In November 1973, at Disney World, Richard Nixon uttered a denial that was as fantastically fictional as a talking mouse, insisting, “I am not a crook.” Five months later, the IRS ordered him to pay $400,000 in back taxes from illegal deductions; three months after that, tapes proved he directed the Watergate coverup, forcing him to resign in disgrace.
Just as Nixon’s protestations of innocence were risible, Donald Trump’s claim that “I am not a racist” is as absurd as it is easily disproved by 45 years of cold, hard evidence to the contrary. Maybe he thinks he’s colorblind, but knowing some black celebrities in hip-hop, boxing, and reality TV does not make his delusion true.
No, we can’t see into Trump’s heart, but we don’t need to. His behavior tells the tale. Whether he railed against immigrants from African “shithole” countries or used “tough” language about migrants from Haiti and El Salvador while wishing we had more from Norway, it’s consistent with his long rap sheet of discrimination.
Scribbling examples on back of an envelope, let’s just say I needed several envelopes. In 1973, the government sued Trump’s real estate business for refusing to rent to blacks. In the 1980s, casino employees alleged he treated black workers differently; an executive quoted Trump saying he didn’t trust blacks “counting my money” (he wanted Jews doing that), and calling “laziness . . . a trait in blacks.” In 1989, he bought ads urging the death penalty for black and Latino youths accused of rape (in the infamous “Central Park Jogger” case). The men were acquitted on DNA evidence, but Trump insisted on their guilt for another decade. He got into politics pushing the lie that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
He reluctantly and only half-heartedly disavowed endorsement from former KKK leader David Duke, and he retweets white supremacists. He’s denigrated black and Muslim families of fallen troops. He’s defended “very fine people” on “both sides” of a white supremacists rally. He’s hammered black NFL players protesting racism. He’s suggested lazy Puerto Ricans brought the hurricane disaster on themselves.
He’s called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers and wants a wall to stop those “animals.” He said a US-born judge couldn’t be fair because of Mexican heritage, which House Speaker Paul Ryan called “textbook” racism. He called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the United States and has tried, as president, to bar entry from Muslim nations. He’s revoked legal status for undocumented immigrants brought as children and protections for Haitians, Salvadorans, Sudanese, and Nicaraguans fleeing war and disasters. He reportedly said all Haitian migrants have AIDS and Nigerian immigrants won’t go back to their “huts.”
But here are the facts: Immigrants create jobs and do jobs Americans won’t do, enlarging the economy and leaving us better off, according to official statistics. Nearly half of Fortune 500 companies were founded by US immigrants or their children, generating $5.3 trillion in revenue and employing 12.1 million workers worldwide in 2016. Two-thirds of Nigerian immigrants have college degrees — twice the US average — and median household income far above the national average. Immigrants — legal and illegal — commit crime at a lower rate than native-born Americans.
The president has evidently forgotten that his mother and paternal grandparents were unskilled migrants who escaped poverty in Scotland and Germany and sought opportunity here, just like today’s Africans and Haitians and the forebears of many Americans.
So why was Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina the only one in the meeting to challenge Trump on his prejudiced vision? Graham reportedly admonished the president that “America is an idea, not a race,” and diversity is a strength, noting that Graham’s own ancestors came “from shithole countries with no skills.” Did no one else remember his own family’s flight for a better life and embrace of this nation’s values? The same folks who sought to ban rap music for curse words and assailed the Clintons over “family values” now excuse Trump’s cruel profanity as “locker room talk” or “telling it like it is.” (Nor have they mentioned Trump’s reported $130,000 payoff to a porn star weeks before the election to keep silent about an affair.)
Thirty-one years ago this week, Ronald Reagan urged Americans that “if someone, even a friend, uses an ugly word referring to another’s race or religion, let’s make it clear we won’t put up with it. . . . Your leadership and moral standards will determine if the USA continues to serve as a beacon of hope and opportunity to all mankind.”
Just as vile as Trump’s racist views are his enablers. With Trump as a bulldozer for their agenda, chief of staff John Kelly, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Republicans in Congress, and anti-immigrant opinionators are excusing the inexcusable and helping destroy America’s moral standing. What happened to Reagan’s shining city on a hill “offering hope and opportunity to all mankind”? Only Norwegians need apply.
Indira A.R. Lakshmanan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @Indira_L.