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Donald Trump, a New York racist, communes with Southern racists

Donald Trump’s “fine people,” in their element, August 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. (Wikimedia Commons)

The question has not been — for some time — is Donald Trump a racist?

Donald Trump answered that question before he even announced his candidacy, in his putrescent championing of the “birther” movement, the nakedly prejudiced conspiracy theory concerning former President Obama.

As The Atlantic‘s David A. Graham noted this week, “bigotry has been a part of Trump’s public persona since he’s had a public persona.”

The better question is: How racist is the United States, and how racist is the political party that allows him to roam unchecked?

As you’ve likely noticed by now, the president brought his road show to Greenville Wednesday — “Have bigotry, will travel” — and made headlines, as he often does, for his supporters as much as his rambling message.

“Send her back,” the crowd chanted when the president remarked upon Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who’s spurred Trump’s ire this week. Omar’s election marked a whole host of firsts, but being the first naturalized citizen from Africa to win a seat in Congress seems to be the one that Trump supporters are latching onto.

It’s racist. It doesn’t get any more racist. And there’s a closing of the loop, if you will, to see this New York-born racist courting Southern racists, demolishing at least those geographical barriers.

But, in one of the finest commentaries I’ve seen on the subject this morning, The Charlotte Observer‘s editorial board says we should all pause before making the statement that what we saw in Greenville last night “is not North Carolina.” There’s more to it than that.

Read the editorial below:

It happened in the first half of Wednesday’s speech. Donald Trump, our president, began to talk about Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democratic from Minnesota who was among the four women of color he had attacked Sunday in a racist tweet. Everyone knew Trump would speak about the women at some point to the Greenville, North Carolina crowd. Did we know what would come next?

“Send her back.”

The chant rose quickly from a handful of voices to a chorus of bigotry. It was a chilling moment. It was “lock her up” in a white hood. It was despicable.

“Send her back.”

It could have happened at any Donald Trump rally. It might have happened in any state, north or south. But it happened in Greenville, in our state, and it was one of North Carolina’s darkest moments.

“Send her back.”

Or perhaps not. Maybe the chant will be absorbed in the vortex that is Donald Trump. In a presidency of so many shameful moments, of so many new lows, the singularly awful ones tend to lose their significance. It’s possible that North Carolina might be forgotten when the chant inevitably spreads to the next rally. But North Carolina shouldn’t forget.

For a state that likes to boast membership in the new South, we have difficulties shedding the old stench of discrimination. We were the last U.S. state to ban gay marriage just seven years ago. We were the first state to pass a transgender bathroom bill with HB2 four years after that.

And yes, we had a bit of a progressive wave here last year. We sent more people to Raleigh who think bills like HB2 are a blight on our state. But we still struggle with segregation in our cities. We still are burdened by economic disparity. We also still have overt moments like Wednesday, and we can’t blame it all on Donald Trump.

“Send her back.”

There will be a temptation for some today to point to Wednesday’s rally and say that’s not who we are in this state. We hear that kind of thing a lot these days when our president, but not only our president, acts contrary to the values we think this country shares.

But there was some backlash this week when people pointed to the president’s Sunday tweet and declared that it wasn’t who we are. Because it is, of course, part of who we always have been in America. And in North Carolina. It’s who we were in Wilmington in 1898. It’s who we were when Dorothy Counts made that first walk to Harding High. It’s who we were when we redlined blacks out of white neighborhoods decades ago. It’s who we were on a July night in Greenville, and it could be what’s coming to Charlotte next summer.

“Send her back,” Donald Trump’s supporters chanted, without seeing the irony that it was they who were moving backward. “Send her back,” they cried, and it was both a reminder and a warning that here in North Carolina, in America, going back is not that far of a journey.

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