News & Politics

Charles Blow: Trump Is Following a Sinister Playbook from the 1960s

The president's attacks on Puerto Rico's mayor and NFL protesters are all too familiar.

Photo Credit: Youtube Screencap / CNN

Nine months into the Trump administration, pundits and other deluded Americans are still pretending the president is playing 12-dimensional chess—that there is a larger, strategic purpose to his random outbursts and his response to tragic events. Charles Blow is one of the few columnists who has never had any patience for this idea. Not in January, and certainly not in October.

As Blow writes in his Monday column, about Trump's response to the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and the NFL players protesting institutional racism, "His responses depend solely on whether he, as a person, and his family empire, are being complimented or criticized." 

This behavior is particularly evident when the president feels threatened or vulnerable. Last week, following his failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act or drum up much in the way of support for his chosen candidate in the Alabama Republican primary, Trump knew he needed to change the narrative. So he took time out from a rally for Luther Strange to rail against NFL players who dared to use their fame and influence to protest racial injustice. His screed got people talking and arguing. As Blow points out, it was about something other than the failures of his presidency.

It was, Blow writes, "all over TV, Trump's gauge of all things good." Trump saw it as a win, and polling backed him up: "A CNN/SSRS poll released Friday found that about half of respondents overall and nearly nine in 10 Republicans believed that 'protesting players are doing the wrong thing to express their political opinion when they kneel during the national anthem.'" 

Blow is quick to remind readers that the Freedom Riders weren't exactly winning popularity contests at the beginning of the civil rights movement. "If a majority agreed with a protest," he writes, "it would partially negate the need to protest, and second, majorities are not the measure of what is moral." 

Since his "divide and divert" strategy worked so well last week, Trump has decided to employ it against the mayor of San Juan for daring to suggest the federal government's response to Hurricane Maria has been inadequate. Trump unleashed his Twitter wrath on Carmen Yulín Cruz, using his favorite insult for women (nasty), and ranting about her supposed ungratefulness. Blow knows what he really intended: "blame the victim and berate them as a group: These brown people want/need help, but won’t/can’t help themselves because their community/culture is inferior/ineffective." 

The idea that marginalized groups in America should be grateful is as old as America itself, and was frequently employed against the civil rights heroes of the '60s. That Trump can divide Americans so easily is more proof that the country clings to these racist falsehoods. And Blow isn't hopeful this will change any time soon.

"It’s as if Donald Trump has strolled into the political equivalent of a hospice for racist ideologies with a miracle elixir," he concludes. "Ideas we had hoped were near death have a new verve and vigor." 

Read the entire column

Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.

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