Pak: The Ugly Mess Under the Rug

Trump has unveiled the deep vein of racism masked by the Obama presidency.

by Eowyn Pak | 2/28/19 2:20am

 If there’s one thing that comes to mind when reflecting on the Trump presidency, it’s the astounding number of hate crimes and race-related incidents that have occurred before and after his inauguration. There are attention-grabbing shockers like vilifying Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists while on the campaign trail, retweeting white nationalists without remorse, his failure to attribute blame to Charlottesville white supremacist perpetrators and calling some of them “very fine people,” denigrating Native Americans, the Muslim ban, attacking kneeling NFL players — needless to say, the list goes on and on.

Meanwhile, there are more implicit acts of racism intermittently peppered throughout, like when he absurdly served McDonald’s to the Clemson Tigers after a college football championship win because he presumed that it was “their favorite food” — guessing that most players were black or of low-income status and playing into the stereotypes that people of low-income status are more inclined to eat fast food (which aren’t even true — studies have shown that as income levels rise, so does fast food consumption). 

Political figures, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have not let an opportunity go by to point out this salient fact: that Trump is “no question” a racist. Bernie Sanders has remarked that “we have a president intentionally, purposefully trying to divide us up by the color of our skin, by our gender, by the country we came from, by our religion.” Political figures, news anchors and media outlets are eager to point accusatory fingers at Trump, but strategically leave out one simple but ugly truth: many Americans are racist. Trump may have exacerbated explicit racism, but he didn’t create something out of nothing. From Feb. 1-10, a Gallup poll revealed that 44 percent of people approve of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president, remaining consistent with his 45 percent approval rating from Jan. 20-29, 2017. Not surprisingly, rates are higher for Republicans when categorized by party, with nearly 90 percent of Republicans in approval. 

There are those who will argue that racist ideologies are not the only consideration that goes into deciding whether or not a president is fulfilling his role — that things like international policy, economy and jobs are also important factors. If this is the case, then it’s clear that there are those who prioritize employment outlook over not just neutral racial tolerance, but over abhorrent and atypical displays of racial bigotry. 

Trump’s words and actions have demonstrated to many Americans, including his own party, that he isn’t just any normal Republican president ­— which means he can’t be treated as such, and his proposals for the economy, foreign policy, etc. can’t be seriously considered the way Mitt Romney’s or John McCain’s would. To some (and hopefully many), valuing externalities like the economy, jobs and foreign policy over the tolerance and lives of actual people is a problematic mentality to have. But what they also don’t realize is that with racial tensions as high as they are now, everything else is secondary. There’s no progress that can be made with a divided country. Plus, given the government shutdown and its hurtful, bipartisan ramifications on job-holders and Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia and other countries, it’s hard to believe that one would still “approve” of Trump for any other reason than his racial and xenophobic ideologies. 

In any case, whether blunt or subtle, Trump’s racist actions and tweets have given the green light for people who align with such beliefs to be public and comfortable with them. Essentially, the collective mindset Trump has fostered is that it’s okay to be racist. Why? Because the most powerful person in this nation is unapologetically so and even worse, isn’t held accountable for his actions — save for a light slap on the wrist here and there. There are no consequences, no warrants to make racists feel guilty or ashamed because racism is the overtly domineering ideology that rules the country.  

However, in a twisted way, Trump is the president America needed. 

Obama, being the first black president of the United States, had a profound impact on this country. There’s no telling how many people were inspired to overcome race-based obstacles they faced, transforming the trajectory of their lives because of the example he set. In and of itself, the Obama presidency marked a step in progressing fundamental ideals laid out in the Constitution. However, too many people interpreted his presidency as an end, instead of what should have been seen as a single battle won in an ongoing war. Obama was used as a scapegoat for proving that racism was outdated (i.e. “But we have a black president”), not just among racists but among blacks and minorities as well (and I, too, am guilty). Obama himself could have capitalized on the presidency by pursuing a more aggressive agenda set to improve race relations, but instead, strategically avoided directly addressing race, especially in key moments like his last State of the Union address when the Black Lives Matter movement and Chicago police riots were taking the news by storm. Instead, he focused on “nonracial solutions aimed at lifting everyone up from one rung of the ladder to the next,” such as asserting that the tax cuts his administration enacted relieved 95 percent of Americans. PBS News Hour stated that Obama’s most talked about issues in his last State of the Union address were America’s recovery from the recession, outstanding work to be done for the economy, and improving political dialogue. After his speech, even MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews “forgot [Obama] was black tonight for an hour.” The Obama presidency made it easy to veneer that deep, ugly vein that America preferred not to see anyways.  

Americans thought racism was a thing of a by-gone era. With the myriad of hate crimes and widespread racism that followed the Trump presidency, as well as the hate emails spreading around Dartmouth hitting close to home, it’s now more obvious than ever that racism, not just from the presidential office but, more importantly, among the American people, is a pressing issue that is very much alive and thriving. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but better to call it like it is and work to fix it than plead ignorance.