Trump legacy on race shadowed by divisive rhetoric

Chicago: President Donald Trump repeatedly claimed in the final months of his presidency — and without a trace of irony — to have done more for Black Americans than anyone with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.

He boasted that the African American unemployment rate dropped to record lows under his watch before the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the economy. Trump heralded his administration’s criminal justice overhaul for shortening mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and leading to the release of thousands of incarcerated people, mostly Black Americans. Trump also relished that he increased funding for historically black colleges and universities.

But in the end, historians say Trump’s legacy — and his electoral undoing — will be largely shaped by rhetoric aimed at stirring significant swaths of his white base that tugged at the long-frayed strands of race relations in America.

His strategy of divisiveness was on display this past week as he urged supporters, mostly white men, to descend on the U.S. Capitol in the name of his baseless claims of election fraud.

After the pro-Trump mob stormed the hallowed halls of Congress, Trump did not immediately condemn the violence. He did not denigrate the rioters as THUGS or warn that he was prepared to greet them with vicious dogs and ominous weapons as he had threatened largely peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrators after the police killing of George Floyd this year.

Instead, his initial response was a series of tepid tweets and video messages in which he asked his violent loyalists to go home in peace,’ let them know he felt their pain and told them he loved them.

Trump was frequently explicit in using race as a cudgel. He claimed without evidence that Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, wasn’t born in the United States, has said Mexican immigrants were bringing crime and were rapists and argued there were very fine people on both sides after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one counterprotester dead.

He privately questioned why the United States would accept more immigrants from Haiti and shithole countries in Africa rather than from places such as Norway.

Trump even wrote in a tweet that appeared to be intended for a group of then-first-term lawmakers — progressive Democrats and women of color — to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Since the Black civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, there has been this kind of tacit agreement in the American political conversation that one could appeal to racial animus, but you had to do so in a particular sort of way, said Eddie Glaude, Jr., chairman of Princeton University’s African American studies program. Trump made that all explicit again. He brought it to the fore. He mainstreamed certain assumptions about race that were driving our politics anyway.

Human rights activists say that the Capitol siege was the macabre ending of a presidency that embraced white supremacist groups and extremists and fanned the flames of chaos and violence This is a moment of reckoning for the United States,’ said Bob Goodfellow, interim executive director of Amnesty International USA.

President Trump has repeatedly encouraged violence and disorder by his supporters. These are not the actions of a leader, but an instigator.