There weren’t many high-profile African Americans who were willing to sign up to work in the administration. Of Trump’s high-profile black surrogates on the campaign trail, Ben Carson was appointed secretary of housing and urban development, while Don King, an octogenarian convicted of manslaughter, wasn’t really a contender. Manigault-Newman was available and willing to serve as an emissary to the black community, and Trump gave her a plush salary and title to do so.
If Manigault-Newman’s hiring was shadowed by Trump’s difficulties with race, her firing places them in the foreground. He is calling his former employee a “dog,” “not smart,” “lazy,” and a “lowlife.” Individually, none of these terms is necessarily racially tinged. But accusing her of missing work and meetings fits in with the old, incorrect racist stereotype of African Americans as lazy. Since the election, as Philip Bump has demonstrated, Trump has disparaged the intelligence of black people on his Twitter account.
The white nationalists are winning—their messages have permeated the broader GOP.
Taken together, and placed in the context of Trump’s past remarks, these comments congeal into a disturbing picture. The president has repeatedly gotten himself into feuds with famous African Americans. The most recent was NBA star LeBron James, who has criticized Trump’s presidency. The president has repeatedly fought with black athletes in both the NBA and the NFL, and he uninvited the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles to the White House after many members of the team said they would not attend the event. Trump sniped at LaVar Ball, the father of the NBA’s Lonzo Ball.
The list goes on: CNN’s Don Lemon said Trump once told him he couldn’t report on race fairly because he is black (as though being white puts one outside of race). The White House called for the firing of the ESPN personality Jemele Hill.
The president has also fiercely criticized black members of Congress, from the civil-rights icon John Lewis to Florida’s Frederica Wilson—against whom Chief of Staff John Kelly launched a (debunked) attack—to California’s Maxine Waters. He even managed to get into a back-and-forth with the wife of a Green Beret killed in action in Niger.
Trump built his rise to the presidency on the twin, race-based planks of warning of massive Hispanic immigration and furthering the bogus theory that Barack Obama, the first African American president, was not an American citizen or born in the United States. His earlier forays into politics were similarly racially fueled, including taking out advertisements calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, young men arrested for a 1989 rape. Even after DNA evidence exonerated them, he stood by his prior position.
Manigault-Newman herself implied that Trump’s use of the term lowlife was racist. “In fact, yesterday, on this moment before Charlottesville, the anniversary of Charlottesville, instead of talking about how to unify the nation, he actually insulted me by calling me a ‘lowlife,’” she said on Meet the Press.