President Trump launched his campaign by accusing Mexican immigrants of being the “worst.” But when journalists ask about the racial elements of his worldview and policies, the president seems deeply agitated and offended.
The day after the 2018 midterms, “PBS NewsHour” White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, who is black, asked the president about his embrace of nationalism.
"On the campaign trail you called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists. Now people are also saying ...”
But the president quickly interrupted her before dismissing her question. “I don’t know why you’d say that,” he said. “That’s such a racist question."
Alcindor continued: “There are some people that say that now the Republican Party is seen as supporting white nationalism because of your rhetoric.”
“Oh, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it,” Trump said. “I mean, why do I have my highest poll numbers — that’s such a racist question. Honestly, I mean, I know you have it written down and you’re going to tell me — let me tell you. It’s a racist question.”
“To say that, what you said, is so insulting to me, it’s a very terrible thing that you said,” the president added.
This line of questioning isn’t going anywhere, in part, because of the feelings of many Americans who find Trumpism to be a racist political ideology.
At any rate, it’s hard to make the case that it’s racist to question Trump, a self-described nationalist, about his controversial views, given the global history of nationalism and perhaps especially when many white nationalists embrace him. The president’s bristling at the question only ends up creating more anxiety about his political ideology, especially among those around the world who truly think that the president believes in the inferiority of people who are not white Americans.
During the exchange, Trump did answer Alcindor’s question, saying that his nationalism was rooted in his primary love for America — not a hate for the rest of the world.
“You have nationalists, you have globalists. I also love the world. And I don’t mind helping the world. But we have to straighten out our country first. We have a lot of problems,” he said.
But it was fair to ask Trump to lay out his embrace of nationalism given how some of his supporters have interpreted it.
During the campaign and as recently as the 2018 election, white nationalists have embraced the politics of Trump and the candidates he supported, at least in part because they believed those ideas synced up well with their own. During the week preceding the midterm elections, politician and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke posted multiple racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic tweets while expressing his support for Republican candidates and Trump, who denounced Duke during the campaign.
And on the day that Trump called it racist to be asked about his nationalism, Patrick Casey, the leader of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist organization, posted photos of himself visiting the White House to “pay my respects.” Casey was one of the individuals who marched in Charlottesville in 2017. It was during that time that nearly 60 percent of Americans said that Trump had encouraged white supremacists groups, according to a Quinnipiac poll.
As former Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said on CNN earlier this month:, “I have not called the president a racist, but there are racists in his sympathizers who believe he may be, which is why they go to his aid, which is why he has provided them cover. I believe his cover has led to much of the degradation in our political discourse."
As long as Trump backs candidates who make statements deemed as racist and his party elevates politicians with ties to white nationalism, millions of Americans will wonder about his own ideology. Attacking a black journalist is not going to change that. For most, it will just reinforce the belief of half of Americans who think the president is a racist.