Last Friday, Donald Trump made a stunning announcement, wrapped in a live infomercial for him and his new hotel, that he believes President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. This was a complete flip-flop for Trump, who began his presidential campaign on the “birther” conspiracy, falsely questioning President Obama’s birthplace and his birth certificate. When did Trump change his mind? Did he always believe that Obama is a full-blooded American and just lie all along to attract right wing extremists, including white supremacists? Trump didn’t stick around to answer these and other questions from the press.
Trump’s birther announcement comes at a time when America is being racked by police killings of unarmed black citizens. Yesterday, Tulsa, Oklahoma white police officer Betty Shelby was charged with first degree manslaughter for killing a black man, Terence Crutcher, who was waiting for help after his car had become disabled. In Charlotte, North Carolina, police killed Keith Lamont Scott who was waiting for his son to leave school for the day. Protesters have taken to the streets in Charlotte, as they have done in Ferguson, Missouri and many other locations after previous police killings of black Americans. It doesn’t help that, even though the Charlotte police killing of Keith Lamont Scott was caught on one or more police videos, the police are refusing to release the video.
These events and others are overshadowing the 2016 presidential election, largely turning it into a referendum on bigotry in America.
Donald Trump’s birtherism is, of course, based on bigotry. No modern presidential candidate, even John McCain who was born outside of the continental U.S. in Panama, has had phony questions about his birthplace turn into a real media issue requiring the provision of a birth certificate. Likewise, Trump has doubled down on what many see as racism, by touting controversial “stop and frisk” policies that, in New York City, were used overwhelmingly against people of color.
At the same time, Trump’s son, Donald Jr., has been trading in white supremacy. On Thursday of last week, the younger Trump went out of his way to make an off-point analogy invoking Nazi “gas chambers.” Then last Tuesday, Donald Jr. sent out a tweet comparing Syrian refugees to poisonous Skittles. Dehumanizing people by comparing them to poison food is straight out of the Nazi playbook and has been floating around white supremacist websites. Moreover, Skittles are what Trayvon Martin had in his hand when George Zimmerman murdered him in 2012. It sure looks like Trump, Jr. is using Skittles as another racist dog-whistle.
Some interesting results of Republican bigotry are starting to come in. Hillary Clinton has maintained or retaken the lead over Donald Trump in most of the latest polls, taken after Trump’s birther flip-flop. Similarly, a new article reports that Jewish donors are abandoning Donald Trump in droves.
Meanwhile, seemingly by design, the neo-Nazis and white supremacists are coming out of the woodwork for Trump. Those in the middle, including more moderate Republicans, will have to ask themselves, at a time when our first black president is finishing his second term and there is ample evidence that racism is alive and well in the U.S., whether they want to be associated with such a bigoted campaign.
Photo by Miles Gehm, used under Creative Commons license. https://is.gd/dUSzbu