Among the various incidents in Donald Trump's pre-political past that have rumbled through the public's awareness over the past year was a moment when he said that the operators of Native American casinos as "don’t look like Indians to me." When Trump renewed his attacks on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) last month, calling her "Pocahontas," we wrote about Trump's tense history with Native Americans and Native American issues, pointing back to a news story about the 1993 hearing during which Trump made the comment.
Then MSNBC found the video. It aired last night during "All In with Chris Hayes."
— All In w/Chris Hayes (@allinwithchris) July 1, 2016
As is often the case, the video adds a lot more context -- and, in this case, more content. We've transcribed the exchange, because the resonance with the 2016 campaign extends far beyond the "look like Indians" line.
REP. GEORGE MILLER (D-CALIF): Is this you, discussing Indian blood: "We're going to judge people by whether they have Indian blood whether they're qualified to run a casino or not?"
TRUMP: That probably is me, absolutely. Because I'll tell you what. If you look, if you look at some of the reservations that you've approved, that you, sir, in your great wisdom have approved, I will tell you right now -- they don't look like Indians to me. And they don't look like the Indians ... Now, maybe we say politically correct or not politically correct, they don't look like Indians to me, and they don't look like Indians to Indians.
And a lot of people are laughing at it. And you're telling me how tough it is and how rough it is to get approved. Well, you go up to Connecticut and you look. Now, they don't look like Indians to me, sir.
MILLER: Thank God that's not the test of whether or not people have rights in this country or not -- whether or not they pass your "look" test.
TRUMP: Depends whether or not. ... Yeah. Depends whether or not you're approving it, sir.
MILLER: No, no, it's not a question of whether or not I'm approving it. It's not a question of what I'm approving it. Mr. Trump, do you know, do you know in the history of this country where we've heard this discussion before? "They don't look Jewish to me?"
TRUMP: Oh, really.
MILLER: "They don't look Indian to me." "They don't look Italian to me."
MILLER: And that was the test for whether people could go into business, or not go into business. Whether they could get a bank loan. You're too black, you're not black enough.
TRUMP: I want to find out. ... Well, then why don't you -- you're approving for Indian. Why don't you approve it for everybody then, sir?
MILLER: But that's not a ...
TRUMP: If your case is non-discriminatory, why don't you approve for everybody? You're saying only Indians -- wait a minute, sir.
MILLER: You wouldn't stand -- you wouldn't stand for it in five minutes.
TRUMP: You're saying only Indians can have the reservations, only Indians can have the gaming. So why aren't you approving it for everybody? Why are you being discriminatory? Why is it that the Indians don't pay tax, but everybody else does? I do.
So let's start by answering Trump's last question, in case you yourself were wondering the answer. You may recall from history class that the United States was formed by European immigrants seizing land from Native American tribes. This was sort of informal at first, but during the expansionist era of the 19th century, it became more formalized. Native American land was bought or stolen, and Native Americans mostly moved to defined areas -- reservations. An 1831 Supreme Court ruling determined that Native American tribes were "domestic dependent nations," with some -- but not complete -- autonomy.
A 1976 ruling (Bryan v. Itasca County) settled the points Trump was questioning directly. The case stemmed from a Native American couple, Helen and Russell Bryan, being assessed a small tax on his mobile home in Minnesota -- despite his living on tribal land. With the help of a local legal services organization, the Bryans fought the tax all the way to the Supreme Court, where they prevailed. The decision determined that states can't tax Native Americans living on reservations -- and cleared the way for tribes to operate gaming establishments.
Trump's argument to Miller focuses on the perception of fairness, which has been central to his candidacy. As a presidential candidate, he has suggested that Christians and white Americans have been disadvantaged by the country's inclusion of or accommodations to minority groups. The implication to his closing question in 1993 was the same: Why does this group get an advantage that I don't? How is that fair?
For the reasons explained above. "Indians don't pay tax" and can "have the gaming" because of the historic tension between tribes and the federal government, because of the history of how Native American land was acquired and because of determinations of the Supreme Court.
I am looking forward to being in New Hampshire tomorrow. The silent majority is taking our country back. We will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2015
Trump often phrases his concerns about the aggrieved political majority -- the "silent majority" in his Nixonian phrasing -- as being about "political correctness." He did this in the first minutes of the first presidential debate. When Fox News's Megyn Kelly asked Trump about his past disparagement of women, Trump replied that he thought Americans were tired of the sort of "political correctness" that spurs people to find fault with such comments.
In 1993, he used the phrase in a similar way. He admitted it may not be "politically correct" to say that he can evaluate the heritage of a person by sight, but he was doing it anyway. Trump's whole campaign has been built on crumbling the distinction between "correct" and "politically correct." "Politically correct," after all, is supposed to refer to "ways you have to phrase things in order to not run afoul of the political mood." But Trump's statements have reshaped the political mood to the extent that even non-politically correct things are now politically acceptable -- as measured by Trump's vote totals in the Republican primaries.
And then there are the parts not captured in the transcript above -- the little scoffs and audible dismissal of Miller's rejoinders. This is Trump finding a politician and his political ways ridiculous, worthy of scorn.
If anything defines Donald Trump in 2016, it's that.