It may sound like an incredible claim, but Donald Trump is banking on you believing it: He’s not the racist in the race, Hillary is.
He’s been experimenting with this argument for a few weeks now, dropping it into speeches here and there, and now he’s finally rolling it out on a large scale. Late last week he retweeted a follower who wrote “a KKK member was her mentor.”
What on Earth is he talking about? His two campaign surrogates told the media that he was talking about the dead West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd. And he was indeed a KKK member, and Hillary did indeed write a remembrance after he died that called him “a true American original, my friend and mentor.” But that’s not the whole story.
Byrd’s history with the Klan goes back to the 1940s, and he tried to block the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s. But by the time Hillary entered politics, he’d realized the error of his ways. “The greatest mistake of my life,” is how he referred to his time with the KKK, and said that he wanted to teach people not to make the same mistakes he did. That’s the mentorship that Hillary received from him.
Still, the Trump campaign is trying to make Byrd’s mistake from over half a century ago stick to Hillary. Trump called her “bigot who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future.”
But Trump’s outreach to Black voters seems a little disingenuous — almost as if he’s putting on a show of reaching out that’s meant to appeal only to white voters. At rallies that are overwhelmingly white, he sent a message to Black voters thinking about supporting him: “What the hell do you have to lose? You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs.”
That’s a pretty insulting brush with which to paint all African-Americans.
“These are racist ideas, race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women — all key tenets making up the emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right… a fringe element that has effectively taken over the Republican Party,” Clinton told a crowd.
Trump’s rhetoric certainly seems to have emboldened other politicians with regressive attitudes about race. “We’re going to secure the border like it’s never been secured before,” he said on Fox News. “We’re going to stop the drugs from coming in. We’re going to stop certain people, criminal elements from coming in, and then we shall see what we shall see.”
This “we shall see what we shall see” business probably indicates that he has no idea what he’s talking about. But that didn’t stop Maine Governor Paul LePage from taking that rhetoric to its logical conclusion this week: “Black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers,” he said on Wednesday.
Later, he clarified his remarks: “When you go to war…You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”
This is the kind of rhetoric that Trump has normalized. And it’s what Robert Byrd tried to spend the final years of his life undoing.