol.
The many facial expressions of Donald Trump
Trump’s tweet and his comment about the black protester are by no means isolated incidents. Inflammatory language and claims that risk inciting the worst in others are reflections of the true Trump.
He began his presidential campaign by using the words “rapists” and “murderers” and “drug dealers” to raise an alarm about undocumented Mexican immigrants. In recent days he has spread a false story about “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States. “It was on television,” said Trump. “I saw it.” There’s zero evidence for any of this.
He has also spoken about the need for a national registry or special forms of identification for Muslim citizens.
Amid pushback from critics who compared the registration concept to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, Trump made the point that a reporter had suggested the concept and he merely entertained it. However he then doubled down, as the expression goes, saying of the registry he “would certainly implement that – absolutely.” Pressed again about whether Muslims would be forced to sign up on government rolls he added, “They have to be. They have to be.”
As a man who proclaims himself to be “a really smart person,” Trump understands the implications of his speech. He knows that targeting people for special government surveillance simply because they belong to a certain religion smacks of dangerous bigotry.
“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before,” said Trump. “And some people are going to be upset about it.” However he deems it necessary because “I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule.”
Trump first demonstrated a taste for the extreme in the 1970s when he answered a federal complaint about the Trump Organization’s treatment of minority applicants for apartments with a lawsuit accusing the feds of acting, as his lawyer said, like “storm troopers” using “Gestapo-like tactics.”
In the 1980s he played on racial resentment by telling a TV interviewer, “A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market.” This wasn’t true, in any way that had ever been documented, but such a statement would resonate with those who had the same feelings.
When New York simmered with outrage over the infamous 1989 assault of the so-called “Central Park Jogger”, Trump bought full-page newspaper advertisements, which began with the words, “Bring Back the Death Penalty.” Years later, after the exoneration of those who were convicted (all members of racial minority groups), Trump publicly questioned why they had been in the park on the night of the attack. In an interview he told me, “I spoke to a detective who is sure that they attacked her.”
A few years after the Central Park Jogger furor, Trump appeared at a United States Senate hearing to say, “Organized crime is rampant on Indian reservations. People know it; people talk about it. It’s going to blow.” He presented no evidence of this “crime wave,” but this did not inhibit the man who likely considered the tribes to be his competitors in the casino business. Trump also said of the tribal representatives at the meeting, “They don’t look like Indians to me.”
In the years leading up to the 2016 campaign, Trump veered into the bizarre realm of the “birther” movement, which is organized around the belief that Barack Obama isn’t qualified to be president because he wasn’t born in the United States. (Obama was in fact born in the United States – in Hawaii.)
The birther idea was begun by a bigoted activist named Andrew Martin who once registered as a candidate for Congress with a committee called the Congressional Campaign to Exterminate Jew Power in America. It was such a laughable cause that Trump was taken to task for it by TV host Bill O’Reilly. Trump replied with another twist of rhetoric, saying of the president’s birth certificate, “Now, he may have one, but there is something on that birth certificate – maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim, I don’t know.”
Trump has long been willing to use the kind of language and make the kinds of cooked-up assertions that play on fear and prejudice and promote division. When confronted with errors of fact or the race-baiting quality of his words, Trump consistently refuses to retract, apologize or correct himself. He says what he believes, in a way he deems appropriate, and regrets none of it.
The effect of this kind of talk can be seen in a September CNN poll that found that 43% of Republicans reject Obama’s claim that he is a Christian and believe he is a Muslim. The same poll found this belief stronger among Trump’s supporters. And it almost goes without saying that those who believe Obama is secretly Muslim relish the idea that he would have to register as one, were Trump to succeed him.
It may be difficult to imagine that Trump wants to lead, as president, a country that will be more divided by his own rhetoric than it was at the start of his campaign. However his record shows that he is sincere in what he says and that his loose relationship with facts, as demonstrated by his “crime statistics” tweet, is not an anomaly. This is the genuine Trump.