President Donald Trump, amid a racially charged fight with African-American Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, had a message for America on Tuesday morning outside the White House.
“I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world,” Trump said. “What I’ve done for African-Americans in two and a half years, no president has been able to do anything like it.”
Which, well, wow.
The claim is, obviously, ridiculous. To state the obvious, there is no known measure that would allow us to quantify how racist or not a person is. And if that measure did exist, Donald Trump would not be the least racist person in the world – or anything close to it.
From his early days as a businessman in which he and his father were charged with racial housing discrimination by the Justice Department (the case was eventually settled), to his 2016 campaign in which he aggressively trafficked in racial animus and stereotypes, to his presidency, which has been marked by his comments that both sides were to blame for the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump’s entire life has been a case study in racial dog whistles and worse.
Not to mention his recent tweets directed at freshman Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts – in which he told the quartet, in essence, to go back to where they came from.
Then there is the claim that “no president has been able to do anything like” what Trump has done for African-Americans, a reference presumably to the low 6% unemployment rate in the black community. I can dispute that patently false claim in just two words: “Abraham Lincoln.” Or two more: “Lyndon Johnson.” Thank you, next. (Plus, the African-American unemployment rate has been falling relatively steadily for years).
What is Trump playing at here, then? It’s not complicated: He’s overcompensating.
Somewhere in the recesses of his brain, Trump knows his record on race is, uh, short of stellar. So to cover up for that, he overcompensates wildly. He’s not just not a racist. He’s the least racist person in the world. He hasn’t just done some good things for the African-American community, he has done the best things ever.
Think about this sort of claim outside the world of politics. Let’s say you go out to drinks with some new coworkers – a sort of get-to-know you thing. And the conversation turned to where everyone went to college and whether they liked it. And you noticed a lot of people went to Ivy League schools – and you didn’t. If you interjected randomly into the conversation that your school was actually harder to get into than a lot of Ivies and that you graduated No. 1 in your class and that you turned down all the Ivies because you didn’t care about the name and the prestige, what would your new colleagues think of you?
They would, of course, think you were drastically overcompensating. If you were totally cool and comfortable with where you went to college, what you learned there and the sort of person it helped mold you into, you wouldn’t need to try to convince all of your new colleagues about it. Right? Right!
Smart people don’t need to talk about how smart they are. Great athletes don’t need to regale you with stories of their athletic achievements. And people who are not racists don’t need to talk about how they are the least racist person in the world.
Trump’s overcompensation on race speaks volumes. As does his seeming willingness to simply make up things about just how much support he has in the black community.
“The African-American people have been calling the White House.” the President said Tuesday morning. “They have never been so happy about what a President has done.”
Really? “The African-American people” have just been randomly calling the White House? How did they get the number? Who did they speak to? How did the person they spoke to know they were black? And how did that person relay the information to the President of the United States?
This is all totally ridiculous of course. Not even the most ardent Trump supporter can, with a straight face, believe a) that Trump is the least racist person in the world b) that he has done more for black people in two and a half years than any past president or c) that the White House switchboard is overwhelmed with calls from black people telling the President how thrilled they are with him.
Trump’s overcompensation on race is so vast, however, that it seems to allow him to convince himself that he is what he says he is. Which is, well, really something else.