By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – The mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, has touched off an intense national debate.
The debate is over whether President Donald Trump is a racist.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
The president and his defenders insist he is not a bigot. The president says he is “the least racist” person around – a dubious claim, given the slurs Trump often utters.
The president’s champions point to the civil rights organizations and other minority groups that have honored Trump at times. That is little more than an updating of the “some of my best friends are” defense bigots have comforted themselves with for decades.
The president’s critics say, without question, that he is racist. They point to his remarks – his attempts to label Latin American refugees as murderers and rapists, etc. – as evidence of his hostility to people who are black or brown.
The truth, though, is that the only person who might know whether Donald Trump is a racist is Donald Trump.
And even he might not know or might not want to acknowledge it, even to himself.
I teach my journalism students to avoid using the words “thinks,” “believes” or “feels” when attributing statements or positions to sources. The reason is that we cannot know with certainty what anyone else thinks, believes or feels. We cannot crawl inside other people’s heads or take up residence in their hearts.
We only can know what they say or do.
Statements and actions are facts. What someone says or does can be proved.
That’s what we must look at with this president.
In some ways, the most charitable interpretation of what he has said and done would be to call him a racist.
Racists at least act and speak out of conviction, however wrong-headed and hard-hearted those convictions may be. They believe that some human beings are less worthy of respect, consideration and even basic human rights than other human beings. That belief may be repugnant to many, even most, of us, but it is genuine.
If the president doesn’t believe the demeaning statements he makes about other people on the basis of their skin color, then he must be doing and saying these things out of expedience. He’s degrading other human beings and splitting the country apart to try to gain a political advantage.
If so, that’s less morally defensible than being an honest bigot.
It’s one thing to do wrong if we do not know it’s wrong.
It’s another thing altogether to do wrong when we know it’s wrong.
And make no mistake about it: What the president is saying and doing often is wrong.
None of his condemnatory statements ever focus on people who look like or voted for him. The rigorous, even draconian, enforcement policies he calls for always target people of different races, ethnicities or faiths than his own.
White nationalists who speak with fondness of the days of segregation and even slavery Trump is willing to call “fine people.”
But not the Latin American refugees who walk hundreds of miles with their children to come to a land where they will do jobs few other people would want to do, just so they can build better lives for their families.
The president says that this is not his problem. He says the real problem is one of “political correctness.” People are too sensitive now, he argues. They get angry or have their feelings ruffled too easily these days.
It’s an odd argument coming from a man who becomes enraged or says he’s been treated unfairly every time someone says something that is the least bit uncomplimentary about him. He reserves the right to get angry or have his feelings ruffled, but would deny it to others.
If he’s entitled to take offense at things other people say about him, the same goes for everyone else.
We cannot know what is in this president’s head or heart.
All we can know is what he says and does.
And that, sadly, tragically, tells the story.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.