Trump says he isn't racist, but a poll shows most Americans disagree

Published on Thursday, 1 August 2019 18:54
Written by Philip Bump

The Washington Post

It wasn’t the best timing - but, then, there probably isn’t a great moment for President Donald Trump to declare that he is the “least racist person there is anywhere in the world.”

Trump made that claim while standing outside the White House on Tuesday, responding to a reporter’s question about the still-bubbling controversy spurred by the president’s repeated attacks on black, Hispanic and Muslim members of Congress. Over the weekend, Trump turned his attention to Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., bashing the congressman by disparaging the city of Baltimore, part of which Cummings represents.

As he often does, Trump claimed that the media was misrepresenting reality. There was that claim about how he isn’t racist, an extension of his long-standing claims that he’s the “least racist person” or that, like so many white Americans, he is free of any racist bones.

“What I’ve done for African Americans in two-and-a-half years,” he said - immediately after disparaging the Rev. Al Sharpton as racist - “no president has been able to do anything like it.”

Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson were not available for comment.

To prove that his disparagement of Baltimore was warranted, Trump claimed that “the African American community” called him to thank him for “telling the truth.”

“The African American people have been calling the White House,” Trump claimed. “They have never been so happy about what a president has done.”

Generally those claims are unprovable. It is the case, though, that Trump met with black leaders at the White House on Monday. He announced a meeting with religious leaders on Twitter, a meeting that hadn’t appeared on his schedule before Monday morning. (In his tweet announcing the discussion, Trump said he was looking forward to his meeting with “wonderful Inner City Pastors” - deploying a descriptor that he has consistently used interchangeably with “black” or “black community.”) Those pastors included several who are long-standing allies of the president’s.

If Trump did hear from many other black Americans, the odds are good that the commentary was not as positive as Trump presents it. As Trump was talking to reporters on Tuesday, Quinnipiac University released new polling data showing that three-quarters of black Americans - and more than half of Americans overall - think Trump is not only not the least racist person in the world but is actually explicitly racist.

It’s not just black Americans. Most independents think Trump is racist. Most white women think Trump is racist. Most whites with a college degree think Trump is racist. The groups that don’t think that tend to be white, male, Republican and lacking a college degree.

A Fox News poll released last week asked respondents specifically about Trump’s tweets targeting four Democratic women, telling them to “go back” where they came from, despite three of them having been born in the United States. More than half the respondents said those attacks were racist.

Trump would certainly not be the first racist president. What’s interesting in Quinnipiac’s polling, though, is that many Americans see racism as a motivator behind at least one Trump policy.

The pollsters asked whether respondents thought Trump’s position on border security - a position explained by Trump at his campaign launch in June 2015 as being necessary to halt an influx of criminals from Mexico - was motivated by sincere concern about securing the border or by racist beliefs. A plurality of respondents said it was the former. But 4 in 10 respondents said they thought Trump’s policies on the border were primarily motivated by racism. That includes most black Americans. White women and whites with college degrees are split.

If there’s a bright spot here for Trump, opinions on his border policies and his views of race are basically unchanged since July 2018. Then, about the same percentage of respondents said Trump was racist and that his border policies are motivated by racism. In other words, all the recent debate over Trump’s disparagement of House Democrats doesn’t seem to have budged public opinion very much.

One side effect of that stagnation is that Trump may come to believe there’s no immediate political downside to continuing this line of attack against his critics. It wasn’t prohibitive in 2016: A poll taken shortly before that contest found that 7 percent of Trump’s supporters believed he was racist - but that they’d vote for him anyway.



Posted in New Britain Herald, Editorials on Thursday, 1 August 2019 18:54. Updated: Thursday, 1 August 2019 18:56.