He told us what was in his heart when he fanned the flames of birtherism and kept up a drumbeat of racist remarks throughout the campaign (e.g., “a textbook case” of racism is then-Speaker Paul D. Ryan called Trump’s accusation that a judge of Mexican heritage could not do his job fairly"). After Omarosa Manigault Newman was fired, Trump had no African Americans among his senior White House staff.
His racism is so apparent to many Americans, Democratic presidential candidates now say without batting an eye that “I don’t think you can reach any other conclusion,” as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) did during an interview with the Root.
This is another one of those moments when one must be reminded this is not normal. We’ve had presidents whose policies and positions on race were roundly criticized, but never has it become unexceptional, uncontroversial even, to call the president a racist.
Perhaps candor is healthy, and affording Trump the assumption of good faith does the country no favors. The widely accepted view among Democrats and independents that Trump is a racist, however, raises some of the problems that arose during the 2016 campaign.
However, bluntness has its drawbacks and Democrats should consider where the conversation will go from there. What, for example, do Democrats call the voters who supported Trump in 2016, when many (but not all) of Trump’s racist utterances were already out there?
Some would argue that Hillary Clinton made the Kinsley Gaffe — inadvertently speaking the truth in public — when she called Trump supporters (or some of them) “deplorables." It was not however a winning political strategy. Trump supporters understandably refuse to confess to being racists or condoning racism; they’d prefer to insist however unconvincingly that the president isn’t really a racist. Voters don’t want to be told they made a mistake, let alone be told they made a mistake by willful blindness to racism.
In 2020, Democrats who flat-out call Trump a racist, no matter how justified they may be, better be prepared to say whether they think Trump’s supporters are racists or unduly tolerant of racism. They might genuinely think the answer is yes, but they’ve then created an unbridgeable divide between “those people” (the racists) and the rest of us. Talk about cementing division and resentment.
Politicians are expert at equivocating, so be prepared to see Democrats try to differentiate between those who voted for Trump — even knowing his views — and Trump himself. Better perhaps is the approach of former representative Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) to leave labeling to others and to speak about ways of reuniting the country. To invoke one of Harris’s favorite phrases, “We are better than this.”
Some day we will be in the post-Trump era, faced with the challenge of picking up the shards of a shattered political system in which mistrust and even hatred are the default settings for many voters. We will have to figure out how to go forward as country. It, therefore, might behoove candidates to let voters draw their own conclusions about Trump and then present a message of unification instead of vilification.
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