By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
Many dared hope, after the 2008 election of Barack Obama, that the United States could someday enter a “post-racial” era. The election eight years later of Donald Trump to the same office demonstrated, sadly, that the scourge of racism is alive and well in America. Trump’s profound racism was described by his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, when he testified before Congress Wednesday. Any attempt to heal the deep wounds of racism that scar this country must include a direct challenge to Donald Trump, our racist in chief.
“I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat,” Michael Cohen said early in his statement to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. He elaborated: “The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries ‘s**holes.’ In private, he is even worse. He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘s**hole.’ This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States.”
Cohen continued: “While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
Cohen’s summary is damning enough, but Trump’s record of racism is much longer. “Trump’s presidency and entire career has been an affront to civil rights so nothing in Michael Cohen’s testimony is surprising for a person that has historically racialized and stigmatized those around him,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson in a statement Wednesday. “From his racist housing practices, to his villainization of the Central Park Five, to his birther accusations against President Obama, to creating safe havens for white supremacists — all of this maps out the actions and personality of a liar and a racist.”
The housing discrimination Johnson mentioned refers to a 1973 federal lawsuit against Donald Trump and his father, Fred Trump, for discriminating against African-Americans seeking apartments. Beginning in the 1990s, Trump attacked Native Americans, questioning their heritage in his attempts to block tribal casinos that would compete with his failing ventures in Atlantic City. He aggressively urged restoration of the death penalty in New York after five youth of color were accused of raping a white woman in the Central Park Five case. All five were imprisoned for years, and later had their sentences vacated when the real perpetrator was identified. New York City awarded them over $40 million in damages. Trump, to this day, still insists they are guilty.
Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015 by calling Mexicans murderers and rapists, and has made the vilification and persecution of Central Americans fleeing violence a pillar of his xenophobic immigration policies, which include building a wall along the southern border. He quickly attempted to implement his Muslim ban and was eventually allowed to enforce a watered-down version of it after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.
A Trump ally on the Oversight committee, Republican Mark Meadows, had African-American HUD official Lynne Patton, who formerly worked as a party planner for the Trump Organization, stand silently behind him as a living testament that Trump could not be a racist. Two women of color on the committee, Democrats Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, both called out Meadows’ maneuver. “The fact someone would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber, in this committee is alone racist in itself,” Tlaib said.
February is Black History Month, and this year, 2019, marks 400 years since the first Africans kidnapped from their homelands were forcibly brought to North American shores and a life of slavery. Legendary escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born in February 1818. Malcolm X was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was murdered on Feb. 26, 2012. Our shortest month is devoted to this incredibly long and painful history.
This month, we visited the Legacy Museum and Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, with its indoor museum and outdoor lynching memorial. These two sites convey the enormity and sweep of crimes against Africans brought here against their will, and the crimes perpetrated against their African-American descendants. From slavery, to Jim Crow and lynching, to mass incarceration, this history is portrayed in its stark brutality. But resistance to racism has also been a constant throughout U.S. history. It must be a part of our daily work, wherever we find it, whether in our communities, in Congress or in the Oval Office.