Andrew Gillum
Credit: Harry/Flickr

Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum is a graduate of Florida A&M University, which is a highly regarded HCBU (historically black college).  He stood out there, serving as president of the Student Government Association and becoming the first student member of the university’s Board of Trustees. Prior to receiving his degree, he won a seat on the Tallahassee City Commission. It’s a proud record for a Gainesville kid whose father worked construction and mother drove a school bus.

However, the president of the United States thinks Gillum’s educational background isn’t worth mentioning.  In a tweet this morning, Donald Trump only saw fit to mention that his opponent Ron DeSantis was educated at Harvard and Yale. Then he called Gillum a “thief.”

The city of Tallahassee isn’t free of corruption, but Trump provided no evidence or context to support his assertion that its mayor is a “thief.”

Trump did not make explicit why he considers Gillum a thief. Tallahassee has been the subject of a federal public-corruption probe, but Gillum has repeatedly said that he did nothing wrong and that the FBI told him in June 2017 that he was not a “focus” of its investigation.

It has been reported that Gillum “used a ticket from an undercover FBI agent posing as a real estate developer to see the Broadway show ‘Hamilton’ in 2016,” and the “Florida Commission on Ethics is also investigating whether Gillum paid his own way on trips with lobbyists to New York and Costa Rica.” These allegations raise questions about whether Gillum improperly accepted gifts, which is no one’s definition of thievery.

It would be fair politics to point out that Gillum is the subject of an ethics investigation and that he appears to have accepted a ticket to a Broadway play from an FBI agent posing as a real estate developer. I’d mention that the FBI has cleared Gillum and that the Florida Commission on Ethics is controlled by Republicans, but I think the people deserve to know about these issues when making their decision on who they want to support for governor. Calling Gillum a “thief,” though, treats him like a common criminal who is liable to break into your house and steal your jewelry and silverware.

This, in combination with the complete dismissal of Gillum’s educational achievements, is dehumanizing language and naked in its racial component. Degrees from Ivy League schools are worth mentioning, but not degrees from HBCUs. The black urban politician doesn’t have a whiff of low-grade corruption surrounding him; he has a history of breaking and entering.

We shouldn’t expect any better from the world’s most famous birther, but we should recognize the pattern. When people say that President Trump is a racist, it’s not some effort to read his mind or see into his heart. It’s an observation built on many examples like Trump’s “thief tweet” this morning. If he can get enough people to see black politicians as criminals then they won’t listen to what those politicians are saying or look at the policies they are promoting. If people see Gillum and think they better grab their wallet and cross the street, the chances are that they won’t be voting for him.

That’s the kind of racial politics we’re dealing with here. Unfortunately, it’s very effective.

It’s also deplorable.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at