President Trump has gained criticism — and praise — for how sternly and frequently he responds to his critics.
It is this tough-guy talk that some of his supporters point to as proof that he is a strong leader — despite not taking this approach with the leaders of Russia and North Korea, whose leadership philosophies have repeatedly put America at risk.
But one group of Americans who regularly find themselves on the receiving end of Trump’s attacks on their intelligence are black Americans, especially prominent ones who criticize him.
The latest example of this involved Trump mocking the intellect of NBA star LeBron James after the philanthropist accused the president of using sports to divide America. In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, James said:
What I've noticed over the past few months [is] he's kind of used sports to kind of divide us, and that's something that I can't relate to. Sports has never been something that divides people. It’s always been something that brings someone together.
It is this that led James, who has supported athletes' decisions to boycott visits to the White House, to say he has no interest in discussing anything with Trump.
“I would never sit across from him.... I’d sit across from Barack [Obama], though.”
Instead of engaging James’s argument, Trump attacked his intelligence. He also attacked Lemon, the only black anchor on prime-time cable, who has frequently criticized Trump’s policies on race.
This was not the first time Trump took this approach with one of his black critics, which The Fix previously addressed. In his response in March to Rep. Maxine Waters’s repeated call for Trump to be removed from office due to nefarious activity, Trump told a Pennsylvania crowd:
Did you ever see her? Did you ever see her? 'We will impeach him. We will impeach the president. It doesn't matter, we will impeach him.'
“She's a low-IQ individual,” he added. “You can't help it.”
Even before entering the White House, Trump claimed that Obama had been a “terrible student” — despite not knowing his predecessor’s grades — and questioned how Obama was admitted to Columbia University or Harvard Law, the Ivy League schools from which Obama earned degrees.
Meanwhile, Trump was allowed to transfer to the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania after receiving “respectable” grades at Fordham, a Jesuit school in New York, following an interview by a “friendly” Wharton undergraduate admissions officer who was a former classmate of Trump’s older brother, according to The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss. And none of Trump’s classmates recall him being a high achiever, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian. But that has not kept him from self-identifying as “a very stable genius” and claiming to have superior intelligence in other ways.
Amid doubts about Trump’s own intellectual superiority, his jabs at black Americans who are critical of his presidency seem to be a play straight out of the handbook of white supremacists, a cohort that most Americans believe has been empowered by Trump’s presidency.
The myth that black people are less intelligent than white people is centuries old, but recent books, podcasts and lecturers have lent a credibility to “race science” that has allowed the explanations to find new popularity among the alt-right, University of New Brunswick professor Matthew A. Sears wrote for The Washington Post.
History has shown that when lawmakers buy into scientific racism, individuals and institutions use things like IQ scores to justify systemic discrimination in policymaking related to public health, criminal justice and education, author Dana Goldstein previously wrote in Slate.
Wendy Osefo, an education professor at Johns Hopkins University, called this Trump tendency “a tactic to demean and belittle black people which has ties to the antebellum south.”
“No longer are we witnessing what some consider dog-whistle politics. This is a clear bullhorn of racist ideologies and practices with deep ties to history,” Osefo said. She also warned that Trump's actions would redound upon Republicans for years.