During a White House speech on Monday, President Trump denounced racism as “evil” after facing two days of bipartisan criticism for declining to specifically condemn Nazis and white supremacists after a violent rally Charlottesville.
After a nonspecific response Saturday in which the president decried the violence exhibited on “many sides,” he addressed the problem head-on Monday. “Racism is evil,” he said, “and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans.”
Trump’s initial hesitancy to call out white racism did not go unnoticed, and it has similarities with a longstanding trend on Trump’s Twitter account: In his eight years on Twitter, he has been far more likely to accuse African Americans of racism than white people.
Trump has used the word “racist” or “racism” at least 56 times on Twitter, according to the Trump Twitter Archive, a website that tracks and archives all the president’s tweets. In two-thirds of those Tweets, Trump levied accusations of racism at individuals or groups of people. And those accusations followed a very clear pattern: Trump has directed accusations of racism toward black people three times as often as he has done so against whites.
Most of Trump’s allegations of racism have been directed against two people. One of them is former MSNBC host Touré, whom he accused of being a racist no fewer than 10 times in the course of a feud lasting from October 2012 and September 2013. Below, a characteristic tweet:
Not only is @Toure a racist (and boring), he's a really dumb guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 13, 2013
That feud was evidently sparked, in part, by comments Tourée made on Twitter about Trump’s bankruptcies.
Similarly, in August of 2013 Trump sent six tweets accusing HBO “Real Sports” host Bryant Gumbel of being a racist. As with Touré, Trump characterized Gumbel as a “dope” and “dumb.” The accusations may have been linked to comments Gumbel made about Trump’s golf courses.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2013
Trump has also tweeted out accusations of racism against talk show host Tavis Smiley (“a hater & racist”) and former president Barack Obama (“a total racist?”). In 2012, noting strong African American support for Obama, Trump asked “Is that racism?”
Trump called the film “Django Unchained,” about a freed slave, “the most racist movie I have ever seen.” He characterized the title of the sitcom “Black-ish,” about an upper middle-class black family, as “racism at highest level?”
Conversely, Trump has sent a total of seven tweets accusing white individuals of racism. They include Hillary Clinton (“needs to address the racist undertones of her 2008 campaign”), Elizabeth Warren (“Very racist!”) and David Letterman (“must apologize for his racist comment").
Trump also has used the words “racist” or “racism” in a number of tweets that discuss the concept but don’t necessarily accuse anyone of racism. For instance:
"If you voted for Obama in 2008 to prove you were not a racist then vote for Romney in 2012 to prove you are not stupid." Thanks Walter D!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Half of those 18 tweets, however, contain an explicit or implicit denial that Trump himself is racist. “Don King, and so many other African Americans who know me well and endorsed me, would not have done so if they thought I was a racist,” Trump said in June of 2016. A number of other tweets thank specific individuals, such as Al Sharpton, Letterman and former CNBC host Donny Deutsch, for apologizing for calling Trump racist.
Trump’s deployment of the race card primarily against black Americans may seem odd. African Americans have borne the brunt of American racism for centuries, from slavery through Jim Crow and segregation and into modern-day prejudices that are less explicit but no less corrosive.
But Trump’s use of words like “racist” and “racism” is perhaps best understood in the context of a modern conservative movement that has come to believe, against all evidence, that whites face more discrimination than blacks. By using racial language primarily as a cudgel against his nonwhite critics, Trump has given validation to that belief.
“Isn’t it intetesting that anybody who attacks President Obama is considered a racist by the real racists out there!” Trump remarked in 2013. Trump didn’t specify who the “real racists” are.