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

‘Betty Before X’ tells story of civil rights leader Betty Shabazz’s youth
‘Betty Before X’ tells story of civil rights leader Betty Shabazz’s youth

Imagine trying to write about your mother when she was a kid. Where would you start? What details would you include? To write “Betty Before X,” Ilyasah Shabazz had to think hard about those questions. Her mother, Betty Shabazz, was an important civil rights leader. When her husband, Malcolm X, was assassinated in 1965, Betty Shabazz continued...
Letters to the editor: Feb. 24, 2018

Re: Feb. 18 article, “Ellsworth Kelly crowns Austin with an artistic jewel.” I read with delight the article about the new Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin.” I recognized and empathized with the opening statement, “Patches of color drip ever so slowly down the walls,” for I am the pastor of St. Austin Catholic Church...
Opinion: GOP tax reform used to be unpopular. Not anymore.

WASHINGTON — When the Republican-controlled Congress first approved its tax bill in December, most Democrats believed it would be a political loser for the GOP. Indeed, a New York Times poll found that just 37 percent of Americans approved of the plan. “To pass a bill of tax cuts and have it be so unpopular with the American people is an...
Opinion: Everybody’s better than you-know-who

Perhaps you read this week that Donald Trump has replaced James Buchanan as the worst president in the history of the United States. This was in a survey of experts in presidential politics — people who have an opinion about whether Chester A. Arthur was better than Martin Van Buren. Trump came in last, with a score of 12 out of 100. Perhaps...
Commentary: How the Texas tax pyramid stalls business growth
Commentary: How the Texas tax pyramid stalls business growth

Last month, President Trump traveled to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to deliver a message: America is once again open for business. That’s great news for Austin and the rest of the nation. Thanks to tax reform, foreign companies are giddy about expanding their operations in the United States. Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of...
More Stories