Trump’s Racism Drives White House Policy
Interview with John Nichols, national affairs correspondent with the Nation magazine and author, conducted by Scott Harris
After Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina indicated that President Donald Trump had referred to Haiti, El Salvador and nations in Africa as “shithole countries” during a White House meeting to discuss the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or DACA on Ja. 11, a firestorm of criticism erupted. Civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, declared that Trump was “a racist,” The United Nations, the African Union and dozens of other officials across the U.S. and around the world followed with their own condemnation.
Two Republicans who were also present at the meeting, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, changed their earlier accounts of not remembering the president’s comments to denials that the comments were made, a flip-flop labeled by some observers as an obvious lie.
The president’s denigration of poor nations populated by people of color and his advocacy for increased immigration from white nations, specifically Norway, left in the minds of many, little doubt as to Trump’s embrace of white supremacy. Courts last year used the president’s verbal attacks against Muslims to block implementation of his so-called Muslim ban travel restrictions. Now a federal judge who temporarily reinstated the DACA said it was “plausible” that Trump acted for racial reasons when he ended the Obama-era initiative. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with John Nichols, national affairs correspondent with the Nation magazine, who assesses the most recent racist comments from President Trump, and the link to what many consider his administration’s racist public policy.
JOHN NICHOLS: I don’t think there’s been much question for a very, very long time about Donald Trump’s racism. I think it was on display decades ago. In fact, maybe even longer than that. We know about the deeply troublesome practices of the Trump real estate empire apparently going back to his father. We know about his agitation as regards to the Central Park Five, a tragic case in New York City. We know what he said and did during his campaign. So Trump, I think is a settled case. I was impressed that one of Dr. King’s children said that we still must work on his heart and his soul. And I believe in that. I do know that the people who practice and embrace racism have, in the history of this country, been brought into the light, brought to a better place.
But at this point, I think it’s fair to say that we have a racist president. So then, the place to place our attention is on those who surround him. Those who have the power to check and balance his presidency, to direct it in a better way. Or, if necessary, to initiate the steps that must be taken to remove him from office. And I was profoundly troubled by the changing stories of Republicans who were in the meeting with the president, who initially suggested they did not recall what he said, and then as the pressure rose, as the controversy expanded, suggested that he didn’t say what all evidence suggests he did say.
Now,you can quibble about words, whether he’s talking about a “hole” or a “house,” whether he said a precise word or set of words. But there seems to be general agreement about that meeting, that he was troubled by having immigrants come from countries like El Salvador or Haiti (or) from countries in Africa. And at the same time, he was enthusiastic about getting more immigrants from Norway. I don’t think anybody misses the resurfacing of one of the aspects of American history there, which is the desire to deny people access to this country – immigration rights – because of their race, their ethnicity. This is an old story. But it’s one that’s deplorable to have it coming from the White House, coming from the president himself. And it should it be called out by Republicans. They shouldn’t be twisting their stories with regard to it. That helps Trump in many ways, even if most people don’t believe the lie, because there has to be a lie in there someplace.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Beyond the rhetoric, it seems quite clear that President Trump’s policies, from issues such as immigration, healthcare, social services budget, etc., etc. are a product of his bigotry and racism. And that may come into play in future court cases because it already has in terms of his statements against Muslims as being the rationale for his Muslim ban in terms of disallowing certain citizens of nations to enter our country. John, maybe you could point up a bit about the connection between the rhetoric and the policies because this is not about rhetoric alone.
JOHN NICHOLS: In fact, it’s really not about rhetoric at all. You know, the truth of the matter is, we have had presidents in the history of this country who have pretty foul mouths. And some of them ended up doing some OK policies. Remember, it was Harry Truman, imperfect as he was, who integrated the military. And it was Lyndon Baines Johnson – no delicate flower he, who signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and declared a “war on poverty.” This isn’t to make Truman and Johnson into perfect players – they weren’t. Their militarism in both cases was very troublesome. But it is to suggest that we’ve had people who spoke in language we didn’t always like, that sometimes offended us or some of us. But they often they got to do some of the right things. With Trump, I wouldn’t mind if he said that stuff – although I think when he says bad stuff that is hurtful and harmful and strategically damaging, as was the case the other day – I think it does call into question his judgment and his stability, frankly. And it is damaging. But you know, a guy uses a word I don’t like in another context, I’ll live with that.
It’s the policies that matter. They always matter the most. And in this case, his references to these countries are profoundly offensive and they do suggest an attitude, a dismissal of whole regions of the world. And also a profound ignorance. Frankly, it’s the balances that are struck; it’s the final thing that’s important to understand. When a president is in charge of the whole of our foreign policy, the whole of our military policy, the whole of our domestic policy – I mean they obviously emphasize and de-emphasize certain things. With Trump, I see the imbalance at its worst and I also see an erratic, irregular approach that does not serve any kind of smart foreign policy.
And finally, a diminishing of the State Department under Trump and Tillerson that is horrifying. So, you’re right. It’s a much deeper thing. It’s not about the use of a bad word. It’s about everything that precedes that, and that extends from it. And what extends from it is most important – the policies, the appointments, and they’re very, very troublesome.
For more information, visit The Nation Magazine at thenation.com/authors/john-nichols.
Donald Trump’s State of Mind: A Clear and Present Danger
Interview with Dr. Bandy Lee, assistant clinical professor in law and psychiatry at Yale University’s School of Medicine, conducted by Scott Harris
During his presidential campaign and the last 12 months of his presidency, grave questions have been raised about Donald Trump’s mental health and stability. In the estimation of many mental health professionals, both his rhetoric and decisions made have called into question his fitness for office. While there certainly is room for debate on the difference between an individual’s idiosyncrasies and a serious mental health condition, there is no dispute regarding Donald Trump’s penchant for lying.
A Washington Post investigation has revealed that since taking office in January 2017, Trump has made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims. While he averaged 4.9 lies a day in his first 100 days, that average grew to 5.6 lies daily toward the end of his first year in the oval office. In the words of the reporters covering this story, the longer the president has been in the job, “the more frequently he touts an assortment of exaggerated, dubious or false claims.”
During a conference, titled “Duty to Warn” at Yale University last April, a group of psychiatrists warned that Trump has a “dangerous mental illness” and is not fit to lead the U.S. The gathering was chaired by Dr. Bandy Lee, assistant clinical professor in law and psychiatry at Yale University’s School of Medicine, who has since gone on to edit a book titled, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” and more recently briefed members of Congress on her and other mental health professional’s concern about the psychological state of the president. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Dr. Lee, who discusses her concern about President Trump’s fitness for office.
DR. BANDY LEE: First, let me make clear that I’m speaking for myself and not for Yale. When I organized the conference, it was to address the ethical issue about speaking about public figures. You may have heard of the Goldwater which is an ethical guidance not to diagnose a public figure from afar. But we thought, if there wasn’t restriction on our speech, did we have a positive duty to speak up about a public figure when there is danger involved? And the conference led to a lot of media attention and following that, hundreds and hundreds of mental health professionals came forward, speaking about the same concerns that they saw basically, that Mr. Trump in the office presidency was a danger to the nation and the international community.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Dr. Lee, from your perspective and those of the contributors to your book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” what are some of the most troubling signs you’ve saved since he took office in the White House one year ago?
DR. BANDY LEE: I am an expert on violence. I’ve been devoted my career to studying, predicting and preventing violence. And what was most troubling for me his tendency for violence. And in fact, many people were speaking about he was unique, or how his personality different than others. For me, he was fairly typical of the violent offender population that I see. I probably have seen over a thousand individuals with the same kind of manifestations. So the tendency for violence – usually future violence is predicted by past violence and so, when you see someone who is verbally aggressive, who boasts about sexual assault, incites violence at his rallies, who endorses violence in his speeches, is attracted to violence and powerful weapons, and then continually taunts a hostile nation with nuclear power – that is an individual who is likely to be violent in the future and probably become more violent over time as the stresses of the presidency grow on him.
BETWEEN THE LINES: The threat of violence is disturbing and could create a threat to the community. But of course, someone who holds the most militarily powerful office in the entire planet, their access to the use of nuclear weapons really creates a frightening, potential scenario. And Dr. Lee, I would ask you, What in your mind are some of the scenarios you’ve considered in going public with your concerns generally and gathering around you these other mental health professionals who similarly see a threat to our life and our security here in this country?
DR. BANDY LEE: He has at his sole disposal the power to launch (a) nuclear arsenal that could destroy the world many times over. And this is an individual to whom that would not be a deterrent, but would be actually tempting and attractive simply for its force. And so, in terms of danger, we cannot rule out everything from everyday danger and violence-prone followers whose violence he has encouraged – and everyday act of bullying to gun deaths that have escalated, to conflicts with our allied nations and threats from hostile nuclear powers to extinction of the human species. These are all within the realm of possibility. It is a frightening possibility.
But it does not help to silence the warnings and to deny what it is actually in front of us. Congress is controlled by Republicans who would not take action, we were told by the Democratic lawmakers. And that is why I’ve chosen to go public with this.
As shocking and distressing as it may sound, it is actually less anxiety-inducing to actually know what is happening and to face what is happening and know that we can have solutions.
Indigenous-Environmental Coalition Opposes Minnesota Line 3 Tar Sands Pipeline
Interview with Mysti Babineau, pipeline opponent and member of the Red Lake band of Chippewa in Minnesota, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Many activists and media outlets across the U.S. remain focused on the controversial revived Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which in late November received final approval for construction from Nebraska state regulators, albeit with a very different route than the one the company wanted, so it’s unclear if it will ever be built.
Meanwhile, another proposed pipeline would also carry tar sands – 760,000 barrels per day – from northern Alberta, across the Canadian/U.S. border just over a thousand miles into North Dakota, across Minnesota and into Wisconsin, from where most of the oil will be shipped abroad. This is the $7 billion so-called Line 3 replacement pipeline – the largest project ever undertaken by the Canadian company Enbridge, which will almost double the capacity of the existing pipeline.
This proposed pipeline has proceeded mostly under the radar, partly because it doesn’t need presidential approval like Keystone, as it’s considered a replacement and secured a presidential waiver when the original pipeline was built. But local opposition has been strong, especially in Minnesota where the company’s preferred route crosses many lakes where indigenous people harvest wild rice, which has tremendous cultural as well as nutritional importance. Between The Lines’ Radio’s Melinda Tuhus spoke with Mysti Babineau, a member of the Red Lake band of Chippewa, where she works with the Minnesota chapter of 350.org and the indigenous group, Honor the Earth. Here she explains why an indigenous and environmental coalition oppose the construction of the Line 3 Pipeline.
This week’s summary of under-reported news
Compiled by Bob Nixon
At a time when President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un regularly trade insults and threats, the Trump administration is planning to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and develop a new generation of low-yield nuclear warhead for US Trident missiles. (“US to Loosen Nuclear Weapons Constraints and Develop More ‘Usable’ Warheads,” The Guardian, Jan. 9, 2018)
Donald Trump’s signing of the new Republican tax reform bill reopened the debate over oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or ANWR, in northern Alaska. Oil company executives have often called ANWR America’s last petroleum frontier, even as there seems to be little interest in drilling in the harsh artic environment. Controversy over drilling on Alaska’s north slope goes back over 50 years to the Eisenhower administration. (“The ANWR Drilling Conflict: Why “No Stable Compromise Exists”,” In These Times, Jan. 3, 2018; “Drilling in Arctic Refuge Gets a Green Light. What’s Next?” New York Times, Dec. 20, 2017)
As the US Supreme Court got back to work in the new year, there was little attention being paid to a case that could roll back 80 years of protections for workers for fair pay and job security. (“The Supreme Court Case That Could ‘Overturn the Heart of the New Deal’,” The American Prospect, Jan. 4, 2018)