Since the earliest days of the Trump campaign, the president and his surrogates have pushed back on the idea that their vision of making America great was rooted in racism.
After many voters were drawn to Trump's calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers, their critics claimed that the populism eventually articulated by former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon was grounded in ethnocentrism.
This past weekend, Bannon, who has increasingly been connecting with nationalist leaders around the world who share his politics, encouraged those who share his worldview to embrace accusations of racism.
While speaking Saturday at a gathering of the far-right French National Front party, Bannon told the gathering they should be proud of being accused of racism.
“Let them call you racists,” Bannon said. “Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.”
“The tide of history is with us, and it will compel us to victory after victory after victory,” he said later.
Bannon's encouraging French populists confirms for his critics the belief that the worldview he brought to the White House is rooted in racism.
While no longer in the White House, Bannon and his nationalist ideals still command a following among some American conservatives.
Last month, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen — the niece of National Front leader Marine Le Pen — spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference, one of the largest gatherings of conservatives in the United States.
Her speech echoed many of the statements of Trump, who also spoke at the conference, and of Bannon, who helped lay the groundwork that led to Trump’s election.
The idea of taking pride in being called a racist is not something most people in the mainstream have embraced. Polling suggests that being a racist is still viewed poorly.
A recent poll suggests that most Americans think Trump, who has low approval ratings, is a racist. Nearly 6 in 10 — 57 percent — of adults say the United States' top politician is a racist, according to the poll.
While Trump has a four-decade history of actions and comments that many interpret as being discriminatory toward people of color, he has denied he is a racist on multiple occasions.
The fact that Trump rejects the label himself and goes as far as calling himself “the least racist person” suggests he and his U.S. followers who may share some of the politics of France's National Front may not be embracing the label any time soon.
Whether populists in the United States — drawn to Trump’s policies on immigration, race and other issues related to diversity — officially embrace the “racist” label or not may be irrelevant. It appears a growing number of conservative Americans are embracing the worldview that Bannon, and even the president, perpetuate and defend.
Many of the cultural policies that drew Trump’s base to him are looked upon poorly by the majority of U.S. voters. Most Americans — 6 in 10 — say Trump’s election has led to worse race relations in the United States, according to a Pew report on the subject.
Sizable percentages from the demographics that backed Trump do not think race relations have worsened under the president — or at least do not attribute the decline to the president and his ideology. Perhaps this is what people should focus on most. Labels matter, but the meaning behind them is even more significant.
Whether supporters of these comments and policies call themselves racist may not ultimately matter if the result is that these opinions end up having implications felt more negatively by people in some ethnic groups than others. This is essential if nationalism — and the party that has increasingly made room for it — want to attract a more diverse group of followers or even keep existing adherents who truly value people of other races.