Throughout his political career, Donald Trump has compensated for the political harm his racist strategies and policies cause by lying to minorities about his character and intentions. Trump ran the most overtly racist presidential campaign in decades, while calling himself the “least racist” person in the world. He called inner cities hell-holes, but promised black voters, in the most condescending possible fashion, that he’d help revitalize them. “What in the hell do you have to lose?”
Today, as the political world transfixes itself on the question of whether Trump has ever been recorded using the “n-word,” the story is no different. Indeed, the n-word tape controversy is a microcosm of Trump’s entire presidency, in which he lazily hides his naked contempt for minorities with distractions and lies.
In the White House briefing room Tuesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted she “can’t guarantee” that an n-word tape doesn’t exist—a clear admission that the n-word is the kind of thing Trump might say—then immediately covered for it by lying about the effect Trump’s policies have had in black communities.
“This president, since he took office, in the year and a half that he’s been here, has created 700,000 new jobs for African Americans,” she said. “That’s 700,000 African Americans that are working now that weren’t working when this President took place. When President Obama left, after eight years in office—eight years in office—he had only created…195,000 jobs for African Americans. President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did in eight years.”
This was a prepared statement and it was a lie. It was such a big lie that the White House Council of Economic Advisers had to disavow it, and Sanders—meekly and incompletely—admitted her claim about Obama was wrong. Black employment under Trump has continued to grow at the same pace as it did in the Obama years, during which it grew by nearly three million jobs. Sanders mangled this fact in a few ways, but most importantly by attributing to Obama the hundreds of thousands of jobs black Americans lost from November 2008 through January 2009, in the midst of the great recession, when he was not yet president.
The Trump White House is confronted with what may turn out to be it’s most serious racial controversy, and the best Sanders could come up with to deflect from Trump’s vulgar racism was a piece of disinformation so transparently false that her own colleagues tossed her under the bus.
But the story has been the same all along, even before the n-word controversy consumed Trump’s presidency. Prior to this week, Trump has used the smaller deception of claiming credit for the black unemployment rate, and other distractions, to disguise disgraceful policies in minority communities.
He’s invited NFL players to recommend “friends and family” he could pardon, while he continues to attack players who kneel during the National Anthem to the protest police brutality his Justice Department has ignored. He’s held fancy meetings with the presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, declaring his commitment to these institutions of higher education, while quietly undoing decades of progress meant to protect vulnerable communities.
When asked to name the senior-most black West Wing adviser to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway could only come up with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who does not work in the West Wing, but has been hard at work trying to increase costs for people who live in subsidized housing.
One of the Trump administration’s first moves was to order a sweeping review of the Justice Department’s police reform activities, and its use of consent decrees, which are court-ordered agreements meant to hold police departments accountable. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told us during his Senate confirmation hearing how he felt about consent decrees: “I think there is a concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department that have done wrong,” he said. He got to work as soon as he was confirmed, asking a federal judge to delay a hearing on a consent decree the Baltimore police department entered in the last days of the Obama administration after the police killing of an unarmed black man named Freddie Gray in April 2015. The Baltimore police department continues to deal with rouge cops. Most recently a grand jury indicted ex-police officer Arthur Williams on first degree assault after he violently beat Dashawn McGrier, another unarmed black man.
The judge denied Sessions’s request and the Baltimore consent decree moved forward committing the department to better train police officers for dealing with young people, protesters, and the mentally ill. There are other pending agreements, most notably with the Chicago police department, that will very likely not move forward. While Sessions has been systematically easing scrutiny of potentially racists and abusive police departments, 83 black and brown unarmed people died at the hands of police in 2017.
Trump may believe that if he touts the black unemployment rate enough, we’ll look the other way as takes away the black community’s rights and protections. But even when employed, research shows people of color pay higher interest rates when buying homes and cars. In 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau forced auto dealers to pay millions of dollars in damages for charging black and Latino consumers higher interest rates than white consumers, and gave guidance to auto dealers on how to comply with a 1970s law that prohibited discrimination on loan applications. Earlier this year, Trump signed into law a resolution that eliminates this protection, and then for good measure, he appointed a corrupt crony to run the bureau, and gum up its enforcement more broadly. Auto dealerships are free to discriminate once again.
In February 2017, dozens of black HBCU leaders visited the White House, took pictures with Trump, and witnessed the signing of an executive action that moved oversight of HBCUs from the Department of Education to the White House. Due to the strong advocacy of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), HBCUs received a 14 percent increase in federal funding. But when Congress sent the bill to Trump for his signature, the White House released a signing statement that included language suggesting he might terminate a financing program that helps HBCUs get low-cost construction loans. The statement read the program would be treated “in a manner consistent with the (Constitutional) requirement to afford equal protection of the laws.” At the same time, the Department of Education is significantly cutting federal grants and work-study programs that 70 percent of HBCU students use to fund their education.
If there is an n-word tape, and it comes out, Trump and the White House will step up this pattern. They will dismiss his words as yet more “locker room talk,” and pretend they are a distraction from Trump’s actual record in black communities. It’ll be yet another lie. An n-word tape would merely make explicit the contempt he shows for black people every day using his powers of office.