The American press should just say the truth about Trumpism: It’s racist.
Some have argued that Republican voters held their noses and voted for Trump because, while odious, issues dear to their hearts like religious freedom, or abortion, or taxes compelled them to make such a choice. But there’s no evidence a large number of Republicans object to Trump’s discriminatory policies, or to his frequent attacks on black public figures. According to one recent CBS poll, while most Americans disapprove of Trump’s record on racial issues, 83 percent of Republicans approve. The vast, overwhelming majority of Republicans aren’t quietly disgusted with Trump, but grateful for Neil Gorsuch. When Trump calls black athletes who protest police brutality “sons of bitches” and demands they be fired, they’re not embarrassed. They like it. Trump knows they like it. That’s why he keeps doing it.
Given that, it’s hard to imagine that, even if a tape of Trump using the word nigger exists, it would substantially erode political support from his base. The idea that the word is some kind of red line that erases plausible deniability is an illusion. Every time Trump’s behavior violates some conservative value—from his alleged infidelity to his denigration of war heroes and gold-star families to his relentless crony capitalism— pundits predict his undoing, and Trump emerges unscathed. There’s no reason why many of Trump’s strongest supporters wouldn’t also be able to rationalize his use of a racial slur, especially given their enthusiasm for his culture-war provocations.
It’s possible that this time would be different, that a recording of Trump using a racial slur would meaningfully alter his supporters’ perception of him. But given this track record, it seems very unlikely.
The more likely outcome is the one that followed the recording of the president saying he likes to grab women “by the pussy.” Most Trump supporters easily acquiesced to the explanation that the remarks were mere “locker-room talk,” despite the more than a dozen women who said otherwise. This time, too, many would likely argue the tape is fake, or taken out of context, or that he’s being victimized by the political-correctness police. Or they’d simply change the subject. (Aren’t there lots of recordings of the Pulitzer Prize–winning artist Kendrick Lamar using the word? Checkmate, libs.)
The claim itself is difficult to evaluate; Manigault-Newman is not the most reliable of narrators. Whether the tape actually exists, though, is ultimately less interesting than the fact that both Trump’s critics and his closest aides believe such a tape could exist. That is, both Trump’s greatest detractors and the people who work most closely with him believe he’s capable of using the word, even if they’ve never heard him. On Tuesday, Manigault-Newman released to CBS News a recording of a conversation between the Trump aides Lynne Patton, Katrina Pierson, and Manigault-Newman herself anticipating the release of such a tape. None of them are in disbelief that such a tape could exist.
Patton: I said, “Well, sir, can you think of anytime where this happened?” And he said, “No.”
Manigault-Newman: Well, that is not true.
Patton: He goes, “How do you think I should handle it?” and I told him exactly what you just said, Omarosa, which is, “Well, it depends on what scenario you are talking about.” And he said, “Well, why don’t you just go ahead and put it to bed.”
Pierson: He said. No, he said it. He is embarrassed by it.
No one in this exchange is surprised, because they all know Trump so well. Pierson and Manigault-Newman are actually convinced he said it. After a year of blanket denials of one sort or another from the podium, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters she could not “guarantee” that Americans would never hear Trump use the term.
That’s one of the stranger paradoxes of this political era: Trump’s political opponents know who he is. His aides know who he is. Americans don’t need a tape to know who Trump is, or what he represents. He’s already shown who he is. He shows it every day.
The only people still laboring under the delusion that Trump lacks the animus to use a racial epithet are some of the people who voted for him. It would be naive to think that a mere recording of him using it would alter that.