Americans Can Hear Trump’s “Dog Whistles”

It occurs to me that calling the Trump campaign’s racist messaging “dog whistles” is increasingly inaccurate.

An actual dog whistle– a high-pitched whistle used to train dogs– typically has a sound inaudible to humans. Politically, the term has been used to describe messages aimed at particular constituencies that can hear them, but using language or imagery that the broader public will not “hear” or understand.

Trump’s messaging, on the other hand, has gotten less and less subtle. We’ve gone well beyond the “very fine people on both sides” response to the Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville. These days, messages aimed at his most reliable supporters–racists–are heard and understood by growing numbers of the general, non-racist public.

Just this year, we’ve had several examples. There was the rally scheduled for Tulsa on June 19th. In 1921, Tulsa was the site of one of the most horrific racial pogroms in American history, and June 19 is Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the day slaves in Texas learned they were free. Until recently, most white Americans were unaware of both, but that has been changing as history texts have begun including the less savory parts of the country’s past. (Ironically, given the blowback to Trump’s announcement, many Americans who were unaware of that history now know about both.)

Then there was the announcement that Trump’s acceptance speech would take place in Jacksonville, Florida, on August 27. Black people in Jacksonville know August 27th as “Ax Handle Saturday”–a day when  people participating in a 1960 NAACP demonstration were chased through downtown Jacksonville streets and beaten. Another “coincidence.”

More recently, Trump retweeted a supporter shouting “White Power.”

And of course, there was the truly horrifying campaign message conveyed along with Trump’s current fixation on the ANTIFA of his imagination. A campaign attack on ANTIFA was illustrated with the same upside-down red triangle the Nazis had used in concentration camps to designate political prisoners.

Fewer Americans are familiar with the history of the red triangle, so its use by the campaign probably fits the dictionary definition of a “dog whistle.” The symbol was used in Facebook ads and on the “Team Trump” page, alongside warnings of “Dangerous MOBS of far-left groups” and requests that supporters sign a petition about ANTIFA.

And as if the triangle wasn’t explicit enough, the campaign placed exactly 88 ads using the symbol–88 is a white supremacist numerical code for “Heil Hitler.”

Nixon had his “Southern Strategy.” Reagan was regularly accused of dog whistles to bigots. The GOP has long been accused of covert messaging to America’s distressingly large number of voters who exhibit “racial grievance”–or are outright white supremacists. Even at the GOP’s worst, however, most campaigns have tried to have it both ways–appealing to the racists while not being blatant enough to alert the people in their own party who would be repelled by such messages.

Not Trump. For one thing, he can’t spell subtle. For another, his personal history suggests that he is entirely sympathetic to the “cause” of white supremacy. The evidence stretches from his early refusal to rent apartments to African-Americans, to his truly reprehensible vendetta against the young boys wrongly accused of a Central Park rape, to his ridiculous, disgusting “birther” campaign and his obvious, obsessive effort to destroy anything and everything done by Barack Obama.

Let’s not dignify the Trump campaign by suggesting that it uses “dog whistles.” Let’s call it what it is: a campaign by a white supremacist, for white supremacists.


  1. Professor Seuss Kennedy-nearly every day, I learn things from you. Today was the number 88 and the context of “dog whistles.” I never knew about these concepts/definitions, but as before, thanks for the tutorial. Further, I do not believe in coincidences. As you acknowledge Professor, these are not coincidences. These are blatant codes to the people who know about this and POTUS is signaling to them. Please stay focused. We will survive this. As before, thank you!

  2. Let’s start a PityParty for poor Facebook and did I hear that some Twitter posts are “taken down?

  3. Ever compared Trump with Mussolini and Hitler? The Britannica and Wikipedia articles on line are instructive. Both the Italian and the German elevated themselves to dictatorship. Trump is still struggling with reading the “how to” script.
    The November election is going to be decisive. Trump is leaning toward losing it but, if he should pull it off, WATCH OUTCH !!

  4. So, those 92 million people who didn’t vote in 2016 didn’t get this message? They turned their backs on “Mexicans are killers and rapists”, ignored the twitching spasm imitation of a disadvantaged reporter and walked away from the overt coddling of Putin EVEN BEFORE HE WAS VOTED IN. The 92 million who didn’t vote helped the world to see what the ugliest part of the United States looks like.

    Speaking of axe handles…. Is the four years of the most disgusting wretch this country ever produced who humiliates and destroys our country on a daily basis a big enough axe handle to get the attention of the 92 million sloths who never imagined that there were another 62 million of their fellow countrymen who DID vote for the resident evil we’re now suffering through? I guess we’ll find out.

    And how about those silent Republicans… Is their silence a dog whistle of compliance, or are they just scared to death of speaking out against racism, bigotry and incompetence because their donors told them to keep quiet? Their silence is a sign of their complicit acceptance of the racism, bigotry and fascism now leading our government.

    Well done, voters… and non-voters. You removed all doubt about who you are.

  5. A sidebar (at minimum) is the main-stream press’ USE of the word “dog-whistle” to describe TRE45ON’s racist taunts (a more accurate description). I assume that most of their writers and editors went to college and know what that word means – its use is not a mistake. It’s an act of accommodation and preservation because they know if they call it for what it is they will lose even more viewers and readers from the fascist-enabling wing of the news & opinion consuming public (most of the GOP & some independents). And the fascist-enabling wing watches & reads more than just FAUX News.

  6. There is no better argument against white supremacy than Donald Trump.

  7. “‘History says, Don’t hope
    On this side of the grave,
    But then, once in a lifetime
    The longed-for tidal wave
    Of justice can rise up
    And hope and history rhyme.’

  8. Vernon -“Their silence is a sign of their complicit acceptance of the racism, bigotry and fascism now leading our government.”

    You are absolutely right. I have conveyed that message to my state senator, a Republican moderate (at least he seems to be) who works across the aisle on many issues. I always thought he was a good and decent person. His silence in the face of the continuous rot that is coming not only from his own state party (Lucas) but from Trumpence means that I will be actively supporting and voting for his opponent. “…silence is betrayal.” -MLK

  9. From the Guardian newspaper:
    Pew Research Center poll 7 in every 10 white evangelical Protestants is a Trump supporter.
    The survey also found a majority of two other Christian groups continuing to register approval of the president. Trump tallied 56% approval among non-evangelical white Protestants in June and 54% approval among white Catholics.

    Among Black Protestants, Trump’s approval ticked up from 10% in January to 21% in April, but fell back down to 12% in June in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and the president’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis which has disproportionately impacted minority communities.

    At least IMHO, the support for The Trumpet from the bible thumper’s comes down to one issue abortion. I suppose The Trumpet’s in your face racism is also a plus and “Law and Order”.

    The Trumpet’s numerous lies are ignored. It is a classic case of the ends justifying the means.

    The elected GOP leaders know what their base is and will pander to them at every opportunity.

  10. JD,

    Thank you for the corroboration. All of us who wore the uniform of our nation took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I can’t think of ANY more obvious domestic enemy to our Constitution than Donald Trump. And yet….

    As ML points out, Trump is a cult leader and the evangelical Christians of any stripe bob their heads accordingly, ignoring their own ethics, principles and morality for the adoration of the criminal enterprise. THAT says to me how deeply ingrained the racism is among this lot. They all think Jesus was this white guy in a pin-striped robe and oversized glasses.

  11. Think you are denigrating serious white supremacists – he has them fooled. Our president’s only campaign is about HIM – classic narcissism.

  12. The march of history, out of everyone’s control, is leaving a number of historically prominent groups behind. They are sliding from “cultural leaders” to someplace between irrelevant and minority. As their former position came with some influence in the departing culture, they are unhappy about the future that they see coming and, as human’s do, they are looking for someone to blame for their declining position.

    The good news is what’s coming. The bad news is that these groups don’t like it and are creating a certain amount of commotion during the change process.

    We have to keep that commotion from becoming destructive while letting it play out in benign ways.

    Unfortunately this process seems to be incomprehensible by many people

  13. I have just discovered another addition for Sheila’s list. Trump is now threatening to veto the mammoth defense bill, and why? Because it contains a provision that confederate names of our military installations be erased. I’m guessing that the emperor is wearing no clothes on this issue in that such a veto if exercised would be overriden, but speaking of not so subtle racist whistles. . .

    However, given his disregard for Putin’s sponsorhip of assassination of our troops, it’s not too big a stretch to see his veto of salaries for our soldiers, sailors and marines. Imagine! A draft dodging “commander in chief” with scads of Secret Service protection who would by his signature refuse to pay service personnel in harm’s way. Color me grrrrr!

  14. I can not credit Trump with the background and knowledge to be as clever as he is assumed in this daily writing. He has help. Who are the people who feed him images, words, phrases so aptly fitted to his mania?

  15. Trump isn’t smart enough to coordinate all of these “coincidences,” but his resident Nazi, Stephen Miller, is. If we can ever pry that crew out of the White House, it will be hell purging it of the smell of brimstone.

    In the meantime, I learned a new word today: pogrom. Such an innocuous-sounding word for something so horrible.

  16. Trump’s ego demands attention and that is overwhelming to him. Much more important than doing the first job he’s ever had which he outsourced immediately to his family first and toadies second.

    We’re paying the price that Putin intended for us to pay when the opportunity for him to impose it opened up wide.

  17. Then there was his re-tweeting the “White Power” rant from the Villages resident in Florida. Trump has gone from dog whistles to megaphones.

  18. Can anyone provide an answer to this question? Once all Confederate statues and memorials are removed and the names of military installations have been changed to Union officers, will they then demand the Confederate military names be removed from history books to banish them from existence? Who will they claim the Union military, the Yankees, fought in the Civil War to end slavery? Or will they remove the entire Civil War and 400 years of United States of America history leading up to the war?

    Both sides of this issue have reached a ridiculous level as Russians are paying the Taliban to murder out troops in foreign countries and people around the world are dying by thousands in the Covid-19 Pandemic as Trump run amok spreading lies and probably coronavirus.

    Anyone wonder why the EU has now banned Americans from crossing their borders? We must all look fucking crazy to them. I decided not to use the dog whistle for the “F bomb”; it didn’t express the level of my anger at this useless situation with no meaningful goal or end in sight.

  19. Put yourself in poor Trump’s bone spur shoes. Imagine how much of his base he would lose if he did not reference bigot/anti-abortion appeals. Then factor that depletion of support into the November vote…the landslide for Biden and against Trump would be huge enough to dwarf all other political landslides in the history of the world. Imagine his fear of such a blow. Poor dude: he’s gotten himself into such a mess!

  20. One other thing: Fred Trump, the Dotard’s father, was a member of the Klan. The reference to 88, meaning “Heil Hitler” is because the letter H is the 8th letter of the alphabet.

  21. JoAnn:
    Can anyone provide an answer to this question? Once all Confederate statues and memorials are removed and the names of military installations have been changed to Union officers, will they then demand the Confederate military names be removed from history books to banish them from existence?

    All the statues of Hitler and Mussolini were removed. You can still find references to Hitler and Mussolini in the history books. Stalin had his statues removed after his death. Cities that were named after Stalin and Lenin were changed. You can still find them in the history books too.

    The Confederate Generals were no different than Benedict Arnold. We do not have statues of Benedict Arnold.

  22. Thank you, ML, JoAnn. these are not monuments “honoring” confederate heroes; they are traitors, as ML points out – when did you last see a monument honoring Benedict Arnold – but beyond that , these weren’t put up to “honor” Confederate “heroes”, but they were put up at times of White Supremacists’ rise to power. The goal was to celebrate racism, white supremacy, and REWRITE history. The Confederacy wasn’t a noble cause.

    Here is a short clip discussing this

    Sheila, it is so true what you say, but we have had years of the “mainstream media” pretending that Trump is normal, not a racist, and competent. He will rise to the occasion, any day now.

    I will take note that Reagan got similar treatment – He began his campaign in Philadelphia Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered and buried – and nobody seemed to care that he believed that people should lose their jobs and homes because they held unpopular political views. Still, he played the “role” and was never blatant like Donnie the Dominator.

  23. Monotonous and Len; the Confederates were not trying to take over the United States or destroy the government, they were trying leave the Union to rule themselves as a separate country. Once they surrendered; President Abraham Lincoln welcomed them, as American citizens, back into the Union, none were charged as war criminals but were allowed to return to whatever might be left of their homes. Their reason for wanting to become a separate nation were wrong, wrong, wrong; but their generals cannot be compared to Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin or Lenin.

    From my earlier post; “Both sides of this issue have reached a ridiculous level as Russians are paying the Taliban to murder out troops in foreign countries and people around the world are dying by thousands in the Covid-19 Pandemic as Trump run amok spreading lies and probably coronavirus.”

    Now is not the time to be concentrating so much time, effort, money and demanding removal of statues which will be going nowhere anytime soon. People are dying; more than 50,000 new cases of coronavirus YESTERDAY; we have an active medical war between Democrats and Republicans, which has now hit Republican states due to increased much needed testing. Testing and medical supplies as well as protective clothing is still in short supply in some areas. Police abuses of power are still going on, the Russians, according to our own Intelligence agents, did pay via Afghan contractors, the Taliban to kill American military. Trump is going into areas where he is not wanted, not wearing a mask, to spread his lies and sending Pence as head of his bogus Coronavirus Task Force, wearing a mask, to spread the lies that they have the Pandemic well in hand and it is safe to reopen this country.

    We are on the front lines and need to be fighting the wars going on now, the economy is failing as people spread coronavirus, we are now headed into the forewarned surge from reopening too soon, or reopening but ignoring safety measures, the thousands of protesters and Trump’s rallies. Businesses are failing, people are losing homes, struggling to feed families, waiting for their jobs to return – IF they are going to return. Some of those statues have been there for a century or more and will still be there to fight over…IF we live to fight. We need to chose our battles and this battle appears to me to be another of Trump and the Republican’s distractions from where the real wars are being fought…for Trump’s reelection and for no other reason.

  24. Sheila, thank you for educating us on the white supremacist codes. Nazis appropriated (stole) cultural symbols of Asian cultures such as the swastika and pervert them into symbols of white supremacy and hate.

    I didnʻt realize “88” meant “heil Hitler” until your post. In Asian cultures, the number 88 means prosperity and success. Just so you know, if you see 88 on license plates or at Chinese restaurants, itʻs not because they support Nazis.

  25. Please excuse the typos – “perverted” (not pervert, tho Trump is also a pervert);
    and I meant license plates that are mainly in areas with large Asian populations will sometimes even put 888888 or some combination of letters with 88 to increase prosperity and success.

    Hereʻs the Wikipedia info on the origin and perversion of swastikas:

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