German Lopez wrote an article for Vox, Donald Trump’s long history of racism, from the 1970s to 2018. I’m not really sure we need to read all about this again. Trump’s racism is really well known — from growing up with a racist father and implementing racist housing policies to his presidential election rhetoric and his most recent claims about people from “shithole” countries. But Lopez said something that really bothered me about different kinds of racism — and which kind of racism is the worse.
Everyone Is Racist to Some Extent
He said, “At the very least, Trump has a history of playing into people’s racism to bolster himself.” This is exactly backward. To some extent, all people are racist because humans are tribal and they live in racist societies. It’s pretty much impossible to not be poisoned by it to one extent or another.
I have racist reactions and they disgust me. And I do everything I can to fight them. This is what a reasonable person does regardless of who they are or where they live.
Using Racism Is Worse Than Subconscious Bigotry
But a man who actively uses racism to his benefit is the worst kind of racist. The fact that many people were raised in racist households or raised in racist societies makes them partial victims. Sadly, as much as many of us try, it is impossible to have stupid thoughts that a moment’s reflection dispell. I do not believe anyone can escape that. The best they can do is to admit it and fight against it.
But someone like Trump is the very worst. He’s a man who thinks racism is great. He’s not someone who fights against racism. He not only embraces it in his own life, he uses his most vile impulses to push racism. This doesn’t just benefit him. It also makes other people who might fight their racism think that’s it’s perfectly fine — admirerable even.
Stop Saying Unconscious Racism Is the True Vilain
So we shouldn’t say, “Oh it wouldn’t be so bad if Donald Trump just used racism to get elected.” We should say it is the worst thing in the world to use racism to get elected. If he just had some lingering racist attitudes because of his racist father that would be a far lesser crime. And if he did everything he could to fight against the result of growing up with a bigot father, that would be admirable.
But instead, we act as though it would be better if Trump didn’t have a racist bone in his body and that he “only” used it to get elected to public office. Instead, what we know is that Donald Trump is extremely racist himself, that he embraces it rather than being disgusted by it, and he uses it to make other people more racist and thus get elected to public office. He is as bad as could be.
Making the Society More Racist Is the Worst Racism
So he is single-handedly making the entire society more racist. The fact that he is personally racist really doesn’t matter at all. In fact, it would be even worse if he had no racist attitudes at all. It would mean he does not see racism as an important issue. He sees it merely as a tool for getting what he wants.
So we should stop with this idea that somehow Trump is worst because he really is a racist. All that would mean is that he is authentic in his vile use of racism.
The damage that he does in whipping up a racist frenzy in his supporters is a far worse thing than him simply being unwilling to have friends or employees that are black, brown, or female he rates below 9. As time has gone on our society has become less racist. And he is doing exceptional damage in making it more racist — making it more acceptable to be a racist.
And we make it worse when we claim that him really being racist is worse than using racism to harm our country and benefit himself. If he isn’t racist, his racist act is actually worse. It is the act itself that is the far more dangerous thing.
This reminds me very much of how everyone gets more upset by a CEO who is caught using the N-word than they are when his copy is found to discriminate against blacks. We like simple things. “Oh, he said the wrong word.” Thus we can attack him. But actions — which are far more damaging — are harder to prove, so we ignore them.
Don’t be an idiot. Remember: the act itself is the far more dangerous thing. And it is very possible that the worst legacy of Donald Trump’s presidency will be that he’s made us a much more racist country.