donald trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

It’s something of an academic question and mere footnote to the presidential campaign, but there has been an open question whether Donald Trump is truly a racist in his heart, or if he merely plays at being one in order to win votes. Of course, there are many reasons to object to asking the question at all: 1) it doesn’t really matter if a politician is personally racist if they use race as a bludgeon to divide the country and win votes; 2) asking whether someone is a racist is pointless, since racism isn’t about who people are but about what they say and do; 3) it’s not up to white commentators to determine if another white person is actually racist or not. All of these objections are valid.

Still, the question is relevant because there is a broader undercurrent question about Trump’s campaign: is the man actually serious? Does he really want to be president? Are the politics he espouses genuine, or simply a con to get attention and votes?

So, despite the pitfalls it’s worth noting for the historical record that the question can probably be firmly settled on the race issue: yes, Trump really is a bigot. It’s not a long con. The New York Times has the goods on Trump’s racially discriminatory practices early in his real estate career:

ver the next decade, as Donald J. Trump assumed an increasingly prominent role in the business, the company’s practice of turning away potential black tenants was painstakingly documented by activists and organizations that viewed equal housing as the next frontier in the civil rights struggle.

The Justice Department undertook its own investigation and, in 1973, sued Trump Management for discriminating against blacks. Both Fred Trump, the company’s chairman, and Donald Trump, its president, were named as defendants. It was front-page news, and for Donald, amounted to his debut in the public eye.

Trump behaved as belligerently and petulantly in response to the charges as he does today:

Looking back, Mr. Trump’s response to the lawsuit can be seen as presaging his handling of subsequent challenges, in business and in politics. Rather than quietly trying to settle — as another New York developer had done a couple of years earlier — he turned the lawsuit into a protracted battle, complete with angry denials, character assassination, charges that the government was trying to force him to rent to “welfare recipients” and a $100 million countersuit accusing the Justice Department of defamation.

When it was over, Mr. Trump declared victory, emphasizing that the consent decree he ultimately signed did not include an admission of guilt.

But, in fact, he really did institute discriminatory practices:

But an investigation by The New York Times — drawing on decades-old files from the New York City Commission on Human Rights, internal Justice Department records, court documents and interviews with tenants, civil rights activists and prosecutors — uncovered a long history of racial bias at his family’s properties, in New York and beyond.

This is who Donald Trump is. He can’t pivot away from “alt right” white supremacist racism because it was never a tongue-in-cheek strategy to win Republican primary votes in the first place. He really meant it, and still does.

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Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.