Once again, Donald Trump is being criticized for stroking xenophobia in the name of getting elected president. A black protester at a Trump rally in Alabama was kicked and punched by Trump supporters on Saturday. The next day, Trump himself retweeted a discredited infographic about racial violence in the United States. Sadly, this is par for the course. Trump has encouraged racist behavior amongst his supporters since before he was even a presidential candidate.
In fact, Trump has been accused of xenophobia in one form or another for decades. In 1973, long before he was a reality TV star, the Department of Justice sued him for racial discrimination in his real estate dealings. (Trump counter-sued the government and denied all the claims.) He’s made some flagrantly offensive comments, such as his remark that he doesn’t want “black guys counting my money,” but rather “little short guys that wear yarmulkes all day.” He's also been accused of dismissing black contestants on The Apprentice simply because they were black.
But being xenophobic in one’s personal life and encouraging this behavior as a political candidate are different. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, here are some of the more disturbing ways in which Trump has encouraged racism among his supporters.
His Demonization Of Immigrants
Perhaps the most obvious example of Trump catering to those who discriminate came during his announcement speech, when he casually referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” The connotation — that Mexican immigrants in the U.S. wish to harm Americans — was unambiguous. In actuality, Mexican immigrants to the U.S. — both legal and illegal — commit crimes at lower rates than citizens.
Trump has repeated this, and other horrible things, on many other occasions. He’s said in reference to Mexican immigration that “infectious disease is pouring across the border.” Even one of his informal campaign slogans — “Take America back” — implies that immigrants are coming to the U.S. with malicious intent.
His Defense Of Violence Against Minorities At His Rallies
Far more disturbing than anything Trump has said is the fact that, on multiple occasions, his supporters have physically attacked minorities who were protesting at his rallies. The first documented instance of this was in Miami, when a white Trump supporter grabbed Hispanic protester Ariel Rojas by the collar and dragged him across the floor in October. More recently, a black protester at an Trump rally in Alabama was punched and kicked on the ground by Trump’s fans.
Maybe — maybe — Trump could escape blame for this if he strongly and forcefully condemned these attacks, but nope. In both instances, Trump defended his violent supporters. This is a tacit endorsement of political and racial violence, and it’s terrifying.
This has become somewhat overshadowed in light of Trump’s more recent racism, but in 2011, he was one of the most vocal proponents of the idea that President Obama wasn’t actually born in America, and thus wasn’t the legitimate president of the United States. Writing in Politico, black conservative Isaac J. Bailey eloquently explained why this is so problematic:
Maybe conservatives have long forgotten that image of Trump demanding the president’s birth certificate. I assure you a large number of black voters haven’t and never will. It was a moment that only reinforced the idea that to be black in this country is to not be fully American until you get the approval of white people, no matter how outrageous their claims about you, no matter how hard you work or what you accomplish.
This was, of course, always the subtext to birtherism. While Trump hasn’t beat this particular drum lately, let’s not forget that it was his raison d’etre no more than four years ago.
His Calls To End Birthright Citizenship
Trump’s condemnation of Mexican immigrants is one way in which he courts racist voters. His proposal to end birthright citizenship — the constitutional provision whereby people born on American soil are automatically granted U.S. citizenship — is another. While this would be incredibly difficult from a practical standpoint, that doesn’t diminish Trump’s implication: that U.S. citizens whose parents were immigrants aren’t really legitimate Americans.
Trump is not the only Republican presidential candidate to support ending birthright citizenship — in fact, the majority of the Republican presidential field does as well. That said, doing so would be extraordinarily difficult from a practical standpoint, and will not happen any time soon.
Everything He Says About Muslims
Anti-Mexican sentiment is not the only type of racism that Trump has encouraged in his campaign. His recent comments on Muslim Americans are just as bad, and perhaps even more frightening. In light of the attacks in Paris, Trump has endorsed, or at least refused to rule out, several extremely troubling policies: a national database of Muslims, federal surveillance of U.S. mosques, and requiring Muslim Americans to wear an ID badge.
As many have pointed out, this is frighteningly similar to the policies enacted in Nazi Germany prior to the systemic extermination of the country’s Jews. When asked how his policies differed from those of Adolf Hitler, Trump only replied, “You tell me.”