Pundits continue to point to a sense of reason Trump supporters have shown us time and time again does not exist and Don Lemon is sick and tired of the bullshit.
On CNN, Lemon and Chris Cuomo discussed Trump’s loud silence on comments made by Iowa Rep. Steve King—but more than that, Lemon really dug into the sheer absurdity of expecting Trump to condemn Steve King as a racist when he himself has repeatedly and brazenly revealed the same qualities himself.
Looking like your mom coming home from work too tired to even yell at you for not cleaning your room, Don Lemon cut straight to the meat of the issue: “For people who look like me … this president has said and done so many insensitive and bigoted and racist things that if you support him, people like me want to understand why you ignored so much … You certainly had to overlook racism and bigotry in order to make that decision. Even after all of this, if you still in your mind can support this person, why the hell are you overlooking racism so much? It is personal and even deadly to people like me. That is important.”
At what point, Lemon essentially asks, do we take a closer look at all the other things Donald Trump has already done before we call Trump a bigot, and at what point do we acknowledge that his supporters are completely fine with that?
Cuomo, for his part, looks utterly baffled that Lemon isn’t playing the politics game with normal rules—ignoring prior actions and their real-life impacts for the chance to talk empty condemnations and value signaling similar to what’s expected of Trump in the case of Steve King. Trump keeps pissing on our legs and telling us it’s raining, and people expect him to finally come out in one of those cases and call it piss—even worse, they expect that moment to actually mean something.
As a country, we have a habit of picking what is ultimately arbitrary sticking points to hang signs and posture around our anti-racist values; we like to find a fall man to excuse our own behavior. That’s exactly what Don Lemon is tired of.
“I don’t think every Trump supporter is a racist,” Lemon quickly added at one point—maybe because he actually believes it, but probably because he’s well-aware that Trump supporters are good for latching onto the most minuscule aspects of a statement and ignoring the real issues behind them. It’s exhausting.
“I think this is a very hard moment for Trump supporters,” Cuomo began. “[Steve King’s] plea of ignorance, whatever. That’s about him. If he’s not smart enough to know that what he’s saying is stupid, that’s on him.”
And that’s another part of the problem, all in one statement: The personal opinions and demonstrated biases of people with real institutional power are waved off as individual issues, ones that have no real impact beyond reputation—forget the fact that Steve King has actual influence as a politician, right?
“For those who support the president, this is a testing moment right now. He says he’s not a bigot. He says that he’s the least racist person you’ve ever met in your life … We only know what you show. Now is the moment,” Cuomo asserts. “If you support the president, you should want him to come out on this because it will give you the cover that you say that you want, which is, ‘I don’t support a bigot, he’s not a bigot.’ Then where is he right now?”
On a purely strategic level, Cuomo is not wrong. But what he’s saying is that the incentive for Trump supporters to have him speak on this is, essentially, so that they can latch on to that talking point, ignoring the myriad fucked up things he’s done to people of color in this country, and claim that they don’t support a bigot and are bigoted themselves.
What Cuomo is missing is that Trump fans are supporting a bigot, and that is not up for debate. Even entertaining the notion that he is not, even as a thought exercise (which I do think is Cuomo’s intent here), is legitimizing a bad-faith form of logic that has made it nigh-impossible to have frank discussions on racism. Cuomo seems quite clear on the fact that Trump is a bigot; why, then, even pretend that his supporters, who have seen his track record, might be convinced otherwise in this moment? Why is this—not his legislation on immigration, not his racist and xenophobic remarks, not the discrimination and abuse of his past business dealings—the moment? It takes a frankly stunning level of naiveté to treat the issue as a question instead of a point of fact—the same sort of journalistic irresponsibility we saw when Anderson Cooper asked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez how she could call Trump a racist.
A better question: How could you fucking not?
It’s maddening to see people still having the debate, news outlets explicitly telling reporters to call racist actions and behaviors “racially charged,” people still sticking to the question of whether or not Trump is a bigot. He is. The better question: Now what?
You can make any new moment “THE moment” to really convince an unmoving wall of Trump supporters that they were wrong when your way of life is not in danger. A million chances, a million warnings ignored: The story of America.
So then it happens: Lemon, in the face of a very earnest Cuomo, laughs with a mix of auntie and cartoon supervillain energy, clearly prepared to not even entertain the notion that we should still be having the “Is Trump a bigot” conversation.
“Come on. Really?” Lemon asks, visibly fed the fuck up. “He’s not a bigot? Of course he is. Look at the evidence. This is not just my opinion. This is evidence, data, actions that have been collected and memorialized, even on tape, over the years. So what’s in question about this? I know you say the president should be speaking out about this. He can’t. He can’t because the bigots and the racists support him. He does not want to lose their support …So what does that say about him that he can’t really … condemn them?”
Cuomo pivoted to the talking points we’ve heard over and over—maybe they’re not educated, ignorant. There’s no way to deny that Trump’s silence makes him look like a bigot.
Yet deny they will; Trump supporters have done that from the moment he got elected. Liberal white journalists and voters have, as well: “THIS will be the step too far for Trump, THIS time.”
But like last time and the time before that, maybe it’ll just be an ice cube on an avalanche, another coin to add to an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the absolute mountain of racist and bigoted things Donald Trump has already done.
“Let’s see if we’re talking about it next week,” Don breezily says as Cuomo keeps asserting that this is the sort of moment we need.
Keep on wishing from la-la land, folks. Us black journalists will continue to slum it through reality.