One of the important phenomena of this current era that has been weirdly hiding in plain sight is Donald Trump’s habit of saying racist things in public. These episodes tend to go underanalyzed in part because American intellectuals are riven by disputes over much subtler forms of racism. Progressive intellectuals are debating structural racism embedded in American history and its social systems and tearing each other to shreds over questions like whether journalists should be fired for vocalizing a racial slur as part of a discussion about it. Meanwhile, Trump just blurts out wildly racist comments on the regular.
The latest example is his social-media rant against Mitch McConnell. “He has a DEATH WISH. Must immediately seek help and advise from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!”
Trump is attempting to smear Elaine Chao as “China loving” because of her ethnicity. In fact, Chao immigrated to the United States as an 8-year-old and came from Taiwan, which has the most hostile relationship with China of any country in the world. (Calling the child of Taiwanese immigrants “China loving” is a bit like calling a Palestinian immigrant “Israel loving.”) Also Trump appointed Chao to his own Cabinet but decided he hates her after she resigned following the January 6 insurrection.
Trump’s smear is of a piece with his regular habit of describing American immigrants and their descendants as foreigners who have no right to participate in public affairs. He called Judge Gonzalo Curiel a “Mexican” who was inherently biased, has insisted that Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez not have any say in “how our government is to be run” and instead “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” and so on.
When Trump was first running for president, Republicans conceded comments like these were the “textbook definition of a racist comment.” But once it became clear Trump’s connection to the party’s base could not be dislodged, Republicans decided to stop acknowledging his racism.
Asked whether the former president’s attacks on Chao were racist, Senator Rick Scott delivered the kind of prototypical evasion that has defined his party’s response.
“It’s never, ever okay to be a racist,” Scott said without referring to Trump’s comments. “I hope no one is racist. I hope no one says anything that’s inappropriate, so I’m gonna do everything I can.”
If Scott wanted to say Trump’s attack on Chao was not racist, he could have. But he won’t say that. Nor will he say it is racist. Instead, he insists, “I hope no one is racist,” leaving unstated the corollary: But if they are, I will support them anyway.