The Conversation That America Needs To Have About Race In The Age Of Trump [Opinion]

Scott BauerAP Images

During the 2016 presidential race, many expressed shock at the frank style of Donald Trump, the then-Republican presidential candidate. Certainly, people had grown accustomed to hearing platitudes. Somewhat interestingly, they had become equally comfortable in lamenting the insincerity that characterized political rhetoric. Maybe that partially explains the jolt that reverberated throughout the nation as the Trump campaign set its own path and faithfully kept to it. What perhaps was the biggest source of astonishment for a number of observers, however, was the president’s outreach to the white working class. The resonating of his message with this group left Trump vulnerable to accusations of racism. Nevertheless, confounding his critics, he did not scramble to defend himself; he offered no mea culpa.

Since his election, people have continued to brand Trump a racist as well as an anti-Semite. At the same time, journalists have pumped out headlines calling attention to the rise of white nationalism. According to an article in Newsweek, parallels could be drawn between Trump’s public celebration of Christmas and the agendas of white nationalists and even Nazis to define America as a nation for white Christians only. Cristina Maza, who penned the article, quoted Professor Richard King of Washington State University, who explores how white supremacists use culture to their political benefit, and author Joe Perry, who wrote a book that looks at how Nazis used Christmas to propagate their ideology.

The argument of this piece and others like it is that Donald Trump has emboldened this group through his words and actions. Beyond disliking his language, which they find unsuitable for a president, Trump’s detractors have asserted that his overall conduct has provided cover for the activity of groups that fall under the umbrella of the far right, the members of which are routinely and stubbornly defined as white, Christian, and often working class.

More recently, Trump became subject to his detractors’ biggest torrent of criticism yet when, according to a CNN report (in addition to many others), he allegedly disparaged Haiti and African countries during a meeting with legislators to discuss immigration. Moreover, sources claim that the president said that the United States should get more immigrants from countries like Norway.

White Nationalist Richard Spencer tries to get students to shout louder as they clash during a speech at the University of Florida.
White Nationalist Ricahrd Spencer at the University of Florida. Featured image credit: Chris O'MearaAP Images

For many, these alleged remarks have definitively marked Trump as a racist. Conversely, some, like Paul Nehlen, who is again seeking to unseat Speaker Ryan, appreciate what they see as candor.

These comments and the positive reaction of some to them have not only angered people, but it has also resulted in them deploring the rise of white nationalism more vociferously. In an attempt to address the claims and quell outrage, the president has denied making the pejorative remarks.

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Notwithstanding his statements, many remain unconvinced, but this points to several problems: the willingness of some to believe the worst about Trump on account of his outreach to the white working class and the shallowness of this nation’s discussion on race.

While it is imperative to discuss the difficulties and injustices that are encountered by minorities, that cannot be a license to ignore whites, particularly those that are part of the working class. This population should be able to hold the reasonable expectation that their needs and concerns will be met, too.

Equally, the discussion on race in the United States is predictable and unhelpful. The parameters are set, and the participants have been predesignated. To move such talk forward, the voices of individuals, such as Paul Nehlen, should be included.

Such a suggestion might not appeal to many. Indeed, Newsweek has reported that Nehlen has come under fire for possessing bigoted views, which he has denied. Although some of his views may certainly not be palatable or savory, it is too facile to condemn him roundly and shake with sanctimonious fear or anger. This impulse must be resisted.

As for Trump’s comments about Haiti and African countries, a distinction must be made between being critical of a nation and some of the practices within it and insulting its people. One should be able to make negative observations about any nation or culture without fearing accusations of bigotry or insensitivity.

In order to enjoy the privilege of being a part of this country, which is wonderfully diverse in many respects, sacrifices should be made, most notably, arguably, in regard to discussions on race. This means that any talk on the subject must be fully inclusive. Furthermore, the risk of some being uncomfortable or challenged cannot be an excuse for a disruption of dialogue or the prevention of certain subjects from being broached.

Hence, if those that were dismayed by Donald Trump’s victory truly want to learn from the events of 2016, they then should begin by rethinking how they discuss race.