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

Commentary: Austin’s plastic bag ban is rubbish. Go check the landfill
Commentary: Austin’s plastic bag ban is rubbish. Go check the landfill

As the Texas Supreme Court will soon make its decision regarding the legality of plastic bag regulations in Texas, this is a good time to revisit the arguments used to promote plastic bag bans. A review of the data shows that plastic bag regulations don’t reduce litter overall — and, in fact, they incentivize products that have far greater...
Opinion: How Trump gets into your bed

It’s not every day we start our discussion of current events with the president’s sex life. Well, actually, it’s gotten to be pretty frequent. But today we’re going to talk less about what Donald Trump does in bed and more about his efforts to interfere with other people’s intimate affairs. “When I ran for office...
Opinion: Trump is proving to be most pro-life president in history

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s critics were apoplectic last week when the president referred to MS-13 gang members as “animals.” Of course, no one should be dehumanized. Yet many of the same people expressing outrage that Trump would dehumanize vicious gang members have no problem dehumanizing innocent, unborn children. Trump...
Commentary: With shootings and small checks, why would anyone teach?
Commentary: With shootings and small checks, why would anyone teach?

The optimism of graduation season was mixed this year with the tragedy of another school shooting, this time in Santa Fe, Texas. Among the 10 victims were two teachers. While we mourn the loss of our nation’s youths to school shootings, we should also wonder how the prevalence of gun violence will impact college graduates’ decision to enter...
Commentary: Don’t leave it to just veterans to honor America’s fallen
Commentary: Don’t leave it to just veterans to honor America’s fallen

What are you planning to do this Memorial Day? What is the day for? Why was it created? Despite a long tradition of public promises that those who give their lives fighting for their families, cities and countries will live on in communal memory, human hearts and minds can stand only so much. Memories fade. When our society does not bear the burdens...
More Stories