Commentary: Trump’s comments on countries make MLK Day purely symbolic


One of my favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quotes is “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor political nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.” These words ring truer now more than ever in light of President Donald Trump’s recent comments questioning why we are letting people from “s—-hole countries” come here.

Trump was referring to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations. Perhaps the fact that these individuals from these countries are black and brown is a mere coincidence. Surely Trump would not be so blatantly racist. Would he? If there was any question about the racially motivated nature behind his comments, this was put to rest when he later said that the U.S. should have more people coming in from places like Norway.

HOW WE GOT HERE: Trump attacks protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries.

King understood that there comes a time when you have to stand on your principles, speak truth to power and not defend the indefensible. It has become abundantly clear that there is nothing Trump can say or do that will result in his supporters holding him accountable and calling his behavior what it is: racism.

On MLK Day it would be disingenuous for supporters of Trump to celebrate the ideals of MLK yet remain silent on (or worse, defend) the repeated racist statements that come out of Trump’s mouth. Silence (or worse, defense of Trump) is the moral equivalent of endorsement.

The unwillingness of Trump’s supporters to call him out for racism is consistent with what sociologist Joe Feagin has referred to as the “paradoxical phenomenon” of white racism, in which some white people claim not to be racist yet hide or deny their racist attitudes through euphemisms and code words.

Trump does not publicly use explicitly racially derogatory language. Instead, he uses racially coded language. For example, some researchers argue that instead of overtly criticizing President Barack Obama’s race, Trump peddled the birther myth about Obama being born in Kenya instead of the United States. Trump has mastered the subtleties of communicating racist sentiments without explicitly using race in his language.

COMMENTARY: Evangelicals, please let Trump’s ‘tough’ language shock you.

Imagine if Obama had referred to European countries the same way that Trump referred to African countries and stated that the U.S. should have more people coming from countries such as Nigeria and Ghana.

When Trump made comments about a federal judge’s Mexican heritage making him unfit to preside over a case, Trump loyalist Jeffrey Lord spun it as Trump calling out racism. To his credit, House Speaker Paul Ryan referred to Trump’s words as “textbook racism” but has done little else to hold Trump accountable.

It has been especially painful and embarrassing to watch black Trump loyalist Paris Dennard repeatedly attempt to defend Trump’s words and actions on CNN. He inexplicably defended Trump’s Charlottesville comments about there being hatred, bigotry and violence on both sides, and then suggested that the neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville received a bad rap from the media.

Political differences in ideology is one thing. Defending blatantly racist comments is another.

Some may argue that this is nothing more than a partisan opinion. However, this is not the case. There are several individuals with whom I have political differences of opinion , yet I have been impressed with their principled stands, especially when so few members of their party and Trump supporters are willing to do so.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: Viewpoints delivers the latest perspectives on current events.

For the good and decent Americans on the sidelines, when will we take the politically unpopular position among Trump’s base and disavow Trump for his racism? Until we answer that question, any celebration of MLK Day will be symbolism without substance.

We know who Trump is. The question is: Who are we? To Trump supporters who truly don’t embrace racist views, who are you?

Cokley is director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis and a fellow of the UT System Academy of Distinguished Teachers.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Herman: The Kiddie Acres carousel spins again
Herman: The Kiddie Acres carousel spins again

Back in July I told you that after about four decades and countless birthday parties, Joe and Marina Herring were retiring and closing their Kiddie Acres, a small North Austin amusement park that has a special place in the our town’s collective memory bank. I told you the rides were being auctioned. And in September, I told you that ...
Facebook comments: Jan. 19, 2018

As reported by the American-Statesman’s Jonathan Tilove, Gov. Greg Abbott has unveiled the centerpiece of his re-election campaign: His property tax reform plan. It would cap revenue increases for local taxing entities at 2.5 percent a year. “Under the plan I am announcing today, Texas will take action to limit property tax growth, secure...
Trump: Border wall position unchanged. But can you spare $18 billion?
Trump: Border wall position unchanged. But can you spare $18 billion?

Hundreds of people, many of them Haitian, demonstrate against racism in Times Square on Martin Luther King (MLK) Day, January 15, New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) President Trump is learning that the problem with asking U.S. taxpayers to pick up the $18 billion tab for his border wall is that they have...
Commentary: How Trump’s plan for a border wall is compromised
Commentary: How Trump’s plan for a border wall is compromised

President Trump clearly remains fixated on building a wall along the Southwest border, though the scope of what he wants — and what the administration is pursuing — are murky. Whatever the intent, the Trump Administration has not taken steps to realize the wall, as exemplified by the president’s failure to propose and obtain the necessary...
Letters to the editor: Jan. 19, 2018

Re: Jan. 15 article, “Austin ISD trustee blasts board for stalling Confederate name removals.” Just an over-simplified thought(s): Why not just rename all Austin schools using a simple formula: Public School No. 1, Public School No. 2, etc.? Or, maybe just rename those school names that “offend” by setting a price for having...
More Stories