The net effect is that, since almost no examples of racism are perpetrated by self-described Klansmen or Nazis, very little ends up being universally agreed upon as racist. As Bouie once tweeted, the bar for “racist” is so high it ends up being “an almost empty set.”
On Friday morning, Trump sat down for an interview with Piers Morgan, a one-time CNN host and now host of the show “Good Morning Britain” in the United Kingdom. Trump’s relationship with the British soured late last year after he retweeted a series of virulently anti-Muslim videos originally tweeted by a leader of a group called Britain First. Britain First is understood in Britain to be a hate group; the woman Trump retweeted, Jayda Fransen, had herself been arrested twice shortly before Trump’s retweets for harassment and threatening behavior toward Muslims.
The videos themselves were unsubtle. One showed Muslims throwing someone off a building. Another depicted a Muslim man destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary. A third showed a young man said to be a Muslim immigrant assaulting a physically disabled boy in the Netherlands. (The assailant in that last video was not a Muslim immigrant as it turns out.) They were, in short, cherry-picked or misleading representations of Muslims meant to make the group look bad. They were also retweeted by the president.
Morgan challenged Trump on his decision to share the videos from Fransen.
“If you are telling me they’re horrible people, horrible, racist people, I would certainly apologize if you’d like me to do that,” Trump said. He later added, “Of course I didn’t know that. I know nothing about them, and I know nothing about them today other than I read a little bit. I don’t know who they are. I know nothing about them, so I wouldn’t be doing that.”
Notice what Trump is not-really-apologizing for. Not the content of the videos, but that he retweeted a group that, in Britain, is generally understood to be one of those verboten racist organizations as the Klan is here. Trump is apologizing not for sharing misleading negative representations of a religious group — he is apologizing for violating the taboo against racism Bouie outlines.
The natural question is whether Trump would regret sharing the videos had the person tweeting them not been associated with a hate group. The answer, it seems clear, is he would not.
After all, consider his response to the violence in Charlottesville last August. He condemned the racist groups that participated — the Klan, the Nazis. He insisted there were some good people on both sides of those protests, both the side associated with the Klan and the side protesting the Klan. There were people who agreed with but were not members of the Klan, and, in Trump’s view, some of them had a point. If someone not associated with an active hate group who nonetheless shared an opinion that agreed with that hate group shared a video demeaning Muslims, why would Trump feel as though it was inappropriate to retweet that video?
Most Americans think Trump is biased against black people, though more white people say he is not than say he is. Trump, like many people, seemingly adheres to an understanding of racism which articulates that only racists do racist things, and since he is not racist, what he did is not racist, either.
“I am often the least racist person that anybody is going to meet,” Trump assured Morgan. He just sometimes spreads misleading information about Muslims with the obvious goal of painting them in a negative light.