Over the weekend, President Donald Trump tapped out a series of angry Twitter posts attacking black athletes and celebrities. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The president has gone after LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Jemele Hill, and countless others — all in the past few months.
Notice something? There’s no mistaking the fact that the subject of Trump’s ire are all prominent African Americans. It’s no coincidence that Trump makes a sport of attacking black celebrities, especially those who have been outspoken against his policies or behavior in office.
But others have noticed this disturbing trend as well; in fact, there’s emerging evidence that the attacks are turning off the people they’re designed to rally to Trump’s side — his white, conservative base.
On Sunday, the president expressed his frustration with LaVar Ball, who told ESPN in a Friday interview that Trump didn’t do much to secure the release of his son LiAngelo from Chinese authorities following the younger Ball’s arrest on shoplifting charges earlier this month. The prickly president lashed out, saying in a tweet, “I should have left them in jail!”
Then, early Monday morning, Trump returned to Twitter, criticizing Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, calling for his suspension for the rest of the professional football season because Lynch sat during part of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and stood during the Mexican national anthem.
Marshawn Lynch of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos for our National Anthem. Great disrespect! Next time NFL should suspend him for remainder of season. Attendance and ratings way down.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2017
This is getting predictably tiresome. As anyone who has been paying attention to his constant Twitter barrages knows well, Trump’s social media blasts are intended to bolster his base of supporters, riling them up at the slightest opportunity to keep his supporters from give full attention to his problems. In effect, Trump uses racism to change the media’s focus away from him and to vilify people of color.
These diversions have happened so often and almost always paint black or brown people in an unflattering light, while portraying Trump as an aggrieved victim or unappreciated benefactor. Indeed, Trump pointedly noted that the Ball family was “ungrateful” for what he’d done for them and that Lynch should lose his job because he has criticized the president. All this comes across as an overtly racist notion — one that says, in effect, that successful, highly compensated black people should kneel in gratitude or obedience to him.
Clearly, Trump doesn’t care that his black critics, like me, find his social media addiction annoying. It might even please him as he tends not to pay attention to the opinions of anyone other than those who agree with him. But he should care — because even his core supporters are growing weary of this routine. Many even say they want him to put Twitter down and focus more on pressing matters of state, such as resolving the conflict with North Korea, lobbying for tax reform, and tackling the opioid addiction epidemic.
For example, a group of Republican women in North Carolina who voted for Trump said during a recent focus group that they had become increasingly disappointed with him, partly because they felt he was distracted by picking fights with people who don’t praise him.
Melissa Hight, a 62-year-old married retiree who has a postgraduate degree, told pollster Peter Hart that Trump’s behavior is not what she expected when she voted for him. “I had high hopes, but he just goes about things in a way that gets everybody’s back up against the wall,” she said. “He hasn’t acted presidential at all. The tweets bother me. They may be enlightening to some people. I’m not a tweeter. But to me, firing off these tweets is just childish.”
There’s little remaining doubt about the method to Trump’s madness. His racist rants follow a pattern: When breaking news suggests he or members of his administration are in trouble, he finds a scapegoat of color to divert public attention.
Just last week, for example, NBC News broke a story suggesting a Trump-branded property in Panama City has ties to organized crime and money-laundering.
Also, over the weekend, media reports noted that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is drawing closer to Trump’s inner circle. Mueller’s team is preparing to interview White House communications director Hope Hicks and has asked Justice Department officials for documents related to Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey.
It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to see that Trump, like a sloppy carnival magician, wants you to see his tweets at his fingertips and not notice the criminal investigation swirling elsewhere about the White House.
Jay A. Pearson, an assistant professor in the Stanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, laid out a compelling case in a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times for how Trump’s actions and tweets use his position of authority to spread racism:
Broadly speaking, a racist combines negative prejudicial biases with sufficient power to leverage action against targeted groups. Trump’s words and behaviors demonstrate considerable prejudicial bias, and, as president of the United States — arguably the most powerful office in the contemporary world — he has indeed leveraged action against various groups.
The good news is that no longer are the black athletes and celebrities who have called out the president for his racism the only ones noticing. Now, even those die-hard supporters in his base are becoming woke to the inefficiency and harmful effects of Trump’s politics of distraction.
And, no matter how much the Trump points a diversionary finger at black athletes and celebrities, everyone watching him knows for sure that the president has only himself — and his repeated tweets — to blame.