The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s corruption is racist, and his racism is corrupt

Last week’s cynical GOP convention made the intersection all too clear

President Trump arrives to speak at a news conference at the White House on Monday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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After nearly four years of President Trump and his associates bending and breaking the law to serve his political and financial benefit, it is evident that he is the most corrupt president in American history. But the exploitation of minorities and immigrants for illegal government-funded promotions during the Republican National Convention last week reveals an even more dangerous reality: Trump’s corruption is racist, and his racism is corrupt.

While the coronavirus pandemic has introduced many to how Trump’s way of governing upends livelihoods, it was already no secret in communities of color. For example, at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an agency created after the civil rights movement to address housing access and discrimination, Secretary Ben Carson has faced multiple ethics scandals involving lavish spending, nepotism and hiring loyalists, all while rolling back enforcement. Last week, Trump ally and HUD appointee Lynn Patton used her government position to film residents of color in a pro-Trump video that was broadcast at the GOP convention without their permission and in violation of federal law. Similarly, although the president has touted Opportunity Zones as a boon for the Black community, the program has mainly enriched wealthy allies — like his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who still maintains a stake worth up to $50 million in a company that profits from the program, even as Black businesses have “largely missed out” on Opportunity Zone funds. More recently, the potentially illegal actions taken by Trump megadonor and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have undermined voting by mail during the pandemic, while posing a unique threat to minority voters.

Trump sees black America as a dystopian hellhole. So do most white people.

Trump’s unscrupulous conduct also endangers lives. In 2018, while his administration was ripping apart Black and Brown immigrant families, it was also illegally failing to create the records necessary to reunite them. In 2017, Trump was forced to withdraw a top Federal Emergency Management Agency nominee because of ethics issues just as devastating hurricanes made landfall, leaving many people without access to basic services. Despite the urgent need for leadership in the administration’s disaster relief apparatus, Trump left the position vacant and was later criticized for FEMA’s response and cronyism. One study found that Hurricane Harvey disparately affected minority residents in Texas, who then experienced racial discrimination trying to access FEMA aid. These failures have serious social, economic and environmental consequences, potentially causing more death and generational pain.

The president’s corruption has also kneecapped the federal response to the novel coronavirus, ravaging minority communities in particular. Despite his lack of medical or scientific expertise, Kushner has led a “shadow” coronavirus task force with private-sector representatives, using nonpublic email accounts in violation of the Federal Records Act. Shortly after taking office, Trump had undermined federal nepotism laws to hire his son-in-law in the White House (and later, also his daughter Ivanka Trump). Trump’s government patronage reinforces white supremacy and perpetuates the exclusion of people who already have less political access. Even worse, a company tied to Kushner was enlisted to build a government website directing Americans to virus testing sites — a now-scrapped project that potentially violated government ethics laws. Meanwhile, Black Americans still consistently lack equal access to testing. The pandemic has crushed Black businesses, which have struggled to secure federal aid while Trump allies won government funding with little oversight.

The unethical actions of Trump’s appointed enablers are perhaps even more racist than his own. Attorney General William P. Barr ordered that peaceful protesters demanding justice after the killing of George Floyd in May be removed from public spaces near the White House. Barr’s actions were an abuse of power that led several members of Congress to call for his resignation or impeachment. With help from Barr and Chad Wolf, his illegally appointed acting secretary of homeland security, Trump deployed federal agents to occupy American cities with large minority communities such as Milwaukee and Detroit, and also sent forces to Portland, Ore., where a mostly White population has been protesting police violence against Black Americans. Critics warn that Trump may use these agents to illegally intimidate voters of color ahead of the November election.

Is Trump a racist? You don’t need an n-word tape to know.

During protests this past week after yet another Black American, Jacob Blake, was shot by police, the president has claimed again that he wants law and order. Politicians often invokeLaw & Order!” as a racial dog whistle to appeal to certain white voters. Trump’s use of the term rings particularly hollow, given the rampant corruption by allies and his intervention to defend them. In fact, we have seen an escalation in administration officials engaging in illegal behavior as Election Day approaches, including Wolf’s participation during the convention in a naturalization ceremony that was designed to promote Trump’s candidacy in violation of the Hatch Act. This illegal and transparent political stunt came without the knowledge of several of the new citizens but is consistent with Trump’s unethical exploitation of immigrants and minorities for political gain.

Trump’s corruption is incompatible with the ideals of a government that treats all Americans as equal members of society. And his racism is antithetical to an ethical government that works for everyone instead of just a privileged few. As we saw last week, the president and his aides continue to illegally use government resources to exploit minorities and immigrants for an electoral advantage. The Trump presidency confirms that systemic racism persists, that the president is dangerously corrupt — and that the combination of the two make communities of color more vulnerable.

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