President Donald Trump's relationship with African-Americans is once again under scrutiny amid the continued questions raised by a former aide’s charges of racism.
Omarosa Manigault Newman's new book includes unsubstantiated personal attacks on the president such as what she calls his “mental decline,” to which Trump has responded with denials and multiple insults about his former "Apprentice" protege, calling her “Wacky and Deranged,” “a crazed, crying lowlife” and comparing her to a “dog.”
She’s only the latest high-profile African-American to land in Trump’s crosshairs after he disparaged the intelligence of basketball star LeBron James and CNN journalist Don Lemon. He’s also fond of accusing U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., of having a “low I.Q.”
Trump has lobbed similar insults at all kinds of people -- especially those who attack him -- as the White House rightly points out in his defense, but certain pejoratives take on a deeper meaning when hurled at African-Americans, some experts say.
“Using the same word across very different contexts communicates very different things,” University of Southern California professor Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, whose expertise includes political engagement and African-American politics, said.
His word selection, when applied to people of color like Manigualt Newman, Lemon, James and Waters, plays into the historic and “ongoing narratives that we have in this country that are associated with African-Americans” that they are “less intelligent than white Americans and this is the subject of about a century and a half worth of debate in this country.”
Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 4, 2018
In addition to Trump’s repeated attacks on Waters’ IQ, his calling Lemon the “dumbest man on television” who “made Lebron look smart [in an interview], which isn’t easy to do,” is “absolutely playing into that narrative,” Hancock Alfaro said.
Similarly, she added, comparing Manigault Newman to a dog plays into a second narrative of “questioning whether or not blacks are truly human beings.”
“That narrative also goes back to the debates over slavery and in those debates, the justification for slavery was that blacks were not really full human beings and, therefore, they did not have to be treated better than animals. So when Donald Trump refers to Omarosa as a dog, he's basically calling her an animal.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has dismissed critic’s allegations that Trump singles out any particular group of people when "calling out someone's lack of integrity."
“The fact is, the president is an equal opportunity person that calls things like he sees it,” Sanders said at the Tuesday briefing. “He always fights fire with fire.”
That’s a fair assessment, given that Trump has applied the “wacky” label to white people like hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and conservative radio host Glenn Beck. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is also a “lowlife” in Trump’s view.
And while there seem to be no public examples of his directly calling anyone other than Manigault Newman a dog, Trump has made allusions, as when he said Hillary Clinton “lied like a dog” about her emails and Mitt Romney “choked like a dog” in the 2012 election.
For Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, Trump’s barbs should be taken in the greater context of his past actions.
Johnson specifically cited Trump’s alleged criticisms of U.S. immigration programs that favor people from “s-------“ countries like Haiti and those on the African continent, rather than prioritizing people from places like Norway, which is predominantly white. Trump later characterized his reported comments in a closed meeting with U.S. lawmakers as “tough” but denied using derogatory language.
Johnson also cited Trump’s incendiary comments about the 1989 Central Park jogger case, where he called for the execution of the five suspects (four African-Americans and one Latino), all of whom were eventually exonerated.
“When you overlay [his criticisms of Manigault Newman] with his past actions, the policies he promotes and his prior racial statements … it leads one to believe that his motivation was in fact racially charged,” Johnson said.
“Unfortunately, for the American public, we are witnessing a commander in chief who deliberately uses language and actions to divide the nation rather than uniting the nation,” he said.