Debating Trump's racism is only normalising the problem

Debating Trump's racism is only normalising the problem
Comment: Too scared to call Trump racist, commentators are debating the obvious and normalising the problem, writes Dan Arel.
6 min read
23 Jul, 2019
Trump holds a 'Make America Great Again' rally in the swing-state of Pennsylvania [Getty]
"Send her back," chanted a crowd on July 17 at a Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina, in response to the president's renewed attacks on Minnesota congresswoman, Ilhan Omar. 

This shockingly racist escalation comes on the heels of President Donald Trump's tweets saying that the four newly elected congresswomen of colour known as "The Squad" should go back to their countries. On Monday, he doubled down with yet another tweet, claiming they are a "very racist group" calling them "young, inexperienced, and not very smart." 

The quartet has been highly critical of Trump's support for the horrific conditions inside US the camps where detained migrants are being denied access to basic personal hygiene products, beds, in conditions which have resulted in the deaths of at least 24 of those in custody, including six children.

The tweetstorm and the president's racist rhetoric has once again shifted the national conversation around racism back to arguing if Trump's comments are in fact racist, instead of focusing on anything that will usher in real change and in turn. This is only working to normalise racism.

The US House of Representatives quickly passed a resolution condemning Trump's tweets as racist - a symbolic victory, maybe - but it does nothing to ease the suffering of people of colour around the country. To rub salt in the wound, the vote occurred the same day as the federal government announced its decision to press no charges against the police officer who killed Eric Garner five years ago.

One of the biggest problems in the media coverage of white supremacy in this country, is they feel the need to offer two sides

It didn't help that later, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi walked back the resolution, saying that the House agreed that his tweets were racist, not necessarily Trump himself. 

On top of that, the media simply isn't sure how to handle this quickly escalating white nationalist rhetoric coming from the White House. Instead of having a serious conversation on what the implications of such a tweet are, or how we as a country can combat white nationalism, outlets such as CNN are inviting in guests like Richard Spencer - a Nazi who has argued for the "peaceful ethnic cleansing" of racial minorities - to explain just how racist the tweets are.

Worse, many outlets are holding debates on whether or not the tweets are racist at all. Too scared to come out themselves and call the comments racist, they have debates about the obvious.

Read more: Using Israel to justify his racist attacks, Trump sets a dangerous precedent

Why, when the President of the United States tells four women of colour to leave the country, are white nationalists the primetime guests? Why not the congresswomen being attacked by the president, or other prominent activists of colour to explain the history of white men telling people of colour to leave the country?

In such a didactic moment for the country, the mainstream media is falling disgustingly short of teaching their audiences anything, other than that a Nazi thinks Trump didn't go far enough. 

Spencer told CNN that Trump's tweets were not racist enough and that Trump is playing a "con game".

"He gives us nothing outside of racist tweets," Spencer said. "And by racist tweets, I mean tweets that are meaningless and cheap and express the kind of sentiments you might hear from your drunk uncle while he's watching Hannity.

The mainstream media is falling disgustingly short

What CNN was doing, however, wasn't holding a conversation on race with Spencer, they were giving him a platform to talk directly to other white nationalists.

Speaking to The Daily Beast, Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Project at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center said that "Spencer was saying that Trump was performing racism on Twitter, but that his policies do not go far enough to be considered support for white supremacists goals." 

YouTuber Dave Rubin, host of the right-wing show The Rubin Report used the opportunity to claim that it was in fact progressives who are the real racists and bigots, tweeting: "Progressives are the new bigots. It's really that simple. They're obsessed with color, religion, sexuality and gender."

Later, Rubin joined in with others, including Trump, in stepping up further racist rhetoric claiming that Omar had married her brother; an offensive claim long dispelled by her marriage records. 

Rubin may be smart enough to know his tweet is nonsense, but it will play well to his audience by ignoring the blatant racism of the president and instead making victims of racism, the racists.

This in the end, only helps to normalise actual racism. If he wins over those reading his comments, they will begin to ignore actual racist comments such as telling people of colour to leave the country, and instead believe it's the Left that is racist when they call a white man a white supremacist.

For Rubin, it has to be two sides. He will claim to condemn something from the far-Right, but will spend hours on how the Left is the real problem; the far-Right merely a reaction.

Rubin has yet to condemn the concentration camps and deaths at the hands of ICE and Department of Homeland Security, but didn't skip a beat when it came to
blaming the same four congresswomen Trump attacked for what he believes inspired Willem Van Spronsen to carry out an attack on a DHS transportation facility. 

This highlights one of the biggest problems in the media coverage of white supremacy in this country, that they feel the need to offer two sides.

So, if a CNN host is going to allude to the president's tweets being racist, they have a literal white supremacist to counter that claim. If Rubin is going to even consider saying the Right did something wrong, he needs someone on the Left to blame.

Someone such as Rubin is able to avoid ever condemning the actions of his side, because he plays both sides' card as well.

Not all stories have two sides.

Racism is a one-sided story, and it's the racist abusing the person of colour. It's as simple as that. If CNN or any other outlet wants to hold a conversation about Trump's racism, they need to have on guests who will educate the audience about what Trump is doing, not simply that yes, the tweets are racist, but what that means for communities of colour.

CNN wasn't holding a conversation on race with Spencer, they were giving him a platform to talk directly to other white nationalists

What danger does this put them in, and how can we, as a nation condemn these actions and protect these communities? 

The press should not be afraid to call President Trump a racist. Tip-toeing around the issue only helps cause more confusion and furthers a debate that should be over by now.

By refusing to call a spade a spade, the press is playing the largest part in normalising racism in the US.

Dan Arel is a political activist, award-winning journalist and the author of The Secular Activist; and Parenting Without God.

Follow him on Twitter: @danarel

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.