One year on, Trump still fuels racial divide
WASHINGTON — There has been no reset, no moment of national healing.
One year after blaming ‘‘both sides’’ for violent clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters, President Trump still flirts with racially tinged rhetoric — and feels little blowback from Republican leaders or GOP voters when he does.
Black leaders and Democrats argue Trump’s tone and actions on race have gotten even worse in the months since the clashes in Charlottesville, Va.
The result is a starkly segregated political landscape where there is scant punishment for racially loaded rhetoric and, at times, clear reward.
Democrats are pinning their hopes of flipping control of Congress on mobilizing liberals and minorities, particularly black voters.
And Republicans’ best chance of holding off a Democratic wave is strong turnout among the conservative white voters who helped sweep Trump into office and often cheer his willingness to dive into hot-button issues with racial overtones.
Trump has told associates that he believes at least one of those issues — his criticism of black NFL players who kneel during the national anthem — is a political winner because it energizes his white base.
He revived the matter on Friday, tweeting that the players are expressing outrage ‘‘at something that most of them are unable to define.’’ Players have said they are protesting police killings of black men, social injustice, and racism.
Trump’s rise to power can be traced through a series of statements that invoke racial stereotypes. In 1989, he called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, five black and Hispanic teenagers accused of raping and beating a white woman; they were later exonerated through DNA evidence, but Trump has suggested he still believes they’re guilty.
For years, Trump promoted the lie that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
Over the past year, from his perch in the White House, he’s repeatedly questioned the intelligence of prominent black figures, including Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, basketball star LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon, whom he called ‘‘the dumbest man on television.’’
‘‘One of the oldest strategies is to call into question the intellect of African-Americans,’’ said Mitch Landrieu, the former Democratic mayor of New Orleans. ‘‘It’s just sad and awful.’’
NAACP president Derrick Johnson said the black community has ‘‘never seen this level of tone deafness or this total disregard’’ from a modern American president.
Even against that backdrop, Trump’s response to Charlottesville stood out.
In his initial remarks about the violent clashes that killed counterprotester Heather Heyer, the president said there were ‘‘very fine people on both sides.’’
Two days later, reading carefully from a written statement, he condemned the KKK, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis. Yet in an unscripted moment the next day, he again said there was ‘‘blame on both sides.’’
Charlottesville prompted some Republican leaders to condemn him. Some business leaders abandoned White House advisory panels, and some West Wing aides let it be known that they contemplated quitting. But, ultimately, the outrage from those corners subsided. Washington moved on. GOP leaders who criticized the president at the time still largely back his agenda, well aware that polling shows there was no sustained damage to Trump’s popularity among the party’s voters after Charlottesville.
According to a CBS News poll taken in the days after the Charlottesville clashes, a wide share of Democrats — about 7 in 10 — said Trump’s policies encouraged racial division in the country, little different from a poll conducted earlier in the year. By comparison, more than 8 in 10 Republicans said the president’s policies either had no effect on race relations or encouraged unity.
Trump’s job approval among blacks has shown little change, consistently stuck around 10 percent in most surveys.
The White House did not respond to questions about whether Trump has any regrets about his handling of the Charlottesville protests or other racial rhetoric.