Trump’s Friends Get Tax Cuts, His Base Gets Bigotry
As President Trump re-tweets an anti-Muslim British group, historian and professor Gerald Horne of the University of Houston says Trump is following through on the bigotry he campaigned on
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. President Trump has sparked outrage over his latest display of solidarity with white bigots. On Wednesday, Trump retweeted three posts from the fringe British far-right group, Britain First. These posts all contained anti-Muslim content. This prompted the group’s deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, to express her thanks.
JAYDA FRANSEN: This is a message to the President of the United States, Donald Trump. I’d like to start by saying how delighted I am that as the leader of the free world, you took the time out to retweet three of my videos on Twitter today.
AARON MATÉ: Fransen faces charges in the U.K. for inciting hate against Muslims. The White House has not apologized for Trump’s retweet. In fact, White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defended it.
S. HUCKABEE SANDERS: Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real and that is what the President is talking about. That’s what the President is focused on, is dealing with those real threats and those are real no matter how you look at it.
Press 1: It doesn’t matter [crosstalk 00:01:16] if the video is fake?
S. HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I’m not talking about the nature of the video. I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing. The threat is real.
AARON MATÉ: Joining me now is Gerald Horne, historian and professor of African-American studies at the University of Houston. Professor Horne, we’ve had you on many times since Trump took office to discuss his sympathy and defense of white supremacists. Didn’t seem fathomable that he could take it to a new level, but with this latest round of retweets, it appears like he has. Your thoughts on Trump’s actions here.
GERALD HORNE: Well, you may recall that approximately a year ago Mr. Trump was elected with 63 million votes and an argument erupted in progressive circles as to whether or not [inaudible 00:02:05] that propels so many to vote for him, or whether it was racial animus. Fast forward to November, December 2017, and I think we have an answer. That is to say, as a massive tax cut for the wealthy is making its way through Congress, redistributing wealth from bottom to top, you see that a good number of Trump’s base are not getting the benefit of that tax cut, but they are getting the “benefit ” of racism.
That is to say, that they are getting tweet storms demonizing Muslims, demonizing immigrants, demonizing Black athletes, demonizing Latinos and Mexicans, and I think we now have that answer to what was posed in November, 2016. I think only the naïve would now suggest that racism was not a factor, not only in the election of Donald Trump, but also in helping to solidify his base. Because as you know, there has been hardly a crack in his base. They are still with him for the most part.
AARON MATÉ: My only question there is whether the base is so easily deluded that they’re not even being made aware of all the policies that Trump is doing that undermine all of his various promises to fix the dire economic straits that they were in.
GERALD HORNE: Well, you may know that in the election in Virginia, which was a kind of referendum on Trump, it is true that Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee for governor, who half embraced Trump, lost. Now keep in mind, that if you look at a map of the state of Virginia, which Hillary Clinton won by a few points, you will see a mostly red map. That is to say, that Ed Gillespie, the Trump-backed candidate basically won the white vote, which should not come as a surprise to anyone who paid even negligible attention to U.S. politics. I think we should not delude ourselves about the United States of America.
We should not try to convince ourselves that what we are seeing is not actually taking place. Go back a quarter of a century when David Duke, a clan leader and neo-Nazi, ran for Governor of Louisiana and got 55 to 60% of the white base. Once again, a debate erupted as to whether or not it was economic anxiety that caused so many Euro-Americans to vote for a clansman. That may have been a factor, but what happens is that, generally speaking, I think many of our friends on the left were uncomfortable talking about racism, so they tend to either discuss it abstractly, or sweep it under the rug.
AARON MATÉ: Fair enough. I should clarify, I don’t mean at all to suggest that racism was not a major factor in Trump’s election. I guess, I as someone who identifies with the left, am uncomfortable when economic issues are totally cast aside, where it becomes sort of either/or instead of both.
GERALD HORNE: Well, certainly it’s both, but with regard to those 63 million who we supposedly have to convince to pursue their class interests. Apparently, they are not interested in pursuing their class interests, which means we have to look for alternatives. Otherwise, we’ll have a lot of time to discuss these issues in an internment camp in Yankee Stadium, for example. What this suggests, is that we should pay much more attention to the international situation. I think part of the danger of what Trump has done, is that he is whipping up right-wing sentiment in Europe, particularly in Great Britain.
You may recall that just a few days ago in Warsaw Poland there was 60,000 marching under a frankly neo-fascist banner calling for “Islamic holocaust.” What’s striking about that Warsaw protest was how Donald Trump’s words were invoked. That is to say, that I think it’s long past time for we in the United States to recognize that the country in which we’re residing is now the clearest threat to international peace and security, and in many ways is the right-wing anchor of the global community.
AARON MATÉ: Right. As a historian, can you talk about the history of using anti-immigrant sentiment and racism in general towards consolidating the power of domestic elites, especially here in the U.S.?
GERALD HORNE: Well, there are so many examples to choose from, one hardly knows where to start. Let’s start in the 1890s with the so-called populist movement. That term does not have the pejorative connotation it does today. I’m speaking of populism. It was a grassroots movement principally of agricultural workers and farmers who were railing against being exploited by the railroads, which were dominated by Robber Barons. Strikingly enough, Tom Watson of Georgia, who was a Euro-American leader of the populist movement, basically was … He reversed field and became a leader of the white supremacist movement.
What’s striking about Tom Watson and what happened in Georgia was that by 1915, they were not only lynching Black Americans, which they had been doing for some years, they also lynched a Jewish man, Leo Frank, which of course helped to bring many affluent Jewish people in New York into the movement for civil rights, helping to back the then newly born NAACP. This question of using racism as a tool, of course, arises most dramatically perhaps in the 1960s with the so-called Southern Strategy of Richard M. Nixon.
That is to say, the Republican party recognized that after President Lyndon Baines Johnson had pushed through the Voting Rights Act of 1965, finally guaranteeing the right of Black Americans and others the right to vote, that there would be a so-called white backlash, which of course then ensued, which then sunk movements not only for equality going forward, but also movements of class solidarity. That is to say, building trade unions, which still I might argue should be a leading priority today.
AARON MATÉ: Right. When Trump retweets an account from an avowed Islamophobe like that leader of the group, Britain First, do you think he’s making a thought-out calculation, an attempt to appeal to his base? I mean, how cynical and calculated do you think his whole fueling of racists sentiments is?
GERALD HORNE: Well, it’s difficult to say. I’d have to get him on the couch and do a psychoanalysis to get a precise answer, but going on the evidence that we have before us, I think it’s a very cynical manipulation. Keep in mind as well, that in recent days according to close advisors quoted off the record, Trump has talked about reviving the so-called birther controversy, the idea that Barack Obama, the previous president was not born in the United States, which would have made him illegitimate in terms of being a U.S. President.
Mr. Trump backed down from that about 14 months ago, but now he sees the need to whip it up again. It’s apparent that this is a cynical manipulation. That is to say, as the plutocrats get tax cuts, and benefits, and wealth raked and shoveled into their bulging pockets, the working-class and middle-class base of Mr. Trump gets tweet storms about racism, gets birther controversies, which obviously they feel is something they need. Otherwise, we’d see in the polls that they had rebelled against him.
AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Professor Gerald Horne of the University of Houston, thanks very much.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you.
AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.