How and why Trump uses racism as a political tool – and why he will become even more aggressively racist in the run-up to 2020

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Leah Millis / Reuters

In November 2016 –  shortly after Donald Trump was elected nearly three years ago – I wrote the following article for The New Statesman about his use of racism as a political strategy in order to appeal to the grievances of white Americans who feel that their sense of identity is under threat.

As I wrote then: “Although using division for votes is nothing new for Republicans, Trump appears to be acting directly from the Southern Strategy playbook – a Nixonian strategy from the Seventies based on the exploitation of racial tensions and divisive politics aimed at increasing discord in order to maintain Republican presence.” (Isn’t it fascinating that Trump has been compared to Nixon in many other ways over these last 3 years…? Perhaps his fate will be the same…)

Trump’s racist/racial/racialized agenda has always been clear to me. Unlike others – such as George Conway, husband of Trump mouthpiece Kellyanne and Trump critic/foe, who just finally concluded this past weekend that Trump is indeed a racist and wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about his new found discovery – I have not been surprised nor in denial about the depths of his animus towards people of color. Dismayed, often. Saddened at times. But shocked? Absolutely not. I know racism when I see it. My very survival depends on that.

Trump’s racism is long and old, and it certainly has never been hard to miss. If you can’t cast your mind back to 1989 and his front page newspaper adverts calling for the death penalty to be brought back and used in the case of the so-called Central Park Five – the group of 5 young black men who were wrongfully imprisoned and later exonerated for the rape of a female jogger in Central Park – you should at least be able to remember that he actually got President Barack Obama to produce a copy of his actual birth certificate after insisting – in a bizarre conspiracy theory – that there was no way Obama was actually American. Trump has been at this game for quite some time now. And even though he been proven very wrong – as he is on most things – he is good at it.

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As the country grapples with Trump’s most recent insults, this time aimed at Reps. Ayana Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, four freshmen Democratic women of color in Congress (all American, one foreign-born) who he tweeted should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” I have gone back to review this piece. Not only is it prescient, but it seems to get even more accurate the longer Trump is in office.

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Anna Moneymaker/ The New York Times

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Who’s the racist, Rupert?

By backing Glenn Beck’s wild rant that Barack Obama is racist, Rupert Murdoch is as incendiary as his Fox News pundits

When watching the likes of Glenn Beck (or other pundits of his leanings) on Fox News, I’m not just alarmed by the man himself. It takes a big team of people to sustain a daily TV show, so there are producers, writers, researchers and executives who decide there is value in him saying the things that he says. I’m often left wondering who those people are, and how it is that they feel comfortable with trying to pass such divisive and often bizarre ranting off as journalism. It has become clear that the support for Beck’s rhetoric goes much higher than just those involved in his show. In fact, Beck has support all the way from the very top – and it appears that the guy at the top is equally as misguided and ill-informed as he is.

Just this week, Rupert Murdoch, the proprietor of News Corp, which owns the Fox network in the US and so many other news entities around the world, told one of them – Sky News Australia – that Glenn Beck was “right” in his assertion that President Obama hates white people. The announcement that President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred of white people and white culture” is one of Beck’s most inflammatory and eyebrow-raising statements to date. This incendiary pronouncement, which was followed by a number of advertisers withdrawing their ads from Beck’s show, came after President Obama criticized the policeman in the Henry Louis Gates saga for having acted “stupidly” in arresting Gates just outside his own home.

Murdoch’s interview has, unsurprisingly, caused controversy, with civil rights groups like Colorofchange.org now demanding that Murdoch – whose position on whether or not Barack Obama is racist has changed a number of times this week – settles once and for all whether he agrees with Beck.

Murdoch’s words are indeed troubling. But it’s not even necessarily troubling that he believes that Obama is a racist. He is, after all, entitled to his opinion. In any case, Murdoch’s disdain for Obama is no secret: earlier this year he also described president’s policies as “dangerous”. What is most problematic here, however, is that he is the owner of influential news outlets, which are supposed to provide their viewers with facts, information and the truth about what’s happening in the world. This is an issue of journalistic standards and the future of the media.

When the White House denounced Fox News for acting as a “wing of the Republican Party” many conservatives saw this as the president using his power to silence his critics. However, it cannot be coincidental that News Corps’ news outlets – such as Fox News or the New York Post – seem to appear at the centre of racist or sexist controversies, that their pundits engage in race-baiting, or that the man who runs the company has now come out in public support for the views of the organisation’s most alarming pundits.

This isn’t just about media output but the very culture of at the heart of Murdoch’s News Corp. Currently, Sandra Guzman, a Latina who worked as a senior editor for the New York Post, is suing News Corp and the Post. She alleges that she was fired after she objected to a controversial cartoon published in the Post earlier this year, which made a thinly-vielled reference to President Obama as a crazed chimpanzee. She claims that the Post is a “hostile work environment where female employees and employees of colour have been subjected to pervasive and systemic discrimination and/or unlawful harassment based on their gender, race, colour and/or national origin.” While conspiracy theorists have their own conclusions about what Murdoch is aiming to do with his media empire, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that Murdoch appears to be consciously fostering an organisation which has ugly practices and the propagation of a certain kind of ideology at its root.

It is also clear that Murdoch has little regard for the truth. Not only did he misrepresent the president’s remarks in his TV interview – saying that Obama “did make a very racist comment about blacks and whites and so on” but was unable to explain exactly what it was – but at several points he also made inaccurate statements. One of these was his denial that Glenn Beck or anyone else had compared the president to Stalin when there are a multitude of video clips available in which Fox pundits do just that. This is more than just one elderly man’s perspective. It is an issue of journalistic integrity that, it is becoming clear, News Corp’s oputlets appear to sorely lack.

Deliberate distortion of the facts, bias and partisanship in the media are serious issues, especially considering how powerful the media can be in shaping our perceptions and ideas. While some silppage is to be expected, a line must be drawn somewhere. Fox News, in particular, cannot continue to pretend that it is a neutral entity when the very man who owns it is far from neutral in his views.

Just last night, Lou Dobbs stepped down from his position as a CNN presenter, an event long encouraged by protests from civil rights groupsupset that he was using his platform to voice his anti-immigrant statements as though they were truth. The public demands better of its journalists and news organisations. Murdoch owes that much to the public. If he continues along the same path, his staff can expect more reaction of the Lou Dobbs variety.