Ernst’s Belief That Trump Is Not Racist Ignores Decades of Evidence to the Contrary

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Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Iowa’s junior senator Joni Ernst held a town hall meeting in Boone Monday, where she was asked about Donald Trump’s recent comment during an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers singling out African nations and Haiti, and whether it was racist. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump asked in the Thursday meeting.

“Deep inside, no, I don’t think he’s a racist,” replied Ernst, who was met with groans. “I think he’s brash, and I think that he says things that are on his mind, but I don’t truly believe that he’s a racist. I don’t think that’s his intent.”

To the contrary, Trump has a long and exhaustive history of demonstrating racist intent toward African Americans, Mexican immigrants, and Native Americans, dating back to the early ‘70s — long before he was retweeting Hitler-sympathizing white supremacists as a presidential candidate — when his property management company was sued by the federal government for refusing to rent to blacks.

On Monday, the New York Times published “the definitive list” of Trump’s racism, compiling nearly three dozen examples dating back to that period. Among them:

    • Trump allegedly treated black employees at his casinos worse than others. According to a former hotel executive, Trump once complained about a black accountant, saying, “Black guys counting my money! I hate it…. I think that guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks.” (A former employee also claimed that, in the 1980s, black employees would be hidden from sight when Trump visited his casinos.)
    • In 1989. Trump paid for full-page ads in major New York newspapers calling for the death penalty for the Central Park Five — a Latino and four black minors who’d been falsely accused of raping a white woman who was jogging in the park. As recently as October 2016, Trump continued to claim they were guilty even though they’d been exonerated by DNA evidence a decade ago.
    • Last June, Trump claimed that 15,000 people who’d recently immigrated to the US from Haiti “all have AIDS” — a throwback to a false stereotype of the 1980s AIDS panic — and said another 40,000 from Nigeria would never “go back to their huts” once they arrived here. (In November, the Trump administration removed protections for about 60,000 Haitians who fled their country after a devastating 2010 earthquake, demanding they leave the US by July 2019.)
    • In the years leading up to his presidential bid, Trump was one of the most prominent promoters of the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” Trump claimed on Twitter in 2012.
    • The birther lie was one of several smears Trump used against Obama to cast the nation’s first African American president as unworthy of the position. He also called Obama “a terrible student” despite that he edited the Harvard Law Review and said he didn’t work hard enough as president, arguing that he spent too much time fundraising and — yes — golfing.
    • Trump has repeatedly cited false statistics — including, as a presidential candidate, from a neo-Nazi on black-on-black crime — to portray inner cities with large black populations as war zones. “Our inner cities, African Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous,” he said during a 2016 general election debate. “You walk down the street, you get shot.” Trump also black voters that they should support him because “you’re living in poverty; your schools are no good; you have no jobs.”
    • Likewise, Trump has a habit of quickly drawing attention to violent crimes committed by Muslims and other non-whites, at times citing false information, while taking days before reacting to similar acts committed by white people against minorities.
    • Facing criticism over his administration’s stunning inaction on Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, Trump called the critics “politically motivated ingrates.”
    • Before that remark, Trump was notorious for his comments about Mexican immigrants, referring to them on the campaign trail as criminals and rapists.
    • In addition to repeatedly mocking Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” because of her disputed heritage, Trump has previously denigrated Native Americans. He once ran advertisements smearing a casino rival by claiming that the “Mohawk Indian record of criminal activity is well documented,” among other examples.
    • Trump’s presidential campaign was backed by a host of white nationalists and supremacists, thanks in part to Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist who previously ran the alt-right news site Breitbart, where he catered to white nationalists with a section dedicated to “black crime.”

Kicking off her town hall tour earlier in her hometown of Red Oak, Ernst was asked about Trump’s “white supremacy talk” and how it’s impacted the country’s standing with others around the world, Ernst admitted that the president’s tweets were a distraction for her but then defended him.

“He is standing up for a lot of the countries that — where we have seen —,” Ernst began.

“Name a few,” someone cut in. “Could you name a few?”

“Yeah, you bet. Norway…” Ernst replied, trailing off as she drew derisive laughter from the crowd. During the same meeting at which he referred to the “shithole countries,” Trump also reportedly suggested that the US should allow in more people from nations like Norway, whose population is overwhelmingly white and whose prime minister he had met with the previous day.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.