Alan Zendell, January 15, 2018
Donald Trump is not a racist. In fact, the term racist is an oversimplification that simply doesn’t apply to someone like him. The things that drive him have little or no relation to what most of us think of as basic moral values. So let’s stop muddying the waters by throwing terms like that around and then polling everyone in sight to find out if they agree.
Whether or not our president is a racist should not be the subject of a poll or referendum. That’s the kind of distraction we need to learn to avoid. It’s exactly the sort of thing Trump loves because it takes our attention away from the things that are really important.
Racists generally come in two flavors: ideologues and ignorant, uneducated people. Whether or not he is a stable genius, it’s fair to say that Donald Trump is neither of those. The ideologues are the Alt-righters, the Klan types, the neo-Nazis, and some of the more virulent survivalists. But those groups are far outnumbered by people who suffer from rampant ignorance.
They aren’t necessarily bad or immoral, just unenlightened and unaware, to put it politely. I learned that lesson the summer I was seventeen. I was at an orientation meeting for a summer job, working for the Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund, which provided a place for ghetto kids to escape the city for a few weeks. Four of us, all New Yorkers, were sitting around a table congratulating ourselves for doing such virtuous work when we were joined by a fifth.
Tom was about twenty, a rather oblivious young man who spoke with an exaggerated southern drawl which we all found amusing. He was a decent-seeming kid from some rural place in Alabama that none of us had ever heard of, who was as wide-eyed as he could be about being in New York, actually about being out of Alabama for the first time. His father, a Baptist minister, had sent him up north on a mission of sorts.
As Tom babbled on it became clear that he felt helping poor “Negro kids” was doing God’s work, but what occupied most of his attention was that he’d been told he might encounter Jews in New York. He went on for fifteen minutes about how excited and nervous he was about that. At one point he said, “I’ve never met one before, have any of you? Some people back home say they have horns.” Admittedly, this was back in the dark ages of 1960, but seriously?
We assured him that that wasn’t true, and he said, with some trepidation, “I can’t wait to meet one.” Give Tom credit – he was willing to meet the Devil no matter how much it scared him. That was when we told him he was the only one at the table who wasn’t a Jew. Poor Tom was literally white as a ghost. We got to know him pretty well that summer and learned as much about our own naïve prejudices as we did about him. He was really a pretty good guy.
Donald Trump is nothing like Tom, and he’s not a neo-Nazi. He’s neither a racist nor an anti-Semite. What he is, however, is actually a lot worse.
Our president is an amoral panderer totally lacking in sensitivity and compassion. He understands ignorance and hate, and he has an intuitive feel for how to ignite those things, which he uses effectively and without compunction to arouse people’s worst instincts. He is a talented showman with a narcissistic lust for power and wealth, and that’s all we really need to know about him.
Since he announced his candidacy, he has frequently been compared to some very unpleasant people, like Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy, and Adolf Hitler. That doesn’t necessarily make him evil, but it does make him very dangerous. In a couple of days, Senator Jeff Flake (R, Arizona) will step to the podium of the Senate and deliver a speech that compares Trump to Josef Stalin.
Trump doesn’t hate African Americans, Hispanics, or Jews, but he knows how to energize people who do to get what he wants. He is the worst kind of predator who takes advantage of anyone more vulnerable than he is, and he is totally shameless. He has the mentality of the unscrupulous late nineteenth century robber barons whose greed knew no boundaries.
It’s important to be clear about who and what our president is. His first, second, and third priorities are Donald Trump. He only cares about other people and the country he’s supposed to be leading to the extent that without them, his wealth and power would be meaningless. Don’t ever expect him to change and don’t expect him to be impeached. He’s going to be president for at least three more years, and the only way to contain him is to vote next November and work for candidates who will counter his hatefulness.
It’s only 289 days until Election Day.