A week after the presidential election and the normalizing of Donald Trump’s bigotry has begun. In one of his first moves as president-elect, Trump announced he was tapping his campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, to be his chief strategist, one of the most crucial roles in the upcoming administration.
Before signing onto the Trump campaign, Bannon ran Breitbart.com, an anti-establishment, Conservative publication that regularly trumpeted the aims of White nationalists through headlines like, “Why Equality and Diversity Departments Should Only Hire Rich, Straight White Men,” or “16 Movements Less Ridiculous Than ‘Black Lives Matter.’” Bannon’s new role has angered many, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who called him an “Islamophobe” and “White nationalist.”
“It is a sad day when a man who presided over the website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of White nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house,’” a statement from the ADL read.
Though Trump regularly stoked racial, ethnic, and religious division throughout his campaign, which culminated in a majority of White voters of all economic levels supporting the businessman, many in the mainstream media have downplayed the role race and racism played in his rise to power.
Writing for The New York Times, Frank Bruni said Democrats lost because of political correctness and “moral purity.”
“Donald Trump’s victory and some of the, yes, deplorable chants that accompanied it do not mean that a majority of Americans are irredeemable bigots (though too many indeed are),” he wrote. “Plenty of Trump voters chose him, reluctantly, to be an agent of disruption, which they craved keenly enough to overlook the rest of him.”
That those well-meaning Whites, who Bruni claims “reluctantly” voted for Trump as “an agent of disruption” were perfectly fine with his overt racism and sexism means they are not simply innocent bystanders looking for change. While they may not personally harbor outwardly racist views, the fact that they’re cool with a bigot leading the nation speaks volumes about their core values and privileged position.
Though many journalists have chosen to minimize Trump’s winks and nods to White nationalism and others like President Obama and Oprah Winfrey have now called for the country to unite behind a man who purposefully divided it, writers like Jamelle Bouie, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, among others, aren’t letting the president-elect, or his divisive rhethroic, off the hook that easily.
“Each day another pundit will cast White nationalism as legitimate political speech to be taken seriously,” Bouie said on Twitter over the weekend in response to the push to normalize Trump and Bannon’s brand of alt-right electioneering.
Coates echoed Bouie’s thoughts.
“The rush to deny racism’s role in this election is fairly consistent with how racism works in society,” he tweeted. “No real reason to expect the country to admit that it just elected an explicit racist, or seriously grapple with what that means.”
In a conversation on BBC Newsnight, Adichie and R. Emmett Tyrrel clashed on whether or not Trump is a racist.
Tyrrel, the editor-in-chief of The American Spectator, a Conservative publication, argued that despite his offensive rhetoric and support among White supremacists, “It’s inappropriate to talk about the KKK in the same sentence as Donald Trump or any Republican.”
Predictably, Adichie wasn’t having it, calling the refusal to acknowledge the role of racism in Trump’s campaign, “a refusal to accept reality.”
“I think what we should do is look at Trump for who Trump has told us and shown us he is. The only way we can judge the kind of president he can be is based on the campaign that he ran,” she said.
When Tyrrel attempted to argue that Trump didn’t actually use racist and divisive language during his campaign, Adichie cut him off with a smile, remarking, “I am sorry, but if you are a White man, you don’t get to define what racism is.”
She added, “You don’t get to sit there and say that he hasn’t been racist when, objectively, he has.”
A frustrated Tyrrel certainly didn’t agree with Adichie’s statement that he could not define racism because he was a White man, however he insisted that he couldn’t point to one instance in which Trump used racially offensive language.
The reimagining of Trump as merely an economic populist who didn’t play on stereotypes and White folks’ racial fears is the same sort of revisionist history that frames America’s founders as beacons of freedom for all mankind despite owning other human beings, or the push to minimize Martin Luther King Jr.’s progressivism in an attempt to use him as a weapon against outspoken Black folks who refuse to be silent.
As we approach a Trump-led administration, it’s important to hold journalists accountable for how they document and write about this period in our history. Because as Chinua Achebe once remarked, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Now, it is up to us to shape the real history of Donald Trump before the story gets distorted once more.
Britni Danielle is the Entertainment/Culture Director of EBONY. Follow her on Twitter @BritniDWrites.