President Donald Trump briefly took questions from reporters at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Sunday. A White House transcript shows the following exchange:
Reporter: What is your response to people who say you are a racist?
Trump: No, no, I’m not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you.
We at The Atlantic have a big room filled with experienced reporters. So we decided to ask some of them, Who was the least racist person you’ve ever interviewed? It is fair to say that none of the people identified as least-racist by our participants seemed to share many personality characteristics with the 45th president.
I don’t think of ‘racism’ as being a relative, scalar quality, like height or weight. Everyone has a certain racial identity; the luxury of being part of a majority racial group in any given country is not having to pay much attention to your racial ID. As a white person in America, the racial part of who I am is not at the forefront of my mind. But when I lived in Japan I could never be unaware of it.
So I don't know who the “least racist” person might be. Here’s one thing I do know: Claims that begin, “I’m no bigot, but …” “I’m no chauvinist, but …” or “I’m the least racist person you've ever met, but …” always mean, and are always universally understood to mean, the exact opposite. (Thought experiment: How many memorable quotations from Buddha, or Confucius, or Jesus, or Muhammad, or any of the “good” Popes begin, “I’m no racist, but …”?)