The morning after Donald Trump said that the United States was getting too many immigrants from “shithole” countries, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of African Affairs sent out a tweet to soothe hurt feelings: “The United States will continue to robustly, enthusiastically and forcefully engage in #Africa, promoting this vital relationship, and to listen and build on the trust and views we share with our African partners.”
American diplomats in Africa work to counter Islamic extremism, promote democracy and keep American businesses competitive with increasingly effective Chinese companies. China surpassed the United States as Africa’s biggest trading partner in 2009, and it is increasing its influence through education, political and military connections, offering an authoritarian governance model in a continent where democracy has been spreading.
Trump’s comments have Africans fuming. All 55 African countries have demanded an apology. Of course he won’t apologize, so it will make it harder for American officials to do their jobs and deal with their African colleagues.
A few minutes after the State Department tweet, Trump signed a Martin Luther King Jr. Day proclamation in the White House. As he left, a reporter shouted “Mr. President, are you a racist?”
Trump hurried from the room, looking like a fool, a victim of his own racism.
The reaction to Trump’s “shithole” comment shows that white supremacy, although it seems to be advancing, is doomed. As long as there are people, there will be violence and injustice driven by sectarian and ethnic divisions. In Myanmar, for example, hundreds of thousands of Muslims are refugees as a result of state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing. But white supremacy, an ideology developed to justify European colonialism, is in retreat. Trump’s presidency is the death rattle of a doomed, nostalgic, racist view of the world.
It’s useful to keep that in mind with each fresh racist assault from Trump, because they are so dispiriting.
Each time, we have the shock of Trump’s idiocy, followed by an even more idiotic debate about what is and isn’t racist. Trump’s backers can be relied on to turn the discussion to the stupidest cul de sac. Are you saying that Haiti is a nice country? Don’t you realize that people often use salty language behind closed doors? Are you not aware that the Clinton Foundation had a conflict of interest in its fund-raising for Haiti?
Trump’s allies keep finding ways to avoid the evidence of his racism. No doubt, they would continue to do so if he were found in Klan robes. But white supremacy is like an outdated operating system. It is wrong, ethically and morally, but it is also profoundly not useful, damaging to everyone, including its followers.
Polling shows that racism made Trump president, but the working class white people who voted for Trump based on his appeal to their whiteness are victims of their own racism. He has remade the tax system so that they will pay more while the rich pay less, and done his best to defund public medical care.
This is an old story in the United States. There is a deep vein of race hatred with its roots in the period after the Civil War, when poor white and black southerners were divided by the Jim Crow laws. As W.E.B. Du Bois put it in 1935: “The white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white.”
This toxic social reality is the cancer at the heart of American political life, dividing Americans to no good end, and preventing them from adopting the kind of social safety net that Canada and every other rich country has.
As economists at Harvard University concluded in 2001 after years of comparing the social and political systems of the United States and European countries: “Racial animosity in the U.S. makes redistribution to the poor, who are disproportionately black, unappealing to many voters.”
Racism, of course, is most damaging to visible minorities, but it also hurts people who think they benefit from it, because it is an incorrect way of thinking. It hurts them in their private lives, when they make bad assumptions about people based on their race. It can end their careers, if they carelessly make a racist comment, like the Calgary judge who resigned a professorship this week after expressing unease about “big dark people.” It can cost them car sales, as Lynn Beyak’s family may be learning.
And it makes for bad policy, which hurts everybody. It is what led Canada to set up a gulag for Indigenous children, which has cost the federal treasury at least $3.1 billion in compensation, and will cost it billions more supporting communities that were damaged by it.
Trump wants to do all kinds of stupid things for racial reasons, like building an $18-billion wall at a time when more Mexicans are leaving the country than arriving.He wants to block immigration from “shithole” countries, but African immigrants to the United States are among the best-educated Americans.
Trump’s presidency will do a lot of damage, but he is not going to succeed in turning back the tide of history.
Indigenous Canadians only got the vote in 1960. Today, the leader of the opposition in Manitoba is Indigenous. King was shot in 1968. Barack Obama was elected in 2008. The trend line is obvious.
Large numbers of white Americans remain racist, even young Americans, but white attitudes are changing, and the society is becoming more diverse. Even in the short term, this poses an electoral challenge for Trump and his ilk, and in the long run it means certain ruin.
Trump and his supporters want to choke off immigration, and try to make it harder for non-white people to vote, but they are not going to win. White supremacy will one day seem as absurd as slavery seems to us now.
In 1963, when African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama, followers of King, were pushing for voting rights, Klansmen blew up a black church, killing four little girls. In 1965, after a march where nonviolent protesters were attacked by police using used tear gas and billy clubs, King stood on the steps of the State Capitol, and promised his brutalized supporters that justice was coming.
“How long?” he said. “Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long.”
In December, in staunchly Republican Alabama, voters rejected Trump supporter Roy Moore in favour of Democrat Doug Jones, who in 2001, finally prosecuted one of the Klansmen who blew up the school.
The election was a bitter blow to Trump and his supporters, who face big trouble in the November midterm elections, and one more indication that King was right, not just about the nature of justice, but about its inevitability.
MORE ABOUT DONALD TRUMP:
- Letterman, Obama and the important fights we should be having now
- Memo to Donald Trump: Canadian immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries are thriving
- Trump’s economy looks just like Obama’s, except for one important thing
- Hawaii sends ‘ballistic missile threat’ message by mistake
- Donald Trump wanted ‘America First.’ He got ‘America alone.’
- Donald Trump’s white supremacy blinds him to the debt America owes Haiti