Did Trump Hand Us A Mirror?

Mirrors can be vicious–and educational.

I know I’m not the only one who finds it easy to indulge in forbidden food and drink, and to ignore the consequences–until I take a good look at myself in the mirror and decide it’s past time to begin that long-postponed diet and exercise regimen.

In a recent column for The Washington Post, Dana Milbank suggested a political analogy to that common phenomenon.

Four years ago, Christopher Parker, an African American political scientist at the University of Washington, made the provocative argument that Donald Trump’s candidacy could “do more to advance racial understanding than the election of Barack Obama.”

“Trump’s clear bigotry,” Parker wrote in the American Prospect, a liberal journal, “makes it impossible for whites to deny the existence of racism in America. . . . His success clashes with many white Americans’ vision of the United States as a fair and just place.”

Milbank lists several examples of Trump’s increasingly brazen embrace of racism; interestingly, the column appeared before the most recent example: his incendiary speech at Mount Rushmore, in which he barely stopped short of donning a white sheet.

It’s not just Trump. it is getting more and more difficult to ignore the evidence that the GOP has become the party of white supremacy. As Milbank reports,

Trump has accelerated a decades-old trend toward parties redefining themselves by race and racial attitudes. Racial resentment is now the single most important factor driving Republicans and Republican-leaning movers, according to extensive research, most recently by Nicholas Valentino and Kirill Zhirkov at the University of Michigan — more than religion, culture, class or ideology. An ongoing study by University of North Carolina researchers finds that racial resentment even drives hostility toward mask-wearing and social distancing. Conversely, racial liberalism now drives Democrats of all colors more than any other factor.

Milbank reviewed the changing responses of Americans to a question that has been used by several pollsters over a number of years to determine racial animus: the question asks people to agree or disagree with the statement “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.

In 2012, 56 percent of white Republicans agreed with that statement, according to the American National Election Studies. The number grew in 2016 with Trump’s rise, to 59 percent. Last month, an astonishing 71 percent of white Republicans agreed, according to a YouGov poll written by Parker and conducted by GQR (where my wife is a partner).

The opposite movement among white Democrats is even more striking. In 2012, 38 percent agreed that African Americans didn’t try hard enough. In 2016, that dropped to 27 percent. And now? Just 13 percent.

What these statistics don’t reflect is the rapidly diminishing number of Americans who identify as Republican, and the growing numbers of Democrats, Independents and “Never Trump” Republicans who find the party’s racism abhorrent.  Milbank quotes other political scientists whose research confirms the extent of that revulsion; white women, especially, are offended by the GOP’s appeals to racism.

Vincent Hutchings is a political scientist at the University of Michigan who specializes in public opinion research. He has found that racist appeals disproportionately alienate white, college-educated women, and has opined that such appeals exacerbate the gender gap even more than negative references to gender.

I’ve previously noted that the voluminous visual evidence of bigotry, captured and disseminated by our  ubiquitous cellphone cameras, has made it very difficult for comfortable white folks to believe that America is the idealized, equal-opportunity country described in dusty government textbooks. Every day, Donald Trump adds to that growing, uncomfortable body of evidence by loudly and publicly reconfirming his own ignorance and racism.

The iPhone pictures and videos, amplified by the constant tweets and utterances of a repulsive President, are providing Americans an extended look in the full-length mirror, and most of us don’t like what we see.

We need to remind ourselves that we have the power to change it.


  1. Well done! Speaking of looking in the mirror, I just finished Layla Saad’s little book ‘Me and White Supremacy’ which is not an autobiography but rather a guidebook for white people to reflect on their own racist tendencies and how they’ve supported a white-centered society. It is a bit unnerving to get through and I’m on my 2nd pass, this time “doing the work” as she says. I think it is the approach I find very refreshing and energizing. It’s not an appeal to whites to work with blacks on this. Black people are sick of explaining why they feel as they do. It’s time for whites to figure it out on their own. I haven’t yet but I’m feeling more comfortable with the process than I did a couple weeks ago.

    Also, I’m reading Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How To Be An Antiracist”…also very illuminating. It’s title is based on the premise that there is no such thing as being “not a racist” as most white moderates and liberals claim. The opposite of racist isn’t not-racist, it is antiracist. It’s a very compelling read and I encourage readers of this blog to take in several books in this genre.

  2. Trump’s mirror has made me more aware of my initial reaction to race in many instances; also made me aware of my own pro and con reactions in public. I notice the race of employees in the few businesses I use; recently was pleased to see my CVS now has black employees in their pharmacy, still there 2 weeks later. Then I wondered if the change was to place them “on the front lines” serving customers who could be infected. CVS fired all undocumented immigrants one Saturday morning about 5 years ago; still don’t see Hispanic employees. Those are my pro reactions; I have to question myself for con reactions in parking lots when I see males of other races nearby.

    But Trump’s mirror has made me much more aware of political mistrust than even my days working in the Goldsmith administration in Indianapolis City Government after 16 years of Mayor Bill Hudnut’s open-door hiring policy…which included Democrats. I try to remind myself that distrust or dislike based on a person’s political affiliation is a Republican symptom I don’t want to rely on. Or a person’s religion. Trump’s mirror is a full length, wide-angle mirror we all need to look into or, like Alice,we will fall through that Looking Glass and be lost.

    But we must believe our lying eyes about the blatant fact that, “It’s not just Trump. it is getting more and more difficult to ignore the evidence that the GOP has become the party of white supremacy.”

  3. The ghost behind that mirror, of course, is the embracing of slavery for the sake of pure capitalism. The concept of very low or free labor costs drives capitalism and the lust for profits even from the most ancient of times. Weren’t the Jews slaves of Egypt? Weren’t people from the conquered lands slaves of Rome? Who benefitted from slavery? Not the average white guy or girl. No, it was the upper 1%. Same thing in our Confederacy. It was the 1% of the money/land owners who supported slavery to its own demise… just like Egypt and Rome.

    Racism has its roots in tribalism, a behavior that even supersedes the earliest great societies. Even the Aztecs, Incas, et. al., in the “new” world employed slaves of various natures. Tribalism, caste-ism, religion (of course) and racism are all part of the hard-wired survival behavior of the tribe.

    In modern, complex societies, it seems, we are at an inflection moment. There seem to be a lot of those around these days. Western Europe has done a much better job of overcoming the racial animus only to be consumed by religious animus. More simply put, humans don’t like each other very much. For a species that worked so hard to survive, isn’t it odd that we have turned on each other over non-genetic issues, meaning that the misnomer of “race” does not disqualify from producing viable offspring. Indeed, all of life on Earth has been about hybridization. That’s what allowed organisms to adapt to changing environments. So, racism is pure tribalism. Let’s call it what it is: Fear of the “other”. Hate for the “other” who are trying to steal our food and our women and our water. That’s cave man stuff, and this wretched president is feeding that beast of the most ignorant and primitive among us.

  4. I think Christopher Parker is absolutely correct. We have seen our country and all it claims to be in a new light over the past three years. Can we sustain the outrage long enough to make significant changes? If we do manage to turn the White House and the Senate blue, will we then do what we have always done? Will we sit back and congratulate ourselves on a job well done, without even addressing the very real tasks that seem self evident today.

    We have so much work to do. We need to fix healthcare, repair our infrastructure, ensure a living wage for all Americans, ensure the right and ability to vote for all Americans, address our justice system, fix our broken immigration system, and begin a long journey toward racial equality. This is just for starters and it will take a long time and a lot of will to get it done.

  5. Those weren’t Trump’s words at Mt. Rushmore but they are certainly his beliefs. This re-election strategy is not his but he is following the plan. Trump and crew seem to be operating from some notion that there are enough votes out there to scare into voting for the R ticket. That appears to be part A of the plan. Part B must be to suppress or divide or something with the other side. There has to be a Part B for this gambit to work. Right? Or is this just the most insane campaign for a Presidential Re-election ever?

  6. A mirror darkly!

    When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the [traits] of a babe. 12 For at present we see in hazy outline by means of a metal mirror, but then it will be face to face. At present I know partially, but then I shall know accurately even as I am accurately known. 13 Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

    1st Corinthians 13:11-13

    Romans 13:10 reads; “Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.”

  7. All good and well, but if we can’t get the vote out in November, especially to retake the Senate, it won’t matter. Between very active voter suppression (already well under way) and the pandemic, it will be much more difficult than any polling can show.

  8. Improving systemic racism requires changes from everyone. That’s the nature of systemic. Unfortunately it’s easier to blame others and do nothing.

  9. Parker overlooks what Obama did represent and what he gave us. He was the first “rock star” candidate since Bobby Kennedy. I didn’t have to run along side his motorcade car to prevent people from falling under the wheels, but the crowds were amazing, as were the number of people who told me that they hadn’t been involved since Kennedy or McCarthy, and especially the elderly African-American gentleman I registered who told me that he hadn’t voted since Kennedy – JFK.

    Having a “black” President also had a significant effect on both young impressionable people of color and in “normalizing” the image for “people of other, more pink, colors” (I hate the racist term “White”)

    But Parker’s point is on target. Contrary to what some guest on MSNBC said this weekend, violence won’t “scare” the “white man”, nor will burning and rioting “hurt his pocketbook” and force change.

    The Civil Rights Act got its boost from televised police violence. The Vietnam War lost its patriotic sheen from photo-journalism. Trump, along with the cell phone camera, “will do more to advance racial understanding”. The more he talks, the more it helps the cause.

    Trump held up a mirror; Europe is holding up another, telling us what they think of us. It is like being at the tailor, we can see all sides and none of it looks good.

    I don’t like to predict elections, but I did predict Obama taking Indiana in 2008 and losing it in 2012. I didn’t make a prediction in 2016, but was shocked at the outcome. Let’s see if I can do this a third time. I am predicting that this mirror will keep people focused and that Trump will lose badly. I even think that the Senate falls, but I won’t commit on that (I’m either cautious or wimpy on predictions – depending upon your point of view). I hope I am right.

  10. Slavery is nothing new; it’s rather the norm in recorded history. Black people enslaved black people, white people enslaved white people, Greeks enslaved Greeks etc. It was never right and certainly is not right today in this era of human rights. There are even examples of where nominal “slaves” bargained for the terms of their slavehood (see the deal the Athenian Aristotle cut with King Phillip of Macedonia in return for mentoring the latter’s son, Alexander (the Great). From today’s perspective in re human rights the “peculiar institution” was never the right way to organize society, but today wasn’t then. Thus there is no record that Jesus ever condemned slavery; it was just a given for most of our recorded history.

    Slavery is still with us in modified form. Thus the one percent doles out just enough to us wage slaves to keep us out of the streets 24-7, and we enforce such generosity with prejudices of our own directed on the poor based on color, race, class, gender, and other such artificial distinctions. So as I have often lamented, we have slavery based on color today – but the color is green as well as black and brown, and one we need to correct, because, among other good reasons, this is now and not then.

  11. Several years ago, Robert Fuller, in his book “Somebodies and Nobodies”, described all the “isms” we confront (racism, sexism, etc) in our mirror as manifestations of one great over-arching “ism”. This, he wrote, is “rankism”, the desire to strip individuals and groups of their dignity and self-worth in order to feed one’s own sense of self-importance (more me equals less you). This is certainly a spot-on description of Trump and his sycophants and it could get him re-elected. My interest in this at the time was to explain, in a Last Lecture sponsored by the Senior Academy, the demeaning behavior of the IU Bloomington and Purdue University West Lafayette administrations toward the development of the IUPUI campus, its students and its faculty. However, it was clear that Fuller’s principle held across every aspect of society one could think of–I have yet to encounter an example where it doesn’t. It explains everything from university rankings to slavery. It is a fundamental trait of human nature that can be channeled into vast improvements, however, if we are willing to understand it and divert t from its usual selfish aims. This is what I think educational and political aims should be about, but the formulas for getting there aren’t always clear. Progress may be slow, but there will be progress.

  12. The Trumpet and Pastor Pence may have done us a favor. We now for a certainty a significant minority is racist. More to the point they have expressed their racism within their silo of “friends” in the past, they now feel empowered to place on display and act on it.

    There is a video of some White men here in Indiana that have a Black man pinned to a tree. Thankfully, someone was recording it. Eventually, the Black man got away. The vile hatred in these White Men was disturbing. Why comes to mind, as to the reason they felt it was necessary to detain the Black Man and pin him to a tree.

    The DNR was called upon and did nothing. The White Men’s faces, names and where they work are splashing across the Internet.

  13. Gerald,

    Thanks for clarifying my contribution today. I expect one day you’ll actually read what I write.

  14. Putting a white sheet over Trump sounds like a good idea to me: “’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.” One is forced to admit that if he loses in November, Trump will have contributed a lot – all of it unintentional – to the cleansing of our society by forcing us to deal forthrightly with racism. Prior to George Floyd’s murder, Trump had no legacy that wasn’t hell bent on weakening America by undermining our institutions. History will always remember him as America’s archest criminal, ably abetted by Bill Barr and Mitch McConnell.

  15. Cultural assimilation seems like a real thing over my lifetime. When I grew up almost every kid that I grew up was either an immigrant or their parents or grandparents were. We were mostly living in European culturally defined neighborhoods.

    Those distinct cultures then now have become assimilated into American culture but there are other culturally defined neighborhoods, mostly black, Muslim and Latino at least on this side of the country now. I suppose Asian on the other coast.

    What’s interesting about those demographics is the further geographically separated by the Great Migration cultures were the more difficult assimilation is.

    Today, thanks to entertainment media, we are all much more informed about other cultures so perhaps the drive for assimilation is less.

    Humans just don’t handle difference gracefully no matter if it’s culturally or temporality based. We like familiar.

    How many decades (centuries?) more will it take for us to get over ourselves about change?

    I’ll never see it. My grandchildren maybe.

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