In a “60 Minutes” interview that aired on CBS on Sunday night, Anderson Cooper asked freshman Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “Do you believe President Trump is a racist?” The New York congresswoman didn’t even pause before responding: “Yeah. Yeah. No question.”
The Trump administration hit back almost immediately by dismissing the 29-year-old’s intelligence. A White House statement said that Ocasio-Cortez’s “sheer ignorance on the matter can’t cover the fact that President Trump supported and passed historic criminal justice reform,” adding that the president has also “repeatedly condemned racism and bigotry in all forms.”
It’s a telling response, one that displays the White House’s lack of awareness about why nearly 6 in 10 Americans agree with Ocasio-Cortez’s opinion that the president is a racist, according to a February 2018 Associated Press poll.
For starters, the fact that the Trump White House — an administration known for its lack of diversity — accused a young Latina woman of “ignorance” on the matter of racism didn’t go unnoticed.
And it reflects what many people see as a broader pattern of disrespect toward Americans of color.
After nearly 20 years, the president has yet to apologize for calling for the death of five Latino and black teenagers who were wrongly accused of assaulting a white woman in Central Park. When the topic of police brutality of people of color arises, Trump has criticized black activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement and gone so far as to call NFL players protesting racism and police violence profane names.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired,' " the president said to roaring applause in Huntsville, Ala., at a 2017 campaign rally.
He waffled in the face of white nationalists marching in Charlottesville (saying there were “good people” among those marching with neo-Nazis) and has called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals.”
In the face of all this, the president’s reluctant support for a criminal justice reform bill is irrelevant. As Eddie Glaude, chair of Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies, told The Fix:
“Invoking the support and passage of criminal justice reform as an evidence of Trump’s view on race is like saying: ‘How can I be racist? I have black friends.’ It’s nonsense. It is a crude attempt to divert attention from the obvious fact that he is racist (and the record is replete with examples and evidence of this fact) and to characterize those who believe he is a race-baiter or those who trade in victimization. I say it is crude, because we have experienced this sort of rhetorical sleight of hand for decades in this country.”
The president “repeatedly condemning” racism, as the White House claims, is pointless when one of the main promoters of that bigotry is perceived to be Trump himself.