Opinion writer

CNN anchor Don Lemon revealed that in 2011, then-private citizen Donald Trump once branded him a “racist.” Why? “I was racist,” the African American journalist said Tuesday, “because of the way that I challenged him.” Funny, Trump did the same thing to me four years later. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Lemon found himself revisiting that moment seven years later thanks to a racially tinged Twitter stink-bomb Trump lobbed last Friday after hate-watching Lemon’s interview with LeBron James about his new school in Akron, Ohio. In that sit-down, the basketball phenom understandably had nothing nice to say about Trump. So, the president of the United States lashed out.

Lemon interviewed Trump on May 1, 2011, and challenged Trump on his views on race and the promotion of the racist birther lie against then-President Barack Obama. The on-air conversation was fine. Lemon recalled after that interview, an irked Trump “vowed he’d never come back and do an interview with me because I was racist.”

When I read the item about all this in The Post’s Reliable Source on Thursday, I had a sense of deja vu. Trump announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015. The same day he said Mexico was sending “rapists” over the U.S. southern border. By July 6, I’d seen and heard enough and wrote a post decrying Trump’s retweet (and then deletion) of an offensive dig directed at former Florida governor Jeb Bush:

That he retweeted such an offensive comment speaks ill of his judgment. That he would get so personal with a rival speaks ill of his temperament. That he felt comfortable endorsing such a hateful remark speaks ill of the GOP, which has turned a blind eye to this low-boil hate for so long that it has lost all ability to squelch it.

Well, that didn’t go over well with the Queens-born builder. As was his wont, Trump had my piece printed out, then he scribbled out a quick missive atop it and had a PDF sent to me.


Handwritten note from then-candidate Donald Trump to The Post’s Jonathan Capehart on July 6, 2015. (Jonathan Capehart/The Washington Post)

Jonathan – You are the racist, not I. Get rid of your “hate.” Best wishes …

Trump’s response was laughable then. Three years later — more than 18 months into his presidency — such a remark remains stunning. There have been so many instances of Trump’s racism that I don’t have time to look for them all. But his wretched response to the white-nationalist mayhem unleashed on Charlottesville a year ago this Sunday remains the most egregious.

Trump ceded the moral authority of the Oval Office to drive a wedge into the nation’s festering racial wounds. He failed to use the tragedy to unite and heal our country. I haven’t been on this earth as long as Trump, but this much I (and Lemon) know: If your response to being legitimately called a racist is to hurl it back at your accuser, you most definitely are.

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