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

Opinion: Trump and Russia: One mystery, three theories

My official pundit’s opinion on Donald Trump, Russian election interference, collusion, kompromat and impeachment is that I’m waiting for the Mueller investigation to finish before I have a strong opinion. So maybe this is a good time to step back and sketch out the three main ways to understand Trump’s relationship to Russia and...
Opinion: Let’s audit ICE, not abolish it

The self-defeating #AbolishICE movement got played against the very Democrats who support it this week. On Wednesday, Republicans brought to vote in the U.S. House of Representatives a nonbinding resolution in support of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the federal agency that, among other things, apprehends and deports undocumented...
Letters to the editor: July 23, 2018

Re: July 17 article, “U.S. judge defends actions as trial on Texas’ fetal burial law begins.” Regarding the legal case of final disposition of a medically aborted fetus, the judge’s presupposition about a fetus seems paramount. The deep and legally unresolved issue in the case of bury/don’t bury an aborted fetus also seems...
Opinion: Putin speaks code. Does Trump understand?

Back when word first leaked that Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. had met with a Russian lawyer and others offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, President Trump seemed to think he was supplying an exculpatory cover story. Flying home from Germany on Air Force One, Trump reportedly instructed Don Jr. to claim that he and the Kremlin-linked...
Opinion: The GOP’s War on the Poor

Four years ago, on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, House Republicans led by Paul Ryan issued a report declaring that war a failure. Poverty, they asserted, hadn’t fallen. Therefore, they concluded, we must slash spending on the poor. Last week, Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers issued a new report...
More Stories