Kemmeter: Presidential statements fuel racial tension
By Gene Kemmeter
Is America as racist as it appears in the news in recent weeks? Many of the comments and actions of the 1960s and ’70s and before are reappearing. Especially damning is the statement of “I am not a racist,” and then saying something that only verifies racist sentiments.
A Pew Research Center survey taken earlier this year found most U.S. adults say the legacy of slavery continues to have an impact on the position of black people in American society today, even though the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in 1865.
The survey also found that more than four in 10 feel the country hasn’t made enough progress toward racial equality, and there is some skepticism, particularly among blacks, that black people will ever have equal rights with whites.
The current state of race relations, and President Donald Trump’s handling of the issue, are also negative. About six in 10 Americans (58 percent) say race relations in the U.S. are bad, and few of those see them improving.
Fifty-six percent feel the president has made race relations worse; just 15 percent say he has improved race relations and another 13 percent say he has tried but failed to make progress on this issue. In addition, roughly two-thirds say it’s become more common for people to express racist views since Trump became president.
Trump’s record on racist issues dates back to October 1973 when the U.S. Justice Department filed a civil rights case that accused the Trump firm, which Trump was president of, of violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968 for not renting apartments in one of his complexes to blacks, one of the biggest federal housing discrimination suits to be brought during that time.
The case eventually was settled two years later after Trump and his father promised not to discriminate after a judge dismissed an effort by the Trumps to countersue the Justice Department for $100 million for making false statements.
Two weeks ago, Trump went off against four Democratic congresswomen of color, saying they hated America and should go back to the countries they came from, a well-publicized racial comment that dates back centuries. Three of the women are American born and the fourth is a naturalized American citizen from Somalia.
Last weekend, Trump targeted U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, who last week obtained authority to subpoena work-related emails and texts of Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other White House officials, while also criticizing the administration’s handling of immigrant children.
Trump called Cummings “racist” and said he should focus more of his energy on helping the people in his congressional district fix the “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” mess Cummings has helped to create during his years in office.
Political commentators say the statements are similar to comments that Trump uses to fuel the racial divide after his condemnation of black athletes kneeling during the national anthem, claims of Mexican rapists entering the country illegally, insults against Third World nations and defense of white supremacists at a march.
Since he entered politics, Trump’s common strategy of counterattack has been to throw accusations back at his accusers, alleging they are stupid, mentally unbalanced or showing signs of aging, things that he has repeatedly been accused of. Now, he responds to accusations of being racist by responding that those accusers are racist.
Where is this all going? Are we going to go back to calling neighbors and friends “dumb (ethnic group)? Are we heading back to the racial tension of the 1960s? Are we going to have to listen to these divisive statements throughout the election cycle?