The ridiculous claim that Donald Trump is uniquely guilty of "hate speech" among candidates for and officials in high office requires an Alzheimers level of amnesia to sustain. Congressman Lyndon Baines Johnson once warned that, "without superior air power America is a bound and throttled giant, impotent and easy prey to any yellow dwarf with a pocket knife." His successor to the presidency Richard Nixon peppered his conversations with references to "jigaboos," "niggers," and "jungle bunnies." In preparation for his first foreign policy speech to Congress, he instructed his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, to "have something in it for the jigs," to which Kissinger replied respectfully, "Yes." Kissinger's deputy Alexander Haig began cracking Tarzan jokes and pretending to beat tom-toms whenever African affairs were brought up at National Security Council staff meetings. Kissinger himself, on the way to a White House dinner for the Organization of African Unity one evening, asked Senator William Fullbright the following: "I wonder what the dining room is going to smell like?"
Such racist sentiments from our top officials are obviously nothing new, and can be found all through U.S. history. George Washington believed that Indians and wolves were but two different species of animal, writing in 1783, that "the gradual extension of our settlements will as certainly cause the savage, as the wolf, to retire; both being beasts of prey, tho' they differ in shape." Thomas Jefferson considered Indians "backward" and felt it inevitable that whites would have to "drive them, with the beasts of the forests into the Stony mountains." Jefferson wanted to ship blacks to Africa or the Caribbean, in order to leave U.S. bloodlines "without blot or mixture." In short, he wanted a genetic wall at the border, not a mere physical barrier.
The horrendous racism that maintained slavery in the U.S. for two-and-a-half centuries (and Jim Crow for another century) infected the thought of U.S. presidents throughout the 19th century. But the theory of blood on which it was based (white blood was "civilized," non-white blood was "savage") created murderous contempt for all non-Nordics. To pick just one example among many consider the Schurman Commission. Reporting back to Congress from a visit to the recently conquered Philippines in 1900, the distinguished panel pronounced Filipinos totally incapable of self-government. Chairman (and future U.S. president) William Howard Taft assured then President William McKinley that “our little brown brothers” need “fifty or one hundred years” of careful guidance (by Washington) “to develop anything resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills.”
Taft and his fellow panelists went on to explain that the islands were inhabited by many “tribes” and three races, but no people, and so it was that seven million Filipinos were expelled from the human race. Reflecting his zoology and botany training at the University of Michigan, Professor Dean Worcester’s inventory of Philippine tribes looked eerily similar to work he would later publish as “Hand-List of the Birds of the Philippines.” The Indonesians of Mindanao, instructed Worcester, had light skin and (therefore) “are very clever and intelligent.” The darker Malayans were “ignorant and illiterate” but possessed “a considerable degree of civilization” and were largely “Christianized” in accordance with President McKinley’s wishes. The Negritos, on the other hand, were “little, wooly headed, black, dwarf savages,” absolutely lacking in talent for civilization. In a later National Geographic article Worcester would rank them “not far above the anthropoid apes,” and enthusiastically anticipated their extinction: “They are a link which is not missing but soon will be!”
After McKinley's vice-president Teddy Roosevelt became president, he fulminated about "damned dagoes" obstructing his efforts to wrench Panama away from Colombia (Panama originally was part of Colombia),and proved quite insistent that those he chose to regard as inferior races (non-Nordics) had no rights a white man needed respect. He declared Indians "as yet incapable of self government as China," meaning that they were as worthless as he regarded the Chinese as being. He considered the annihilation of the Indians an inspiring example of "race destiny," and declared the notorious Sand Creek massacre (1864) "righteous and beneficial."
TR also saw “coloreds” as degenerate, and looked on Latin American peoples as little more than children. Southern Europeans he found scarcely more tolerable. When a New Orleans mob lynched a number of Italian immigrants, he told his sister that the lynchings were “rather a good thing,” an opinion he aired at a dinner with “various dago diplomats...all wrought up by the lynching.” A passionate devotee of Nordic supremacy, he celebrated settler colonialism in the West as “the spread of the English speaking peoples over the world’s waste of space.” Never did he doubt that the indigenous peoples deserved extermination: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.” In his popular book series, “The Winning of the West,” he argued against respecting Indian sovereignty on the pretext that “this great continent could not have been kept as nothing but a game preserve for squalid savages…"
As president, TR found Haitians “utterly incapable of existing in independence.” His Assistant Secretary of State William Phillips explained that U.S. intervention in Haiti was necessary because of the “complete incompetence” of the Haitians and the “failure of an inferior people to maintain the degree of civilization left them by the French, or to develop any capacity of self government entitling them to international respect and confidence.”
TR's cousin Franklin Roosevelt assumed the white man's burden with great facility, helping suppress revolution in Mexico and assisting the U.S. occupations of Haiti (1915-1934) and the Dominican Republic (1917-1924). Such forays civilized the “backward” countries, he believed, which in Haiti’s case referred to people who constituted “little more than primitive savages.” When U.S. Marine Corps Major Smedley Butler machine-gunned fifty-one Haitians to death at Fort Riviere, Roosevelt made sure he got a Congressional Medal of Honor for it. He declined to comment on the civilizing effects of slave labor on the corvee or the thousands of Haitian deaths resulting from the U.S. occupation itself, but the imposition of American political forms on the island called forth this boast: “I wrote Haiti’s constitution myself, and if I do say it, I think it was a pretty good constitution." He was optimistic on the prospects for racial progress, which he defined as how fast black people adopted white habits: “I cannot agree...that just because the Haytian native population does not use knives, forks, cups, etc. that they never will use them. As a matter of fact I feel convinced that during the next generation the Haytian population will adopt the living standards more generally in vogue.”
As president, FDR never uttered a word against lynching, even as continually urged to do so by NAACP president Walter White, who finally resigned in protest as FDR continued to hold himself aloof from an anti-lynching movement that included long lists of mayors, governors, clergy, journalists, writers, artists and college presidents. While Jesse Owens received the best treatment of his life in Hitler's Germany at the 1936 Olympics, FDR maintained complete silence as black men were regularly seized, tortured, mutilated and burned, in at least one case, right in Washington DC itself. In Germany, Hitler boasted that Germany treated Jews better than the U.S. treated blacks.
As is well-known, FDR also locked over 100,000 Japanese American civilians in concentration camps on suspicion alone, and commonly referred to the Japanese as "Japs." He was taken by bogus empiricism claiming that Japanese skull development proved they were a race apart (and far behind their Nordic "superiors"), and he privately stated that they should intermarry with more peaceful peoples. Specifically, in hopes of eliminating their “barbarism” he expressed interest in a plan to crossbreed Japanese with “docile” Pacific Islanders. Roosevelt's successor Harry Truman called the Japanese "savages, ruthless, merciless, and fanatic." He rated the atomic extermination of over 100,000 Japanese at Hiroshima "the greatest thing in history."
Highly educated Woodrow Wilson (he was the only president to hold a Ph.D) found blacks amusing, always fit subjects for “darky” stories in Cabinet meetings, but ludicrously unfit for high office. In 1901, as a Princeton professor he had asserted that non-white peoples were incapable of Anglo-Saxon virtues like self-government, because they were still in the “childhood of their political growth.” When he became President of Princeton, he announced that Filipinos “must obey as those who are in tutelage” and be denied independence until they learn the “discipline of law.” Throughout his tenure at Princeton, he maintained blacks were unfit for admittance to the university, a policy unique among Ivy League institutions at the time. For Wilson, it was a matter of racial destiny. He attributed the purging of blacks from voting rolls and public offices in the wake of Reconstruction to the “inevitable ascendancy of the whites.”
When he went to Washington, Wilson prepared to reverse longstanding U.S. practice by appointing white Ministers to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As president, he restored segregation to federal offices, provoking W. E. B. DuBois to inquire after a black man who had apparently been locked in a cage while at work. Wilson explained to journalist Oswald Garrison Villard: “I honestly thought segregation to be in the interest of the colored people as exempting them from friction and criticism in the departments...a number of colored men with whom we have consulted have agreed with us...”
In 1915, Wilson gave a big boost to the revival of the KKK by screening D. W. Griffith’s racist classic, “Birth of a Nation” at the White House, pronouncing the White South’s version of Reconstruction “all so terribly true.” He openly endorsed the film, taking no offense at the depiction of white womanhood threatened with black rape while a prostrate South was led down the primrose path to savagery by ape-like black legislators. Throughout the country, the incidence of lynching increased with public viewing of the film.
Even when Trump assailed Mexico for "sending rapists and criminals" to the U.S., he never offered a high-minded rationale of a presumed racial inferiority, as Wilson did in the following passage from his book, "A History of the American People." (Wilson was a well published historian): “Throughout the century men of the sturdy stocks of the North of Europe had made up the main stream of foreign blood which was every year added to the vital force of the country.... But now there came multitudes of men of the lowest class from the South of Italy and men of the meaner sort out of Hungary and Poland, men out of the ranks where there was neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence; and they came in numbers which increased from year to year, as if the countries of the south of Europe were disburdening themselves of the more sordid and hapless elements of their population...”
More recent administrations have evidenced a similarly vulgar outlook. Ronald Reagan's White House was notoriously racist and sexist. Reagan's Education Secretary Terrence Bell conceded that terms like "Martin Lucifer Coon," "sand niggers" (referring to Arabs), and "the lesbians' bill of rights" (referring to anti-discrimination legislation), were common in the administration. Reagan himself was a big fan of apartheid South Africa ("They have eliminated the segregation we once had in our own country," Reagan absurdly claimed in 1985) and its proxy Jonas Savimbi, whom he generously helped go on the rampage in Southern Africa, killing over a million people. The Reagan administration classified Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and employed "constructive engagement" (i.e., appeasement) with its client government in Pretoria while the rest of the world recoiled in shocked outrage at the apartheid regime (except Israel, which enthusiastically collaborated). In 1986, Reagan vetoed a bill calling for mild sanctions on South Africa. On the home front, he pursued a viciously racist "Drug War" that criminalized black and hispanic life, ultimately helping achieve the largest prison gulag in history, with vastly disproportionate numbers of blacks and Latinos locked away on a more or less permanent basis, while factory jobs that might have employed them were shipped to the Third World.
After Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush was elected on the strength of campaign ads stereotyping black men as leniently treated rapists (see Willie Horton controversy).
As governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton had the dubious distinction of presiding over one of only two states in the union without a civil rights law. In his first 100 days as president of the U.S. he sent fleeing Haitian refugees back to their killers in Port Au Prince and turned Africa policy over to a Bush appointee, encouraging Jonas Savimbi to go on the rampage in Angola. On the way to the White House he openly insulted Jesse Jackson (over the Sister Souljah affair, whose remarks Clinton cynically distorted), the greatest black politician in U.S. history and the last Democratic candidate to mobilize anything like the full Democratic base. The meaning was clear: blacks were to stay at the back of the Clinton victory bus while the poorer half of the Democratic base remained mute and unrepresented.
Barack Obama chastised young black men for "siring" children, a term from animal husbandry. He also appointed Larry Summers Treasury Secretary. One of Summers' claims to fame was having recommended Africa as a toxic waste dump, the reasoning being that Africans tend to die young from a multitude of causes already, so dumping toxic waste in their backyards has less economic impact than doing so in more "advanced" countries where education levels and life spans are higher and longer. Though the sentiments are rational enough under the perverse incentives of capitalism, try to imagine Martin Luther King hiring such a man.
Let's get real folks. Donald Trump is an amateur at showing contempt for other races. But yes, he is an ignoramus (hardly a badge of distinction among politicians), but so are the media commentators confidently denouncing him as "unpresidential" material. Trump as a billionaire businessman can't be expected to know the history outlined in this post. Journalists, on the other hand, should not only know it, but report it.
Why don't they?
Blanche Wiesen-Cook, "Eleanor Roosevelt: The Defining Years, 1933-1938," (Penguin, 1999)
Lawrence Wittner, "Cold War America: From Hiroshima to Watergate," (Holt, Rhinehart & Winston, 1978)
Noam Chomsky "Deterring Democracy," (Hill and Wang, 1992)
Seymour Hersh "The Price of Power - Kissinger in the Nixon White House," (Summit, 1983)
John W. Dower, "War Without Mercy - Race & Power in the Pacific War," (Pantheon, 1986)
David Levering Lewis, "W. E. B. DuBois: The Fight For Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963," (Henry Holt, 2000)
Richard Drinnon, "Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating & Empire Building," (Schocken, 1980)
Reginald Horsman, "Race and Manifest Destiny," (Harvard, 1986)
Gore Vidal, "The American Presidency," (Odonian, 1996)
Noel Kent, "America in 1900" (M. E. Sharpe, 2000)