University of Houston professor and eminent historian Gerald Horne joins us to discuss Donald Trump’s first year in office, which has been defined by the same racism and nativism that launched Trump’s political career
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. On the first anniversary of his time in the White House, President Trump is defining himself around the same racism and nativism that launched his political career. He entered the political stage by spreading the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was born in Africa.
He launched his 2016 presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. His campaign platform included a call to ban Muslims from the U.S. And now, as he begins his second year in office, Trump continues to target immigrants and people of color. He is ramping up his deportation regime across the country. He has angered the world by referring to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.”
Over the past week, he has shown his willingness to shut down the federal government in order to target the undocumented immigrant youths whose protections he has already suspended. So, just how much has white supremacy shaped Trump’s first year? What does that mean for the rest of his time in office? Joining me is Gerald Horne, historian and professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston.
He is the author of many books, including “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America,” as well as “Confronting Black Jacobins: The U.S., the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic.” Welcome Professor Horne. As you look back on Trump’s first year in office, and the anniversary being marked by all the issues that I outlined, the continued attacks on undocumented youths, the racist comments about foreign countries, your thoughts?
GERALD HORNE: Well, I think that the craphole comment is worthy of commentary to begin with. First of all, it’s quite disturbing that many of the pundits are telling us that a significant percentage of his base found this to be red meat, found this to be a very satisfying comment, which leads to my second point, which is that that unfortunate vulgar comment was a reflection of a domestic discourse.
What I mean is that what helped to catapult Mr. Trump into prominence in the first place was his pledge and promise to be a warrior against so-called political correctness. That is to say that particular struggle involves unleashing bigotry and giving people like Mr. Trump a license to engage in racism under the guise of fighting so-called political correctness.
Now, it’s one thing when that particular dumb discourse is limited to the four corners of the United States, but when it leaps the borders of this country and lands on 54 to 55 different countries on the African continent, not to mention Haiti and El Salvador, it has global repercussions and ramifications. We should pay close and careful attention to what former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said when he suggested that Mr. Trump’s vulgar comment was placing in jeopardy U.S. personnel abroad, not least the soldiers who are serving in Djibouti and Niger, and other African countries, not to mention U.S. diplomatic personnel.
But also it’s quite striking and noteworthy that the African Union issued a statement that was quite striking in its denunciation of Mr. Trump that President Macron of France, France being a country with major interests in Africa, and given the fact that Mr. Trump is leader of the North Atlantic Block, France was implicated in Mr. Trump’s vulgarities, so President Macron of France also reprimanded and rebuked and repudiated Mr. Trump.
So, this story I think is one of the most significant aspects of the white supremacist cast of Mr. Donald J. Trump.
AARON MATÉ: As a historian, you have written about many of these countries, about Haiti, about countries across Africa. I’m wondering your thoughts on the conversation that followed Trump’s comments about these countries. I’m wondering if you think that anything was missing? I spoke to a Haitian writer, Jean Saint-Vil, in the aftermath of Trump’s comments, and his point was that Trump is really a mirror reflecting effectively centuries of Western policy and attitudes towards Haiti.
GERALD HORNE: Well, I agree with the comment wholeheartedly. I think that the progressive movement makes a grave error when they seek to detach Mr. Trump from Trumpism. That is to say, to act as if 63 million people did not vote for Mr. Trump, to ignore the comments by the pundits who suggest that those kinds of vulgar, racist comments are red meat for the base.
I understand that it’s more comforting to think that Mr. Trump is an isolated aberration, but I think we do a grave disservice to politics and to history if we take that political point of view. With regard to Haiti more pointedly and more specifically, I think that Haiti was has been subjected to a kind of repressed memory syndrome.
That is to say, as I noted in my book, the Haitian revolution outraged and petrified the slaveholders of North America, and they’ve been trying to wreak vengeance on Haiti ever since the revolution culminated on January 1st, 1804.
Mr. Trump is just the latest example of a U.S. leading elite figure seeking to insult, degrade, and demean Haitians, ’cause they had the gumption to overthrow slavery which sent a frisson of apprehension cascading down the spines of the slaveholding class in this country, and this is something they have yet to forget.
AARON MATÉ: On that point, I mean, speaking of Haiti, that’s an example of a country, right, where so much of U.S. privilege and prosperity in the world, and not just the U.S., but also France, owes to the fact that it took so much from a country like Haiti.
GERALD HORNE: Well yes, absolutely. Keep in mind that before the U.S. civil war, New Orleans probably had more millionaires per capita than any other U.S. city. One of the reasons was that slaveholders from the island that contains Haiti, some of them were not liquidated, some of them fled to New Orleans with their enslaved Africans in tow, and Haiti in the 1820s was forced to pay reparations, not to the formerly enslaved, but to the slaveholders, and so Haiti was sending a good deal of its treasury to New Orleans, helping to create these millionaires in New Orleans.
That particular story in some ways encapsulates the rather unfortunate relationship that Haiti has had to the United States for decades, if not centuries, capped off after the 2010 earthquake when you have the Clinton Foundation and the U.S. appointed viceroy Bill Clinton, and the Red Cross and the non-governmental organizations, that continued their plundering and pillaging of Haiti, under the guise of engaging in reconstruction of Haiti.
AARON MATÉ: Let me ask you about El Salvador, too, because that also was a country disparaged by Trump, and that followed him suspending the temporary protective status for some 200 Salvadorans in the U.S. There’s a new piece out in The Atlantic by Raymond Bonner, who was a veteran New York Times correspondent. Was in El Salvador in the ’80s, back when U.S.-backed forces committed atrocities, and he writes, “Given America’s history in El Salvador, one might think the U.S. owes the country’s citizens an apology rather than disparaging epithets.”
GERALD HORNE: That’s absolutely true. I’m old enough to recall when the United States, under the Reagan administration, was sponsoring death squads in El Salvador. I recall the efforts by the U.S. military to stop a righteous revolt against the landlord and futile rule in El Salvador. I’m aware of the kind of violence that was unleashed in that small Central American country that caused thousands, if not millions, to flee to relative safety in Southern California and in other spots along the border.
So Raymond Bonner is absolutely correct when he suggests that instead of vulgar obscenities, Mr. Trump should be issuing an apology and reinstalling the Temporary Protected Status that has kept so many Salvadorans from being ousted from this country.
AARON MATÉ: So, looking then at Trump’s first year in office when it comes to his dealings with foreign countries, and comparing that to the history that precedes him, some of which you’ve outlined in a few places, what are your impressions of how Trump has been dealing with the world in his first year?
GERALD HORNE: Well, it’s chaos. He styled himself as a disruptor, but I think it was Jeb Bush, one of the people who challenged him for the Republican Party nomination, who called him an agent of chaos. He’s insulted Chancellor Merkel of Germany, refusing to shake her hand at the Oval Office, and charging that Germany was amongst the nations that supposedly was exploiting the United States of America.
Recall that in the fall, the late fall of 2016, after he got elected, he was taking a call from the leader of Taiwan, the rebel province that China claims as its own, which outraged the People’s Republic of China. As we speak, he’s about to issue tariffs to punish the solar industry of China, and China will not be very happy with that.
He’s also issuing tariffs against manufacturers of washing machines in South Korea to prop up Whirlpool and other domestic manufacturers. I don’t think Seoul will be very happy with that. He’s threatened military intervention in Venezuela. He’s sought to roll back the initiatives that President Obama made toward Havana, Cuba. I think that Jeb Bush was correct to suggest that Mr. Trump has proven himself to be an agent of chaos.
AARON MATÉ: But as an agent of chaos, on that point, does he differ significantly from his predecessors?
GERALD HORNE: Well, to a degree, yes. Certainly with regard to his relationship with the North Atlantic community. That is to say that up until Mr. Trump, there had been a kind of agreement, albeit with bumps in the roads occasionally, between and amongst the North Atlantic countries. That is to say, between and amongst the United States and the European Union. Recall that up until Mr. Trump, there was talk about developing a companion to the new ditched Trans-Pacific Partnership that would involve a kind of economic community between the United States and the European Union.
I dare say that that kind of talk is now on hold, to put it mildly. On the other hand, of course you know that President Obama had talked about a reset with Russia, so that there could be a pivot towards a confrontation with China. To a degree, that’s what Mr. Trump has sought to effectuate, but given all of these stories that are now in the press about Mr. Trump’s relationship with Russian oligarchs, and Russian organized crime, and money laundering through the vehicle of buying Trump Tower suites in South Florida, the idea of a reset with Russia, which initially as noted, was an idea of President Obama, is also on hold. I would say that there is a bit of disruption with Mr. Trump and also a bit of continuity.
AARON MATÉ: Right. I mean, it seems as if neocons have a lot to cheer when it comes to Trump’s foreign policy. Even though on the campaign trail, he painted himself as one of their foes, he claimed to be against the Iraq War, he criticized Hillary Clinton for the intervention in Libya, he said that if she was in office, she may start World War III over Syria. But however he may have felt at the time, whether that was genuine or not, if you look at what he’s done recently, now he’s arming Ukrainian forces to fight Russian-backed separatists, even on Russia’s border. It seems like he’s very much following a neocon playbook.
GERALD HORNE: To a degree, but keep in mind that one of his staunchest and sternest critics is the neocon intellectual Max Boot, who in a recent issue of Foreign Policy went as far as to say that it was because of Mr. Trump, believe it or not, that Max Boot the neocon, began to recognize the resilience of white supremacy and whiteness, which is a quite startling comment coming from anybody defined as white, not to mention a neocon.
Keep in mind as well that Mr. Trump’s policy towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea, to a degree involves more disruption than continuity, particularly all this loose talk about nuclear war, moving away from patience which was the name given to Obama foreign policy towards North Korea.
AARON MATÉ: You know, the Max Boot example is interesting, because my question there is, to what extent is Trump so repugnant to people like Max Boot that for the purposes of preserving their white privilege and their neocon agenda, they feel the need to publicly distance themselves from Trump, while still advocating policies that are very much based upon white privilege?
So for example, Max Boot has not repudiated his repeated staunch advocacy for intervening in countries overseas where the inhabitants happen to be darker skinned.
GERALD HORNE: Well, I would not disagree, but let me put a further spin on what you just said. I think that not only neocons, but many liberals as well are upset with Mr. Trump because he forces them to discard their illusions, so tightly and preciously held, about the nature of the United States. Or to put it in another way, about the nature of U.S. imperialism, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re furious with Mr. Trump. They’re angry with Mr. Trump because he’s forcing them to restructure to a degree their basic fundamental premises, through which they’ve been able to deceive generations and that’s why they’re furious. To that degree, I agree with you.
AARON MATÉ: So, Professor Horne, using both your historian hat and also your abilities to forecast the future, based on how white supremacy and racism have been used in the past by figures like Trump to advance their agenda, based on what we know about that, what are your concerns for the future going forward, for his remaining time in office, however long that is? Whether it’s a few years or another full term after this.
GERALD HORNE: Well, it’s not only my future, excuse me. My prediction going forward with regard to Mr. Trump serving out his term in 2020 and perhaps even to 2024, God forbid, but also I’m afraid for the next few decades, if not to the end of the century. That is to say the rise of China is a major challenge for U.S. imperialism and indeed for the international community, because for the first time, perhaps in a few centuries, we have a country in the passing lane about to take center stage in the words of Chinese President Xi Jinping, that is not comprised primarily of people of European ancestry.
This presents a direct challenge to the ideology and praxis of white supremacy. It concerns me as well because I have noticed of late that there is a tendency amongst the U.S. ruling elite to suspect Chinese Americans of being agents of Beijing. Recall what happened to the Chinese American scientist, Wen Ho Lee, during the Clinton administration, leading him to talk about a story that he entitled, “My Country Against Me,” suspected of leaking the foremost secrets of the U.S. government to China.
Just a few days ago, Jerry Lee, a former CIA agent, and also of Chinese ancestry, charged with leaking secrets to China, and in one of the most startling pieces of journalism I’ve read during my entire academic and activist career, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal just a few days ago was an article about the former spouse of Rupert Murdoch, Wendi Deng Murdoch, who is a member of the 1% and happens to be of Chinese ancestry, and is the mother of two of his daughters, who was charged in his own newspaper on the front page with fundamentally being an asset of Chinese intelligence.
On the one hand, you might be able to see this as a way for Mr. Murdoch to knock down his alimony payments to his former spouse. On the other hand, you can see this as part of this disturbing pattern of Chinese Americans and Chinese residents in the U.S. being charged with being agents of Beijing, which reminds us of what happened during World War II when Japanese Americans were interned by the tens of thousands on spurious and flimsy grounds of being agents of Tokyo.
That is one of my primary worries going forward, not only for the Trump term, but also for the coming decades.
AARON MATÉ: Professor Horne, let me read from that Wall Street Journal article that you mentioned because it was striking. Again, this is in, as Professor Horne says, in the newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, talking about his former wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch. This is what it says. Well it says in part that Wendi Deng Murdoch had been lobbying for the construction of a high-profile construction project, funded by the Chinese government in Washington, and this is what the article says.
“The project, a planned $100 million Chinese garden at the National Arboretum was deemed a national security risk because it included a 70-foot-tall white tower that could potentially be used for surveillance. The garden was planned on one of the higher patches of land near downtown Washington, less than five miles from both the capital and the White House.”
If I’m to understand it, because there was a tall structure in the works to be built in Washington, that had Chinese funding for it, that was deemed a security risk. Well, but by that logic, then every single tall building in Washington D.C. is a security risk.
GERALD HORNE: As I said, I think one of the most startling aspects of the story is that the person charged with being agent of influence from Beijing is the ex-spouse of the owner of the newspaper. Not only that, but they slime her further in that story that you just cited by suggesting that she was also involved romantically with Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, and that British intelligence warned Mr. Blair about her.
Then, if you dig a bit more deeply, the inevitable takes place. She’s accused of also being involved with Vladimir Putin. I mean, I have no reason to believe those latter two stories, but I think that it does bespeak a kind of hysteria about the rise of China and it’s something that we should all be concerned about.
AARON MATÉ: You know, when you mention, though, that the rise of China could serve as a curb on the ideology and praxis of white supremacy, that sounds good to me. I mean, isn’t that a good thing, something to be welcomed?
GERALD HORNE: What I was trying to say is that it’ll cause so much hysteria that the people of color, particularly Chinese Americans, will be pulverized, and it’s only a short step from pulverizing and penalizing Chinese Americans to pulverizing and penalizing people of color in general, which includes people like myself, for example. That’s what I’m concerned about.
AARON MATÉ: So, finally Professor Horne, we’ve talked about Trump and his first year. Your assessment of The Resistance, the resistance to Trump, after one year?
GERALD HORNE: Well, on the one hand we had those wonderful demonstrations, the women’s marches that took place just a few days ago, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and all over the world. It’s very heartening to see the DREAMers engaged in civil disobedience and the office of various congresspersons. It’s very heartening and enlightening to see the moment for black lives and Black Lives Matter on the march, but as we speak today, in January, 2018, it remains unclear if Republican control of the house and the senate will be dislodged in November, 2018.
Just the other day, according to press reports, the Senate Democratic leadership caved when it came to the government shutdown and that is an incident that is worthy of investigation because if that is an accurate assessment, that is bound to demoralize many of the folks in the Resistance. So, in sum and in substance, I think there’s a mixed bag as of January, 2018, with regard to our ability to successfully resist Trump and Trumpism.
AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Gerald Horne, historian and Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, author of many books. Thank you.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you.
AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.