Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter for Foxtrot Alpha, a blog that covers defense, technology and policy.
There’s a reason why some of President Trump’s supporters don’t fear Russian President Vladimir Putin: Racism is altering their perceptions of what a threat is and isn’t, even at the international level.
The intelligence community has presented Trump evidence that Russia hacked our election, yet he insisted on condemning the findings. He even suggested via Twitter that sworn members of the intelligence community were behaving like “Nazi Germany.”
Trump supporters should have been appalled, but many aren’t. And why should they be? After all, he was not elected to protect America. These Trump backers voted for him because he vowed to be the protector in chief of American whiteness.
During the first two minutes of his speech announcing his run for president in June 2015, Trump supporters cheered on the real estate magnate as he accused Mexican immigrants of being criminals and rapists, even though data shows no real correlation between immigration and rising crime rates. Trump’s racist rhetoric extended to refugees, who he said are bringing terrorism to America — even though all of these claims have been thoroughly debunked. He promised to build a wall across the U.S.-Mexican border (which nearly 80 percent of his supporters are fine with) and said that “Islamic terrorism is eating large portions of the Mideast.”
Of course, not all Trump supporters have explicitly racist views, nor do they necessarily share his view of Russia, but many Trump backers’ idea of a true threat to Americans is not based on reality. One poll finds that nearly 50 percent of them viewed blacks as more violent and criminal than whites. Some 58 percent of Trump backers have negative views of Muslims. Their racism was on full display at his rallies, which the New York Times documented. One of the chants was, “Build a wall — kill them all.”
If we aren’t careful, racism will make us vulnerable to the real threat operating behind the Kremlin walls. To be sure, the United States isn’t Putin’s only victim. Russia hacked Estonia in 2007 and Georgia before invading it in 2008. And Ukraine felt the power of Russia’s cyberwarfare in 2014, when Putin deployed his army to Eastern Ukraine, annexing Crimea. Putin has a clear track record of undermining countries abroad, while using nationalist rhetoric to boost his own support at home.
No matter. Russia is not a threat to most Trump supporters. Mexicans, Muslims, blacks and anyone nonwhite, however, are.
The New York Times found that most Trump supporters in Louisiana and Indiana, states he won by 20 points, don’t understand why the Russian interference is a big deal. The report found that several of them flat-out did not believe Russia tried to interfere with the election and that they were drawn to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. One supporter told a Times reporter that if hacking helped Trump win, “I’m glad they did it.”
Their indifference to Putin’s behavior may be shocking to many of us, but it really shouldn’t be. These are the same supporters who back a man who went on a years-long witch hunt to force Barack Obama to produce a birth certificate to disprove he was born in Kenya. Two-thirds of them believe he is a Muslim.
If protecting the integrity of the United States were a priority to Trump backers, they would be appalled by Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, which would resolve any questions of potential business dealings he has with foreign governments. They would object to his insults of the men and women who serve in the intelligence community and who characterize Russia as an “existential threat.”
But none of this matters to many Trump supporters — racism won’t allow them to see that Moscow is a far more dangerous threat to them than Mexico City. Trump is obliging their No. 1 concern: the defense of American whiteness.