On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump praised his chief of staff John Kelly for letting go of Omarosa Manigault Newman—or, in Trump’s words, “for quickly firing that dog!” That insult came after Manigault Newman embarked on book tour in which she’s been selling the claim that she’s heard a tape of Trump saying the N-word. Trump, meanwhile, has been using his Twitter page to depict the former Apprentice contestant as “wacky,” “crazed,” and a “lowlife.”
Dog marks a new low in this war of words. Some people are calling it sexist. Some are saying it’s racist. Some people think it’s neither, and it could always be both! So, what is it?
On Twitter, a user with the handle @conservogirl wrote that “according to the dictionary, [“dog”] is neither racist or sexist, and while unpleasant, in this instance the term fits. ‘a person regarded as unpleasant, contemptible, or wicked (used as a term of abuse).’ ” Unfortunately for our friend @conservogirl, words can have multiple definitions, and so we must press on.
In the right-wing Daily Wire, conservative gadfly Ben Shapiro noted that “Trump routinely suggests that people he doesn’t like are dogs.” Shapiro’s analysis: “That may make him a ridiculous practitioner of the English language, but it doesn’t make him a racist.”
He’s right that Trump compares people to dogs all the time, especially when they’re getting fired—HuffPost has assembled a compendium of tweets that show just that. But with just a couple of exceptions, Trump almost uses the formulation “like a dog,” comparing people like Glenn Beck, Chuck Todd, and Erick Erickson to dogs rather than claiming they are dogs.
In addition to Tuesday’s Omarosa tweet, I’ve been able to find three instances in which Trump called someone a dog, rather than just comparing them to one, on Twitter. The first came in 2013, when, as part of a feud with Mac Miller about the rapper’s song “Donald Trump,” the future president wrote, “I’m now going to teach you a big boy lesson about lawsuits and finance. You ungrateful dog!” In 2015, Trump called David Axelrod a dog for criticizing him on Fox News “even after I made a big contribution to his charity.”
While Trump doesn’t always use dog as a sexist insult, he does use it to insult women’s looks.
Consider this attack on Arianna Huffington in 2015:
Also, in 2011, New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote about Trump sending her a copy of a column in which she’d called him a “financially embattled thousandaire”; he’d circled her picture and written “The Face of a Dog!”
And as long as we’re talking dictionary definitions, we should note for @conservogirl’s sake that Oxford, the same dictionary that defines dog as someone “unpleasant, contemptible, or wicked,” offers this alternative definition: “an unattractive woman.” It’s no coincidence that the word bitch refers to both female dogs and cold, difficult women.
Calling Manigault Newman a dog also aligns with the way Trump expresses his racism. He has famously called immigrants “animals” in an attempt to deprive them of their humanity. And he’s not the only one: Associating people of color, especially black people, with animals is a tried-and-true strategy among those who believe whites belong at the top of a racial hierarchy. The word dog in particular is a common addendum to pejorative racial and ethnic descriptors.
With evidence to support both racism and sexism in the use of the word dog, and taking into account Trump’s historical contempt for women and black people, it’s safe to say that the answer to the “sexist or racist?” quandary is “both.” The theory of intersectional oppression holds that both racism and sexism are multidimensional. A black woman like Manigault Newman doesn’t experience the same kind of sexism a white or Asian-American woman does, and neither does she experience the same kind of racism a black man does. By labeling her a dog, Trump called upon a very specific kind of anti-black sexism that comprises both the American history of enslaved black women being treated as livestock-like “breeders” and contemporary pop culture depictions of black women as angry, emasculating “bitches.” Thank Twitter’s character limit for forcing our bombastic president to smoosh such a broad and complex history of discrimination into one three-letter word.
Support our journalism
Help us continue covering the news and issues important to you—and get ad-free podcasts and bonus segments, members-only content, and other great benefits.Join Slate Plus