Donald Trump says he loves minorities. “Nothing means more to me than working to make our party the home of the African-American vote,” he told a white crowd in Iowa over the weekend. As evidence, he cited “what’s been happening over the last two weeks and three weeks with me”—a series of speeches in which Trump, according to himself, has been reaching out to blacks and Hispanics.
I’ve watched these speeches. They’re a perfect encapsulation of who Trump is. While mouthing platitudes about inclusiveness, he systematically courts certain minorities—or, rather, courts white voters who are skittish about supporting a racist—by pledging to protect them from other minorities. Even when he poses as the candidate of love and unity, Trump reveals himself as the candidate of hostility and division.
Trump’s suck-up to minorities began on Aug. 16, when Kellyanne Conway, a pollster who wanted to make him more broadly palatable, became his campaign manager. That day, speaking in Wisconsin, Trump pledged to “reject bigotry and hatred and oppression in all of its many ugly forms.” But one form of bigotry became the centerpiece of his pitch to minorities: blaming their troubles on immigrants. “No community in this country has been hurt worse by Hillary Clinton’s immigration and all of her policies than the African-American community,” Trump told the crowd. He warned that Clinton would allow “millions of illegal immigrants to come in and take everybody’s job, including low-income African Americans.”
Trump pretended that he wasn’t appealing to prejudice, since he was targeting “illegal immigrants,” not immigrants in general. But two days later, speaking in North Carolina, he went after legal immigrants. He blasted Clinton for proposing to allow “Syrian refugees” into the United States, flooding the country with Sharia lovers “who believe in oppressing women, gays, Hispanics, African Americans, and people of different faiths.” To women offended by his past sexist comments, and to gays alarmed by his opposition to same-sex marriage, Trump offered this consolation: At least I’ll save you from the Muslims.
The next day, Aug. 19, Trump spoke in Michigan. “The era of division will be replaced with a future of unity, total unity. We will love each other,” he promised. He contrasted his vision of love with “the bigotry of Hillary Clinton, who sees communities of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future. Hillary Clinton would rather provide a job to a refugee from overseas than to give that job to unemployed African-American youth.”
To Trump, communities of color are more than votes. They are bogeymen and scapegoats. Each community can be played off against others as a criminal menace, a threat to jobs, or a drain on public funds. “Hillary Clinton’s plan would bring in an estimated 620,000 refugees in her first term at a lifetime-benefit cost of some $400 billion,” Trump told the audience in Michigan. He pledged to “save countless billions of dollars” by barring refugees—and to “invest a portion of the money saved in a jobs program for inner-city youth.”
Trump—the man who had blamed President Obama for failing to control black “thugs,” and who just two months ago opposed apologizing for a sportscaster’s explicitly anti-black statements—professed love for black Americans. “I’d like to address an issue of great and very deep personal importance to me,” he declared at a rally in Virginia on Aug. 20. He assured blacks that he would make America “a totally inclusive country”—unlike Clinton, who, Trump said, would give their jobs to immigrants.
But Trump seemed to forget which group he had planned to vilify that day. He condemned Virginia’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, for trying to restore voting rights to felons who had served their sentences and had been released from parole or probationary supervision. McAuliffe said the restoration would rectify a century-old Virginia policy designed to disenfranchise blacks. Trump, however, denounced the governor’s proposal. “Hillary Clinton is banking … on getting thousands of violent felons to the voting booths,” Trump alleged, eliciting boos from the crowd. “They are letting people vote in your Virginia election that should not be allowed to vote.”
Speaking in Ohio, Texas, and Florida over the next four days, Trump expanded on his indictment. He claimed to be fighting for women, gays, and Latinos, as well as blacks. He pledged to defend these Americans against “Barack Hussein Obama,” rich Muslim countries that supported the Clinton Foundation, and troubled Muslim countries that were sending refugees. He also pledged to protect American jobs from “broken visa programs,” which sounded like an attack on another avenue of legal immigration.
In the past week, Trump has escalated his rhetoric, framing his crackdown on immigration as a civil rights issue. Last Thursday in New Hampshire, he claimed that Clinton “supports open borders that violate the civil rights of African Americans by giving their jobs to people here unlawfully.” On Saturday in Iowa, he added:
There’s another civil rights issue we need to talk about, and that’s the issue of immigration enforcement. Every time an African American citizen or a Hispanic citizen or any citizen loses their job to an illegal immigrant, the rights of that American citizen have been totally violated.
On Tuesday, Trump was introduced at a rally in Washington state by Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama who has been, to put it politely, a few decades late in coming to terms with desegregation. Sessions has transferred his tribalism from race to immigration, and so has Trump. It’s the GOP that truly loves minorities, Trump told the crowd—not Clinton, who “brings in illegal immigrants and refugees to take jobs from our hard-working African American and Hispanic citizens.”
Wednesday night, in a speech on immigration, Trump told blacks and Latinos they would benefit the most from his crackdown on refugees and undocumented workers. “For the money we are going to spend on illegal immigration over the next 10 years, we could provide 1 million at-risk students with a school voucher,” he said. Trump also pledged to screen out Muslim refugees who failed to show adequate “respect for women and gays and minorities.”
Trump’s pose as a champion of blacks, Latinos, and women is a fraud. He thinks the integration of women into the armed forces was foolish because it led to sexual assaults by men. His family business had to settle a federal lawsuit for discriminating against black tenants. Two months ago, in private, Trump scoffed that Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder shouldn’t have apologized for saying that blacks were better athletes because “the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman.” And while Trump now claims he’ll protect Hispanic Americans from Hispanic non-Americans, his record—including his attacks on the Mexican “heritage” of an American-born federal judge—shows that when the chips are down, Trump is willing to treat all Latinos as aliens.
Trump closed his speech Tuesday night by reading a poem about a woman who rescues a freezing snake. The snake repays her with a fatal bite. When she asks why, the reptile replies: “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”
Trump thinks the poem is about immigrants. It’s not. It’s about Trump. From the day he announced his candidacy, he has appealed to racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious prejudice. That’s who he is. And it’s who he’ll always be, even when, reading from a teleprompter, he speaks of love.