ESPN contributor Jemele Hill took a lot of heat this week for speaking her mind on President Donald Trump. In a series of tweets earlier this week, Hill suggested that Trump harbored racist attitudes, and surrounded himself with people in the White House who shared similar ideals.
After pressure was put on the network from the #MAGA crowd to fire her, Hill later apologized for her comments, saying that they weren’t representative of ESPN.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 14, 2017
ESPN, for its own part, disagreed with her remarks, recognizing that their employee was speaking her mind but that it was important for her, as a public figure representing their brand, to be more cautious with what she says.
ESPN Statement on Jemele Hill: pic.twitter.com/3kfexjx9zQ
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) September 12, 2017
But Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested on Wednesday that Hill’s words were a “fireable offense,” drawing criticism from others on whether statements from the White House should engage in commentary like that or not. Indeed, as Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, points out, Huckabee Sanders is bordering on committing a criminal offense, one that could cost her a position in the White House itself:
All of this drama has played out over the course of the week, but the real “elephant in the room” is this: Jemele Hill is absolutely right. From the evidence we have in the past and present, Donald Trump is a white supremacist.
A lot of people won’t like reading that assessment, but if we look at the definition of the words themselves and break them down, we cannot come to any other conclusion. White supremacy, simply put, is the belief that white individuals are better than any other groups of people. And history shows that Trump has held those feelings in the past.
Trump previously called a Mexican-American judge presiding over a case involving one of his companies unfit to render an unbiased opinion. His reasoning? “He’s a Mexican,” Trump said, and suggested that the judge would insert his opinions on the proposed wall between the U.S. and Mexico into his final ruling. (By the way, Judge Gonzalo Curiel was born in Indiana.)
The president’s biases against non-whites goes beyond statements he’s made in more recent times. In the 1970s and fresh out of business school, Donald Trump and his father Fred Trump were the subjects of a housing discrimination claim. In addition to finding ways to drive out black residents from their properties, the Trumps allegedly used codes at the top of rental forms to distinguish between potential white renters and those who weren’t white.
In another example from 1991, Trump was answering questions during an interview, and provided this gem of a comment: “Laziness is a trait in blacks.” He also suggested that he hated black people counting his money, preferring “guys that wear yarmulkes every day” to do it instead.
And don’t get me started on Trump’s insistence that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump has yet to apologize for his birther claims.
Several more examples abound, and all of them from BEFORE the president made his “many sides” comments about neo-Nazis and protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the terrorist attack and murder of Heather Heyer at the hands of a white supremacist. Trump later went on to say that the neo-Nazis and white nationalists at that event included some “fine people.”
Those who insist Trump isn’t a white supremacist point out that he doesn’t act like one. He has hired some people of color in the past, and there are some that are in his administration.
Here’s the thing about white supremacists: you don’t have to shout about it, hold signs, or endorse an online petition to be one. The guy sitting next to you at the coffee shop could very-well be a white supremacist, even if he sits next to a black person on the bus or has a Latinx coworker. As long as he fits the definition of someone who believes whites are better than any other race of people, he is a white supremacist.
The same holds true for elected leaders, including this president and many others before him. Richard Nixon didn’t have to announce the “Southern strategy” to be a white supremacist. Nor did Woodrow Wilson have to say out loud that he was a huge fan of the film, “The Birth of a Nation.” Presidents in our past have been white supremacists, some of them quiet ones at that — it’s not something we should be proud of, but it is a fact we do have to recognize.
And we must recognize, also, that our current president is probably one as well. His actions in the past have demonstrated as much — and his present statements have shown he hasn’t changed.
Trump can make a positive transition away from those previous views he’s held. If and when he does, he should be commended for doing so. But meeting with black lawmakers or pointing out “my African-American” at campaign rallies doesn’t absolve him of thinking that whites are better — white supremacists can have moments where they behave in ways that run counter to their beliefs. But saying you “have a black friend” doesn’t mean you don’t have racist tendencies. And the same is true of this president.
Jemele Hill was right to point out the president’s prejudices. Trump has a storied history of racist statements he’s made, many of which he’s never apologized for, and many of the people he surrounds himself with in the White House do as well.
There’s still an opportunity for Trump to change, to acknowledge his past and reject the bigotry he’s previously espoused. But there’s been zero evidence that he’s done that yet — which means we must assume he still holds those backward views.