Jemele Hill is right: The president's a white supremacist. And people are dying in Puerto Rico because of it

If the hood fits

Jemele Hill is right: The president's a white supremacist. And people are dying in Puerto Rico because of it
Photo via Ricardo Rosselló/Facebook

Earlier this month, ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill sparked a controversy by saying something that shouldn't be controversial at all: Donald Trump is a white supremacist.

"Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists," she tweeted, reacting to the president's "both sides" rhetoric about the white supremacist march in Charlottesville. In another tweet, she added, "Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period."

As he does, the president lashed out. The White House demanded an apology and all but demanded that she be fired. (She wasn't, reportedly because her colleagues had her back.) She apologized to ESPN for putting the company at the center of controversy, but the tweets haven't been deleted, and Hill hasn't backed down.

If anything, the events of the last week have only made her case for her.

To describe Trump's initial reaction to the devastation that Hurricane Maria wrought on Puerto Rico as sluggish or neglectful only skims the surface. We knew where the storm was headed days out. We knew it would be catastrophic. We knew on the day it struck that the island was "destroyed," as government officials said. Power was gone. Potable water was nowhere to be found. Streets were impassable. Communications were impossible. Hospitals were shutting down.

And yet the president spent that weekend attacking black athletes who are peacefully protesting police violence against black Americans. He uttered barely a word about Puerto Rico, as millions of American citizens languished without access to food or water. He didn't call on Americans to send money or supplies. He didn't suspend the Jones Act – as he'd done after similar disasters in Texas and Florida – or dispatch the USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship, until a week after the storm. By all appearances, he was utterly indifferent.

As the Washington Post reported, it wasn't until four full days after Maria's landfall that Trump started to understand the scope of the disaster, and only then when he saw the press criticizing his response. That night, he tweeted about Puerto Rico's "broken infrastructure & massive debt," as if Puerto Rico were somehow to blame.

By Friday, the president was patting himself on the back, telling reporters, "It's been incredible, the results we've had with respect to loss of life." The death toll is officially 16, but, as the Miami Herald reported, experts say the real number is far higher, perhaps into the hundreds. Even the lieutenant general whom Trump put in charge of the mess has admitted that the government hasn't committed enough troops or supplies.

So, after the mayor of San Juan, who is currently living in a shelter because her home was flooded, pointed out that this wasn't a "good news" story and that people were dying, Trump attacked her – and Puerto Ricans at large – rage-tweeting (from his opulent New Jersey golf club) that she showed "such poor leadership ability" and that Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them."

This is a new low in American politics, though we've seen many new lows in the last nine months. You could chalk this up to Trump being a fragile narcissist – he is – but we're deluding ourselves if we pretend that his casual disregard for the plights of millions of Spanish-speaking American citizens isn't informed by something even darker.

After all, racism has been a defining aspect of his political ascent, from his propagation of the nakedly racist birther conspiracy theory to his attacks on Mexicans and Muslims to his hardline immigration rhetoric. Talk all you want about "economic insecurity." But the fact remains that support for Trump is inextricably linked to white identity.

As Duke University political science professor Ashley Jardina wrote for the Washington Post's Monkey Page blog in August, "My own work, and that of others, has shown that levels of white identity are one of the strongest predictors of Trump support. ... White identifiers are more likely to think that the growth of racial or ethnic groups in the United States that are not white is having a negative effect on American culture."

We need to call this what it is. Trump is a white supremacist. He's in power because this white supremacism appeals to white people who feel like they're being treated unfairly as America becomes more diverse. Saying that shouldn't be controversial. Rather, it's a self-evident fact.

The one upshot of this mess? Hundreds of thousands of pissed-off Puerto Ricans are likely to migrate stateside, many of them to Florida, where they'll be able to vote for president four years from now and in congressional and state elections. Trump won Florida last year by 113,000 votes. Rick Scott won in 2014 by 64,000 votes.

"It is a political nightmare for both Trump and Scott," a Republican political operative told Politico last week. If so, it'll be a nightmare of Trump's own making.

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