In some ways, President Donald Trump refuses to follow any of the established rules, like avoiding open racism. In others, he is perfectly derivative—for example, when called on his racist remarks, the president reverted to one of the most tired cliches in the book:
Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game. Republicans should not show “weakness” and fall into their trap. This should be a vote on the filthy language, statements and lies told by the Democrat.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2019
As Christopher Petrella and Justin Gomer wrote in an April Washington Post essay on the history of “racist bones,” the phrase gained currency during the Reagan administration. When confronted about the racial impacts of its policies, the White House would simply insist it didn’t see color; the policies were intended to affect everyone the same. It took to citing Martin Luther King Jr.’s exhortation to judge people on their character rather than skin color: “This embrace of colorblindness—a selective and distorted reading of what King actually advocated—enabled Reagan to frame his relentless attacks on civil rights as motivated by a morally righteous and apolitical commitment to equality.”
Donald Trump has attempted to assume that same mantle, both in claiming a nonbigoted skeleton and through surrogates’ statements.
“My father values talent,” Ivanka Trump said at the 2016 Republican National Convention. “He recognizes real knowledge and skill when he finds it. He is color-blind and gender-neutral.” When the president said he wanted more immigrants from Norway, then–Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that “by definition, a merit-based system is color-blind.”