Vanity Fair reported Friday that President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said Trump made blatantly racist comments to him from time to time.
According to Cohen, Trump remarked in response to Cohen’s observation that his rally crowds were overwhelmingly white, “That’s because black people are too stupid to vote for me.” Cohen also claims Trump said, “Name one country run by a black person that’s not a shithole. . . . Name one city.” Cohen also recalls that while traveling in Chicago in a rough neighborhood, Trump said, “only the blacks could live like this.” (When someone says “the” blacks or “the” Hispanics, it’s generally not going to be a compliment.)
This will come as a total shock to you unless you knew:
- Trump and his father were forced to settle a housing discrimination claim in the 1970s alleging that they refused to rent to African Americans;
- Trump called for the death penalty for the so-called Central Park Five, insisting on their guilt even after DNA evidence exonerated them;
- He stoked birtherism, a racist conspiracy theory claiming that the first African American president wasn’t born in the United States;
- At a rally during the 2016 campaign, he referred to an African American in the crowd “as my African American over here,” imploring the crowd to “look” at him.
- There is no visible African American staffer in the West Wing;
- In a White House meeting, Trump allegedly said Haitians “all have AIDS” and that Nigerians should “go back to their huts.”
- According to lawmakers who attended an immigration meeting with Trump, the president said the United States should not be taking immigrants from “shithole” countries such as Haiti and from Africa; he said American immigration should prefer Norwegians;
- He said there were some “very fine people” among the neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville last year, and;
- He regularly refers to African Americans as “low IQ.”
(And then there are the racist remarks and policies about Muslims and Hispanics.)
If, however, you’ve been a sentient being for a couple years, you’ve also noticed that in addition to all that Trump praises “nationalism,” refuses to condemn the alt-right and has no trouble embracing out-and-out racists (e.g., Roy Moore, who said, “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery. They cared for one another. People were strong in the families. Our families were strong. Our country had a direction”).
If you didn’t think he was a racist — or didn’t care that he was — you’ll wave off Cohen’s allegations as untrue or irrelevant. If, however, you’ve figured out and been proved right in the closing days of the midterm campaign that Trump is obsessed with whipping up racist animosity and stoking white grievance, you’ll believe Cohen’s allegations are entirely plausible.
So does this mean Cohen’s accusations are not important or worthy of reporting? No. The measure of newsworthiness for a president’s outlandish words or conduct, contrary to fuzzy-headed punditry, is not whether something changes minds or “works,” but rather whether it is deliberately false, outside the bounds of decent conduct, violates basic democratic norms, provides comfort to despots around the globe, evidences corrupt intent and/or signifies unfitness in office. Honestly, just about everything the commander in chief says is newsworthy; he is arguably the most powerful person on the planet.
It’s perverse to say that because Trump evidences overt racism more than any post-World War II president we should start ignoring his outbursts. (And in an election in which both sides are trying to motivate every last voter, one never knows what will provoke someone to vote or, alternatively, to stay home out of disgust for the conduct of one’s favored party.)
Similarly, the press cannot ignore tweets even if coverage is “what Trump wants.” Whether coverage serves to annoy or satisfy Trump’s gargantuan ego is not journalists’ concern. We are obliged to track Trump’s lies, if only to remind Americans of the difference between truth and fiction and to trace the pace of his lies. (My Post colleagues Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly this past week found, “In the first nine months of his presidency, Trump made 1,318 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day. But in the seven weeks leading up the midterm elections, the president made 1,419 false or misleading claims — an average of 30 a day.”)
The independent media’s job is to illuminate and inform, to present the truth as best as we are able. What voters choose to make of it is up to them. Whether it “helps” one side or the other is the concern of partisan propagandists, not journalists.