- Mychal Denzel SmithKnobler fellow at The Nation Institute and a contributing writer for The Nation magazine. His latest piece is headlined “Trump’s Racism Didn’t Scare Me. Now It Does.” He’s the author of the forthcoming book, Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education.
Super Tuesday has arrived, the biggest primary day in the presidential race. Republicans and Democrats each go to the polls in 11 states. Billionaire Donald Trump could win as many as eight of the 11 states. He has won three out of the four caucuses and primaries to date. This comes as his campaign is under increasing fire after he at first refused to disavow an endorsement from David Duke, a prominent white supremacist and former KKK leader. Trump’s comments have prompted several rounds of protests during his recent rallies. On Monday, he reportedly ordered Secret Service agents to remove about 30 black students from his rally in Georgia who were quietly standing on the bleachers. At another Trump rally on Monday in Virginia, black students who chanted “No more hate! No more hate! Let’s be equal! Let’s be great!” were also removed. “You could write these things off before as hate speech, as vile, as disgusting rhetoric that he supported,” says Mychal Denzel Smith, a writer for The Nation, “but now [Trump] is going to be in a position where he could very well be the person to exercise that sort of hate speech and vile rhetoric with institutional power backing him.” Smith’s new article is “Trump’s Racism Didn’t Scare Me. Now It Does.”
AMY GOODMAN: Super Tuesday has arrived, the biggest primary day in the presidential race. Republicans and Democrats each go to the polls in 11 states. About a quarter of all delegates are at stake. The five Republican presidential candidates will compete in contests in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Vermont. Democratic voters will decide between their two candidates in similar states, except Alaska, but also in Colorado and American Samoa.
Recent polls show billionaire Donald Trump could win as many as eight of the 11 states. Trump has won three out of the four caucuses and primaries to date. His lead heading into today’s contests comes as his campaign is under increasing fire after he refused to disavow an endorsement from David Duke, a prominent white supremacist and former KKK leader. This is Donald Trump speaking Sunday in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
DONALD TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know—did he endorse me, or what’s going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so, when you’re asking me a question, that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.
JAKE TAPPER: But I guess the question from the Anti-Defamation League is—even if you don’t know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you. Would you just say, unequivocally, you condemn them, and you don’t want their support?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them, and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.
JAKE TAPPER: The Ku Klux Klan?
DONALD TRUMP: But you may have groups in there that are totally fine, and it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups, and I’ll let you know.
JAKE TAPPER: OK, I mean, I’m just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here, but…
DONALD TRUMP: I don’t know any—honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I’ve ever met him.
AMY GOODMAN: Trump later posted a video on Twitter of himself disavowing David Duke. He told the Today Show his refusal to disavow Duke on a, quote, “very bad earpiece”—that’s what he blamed it on.
Trump’s comments have prompted several rounds of protests during his recent rallies. On Monday, he reportedly ordered Secret Service agents to remove about 30 black students from his rally in Georgia who were quietly standing on the bleachers. They were told to leave the GOP front-runner’s event. At another Trump rally on Monday in Virginia, black students were removed after they chanted “No more hate! No more hate! Let’s be equal! Let’s be great!” As the protesters were being ejected, Trump complained they had interrupted him, and asked, quote, “Are you from Mexico?”
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign has also come under fire from high-level military officials, including former CIA Director Michael Hayden. Hayden told HBO’s Bill Maher if Trump were elected president, it’s possible U.S. military officials would refuse to follow his orders. Trump has pledged to reinstate forms of torture, including waterboarding, and other practices he said were, quote, “so much worse.” He has also repeatedly called for killing the family members of terrorists—a practice that violates the Geneva Conventions.
Well, to discuss Trump’s campaign, we’re joined by two guests. In Washington, D.C.—right here in New York, we’re joined by Mychal Denzel Smith, who is a writer for The Nation, whose latest piece is “Trump’s Racism Didn’t Scare Me. Now It Does.” And Zaid Jilani joins us from Washington, staff reporter at The Intercept. His new article is “Neoconservatives Declare War on Donald Trump.”
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mychal, let’s begin with you. So you say Trump’s racism didn’t scare you, now it does. What’s changed for you, Mychal?
MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: He started winning. He started to be a viable candidate for the presidency. He—at first, you know, we all sort of wrote him off as a sideshow, as a distraction to who was going to be the actual Republican nominee, that he was just a form of entertainment and his hubris was allowing him to stay in this race. But the longer this has gone on and the more support that he’s garnered and the more fervor that he’s excited and aroused in sort of the aggrieved white man space, he has become the front-runner and, as it shakes out, right now is the likely nominee, given that he’s already won three states and looking to sweep or to get a lot of wins today on Super Tuesday. It’s going to be—it’s likely to be Trump. And what bothers me about that is that, you know, you could write these things off before as hate speech, as vile, as disgusting rhetoric that he supported, but now he is going to be in a position where he could very well be the person to exercise that sort of hate speech and vile rhetoric with institutional power backing him.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go for a second to another of the controversies. I mean, there are many. We were just talking about David Duke and the KKK, whether or not he disavowed their support for him. Well, Donald Trump also declined to distance himself from a Benito Mussolini quote he had retweeted. And on Sunday, Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet the Press questioned Trump about the tweet.
CHUCK TODD: Right now on Twitter, there is a trending retweet of yours. You retweeted somebody from @ilduce2016. It was a Mussolini quote, but you didn’t know it was Mussolini when you retweeted it. It said, “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” That’s a famous Mussolini quote. You retweeted it. Do you like the quote? Did you know it was Mussolini?
DONALD TRUMP: Sure. It’s OK to know it’s Mussolini. Look, Mussolini was Mussolini. It’s OK to—it’s a very good quote. It’s a very interesting quote. And I know it—I saw it. I saw what—and I know who said it. But what difference does it make whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else? It’s certainly a very interesting quote.
CHUCK TODD: Well—
DONALD TRUMP: That’s probably why I have—
CHUCK TODD: Mussolini is a known fascist.
DONALD TRUMP: —between Facebook and Twitter, 14 million people, and other people don’t.
CHUCK TODD: Do you want to be associated—do you want to be associated—
DONALD TRUMP: It’s a very interesting quote, and people can talk about it.
CHUCK TODD: Do you want to be associated with a fascist?
DONALD TRUMP: No, I want to be associated with interesting quotes.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Trump defending retweeting the quote of the fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mychal Denzel Smith?
MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: Well, this just speaks to the sort of ignorance that Donald Trump does represent. This is a man that is of unremarkable intelligence. He does not know that that’s a Mussolini quote. And he does not care also. That’s the—that’s the bigger problem, is that he doesn’t care about the idea of truth or consistency or anything. And it appeals to people. It is winning over an electorate. It is turning out people who identify with that. And that’s troubling to me that we have this sort of regression in our politics, that Donald Trump can sort of proudly be ignorant and still be the Republican front-runner.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, this discussion of the Klan and David Duke, it becomes sort of run-of-the-mill. But talk about what this group is, the Klan and David Duke, and what they represent.
MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: The KKK is a terrorist organization. It’s the domestic terrorist organization that has existed in the United States since the end of slavery. And they have terrorized black bodies throughout their existence. That was their whole purpose, is to—like at the onset of Reconstruction, their formation was to ensure that the rights that black people were now being afforded, under the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of that time, were to ensure that white supremacy reigned supreme, particularly in the Southern states, where black people were making great strides. And that’s been the history. It’s been a history of lynching and cross burnings and violent intimidation at the polls. And then you have the sort of modern KKK with David Duke, who has tried to make them a political force and has run for office. And he is—until Trump, he was the most nakedly racist candidate for office that we had seen for some time. And now Trump has sort of reinvigorated that.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. In 2000, Trump said in The New York Times he was declining to run for president as a member of the Reform Party because it, quote, “now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke. … This is not company I wish to keep,” he said. Also in The New York Times, a report published in 1927 about brawls in New York between Italian fascists and the Ku Klux Klan mentions the arrest of Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father.
MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: Yeah, he has long connections to the Klan. But, I mean, he can disavow it in sort of that moment, because it was politically like feasible for him to do it then, but now he has aroused the support of the people that will—that do support David Duke and believe in the message of the Ku Klux Klan. And he can’t do it anymore if he intends to win, because that’s his base. That’s who he has turned out to the polls. And that’s a frightening thing to think, that the Republican front-runner is running a racist campaign and winning.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’ll also be joined by Zaid Jilani of The Intercept. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.