The Failing (To Accurately Describe Racism as Racism) New York Times

Photo: Alex Brandon (AP)

Another indisputably racist comment from Donald Trump, another wishy-washy, bullshit reaction from the New York Times.

On Sunday night, after Trump told four members of Congress—all women of color—to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came,” the New York Times published a piece of “news analysis” in which chief White House correspondent Peter Baker ducks, dodges, dips, and dances around the fact that what Trump said was racist, and that Trump himself is a racist.

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Instead, the headline proclaims that Trump “fans the flames of a racial fire.” What is a racial fire, you might ask? From the description given by Baker and also the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry for “fire,” I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s the “rapid racial oxidation of a racial material in the racial exothermic chemical process of racial combustion, releasing racial heat, racial light, and various racial reaction products.” It also appears to be made using dry, racial wood, per the NYT:

President Trump woke up on Sunday morning, gazed out at the nation he leads, saw the dry kindling of race relations and decided to throw a match on it. It was not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last. He has a pretty large carton of matches and a ready supply of kerosene.

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“When it comes to race,” Baker says, Trump “plays with fire like no other president in a century.” Although his name isn’t mentioned, we can assume that this is a reference to the man who was president a century ago, Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was a president who also “played with fire” by showing the KKK propaganda film Birth of a Nation in the White House, segregating the federal government, and calling Reconstruction the “intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant Negroes.” Wilson, too, was apparently not a racist but rather a racial pyro.

When Baker does call comments by a president “racist,” it’s bravely in reference to Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, two men who have been dead for decades. But he quickly follows that up with this:

Mr. Nixon’s Southern strategy was said to be aimed at disenchanted whites. Ronald Reagan was accused of coded racial appeals for talking so much about “welfare queens.” George Bush and his supporters highlighted the case of a furloughed African-American murderer named Willie Horton. Bill Clinton was accused of a racial play for criticizing a black hip-hop star.

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Nixon’s Southern strategy was said to be aimed at disenchanted whites, it’s true—by people on Nixon’s own campaign, including current U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and strategist Kevin Phillips, the latter of which told the Times in 1970 that “the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that.”

Baker even refuses to describe as racist Trump’s actions before he became president, such as discriminating against black renters, calling for the death penalty against black and Latinx children who got railroaded by cops and prosecutors, and allegedly saying he didn’t want black men managing his money (and that he’d rather have “short guys that wear yarmulkes every day”). Oh, and then there’s the small matter of his leadership of the very obviously racist birther campaign against Barack Obama, which Baker merely calls “false.”

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If Baker can’t even hold Nixon and Reagan and Bush and Clinton’s overtly racist actions and statements to account, there’s little hope that he’ll do the same for Trump, who he says “has fanned the flames” more “overtly, relentlessly and even eagerly” as his predecessors. Instead, Baker calls Trump’s politics “racially infused,” as if it’s a $6 bottle of water with three stalks of racism—sorry, racial fire—thrown in it.

If a random man on the street yelled at a woman who was not white to “go back” to where she “came” from, most people would agree that those comments would be racist. They would not be “racially infused,” or racially fueled, or stoking a racial fire, as Baker insists, using this hamfisted metaphor until the very end:

He is only saying what others believe but are too afraid to say, he insists. And each time the flames roar and Mr. Trump tosses a little more accelerant on top. The fire may be hot, but that’s the way he likes it.

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While there is an argument out there that presidential privilege prevents a sitting president from being indicted for a crime, I haven’t yet seen one that presidents are immune to racism, saying racist things, and being racist. Donald Trump has been a willing champion of white supremacy throughout the course of his life, and nothing has changed since he’s become president.

Trump is, in every sense of the word, a racist, who once again has said something racist. And once again, the New York Times has proved that it has no intention of ever stating this simple fact.

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