Politics

If He Said It

How the country would react, day by day, if a Trump N-word tape came to light.

Donald Trump waves at the camera.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

For the past week, former Donald Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman has been promoting her new tell-all book with claims that she has heard tapes, recorded on the set of The Apprentice, in which Trump can be heard using the N-word. There is reason to consider Manigault Newman an unreliable narrator, but rumors regarding the existence of these tapes didn’t start, and likely won’t end, with her. Here’s what might happen if such a recording came to light.

Day 1

The Washington Post publishes a video of Donald Trump having a conversation with a white producer of his show The Apprentice. The footage, which comes from 2007, doesn’t show Trump on camera, but a voice that’s unmistakably his can be heard saying the N-word in reference to a black camera operator.

Trump’s communications team immediately releases a brief statement: “The quality of this audio is not good, but President Trump was jokingly trying to use African-American vernacular. He regrets the attempt but meant no ill will.”

Maxine Waters compares Trump to David Duke and calls for the president’s immediate impeachment. (Duke responds by tweeting a smiley-face emoji.) Dozens of Waters’ Democratic colleagues immediately sign on to her impeachment plan, with Nancy Pelosi issuing a statement demanding Republicans call for Trump’s immediate resignation.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan responds a few hours later: “I am angered by the language I heard in the video today. African-Americans are to be treated with the same respect as anyone else, and insulting slurs are never appropriate.” So does Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “This word is abhorrent, and I am devastated by the knowledge that President Trump has used it. As a friend and Senator to many African-Americans, I strongly believe that the President must apologize to African-Americans everywhere and take accountability for the obscenity and lack of respect his words showed in this tape.” And Mitt Romney: “Using a disgusting racial slur to describe a fellow American is inappropriate for anyone, much less the president of the United States. Our children are watching and learning from our actions. President Trump must atone for using this shameful language.” None of them say anything about impeachment or resignation.

CBS, NBC, and ABC interrupt their regularly scheduled programming to offer wall-to-wall coverage of the tape’s release. Omarosa Manigault Newman appears on all three networks, taking a kind of victory lap.

On CNN, Anderson Cooper moderates a roundtable featuring 16 different commentators from across the political spectrum. All of them condemn Trump unequivocally. On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow monologues for 30 minutes on Trump’s history of racist statements and actions, arguing that anyone who’s surprised by anything they heard on the tape must not have been paying attention. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson says that the N-word is an awful and mean-spirited insult, and that both white and black Americans should refrain from saying it.

Just before midnight, Trump tweets a video statement. His comments, in full:

I’ve never pretended to be perfect. Everyone has their regrets. The words I said in the video released today, from more than a decade ago, are one of mine. Everyone who knows me knows the word in this video does not accurately represent my feelings toward my African-American friends. I did say that word, and it was wrong. I apologize.

As I’ve traveled this great nation as your president, I have met great African Americans, hardworking African Americans. I promise to be better tomorrow than I was yesterday.

But let’s be honest. This video is part of the fake news media’s plot to distract Americans from how MS-13 is ravaging small-town America and Muslim extremism is at an all-time high in our own schools and neighborhoods.

And there’s a big difference between words and actions here. Not only did Bill and Hillary Clinton call African-American children superpredators, a terrible slur that’s just as bad as the one I used in that video, but they passed a crime bill that wrecked African-American communities. And when he was governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton oversaw the execution of a severely mentally impaired black man. I used a mean word to describe an African American. Bill and Hillary killed one.

Day 2

Sen. Ben Sasse tweets a short rebuke of the president: “Nothing matters more than values. Trump has lost the respect of the American people. He should do the right thing: Step down and let the Vice President lead.” Vice President Mike Pence tweets his own statement: “I was offended by the word President Trump used in the 11-year-old video released yesterday. I do not condone the use of this word, even in jest. I am grateful that he has apologized, and I will continue to pray for his family.”

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel also stands by the president. “As a mother and as a Republican,” she says, “I believe President Trump’s comment about his African-American colleague was inexcusable and undeniably wrong. The president has now apologized for his use of this reprehensible word 11 years ago, but he should continue to do so to earn back the trust of the nation’s African-American community.”

On Fox and Friends, the hosts nod somberly as they watch Trump’s apology video and thank the president for doing the right thing.

Black Lives Matter activists organize mass protests, turning out demonstrators to block highways and the entrances to Trump-affiliated properties around the country. Rep. John Lewis helps lead the protest at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

Day 3

Republican Jeff Flake delivers a rousing speech on the Senate floor about the scourge of racism and the promise of America. “This is a land of opportunity, where all men and women are equal,” he said. “Racism has no place here, and when it comes from the mouth of a man who is president, it degrades America’s position as a moral beacon of democracy. This is only the latest instance of Donald Trump defiling the office of the president, and Congress should not be afraid to act.”

Republican Sen. Tim Scott, the first black senator elected in a Southern state since Reconstruction, disavows Trump after months of saying the president’s approach to issues of race gave him “reasons to be hopeful.”

Sean Hannity dedicates his show to an investigation of the N-word in hip-hop music and historical texts. “This word is Jay-Z’s preferred method of describing himself and his friends,” he says. “And he’s one of Hillary Clinton’s bosom buddies! In fact, he was using this same word up and down her campaign trail, onstage, while she clapped! Did she ever tell him it was racist and disgraceful? No way!”

The Daily Stormer publishes an editorial celebrating the dawn of the Fourth Reich.

Day 4

Congress passes a nonbinding resolution condemning Trump’s use of the N-word. At a joint press conference, Ryan and McConnell declare that the Trump video represents an opportunity for healing. “We can’t politicize this moment,” Ryan says. “We need to come together and get back to work for the American people.”

CNN airs a town hall, hosted by Van Jones, in which black Americans share stories of the racism they face every day in America. Fox News airs a town hall, hosted by Laura Ingraham, on who has the right to use the N-word.

The New York Times reports that White House sources say Ivanka Trump ran out of the room crying when she heard the Apprentice tape. Sources close to her and Jared Kushner say they have been “incredibly distraught” in the days since.

A Gallup poll shows Trump’s approval rating has dropped just 1 point since the tape was released. More than 90 percent of voters polled in key swing states say their opinion of him hasn’t changed.

Day 5

Trump gives a short press conference at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. “This was country club talk, a private conversation from a long time ago that was taken out of context,” he says. “Ted Cruz has said far worse things to me at my steakhouse—much worse. I apologize if anyone was offended.”

The hashtag #countryclubtalk immediately trends on Twitter, as users post Trump’s new coinage alongside photos of “whites only” water fountains and racist quotes like George Wallace’s “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer tries to make the hashtag #racistslursareanimpeachableoffense happen.

Fox News offers nonstop commentary on “black-on-black” uses of the N-word.

Day 7

Trump hosts a rally in Michigan. “I’m sure you’ve all heard that old tape of me by now,” he says. “You know, it’s a bad word, a very bad word. But is it really so bad? I mean, if it’s so bad, why am I hearing it all over the rap music our friends on the left love so much?”

Trump adds, “No one has been better for the blacks than me. I’ve created more jobs for African Americans than anyone—more than Obama, many, many more. And the African-American community finally has a president who supports police officers, who are the only ones who can stop the vicious—totally vicious—murders of black people in America’s inner cities.”

Asked if the president had ever used the N-word at other points in his life, Sarah Huckabee Sanders rolls her eyes. “I’m not aware of every word he’s ever said,” she says. “The mainstream media’s fixation on this one word, while children are being murdered by MS-13, is frankly verging on criminal. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Day 10

The Women’s March begins a multiday walk from Monticello, the Virginia plantation where Thomas Jefferson lived and enslaved black people, to the White House. Thousands join, chanting, “No Trump, no KKK, no racist USA!”

Day 13

In a one-on-one interview with Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo, Trump says he understands saying the N-word isn’t a great thing to do, but he was just quoting a song by his friend Kanye West. “They edited it—this fake news media wanted to make me look bad, so they took out the whole context,” he says. “It’s an old tape, and they messed with it.” Bartiromo offers a placated nod.

Twitter users begin slipping the N-word into random tweets to show their support for Trump and to make the point that words can mean whatever we want them to mean. Twitter decides that the use of the word alone doesn’t constitute hate speech but that any offensive individual tweet should be flagged for abuse. The N-word briefly trends before Twitter removes it from the list of trending topics.

New poll: 10 percent of Republicans say the Apprentice video gave them a “positive” feeling.

John Lewis gets arrested after refusing to end his sit-in.

Day 14

Melania Trump visits a majority-black elementary school and reads the children a book about the difference between physical and verbal bullying. One line says, “sticks and stones can break your bones, but words are just words, and they can never hurt you.”

Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec dox black journalists and comedians critical of the president who have tweeted the N-word or said it on tape. After an old routine is edited down to a few seconds and shared widely by alt-right agitators, DreamWorks fires Chris Rock from an upcoming Madagascar sequel, explaining that “the offensive attitudes and statements discovered in his comedy specials are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him.”

A hashtag that includes the full N-word trends on Twitter.

Day 17

A center-right New York Times columnist writes a piece scolding Women’s March activists for equating Jefferson’s enslavement and sexual exploitation of black people with Trump’s use of the N-word.

Day 21

The Daily Beast reports, via an anonymous source, that Trump told a Republican senator it wasn’t his voice on the Apprentice tape. Other sources say he’s asked White House aides to launch an investigation into whose voice is on the tape and who leaked it.

Day 30

At a rally in Nevada, Trump publicly questions the tape’s authenticity. “That doesn’t sound like me, right?” he asks. “This is a malicious attack, a witch hunt, and when you witch hunt me, you don’t wanna witch hunt me.” The crowd cheers. Trump asks, “Who said it was me on this tape?” The crowd chants, “FAKE NEWS!”

David Brooks writes a column bemoaning Trump’s role in destroying the bonds of integrity and trust that hold our society together.

Thanksgiving 2018

White people argue around their dinner tables about what constitutes “country club talk” and what constitutes actual racism.

October 2020

The Washington Post publishes another leaked Apprentice tape. In this one, Trump’s face is visible, and he uses the N-word to refer to a group of black employees.

A CBS poll finds 83 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s record on “racial issues.”

November 2020

Trump wins re-election with the support of 0 percent of black voters and 60 percent of the white electorate.