Last Sunday, President Donald Trump suggested that four Democratic congresswomen of color, three of whom were born in the U.S., “go back” to their ancestors’ countries. Despite a broad public outcry about the leader of the free world unleashing a timeworn racist trope, Trump refused to apologize or back away from his comments.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to condemn Trump for “racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.” The president stood his ground. A day later, he presided over an unsettling and ominous political rally in North Carolina during which the crowd started chanting “send her back” after he singled out Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat and a Somali immigrant, as unpatriotic.
Public pressure finally forced Trump into a lukewarm retreat by Thursday. “I was not happy with it; I disagreed with it,” he said of the chants he had incited, claiming he attempted to stop them by “speaking very quickly.” (This isn’t true. Trump didn’t speak at all while the chants were occurring.)
Trump’s defenders have blamed the media and his political opponents for the backlash, and the president himself tweeted this week that “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” If Trump’s racism isn’t in his bones, then it’s likely to be found in his heart because he’s been awash in it for decades.
— Trump and his father, Fred, ran a housing business that the Justice Department censured in 1973 for discriminating against prospective tenants of color.
— Trump bought newspaper ads in 1989 that condemned black and Latino teenagers accused of assaulting a white jogger in Central Park, stoking racial acrimony to snare media attention. (He continued to insist on the teenagers’ guilt long after they were exonerated.)
— Jack O’Donnell, a senior executive at Trump’s Atlantic City casinos during the late 1980s, described Trump as someone whose “prejudices didn’t stop at the color of one’s skin. Everyone was subject to judgment. It could be their ethnicity, their gender, their religion. It could be their social ‘caste.’”
— O’Donnell also described Trump as picky about who handled his cash back then. “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
— When he was running his casino business, Trump paid for a series of newspaper and broadcast ads that sought to brand a potential competitor seeking a gambling license—a Native American tribe, the Mohawks—as drug dealers and criminals.
— Trump’s first wife, Ivana, told her lawyer during their divorce that Trump kept a copy of Hitler’s collected speeches by his bedside in Trump Tower. When a reporter questioned Trump about the book in 1990, he balked and then said it was a gift.
— Trump embraced birtherism in 2011 and falsely asserted that President Barack Obama was born overseas and had forged his birth certificate.
— While the Trump University lawsuit was being litigated, Trump publicly claimed one of the judges hearing the case, Gonzalo Curiel, was biased because of his Mexican heritage. Curiel was born in the U.S.
— Trump has often been reluctant to distance himself from white supremacists like the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
— Trump gave Steve Bannon, a guiding force at Breitbart News, the tribune of white nationalism, a senior role in his 2016 presidential campaign and in his White House.
— Trump has unapologetically retweeted white nationalists, and for years has praised himself and others as being the successful beneficiaries of “good genes.”
— Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, testified before Congress earlier this year that “Mr. Trump is a racist.”
He also recalled a trip with Trump: “While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. He told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
— In White House meetings, Trump has inveighed against allowing immigrants from “shithole countries” into the U.S.—noting that, unlike residents of Norway, Haitians all had AIDS and Nigerians lived in “huts.”
— In the wake of the Charlottesville marches in 2017, Trump famously couldn’t bring himself to condemn the neo-Nazis who had taken part. Instead, he criticized the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides—on many sides.”
All this preceded the events of this week and there’s no reason to believe that the president is chastened. Someone who was authentically compassionate and not a racist would be horrified to be accused of racism; an apology would’ve been prompt. Yet Trump bridled and has yet to apologize to anyone. He doesn’t care; this is who he is.
The North Carolina rally is a just a taste of how craven the president is prepared to be to retake the White House. The path he’s on will test the country’s morality, decency and ideals.
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald.”
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!