Confederate statues are coming down. Part of the reason is that in the tumultuous wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville, a vocal majority of Americans have finally come to recognize that they were erected to commemorate white supremacy and have declared they will no longer tolerate expressions of bigotry and racism, at least those cast in bronze.
However, while America’s political elites condemn Nazis, white nationalists, and Klansmen, many Republicans have been slow to respond to Trump’s endless equivocations and outright racist outbursts. Ironically, while some have criticized Trump for not initially calling out these groups by name, these same Republicans, including two former presidents, did so without mentioning Trump by name. But that is not the only glaring omission.
In 2016, comedian Tom Arnold reported claimed he had unreleased outtakes from “The Apprentice” in which then reality television host Trump allegedly used the n-word. Arnold stated that fear of legal retribution prevented him and others who knew of the tapes from making them public. According to the Guardian (December 21, 2016), following the release of the notorious Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump bragged of sexually assaulting women, Bill Pruitt, an Apprentice producer, while not confirming Arnold’s assertion, tweeted: “when it comes to the #trumptapes there are far worse. #just the beginning.” Another producer, Chris Nee, also alleged that Trump had used the term. The existence of these tapes remains unproven, but given Trump’s reluctant, feet-to-the-fire condemnation of white supremacists, all unreleased Apprentice footage should be released. Unfortunately, Trump and his enablers seem palpably loathe to release anything (tax and medical records, draft deferment letters, and, ironically, college transcripts) that might potentially damage their dear leader. After Charlottesville, they may now have good reason for their reluctance.
Let’s pause for a moment to let this sink in. If it is a moral imperative that confederate statues – some erected more than a century and a half ago, others, less than half a century ago – be removed from public spaces because they commemorate individuals whose ideas and deeds violate the moral ethos our republic, then, logically, it should also be morally imperative that a sitting president who may have – and, in all likelihood, has – engaged in racist invective and actions be removed from public office. Indeed, even if these tapes do not exist, when given the opportunity, Trump has unfailingly proven that in both his words and deeds he embraces racism: He has called slurred Mexicans, stated as public policy his goal to ban Muslims from the country, and relentlessly questioned the citizenship of the nation’s first black president, despite clear, objective evidence refuting that assertion, just as decades earlier Trump refused to accept the innocence of the Central Park Five even after they were exonerated by DNA evidence and the confession of the real perpetrator. Trump has yet to apologize for any of this. His actions cast doubt not only on Trump’s judgment but also and more importantly on his ability to perform his duties as president. Some of his racist ideas have given rise to racist and discriminatory policies: The Wall, the travel ban, the ban of transgender individuals in the military. Others feed the reactionary zeitgeist that seeks to limit and roll back civil rights legislation, actions favored not only by Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions but also by many of the same Republicans that have refused to call Trump out for his tepid response to domestic terrorism.
Now Trump has called nations whose citizens are dark skinned “shithole countries” and suggested that America would benefit from increased immigration from Norway. These two words – “shithole countries” – and their juxtaposition against albescent Nordic normalcy should change the game. Their use by a president of the United States should also constitute more than a politely didactic “teachable moment” for him and for the nation. The shark has been jumped. The cat is out of the bag. The Rubicon crossed. The jig is up. If this isn’t proof that Trump is racist, what, given the mountain of evident that has been amassed since his public and political debut, is? But don’t expect many on the right to call him out on it, a fact that says more about the sad condition of the United States than it does about that of Haiti and Africa. Predictably, although few Republicans have defended Trump, fewer still have condemned him. Perhaps having gotten rid of alt-right wetdream Steve Bannon, Trump felt compelled to flaunt his racist bona fides to reassure his loyal base of deplorables, grabbing them by their most rabid prejudices.
Unfortunately, racism is not grounds for impeachment. It constitutes neither a “high crime” nor a “misdemeanor.” There is nothing illegal about Trump calling black and brown nations “shitholes,” even if such statements confirm his own monumental assholery (but they do add credence to the existence of those anecdotal n-word-laced Apprentice tapes). Rather than impeachment, the 25th Amendment should be invoked to remove Trump from office based on the fact that by willfully, imperiously, and petulantly holding in contempt the ideals upon the nation in principle if not in practice was founded –unrealized ideals that sadly betrayed the slaves and indentured servants on whose blood, sweat, and tears it was built. Trump has breached the moral contract with America, and in doing so contributed a debilitating miasma of public distrust, political paralysis, and national despair and embarrassment that now afflicts it, effectively rendering him “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Indeed, despite his hollow brags, one need look no further than the short list of accomplishments Trump has racked in his first one hundred days.
Trump’s removal from office would be a moral act that just might restore to the office of the presidency a semblance of the moral authority it once had as well as to a Congress which has lost its moral compass and abandoned the principles it, too, is sworn to protect. Then again, it might not. For it is equally likely that Trump’s replacement will provide America’s right an Overton window of opportunity to set an equally dangerous and intolerant agenda.
John G. Russell is a Japan-based cultural anthropologist who research racial representation in American and Japanese popular culture. He is the author of “Playing with Race: Authenticating Alterity (CR: The New Centennial Review), “Replicating the White Self and Other” (Japanese Studies), and “Don’t It Make My Blackface Blue” (Journal of Popular Culture) and many other works.