Trump Offends People While Criticizing Clinton For Offensive Comment

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DARRON CUMMINGS
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DARRON CUMMINGS

On Monday morning, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump criticized Hillary Clinton for “demeaning” Native Americans with a comment she recently made about men who “get off the reservation.” Trump’s choice to highlight Clinton’s remark is notable, however, given incendiary language he’s used during his fraught dealings with Native tribes over the years.

Clinton made the remark in question during a sit-down with CNN that ran last Friday. Asked about the personal attacks Trump has started deploying against her, she said, “I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak.”

During a Monday phone interview with CNN, Trump criticized Clinton’s choice of words and said Native Americans “have gone wild” about the remark.

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“She talks about, I can handle men who get off the reservation, a very demeaning statement,” Trump said. “I won’t bring up the fact the Indians have gone wild on that statement. You know that? The Indians said that that statement is a disastrous statement, and they want a retraction.”

Turns out Clinton’s camp had already issued a retraction of sorts, as a campaign staffer attempted to walk back the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s “off the reservation” remark the same day she uttered it:

Trump’s sensitivity to demeaning language about Native Americans has apparently developed somewhat recently. As ThinkProgress reported last fall, Trump has clashed with Native Americans before. In his business dealings with tribe-owned casinos, Trump often used offensive and racist rhetoric and tactics to get what he wanted.

As Emily Atkin previously wrote:

The most egregious example of this came in 2000 in upstate New York, when Trump began bankrolling an ad campaign to stop a casino from being built in the Catskills. As the New York Times reported last month, the local newspaper ads showed “hypodermic needles and drug paraphernalia … [and] warned in dire terms that violent criminals were coming to town.”

“Are these the kind of neighbors we want?” the ad asked, referring to the St. Regis Mohawks Tribe at Akwesasne, which was planning to build the casino. “The St. Regis Mohawk record of criminal activity is well-documented.”

When the ads came out, Akwesasne Mohwaks were incensed. The uproar was documented in a book called Enduring Legacies, which explains that while there was some illegal activity within the tribe, “implying that all Akwesasne Mohawks support such activities is something of a racial slur.” The advertising, it asserted, was “clearly informed by the racist attitudes prevailing in the area” at the time. Local tribal leaders also took out their own newspaper ads in response to Trump’s. “How dare they smear a nation and brand us all as criminals,” it read.

Pointing out that Trump doesn’t have grounds to criticize Clinton’s remark doesn’t excuse what she said, of course. As a 2014 NPR dive into the history of the “off the reservation” term points out, the phrase initially literally referred to Native Americans who weren’t on a government-imposed reservation. But in the early 20th century, people began to use the term figuratively to refer to situations where a person who belongs to a group does something unexpected in light of that group’s identity. As might have been the case with Clinton, many people use it without considering its original meaning.

Native Americans criticized Clinton’s remark as offensive:

But in an email exchange with ThinkProgress, OJ Semans Sr., founder of the nonpartisan Native voter engagement group Four Directions, suggested he’s actually more troubled by Trump’s response than he was by what Clinton originally said.

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“I do not believe the remark was an intentional derogatory statement directed at Native American Indians, and it was appropriate of Hillary’s campaign to acknowledge the offensive roots and that ‘divisive language has no place in our politics,’” Semans wrote. “It is unfortunate she chose to use the phrase, but by doing so we now have a chance to acknowledge and change people’s mindsets going forward.”

“As for Mr. Trump’s response his comment was [intentional] and meant as a derogatory remark but not so much made towards Native American Indians but to his base to stereotype of us as ‘Going Wild,’” Semans added.