The astute comedian Gabriel Iglesias once stated, “Americans – we love to vote, but we don’t vote for presidents. We vote for things like American Idol.” Today, I receive the joke with nervous laughter, imagining the dystopian convergence of reality television and reality. Kanye West has announced his bid for President in 2020, but we already have a reality-star candidate, Donald Trump.
Perhaps at the risk of being pilloried, I’ll admit that I routinely welcomed Trump into my living room. My family and I avidly watched The Celebrity Apprentice, hypothesizing during the commercial breaks about who would get fired and returning to pin-drop silence when the show resumed. My dad has even read Trump’s book, The Art of The Deal. Being from New Jersey, my family has spent a few weekend getaways in Atlantic City at the Trump Plaza Hotel. We’ve enjoyed complimentary Trump soaps and shampoos. Meanwhile, I paid scant attention to Trump’s politics; he was just a bombastic TV personality whose reality show I surreptitiously found entertaining.
Then Trump began championing the “birther” movement. He spewed balderdash about President Obama not being a citizen and demanded to see the President’s birth certificate. The outlandish claims suggest that those whom Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal calls “hyphenated Americans” are not legitimately American until proven otherwise. Shortly after the “birther” claims, my household boycotted The Apprentice and all things Trump – well, except for the perfectly travel-sized, complimentary lotion left over from stays at the Trump Plaza. In general, though, the Trump name was an anathema to my father.
A cursory look at Trump’s history reveals a haste to judge – and even condemn – people of color. In 1989, Trump booked a front-page newspaper ad demanding the death penalty for five 14- to 16-year-old black and Hispanic boys wrongly convicted of rape. This group, known as the “Central Park Five,” was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002. As compensation for unwarranted years in prison, the men received a $40 million settlement. Utterly unapologetic, Trump called the settlement “disgraceful,” asserting that the then-teenagers, although now proven innocent, were “no angels,” as if that justified wrongful imprisonment.
Trump could not fathom high disapproval from the black community. Responding in 2011 to public opinion polls after his “birther” claims, he stated, “I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks. But unfortunately, it seems that, you know, the numbers you cite are very, very frightening numbers.” For starters, using a less sweeping, pejorative phrase than “the blacks” might improve his appeal.
Today, however, as the leading Republican presidential candidate, Trump is quite sanguine – as opposed to the usual spray-tan orange – about winning both Black and Hispanic voters. I have no idea why. He vituperatively attacks Mexicans, immigrants and the Spanish language. According to his official website, his immigration policy encompasses mass deportation, an end to birthright citizenship and the restriction of immigration to those who can afford healthcare, housing and other needs without government assistance. Moreover, by characterizing Mexican immigrants as rapists, Trump’s rhetoric and ads criminalize Latinos by recycling fear-mongering tactics historically deployed against black men. Trump repeatedly denies claims that Hispanic voters generally dislike him, paternalistically citing that many Hispanic people work for him and thereby love him.
Trump seems to have real favor among white supremacists, though. Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke declared Trump “the best person out there.” Trump’s immigration policy, perhaps more accurately an anti-immigration policy, could curb the changing demographics of America. Suppose that deporting people in droves, abolishing birthright citizenship and restricting documented immigration to people with no unmet financial needs disproportionately prevents people of color from gaining citizenship. It follows that anyone terrified that white Americans will soon be outnumbered by people of color would find solace in Trump’s immigration plan, concretized by a giant wall at the Mexican border.
Of course, Trump supporters may find the candidate appealing for non-xenophobic reasons. People may believe that he can actually create jobs. They may gravitate toward his boisterous personality, his private-sector experience, his technocratic plans to hire “smart people” and his propensity for calling people stupid. Plus, he’s got that great hair. And, honestly, when he’s not impersonating Chinese businesspeople or lambasting Hispanics or berating women, I find Trump hilarious.
Trump’s amusing theatricality cannot redeem him in my eyes. When he loses the election – the Trump can’t really become the POTUS, right? – he may return to reality TV. I avoid absolutes, but I probably will not be waiting for him in my living room. I’ve heard too much unsettling, racially-tinged vitriol to support The Apprentice. Donald Trump, “you’re fired.”
Todd Hall ’16 is a political economy major from Jersey City, N.J. He lives in Currier Hall.