Published in the Orlando Sentinel – August 22, 2017
I love America and greatly disagree with the dangerously false opinions, observations and prognostications that are proliferating about this country and President Donald Trump. America is not descending into a bloody race war, and Trump is not a racist.
Trump is a chaotic megalomaniac with associated prejudices, not a racist. While his impulsive, unpredictable and unproductive behavior often smacks of bigotry, liberals should stop stereotyping and magnifying his behavior through frenzied racialized lenses because they are visionless.
If we are going to have any meaningful discussion on race, we must differentiate between racists, bigots and prejudiced people. These terms and labels are not synonyms and should not be used interchangeably because doing so blurs history, obscures the truth, bloodies discourses and confuses the American public.
We cannot successfully address historical and contemporary forms of racial inequality and its antecedents without fighting fair. Since “Black Lives Matter,” so do the labels we place on those who are antithetical to them.
Racists believe in their biological and moral superiority over other racial groups. Like most U.S. presidents, Trump believes that he is superior over everyone, irrespective of race. He is too much of a charlatan to be racist, and too narcissistic, pragmatic and unimaginative to buy into fantastical white supremacist ideology.
Bigots are intolerant and odious toward those holding different opinions, particularly members of different racial, ethnic, religious and gendered groups. Trump is intolerant and loathsome toward nearly everyone equally, and too strong of a megalomaniac to be controlled by racist or bigoted ideology and politics. Exit Steve Bannon!
Prejudice expresses itself as preconceived, irrational and often hostile opinions and stereotypes based on inferior or insufficient knowledge. Trump’s alleged moral-equivalency uttering about Charlottesville, Va., his tweets objecting to the removal of Confederate statues, and his comments about Mexicans and other minorities are cases in point. Like many Americans, Trump can be intellectually inflexible, willfully ignorant, insecure and hostile, demonstrating his prejudice on a wide array of issues foremost among them — race politics.
For example, why was President Trump willing and able to condemn “radical Islamic extremists” responsible for the horrid international terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Spain, but reluctant to condemn white supremacist extremists responsible for ISIS-style domestic terrorism in Charlottesville? In a recent tweet, Trump openly endorsed torture and extra-judicial killings to deter terrorism in Spain. Would he also support using torture and summary executions to combat violent white-extremist terrorists in the U.S.? These are troubling paradoxes.
Perhaps the president’s offering an intelligent plan for racial unity would bring about needed healing in a nation struggling with a legacy of racial, ethnic and religious division. According to recent FBI hate crimes statistics, blacks and Jewish people are the greatest victims of racial and religious violence, respectively. Hate crimes against Muslims are skyrocketing. More than 60 percent of reported victims of hate crimes were targeted because of their race and about 50 percent of all hate crimes are committed by whites.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security determined that white supremacist extremists are responsible for more deadly attacks than any other domestic extremist group, with racial minorities being primary victims. Trump needs to reflect on these realities and address them.
Trump should forthrightly seek to reconcile his zealous advocacy for the deaths of black teenagers in the Central Park Five scandal who were later exonerated; his late and self-promoting tweets after the 2015 white supremacist murders of nine worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.; and his outward discomfort in condemning white supremacist groups and violence in Charlottesville last week. Trump’s open support for Confederate statues and bumbling defense of violent white extremist history complicates matters further.
For better or worse, Trump’s opinions, values and virtues are shared by millions of Americans, not a fringe element. White supremacist speech is protected under the First Amendment. White supremacists can lawfully celebrate a violent losing and treasonous tradition as long as they don’t employ fighting words, commit crimes involving speech or make threats.
While white supremacist extremists spew hate, we must advance new institutions and enterprises comprised of white anti-racist activists. We need White Millennials with an Attitude — WMWA — focused on tracking, monitoring and combating violent white extremism. The NAACP and Urban League must evolve.
We need newer and braver civil-rights organizations determined to lawfully disrupt, dismantle and destroy white supremacist extremist groups intent on violently upending our Constitution and the laws, values, virtues and principles of these United States.
Jeremy Levitt is the distinguished professor of international law at the Florida A&M University College of Law