Here’s How Donald Trump Can Fix His Racist Branding Problem

Wang Ying/Xinhua via ZUMA

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The Washington Post has a headline today that makes you go hmmm:

I think we all have a pretty good idea of how Trump could avoid being called a racist. He could stop saying racist stuff all the time. Easy peasy.

For my money, I probably wouldn’t call Trump a racist and I definitely wouldn’t call him a white supremacist. I’d call him a race-baiter. I know I’m out of sync with leftist orthodoxy on this, but words and phrases have actual meanings and I think language works better when we respect their differences:

  • A white supremacist is someone who believes as an ideology that the white race is inherently superior to and should dominate all other races. Adolf Hitler was a white supremacist. Jefferson Davis was a white supremacist. For that matter, pretty much everyone in Europe (or descended from European stock) before about 1900 was a white supremacist.
  • A racist is someone who believes different races have different inherent abilities but doesn’t have any consistent ideology to back it up. They just don’t like folks from other tribes (and they do like being top dog).
  • A race-baiter is someone who may or may not be personally racist but is perfectly happy to make money or win political office by appealing to racists.

Trump is a race-baiter. But is he personally racist? Beats me, and I almost don’t care anyway since I think a race-baiter is generally worse than a racist. Racism comes in various degrees, but sometimes it’s just the result of upbringing and expresses itself as little more than a casual, personal, low-level hostility. Race-baiting, by contrast, is invariably cold-blooded and mass-focused almost by definition. It’s cynical and selfish and demonstrates a willingness to stoke hatred for little more than short-term personal gain.

Genuine white supremacists are thin on the ground these days and don’t wield any serious political power. Racists come in all stripes, but their power has been dwindling for decades and their attitudes have largely been driven out of the public square. They’re still dangerous but getting less so—and that trend will continue as long as political elites make racism publicly intolerable. The only thing that can change this is a resurgence of race-baiting, and that makes race-baiters the most dangerous of them all. Fox News is far worse than their viewers and Donald Trump is far worse than his base.

Those are the people to fight, not the yahoos who yell “Send them back!” at Trump rallies. Without Trump, they’d just be sitting at home and occasionally telling off-color jokes to their buddies. It’s only with people like Trump around that they become toxic.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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