Earlier this week, President Donald Trump said the following: “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals.”
Trump’s comments came during a White House meeting about sanctuary city laws, and since then there have been several days of controversy as to whether Trump was referring to all immigrants or speaking specifically about the MS-13 gang, which has become a regular punching bag of the president. To be sure, calling any group of people “animals,” even criminals and gang members, is dehumanizing and gross and worthy of condemnation.
But the president’s supporters — as well as Trump himself, on social media — have criticized journalists for not providing the proper context for Trump’s statements and for daring to suggest that he was calling all immigrants “animals.”
Here’s some context on the president’s words.
When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president, he called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists.
He complained that a judge hearing a case related to Trump University was of Mexican heritage and thus could not be expected to treat him fairly.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump regularly highlighted crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to make the case for restrictive immigration laws, mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, and building a wall along the country’s southern border.
After a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., by a husband and wife who had pledged fealty to ISIS, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” — not just ones that had been accused of or suspected of having ties to terrorist organizations. Since then Trump regularly highlights incidents of terrorism committed by Muslims on Twitter while often ignoring violent acts by non-Muslims
As president, Trump tried to enact a ban on Muslims entering the country from a host of predominately Muslim countries and has drastically reduced the number of Syrian refugees entering the country. In both cases, Trump’s justification was the threat of Islamic terrorism.
Trum used crude words to describe sub-Saharan African and Caribbean nations and said that he’d prefer higher rates of immigration from countries like Norway.
He said that immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS” and that those from Nigeria should “go back to their huts.”
The president’s chief of staff was recently quoted as saying that undocumented immigrants from Mexico are “not people that would easily assimilate into the United States.” He said they are “overwhelmingly rural,” have poor education, don’t speak English, don’t have useful skills and “don’t integrate well.”
The Trump administration has taken away temporary protection status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Haiti.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, boasted of a policy – strongly pushed for by President Trump – that would forcibly separate parents from their children if they try to enter the country illegally.
In addition to all this, Trump has referred to white supremacists as “very fine people.” He’s questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States. He pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been held in criminal contempt by a federal court for unlawfully targeting and racially profiling Hispanics.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
The context for Trump’s comments is actually quite clear: The president is a vile bigot. He regularly demonizes and scapegoats immigrants and persons of color. He uses isolated examples of crime committed by immigrants and Muslims to justify racist policies that seek to limit nonwhite Americans from entering the country – and deport those who are already here. He’s done this repeatedly since he announced his candidacy for president, in June 2015.
His most adamant supporters will complain that the president, who struggles to speak in complete and coherent sentences and regularly uses out-of-context statements from his rivals to demonize and attack them, is being unfairly criticized for his “animals” comment. But these supporters are enablers and sycophants, who put tribal loyalty and partisanship ahead of truth and should not be taken seriously.
We know exactly who this president is and what he believes. Let’s not waste any more time trying to parse his words or give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s a racist. Period.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.