The Cost of One’s Soul

Sometimes people have to be explicitly told they’re not wanted around–and even then, they still don’t seem to get it.

Yes, there was plenty of morbid humor to be derived this week from the travails of now-former White House staffer and one-time reality-TV star Omarosa Manigault, ousted from what appeared to be a make-work position within the Trump administration after apparently running afoul of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. However, as the Washington Post observes, Manigault’s departure highlights the profoundly unsurprising lack of diversity on Team Trump–and the psychological gymnastics Republicans of color must perform to remain a part of that party:

Manigault’s combative persona and penchant for the spotlight might have contributed to her rocky tenure and unceremonious exit from the Trump administration. But African Americans in Republican administrations have historically struggled to balance allegiance to their party leaders and to black people skeptical of the GOP’s commitment to improving the conditions in their communities. They are not always embraced by the overwhelming white leadership of the GOP nor by black voters, who are overwhelmingly Democrats and liberals.

“This is not a new experience for African Americans working in presidential administrations that are hostile to civil rights,” said [Harvard professor Leah Wright] Rigueur, who wrote about the subject in a 2014 book entitled, “The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.” Black Cabinet members and presidential advisers have privately vented about being “disrespected, having their ideas blocked or thrown in the trash.”

She cited Samuel Pierce, who many believe was unfairly blamed for corruption and cronyism when he was secretary of housing and urban development under President Ronald Reagan. Colin Powell feuded with other top aides when he served as secretary of state in George W. Bush’s White House, and he was singled out for criticism over the Bush administration’s false claims to justify the invasion of Iraq.

“At the same time they’re being treated really shabbily by these administrations, they feel like they’re being forced into being publicly loyal,” Rigueur said.

In interviews since her departure, Manigault has talked about the difficulty of being the only black woman among Trump’s senior aides. In a Thursday interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” she said she has “seen things that made me uncomfortable, that have upset me and affected me deeply and emotionally and affected my people and my community.” Later Thursday, during an interview on ABC’s “Nightline,” she defended Trump, saying that “he is not a racist.”

If Manigault actually believes that Trump is not a racist, then she has severed her connection to reality. After all, the man’s very name has become one of the cruelest epithets of our time:

Last year’s contentious presidential election gave oxygen to hate. An analysis of F.B.I. crime data by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found a 26 percent increase in bias incidents in the last quarter of 2016 — the heart of the election season — compared with the same period the previous year. The trend has continued into 2017, with the latest partial data for the nation’s five most populous cities showing a 12 percent increase…

Peppered among these incidents is a phenomenon distinct from the routine racism so familiar in this country: the provocative use of “Trump,” after the man whose comments about Mexicans, Muslims and undocumented immigrants — coupled with his muted responses to white nationalist activity — have proved so inflammatory. His words have also become an accelerant on the playing field of sports, in his public criticism of black athletes he deems to be unpatriotic or ungrateful.

Officials at Salem State University in Massachusetts discovered hateful graffiti spray-painted on benches and a fence surrounding the baseball field, including “Trump #1 Whites Only USA.” An undocumented immigrant in Michigan reported to the police that two assailants had stapled a note bearing a slur to his stomach after telling him, “Trump doesn’t like you.” A white Massachusetts businessman at Kennedy International Airport in New York was charged with assaulting and menacing an airline worker in a hijab, saying, among other threats: “Trump is here now. He will get rid of all of you.”

In an email, the White House on Friday denounced the use of the president’s name in cases like these. “The president condemns violence, bigotry and hatred in all its forms, and finds anyone who might invoke his or any other political figure’s name for such aims to be contemptible,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said.

Still, it persists. Across the country, students have used the president’s name to mock or goad minority opponents at sporting events. In March, white fans at suburban Canton High School in Connecticut shouted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” as players from Hartford’s Classical Magnet School, which is predominantly black and Latino, took foul shots during a basketball playoff game. They also chanted “He’s our president!”

Earlier this year, I suggested that the right-wing reaction to the murder of Trayvon Martin should have led to the exodus of every last Republican of color from the GOP. Presumably, if an African-American or Latino or Asian Republican could look past the right-wing rhetorical assault on Martin’s corpse, they could look past Trump’s repulsive rhetoric as well. Is the desire for a tax cut that intense?

Speaking of which, there’s a bit of irony in Omarosa’s departure occurring the same week that speculation rose about House Speaker Paul Ryan possibly planning to call it a career. Ryan was, of course, a protege of the late Rep. Jack Kemp, who tried in vain to diversify the GOP. When Ryan leaves the stage, how many political reporters will point out that Ryan never bothered to pick up where Kemp left off in trying to increase nonwhite membership in the party–and that the only lesson Ryan really learned from Kemp was how to cut taxes?

We need your help to continue the fight against the bigotry and bias of the Trump administration. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Washington Monthly today. Thank you.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.