Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking at an AFL-CIO event flickr photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University Library shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
President Donald Trump trampled into the world of language yet again by saying a vague category of non-white countries are “shitholes.” This isn’t surprising language from the POTUS, since it continues a very noticeable pattern that followed Trump from well before the campaign trail and into the White House. Incendiary language is now a staple of this administration a year in, but there is also another element of racism that I would like to explore.
As a sort of pre-MLK day gift, Trump announced to the world that he wasn’t racist. What a laugh. His campaign was built from the ground up with the building material of racism, thinly veiled with speeches about the economy, and the connection between illegal immigration on crime.
While racist comments are a terrible expression of racism, denial of the comments themselves, or the (denial of) intent behind the comments is, I believe, an expression of power. “I am the least racist person you know.” One way to back up the indefensible is to deny a problem exists, even in the face of evidence that contradicts the denial. Not only that, but taking the contrarian stance obviously heightens the absurdity. We’re being taken along for a surreal ride of denial and claims that a statements means the opposite of what it means. The openly insane nature of these two aspects of racism read as mockery.
But denial and contrarianism are only one side of the coin. Trump has played another card, and that is the comments’ proximity to racially sensitive moments in time, such as MLK day and the Congressional debate over DACA. What should have taken priority, both legislatively and culturally, has not only fallen by the wayside, but has been stomped on by an aggressive, hostile administration.
So, we have denial, contrarianism, and proximity, all mixed together to create a potent cocktail of racism that amplifies Trump’s theme of constant confusion. On MLK day itself, Trump decided that golf was a proper way to spend the national holiday, departing from the precedent sent by past presidents. A finely-honed “I don’t care” attitude is the seal on the coffin.
POTUS clearly doesn’t care about civil rights, unless the attention is focused on demolishing them. What we are experiencing is a simultaneously slow-dripping yet accelerated version of racist language. Every event, from MLK day to the humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico to DACA legislation, is an opportunity to appeal to his base by making a racist statement, denying ill-intent, and moving on to the next scenario. Malicious in-the-moment opportunism.