It’s not surprising that the president wasn’t heeding the advice of his Black critics. He often took to social media to push back on the widely held view that he is racist against Black people. But the amount of disdain he has for the mere suggestion that he enjoys the privileges that come with being a rich White man in America had never been expressed so unapologetically — especially during a period where many White Americans are attempting to understand the state of race in this country.
When Woodward suggested that he and Trump had a responsibility to better “understand the anger and pain” felt by Black Americans, Trump objected. Here is part of their conversation:
Woodward: “We share one thing in common. We’re White, privileged. ... My father was a lawyer and a judge in Illinois, and we know what your dad did. Do you have any sense that that privilege has isolated and put you in a cave to a certain extent, as it put me, and I think lots of White, privileged people in a cave? And that we have to work our way out of it to understand the anger and the pain, particularly Black people feel in this country?Trump: No. You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.
In the interview, the president dismissed the challenges that Black Americans face by pointing to the unemployment numbers of Black Americans pre-pandemic, claiming that he has done more for Black people than any president except for perhaps Abraham Lincoln.
And Trump, who has consistently polled poorly with Black Americans, complained to Woodward about his low approval ratings with the influential voting bloc.
“I’ve done a tremendous amount for the Black community,” he said during a July 8 conversation. “And, honestly, I’m not feeling any love.”
In Trump’s conversation in late June with Woodward, he gave some insight into why he rejects the idea that he benefits from White privilege and his disappointment about not receiving more praise from Black Americans.
When Woodward asked Trump whether he thinks there is “systemic or institutional racism in this country,” the president replied:
“Well, I think there is everywhere. I think probably less here than most places. Or less here than many places.”
There has been nothing to suggest that Trump has spent a meaningful amount of his time in the White House focusing on systems that exist around the world that discriminate against people of color. He has attracted much criticism from human rights activists for turning a blind eye to how poorly the international leaders who he praises treat some marginalized groups. And he has often defended nations with a track record of treating historically marginalized groups poorly — like Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines — by throwing America under the bus. His answer that America was better was confusing if not inconsistent for a president who is not known for advocating for the rights of ethnic minorities nationally or globally.
Trump has made it clear that he has little interest in deeply grasping the plight of many Black people in America and arguably elsewhere.
The president’s firm and mocking dismissal of Woodward’s question shows how little he thinks of the idea that White men from affluent families enjoy privileges that Black Americans, particularly those from working-class backgrounds, do not — something that is sure to shape how he views policy. And there is no real indication that he has even attempted to listen to the viewpoint of those making a case for the existence of White privilege. The president has spent more time this summer attacking Black activists than seeking to understand their viewpoint.
What Trump has done is lent a listening ear to white nationalists — repeatedly. And he has defended them and their causes on multiple occasions this summer when evoking monuments, military bases and government buildings named in honor of White Americans who supported the enslavement of Black people. He even refused to condemn a supporter who recently killed two people in the midst of anti-racism protests after the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis.
Even Trump’s acknowledgment of the existence of systemic racism — telling Woodward that he thinks racism is “everywhere” — begs further inquiry, given his past statements suggesting that he believes that White people are more likely to be victims of racial discrimination than Black people.
The president may be frustrated with how he is viewed on matters of race, but he clearly is not concerned enough to change his words or actions to better understand why most Black Americans disapprove of his presidency and believe he is a racist. In these conversations with Woodward, he has communicated that he is more concerned with reminding Americans of what he believes he has done than he is learning about what more is left to do. And he can’t fathom why he hasn’t earned more gratitude for it.
When he attempted to appeal to Black voters during the 2016 campaign, Trump asked them what they had to lose by backing him. Heading into the 2020 election, he is showing himself to be a president who doesn’t care to understand that the Black American experience is rife with historical disadvantage — or that the leader of the country needs to play a leading role in changing that.