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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: America’s Not Ready To Dump Trump

6 minute read
Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. He is the author of the new book, Writings on the Wall.

Donald Trump has united American voters, though perhaps not in the way he’d envisioned. More than 200,000 petitioners demanded that NBC cancel any association with Trump, while 700,000 petitioners requested that Macy’s remove Trump merchandise. Both petitions succeeded, and NBC and Macy’s joined Univision in the nationwide Dump Trump movement. Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, and The Wall Street Journal editorial page have all declared recently that racism is gone from American society. But Donald Trump has proven them all wrong — as has his bump in the polls immediately following his racist comments.

Trump would portray his comments — that Mexicans coming to America are drug-runners and rapists — not as racism but as an example of (to borrow a phrase from defrocked Real Housewife and Celebrity Apprentice contestant, Brandi Glanville) his straight-shooting “truth canon.” However, it’s really more of a truthiness pea-shooter. In the Real World, a seldom-visited land in politics, his comments were the definition of racism: to negatively characterize an entire ethnic group based on the actions of a few. Following Trump’s logic, America is a nation of home-grown murderers, drug-users, and pornographers.

The most damning statement Trump made during that speech wasn’t the racist characterization of Latinos, it was his follow-up comment that “some, I assume, are good people.” I assume? As if there was no way for him to assess the character of Latino immigrants except by watching Scarface and American Me.

And that is the essence of Trump’s classic, tragic fall: hubris. The tragic hero falls from grace because his pride makes him think that all his success is due to his own efforts and therefore he can reject the teachings of the gods. Basically, that’s what happens to Oedipus, Othello, and Adam and Eve. Their success blinds them to the reality that they are just another person under a divine authority. From high up in the cloud-enshrouded, gold-plated penthouse in Trump Towers, it must be difficult to see the reality of people’s lives way, way down below. And to believe that all glory belongs to Trump, amen.

We could give in to cynicism and interpret Trump’s rise in the polls following his public endorsement of racism (he’s now second, behind front-runner Jeb Bush) as proof that Americans support racism. But I prefer to believe it’s just America’s way of keeping him in the race for entertainment value. “Who knows what craziness he’ll say next,” people might be thinking. “Let’s keep him around to find out. It’s better than the stale, packaged drivel we get from the rest of the interchangeable Lego-like candidates.” Down on the street level of the real world, Trump has no chance to win or to even come close. At best, he hopes the nothing-but-hype candidacy will improve the value of his name for branding on products. He may be right. People have short memories. A year or two down the road they might be willing to buy products just because they carry the Trump name, which makes his candidacy a wise business investment, however destructive it is to America socially.

Rather than using this opportunity for thoughtful reflection on his comments and how to be a more inclusive candidate, Trump has responded to the defection of businesses and barrage of criticism with lawsuits, insults, and — justifying voters’ faith in keeping him in the race for entertainment value — even more outrageous statements. In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, Trump supported his assertion that Mexicans were rapists by citing a 2014 Fusion article that claims that 80% of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico were raped. When Lemon pointed out that the article was about rape in Mexico, not rapist Mexican immigrants, Trump explained, “Somebody’s doing the raping, Don.” Say what now?

When CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump about his supposed support of traditional marriage, despite having been married three times, Trump responded, “I don’t really say anything. I am just, Jake, I’m for traditional marriage.” Huh? Is he doing the moonwalk here? Further evidence of his keen analytical mind came with his comment that he blamed himself for the failure of his marriages “because my business was so powerful for me. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” He doesn’t know whether his obsession with making money, which destroyed two marriages and affected his children, was good or bad. Perhaps that tells us everything we need to know about the man’s values regarding business success versus human cost. Will the bottom line always outweigh what is just and right for those people who stand in the way of his personal success? In other words, the people on the street level.

The mistake Trump made is as understandable as it is devastating. He would never have said African-Americans are a bunch of drug-peddling rapists (even if he thought they were) because he’s savvy enough to know that’s not true — and to know that he’d be hit by a perfect storm of blacklash. But when it comes to the Latino community, there’s less vocalized opposition in the media, despite the fact that Latinos are the largest ethnic minority in the U.S. at 17% (54 million) versus 13.2% (41.7 million) identified as African-American.

There’s an old saying from the ’60s that summarized racial attitudes of the time: “If you’re white, you’re all right; if you’re brown, hang around; if you’re black, get back.” This illustrates the current passive “wallpaper racism” (in the background so it’s not as noticeable) against Latinos that made Trump think it was socially acceptable to be derogatory toward the community without anticipating consequences.

We must give Trump credit for aggressively affirming that our democratic process works. Pundits often ridicule our lengthy vetting system of presidential candidates, which can last for two years before the actual election. But this gives a candidate plenty of time to reveal the true self hiding behind a polished political facade. But while most candidates fade out over months, the hyper-efficient Trump did it in the speech announcing his candidacy. Now that’s a fiscal conservative, saving so much time and money on the way to self destruction!

In the meantime, he will continue to respond to any thoughtful criticism by quoting his political guru, Taylor Swift: “The haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby, I’m gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. I shake it off, I shake it off.”

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