If you ask President Donald Trump whether he’s racist, he has a standard response: He claims that no, in fact, he’s “the least racist person that you’ve ever encountered.”
But Trump’s record tells a very different story.
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly made explicitly racist and otherwise bigoted remarks — from calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists to proposing a ban on all Muslims entering the US to suggesting that a judge should recuse himself from a case solely because of the judge’s Mexican heritage.
The trend has continued into his presidency. From stereotyping a black reporter to pandering to white supremacists after they held a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump hasn’t stopped with the racist acts even after his election.
In fact, the very first time that Trump appeared in the pages of the New York Times, back in the 1970s, was when the US Department of Justice sued him for racial discrimination. Since then, he has repeatedly appeared in newspaper pages across the world as he inspired more similar controversies.
The latest came in remarks surfaced by the Washington Post. Talking about immigration from Haiti and African countries, Trump asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He suggested that America should allow more people from countries like Norway instead. The implication is very clear: The people coming from predominantly black countries are bad, while the people coming from predominantly white countries are good.
This long history is important. It would be one thing if Trump simply misspoke one or two times. But when you take all of Trump’s actions and comments together, a clear pattern emerges — one that suggests that bigotry is not just political opportunism on Trump’s part but a real element of Trump’s personality, character, and career.
Trump has a long history of racist controversies
Here’s a breakdown of Trump’s history, taken largely from Dara Lind’s list for Vox and an op-ed by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times:
For many people, none of these incidents, individually, may be totally damning: One of these alone might suggest that Trump is simply a bad speaker and perhaps racially insensitive (“politically incorrect,” as he would put it), but not overtly racist.
But when you put all these events together, a clear pattern emerges. At the very least, Trump has a history of playing into people’s racism to bolster himself — and that likely says something about him too.
And of course, there’s everything that’s happened through and since his presidential campaign.
As a candidate and president, Trump has made many more racist comments
On top of all that history, Trump has repeatedly made racist — often explicitly so — remarks on the campaign trail and as president:
This list is not comprehensive, instead relying on some of the major examples since Trump announced his candidacy. But once again, there’s a pattern of racism and bigotry here that suggests Trump isn’t just misspeaking; it is who he is.
Are Trump’s actions and comments “racist”? Or are they “bigoted”?
One of the common defenses for Trump is that he’s not necessarily racist, because the Muslim and Mexican people he often targets don’t actually comprise a race.
Disgraced journalist Mark Halperin, for example, said as much when Trump argued Judge Curiel should recuse himself from the Trump University case because of his Mexican heritage, making the astute observation that “Mexico isn’t a race.”
Kristof made a similar point in the New York Times: “My view is that ‘racist’ can be a loaded word, a conversation stopper more than a clarifier, and that we should be careful not to use it simply as an epithet. Moreover, Muslims and Latinos can be of any race, so some of those statements technically reflect not so much racism as bigotry. It’s also true that with any single statement, it is possible that Trump misspoke or was misconstrued.”
This critique misses the point on two levels.
For one, the argument is tremendously semantic. It’s essentially probing the question: Is Trump racist or is he bigoted? But who cares? Neither is a trait that anyone should want in a president — and either label essentially communicates the same criticism.
Another issue is that race is socially malleable. Over the years, Americans considered Germans, Greeks, Irish, Italians, and Spaniards as nonwhite people of different races. That’s changed. Similarly, some Americans today consider Latinos and, to a lesser degree, some people with Muslim and Jewish backgrounds as part of a nonwhite race too. (As a Latino man, I certainly consider myself to be of a different race, and the treatment I’ve received in the course of my life validates that.) So under current definitions, comments against these groups are, indeed, racist.
This is all possible because, as Jenée Desmond-Harris explained for Vox, race is entirely a social construct with no biological basis. This doesn’t mean race and people’s views of race don’t have real effects on many people — of course they do — but it means that people’s definitions of race can change over time.
But really, whatever you want to call it, Trump has made racist and bigoted comments in the past. That much should be clear in the long lists above.
Trump’s bigotry was a key part of his campaign
Regardless of how one labels it, Trump’s racism or bigotry was a big part of his campaign — by giving a candidate to the many white Americans who harbor racial resentment.
One paper, published in January 2017 by political scientists Brian Schaffner, Matthew MacWilliams, and Tatishe Nteta, found that voters’ measures of sexism and racism correlated much more closely with support for Trump than economic dissatisfaction after controlling for factors like partisanship and political ideology.
Another study, conducted by researchers Brenda Major, Alison Blodorn, and Gregory Major Blascovich shortly before the 2016 election, found that if people who strongly identified as white were told that nonwhite groups will outnumber white people in 2042, they became more likely to support Trump.
And a study, published in November 2017 by researchers Matthew Luttig, Christopher Federico, and Howard Lavine, found that Trump supporters were much more likely to change their views on housing policy based on race. In this study, respondents were randomly assigned “a subtle image of either a black or a white man.” Then, they were asked about views on housing policy.
The researchers found that Trump supporters were much more likely to be impacted by the image of a black man. After the exposure, they were not only less supportive of housing assistance programs, but they also expressed higher levels of anger that some people receive government assistance, and they were more likely to say that individuals who receive assistance are to blame for their situation.
In contrast, favorability toward Hillary Clinton did not significantly change respondents’ views on any of these issues when primed with racial cues.
“These findings indicate that responses to the racial cue varied as a function of feelings about Donald Trump — but not feelings about Hillary Clinton — during the 2016 presidential election,” the researchers concluded.
There is also a lot of other research showing that people’s racial attitudes can change their views on politics and policy, as my colleague Dylan Matthews as well as researchers Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel previously explained for Vox.
Simply put, racial attitudes were a big driver behind Trump’s election — just as they long have been for general beliefs about politics and policy. (Much more on all the research in my explainer.)
Meanwhile, white supremacist groups have openly embraced Trump. As Sarah Posner and David Neiwert reported at Mother Jones, what the media largely treated as gaffes — Trump retweeting white nationalists, Trump describing Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and criminals — were to white supremacists real signals approving of their racist causes. One white supremacist wrote, “Our Glorious Leader and ULTIMATE SAVIOR has gone full-wink-wink-wink to his most aggressive supporters.”
Some of them even argued that Trump has softened the greater public to their racist messaging. “The success of the Trump campaign just proves that our views resonate with millions,” said Rachel Pendergraft, a national organizer for the Knights Party, which succeeded David Duke’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. “They may not be ready for the Ku Klux Klan yet, but as anti-white hatred escalates, they will.”
And at the 2017 white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, David Duke, the former KKK grand wizard, said that the rally was meant “to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”
So while Trump may deny his racism and bigotry, at some level even his supporters seem to get it. As much as his history of racism shows that he’s racist, perhaps who supported him and why is just as revealing — and it doesn’t paint a favorable picture for Trump.
More Info: www.vox.com