This is how you accurately describe President Trump’s latest actions: “Instead of working around the clock on [the pandemic], visiting hospitals, rallying the troops, rallying the public to wear masks, fight complacency, care for elderly and the sick, this president is simply declaring victory, declaring [the novel coronavirus] 99 percent harmless instead of talking about the virus and doing things about it. He’s spending his time to trying to distract now with racist and jingoistic talk. He’s just leaning full into the racist he’s long been; he’s just letting us see it more clearly now than ever before.” That was Anderson Cooper on CNN Monday night. Clear declarative sentences that accurately label the president’s words. Is it so hard for others to do the same?
This is not how you accurately depict Trump: “For many Republicans who are watching the president’s impact on Senate races with alarm, his focus on racial and cultural flash points — and not on the surge of the coronavirus in many states — is distressing.” This was how the New York Times obliquely described Trump’s defense of the Confederate flag, his attack on African American NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, his rants against peaceful protesters seeking to halt the murder of African Americans by police and his insistence that some Americans are out to destroy the country. I don’t know what it means to “focus on racial and cultural flash points.” Trump is not conducting a seminar on race and culture. He is not calling attention to violence against racial minorities. He is making racist statements and venerating racist symbols. Period.
Phrases such as “racially charged” or “racially sensitive” should be dropped from journalists’ lexicon. “Raising racial tensions” is devoid of meaning. Trump is saying racist things. It is part of decades of racist rhetoric. Let’s not mince words.
Journalists should not construct tortured sentences to make racism appear as an unfortunate and perhaps accidental byproduct of his rhetoric. Try diagramming this sentence from the Times: “Mr. Trump has sought to stoke white fear and resentment, portraying himself as a protector of an old order that polls show much of America believes perpetuates entrenched racism and wants to move beyond.” That verges on self-parody. “Trump fans racism.” Period.
And when the media generously describe Republicans as “bothered” or “uneasy” about Trump’s blatant racism, they exaggerate Republicans’ reaction and distort reality. The overwhelming number of elected Republicans do not say and do not act as though they are bothered or uneasy. The few Republican voices (other than openly Never Trumpers) whom mainstream reporters dig up to say negative things about Trump are generally retired pols (e.g., former congressman Carlos Curbelo) and lesser-known strategists who do not really take Trump on as much as they disagree with his premises and assertions, as if racist words and accusations are floating free in the atmosphere, untethered to a particular person. Let’s be accurate: Whatever personal qualms they might have, virtually every elected Republican either ignores, rationalizes or minimizes Trump’s racist appeals.
This phony restraint and aversion to candor are reminiscent of the queasiness among some mainstream outlets over the past four years about using the word “lie” in association with a president who incessantly repeats falsehoods long after they are debunked. He lies about easily established facts. He lies about his own record and comments. He lies about the economy. He lies about virtually any topic.
Racists and liars are enabled and protected from accountability when the media mince words in describing their language. It is those who are already the victims of racial injustice, brutality and persecution who are hurt the most when the media bob and weave, sidestepping unpleasant but true descriptions of their oppressors. I pray we will finally respond to protesters’ demands for racial justice, but in the meantime, can we at least be clear about the identity and tactics of their persecutors?
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