Things like that let you know what sorts of things are said when you aren’t around; this man was perfectly ordinary, as is, quite resonantly, Trump. What would be surprising is if he, a sociologically unheedful person molded in the 1950s, wasn’t well acquainted with the N word. This is a man, after all, who once jocularly said that “laziness is a trait in blacks,” according to one of his former executives.
That Trump is a casual racist has long been painfully clear. While his scorn for all comers is plain from his speeches and tweets, he has repeatedly demonstrated an especial contempt for black people. His sustained animus against the Central Park Five, as opposed to any number of other malfeasants in his native city (and never mind that the Central Park Five have been exonerated); his Ahab-like obsession with outing President Barack Obama as an alien; his distancing use of the when discussing “the African Americans” as if we were some kind of exhibit; his lack of genuine recoil at the poisonous open bigotry of the alt-right (continued recently in his dutifully appending “violence” to that which he condemns alongside racism, as a way of once again dissing the counterprotesters in Charlottesville as culpable)—all of it makes the man’s mind on the matter plain.
No, he wouldn’t burn crosses on anyone’s lawn. Trump is a man of the late-20th century, not its earlier half. But Trump clearly thinks of black people as an inferior caste. Not for nothing does he so favor charging black people with being, in particular, unintelligent, with the list including not only Manigault-Newman but LeBron James, Maxine Waters, and the CNN anchor Don Lemon. Trump here reveals what an implicit-association test likely would: The reason “dummy” occurs so spontaneously to him as a catcall to black people is because he is, again, an ordinary man with ordinary racist views. Like so many others, he thinks black people are not only lazy, but stupid.
With the case for Trump’s bigotry so clear, in what sense would it somehow be a key revelation that he has used the N word? In what sense is his using that slur proof of anything but what we’ve known all along? Given what his views clearly are, wouldn’t it be a little odd if he primly refrained from using that word in his private moments? That would be an incoherent person, and Trump is, if anything, quite coherent—gruesomely predictable in his solipsistic, unrefined Alpha-baboon essence.
I worry that some will see the recordings as an “Aha!” moment, as if now we know something that was hitherto tough to quite smoke out. But this attributes too much significance to the word, as opposed to the sentiment. What should appall us most is that the leader of the United States has the views about black people that most of the Mad Men characters did—we are faintly inept, lesser, dimwits, who whites are best advised to alternately accommodate and work around.