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Opinion

President Trump Might as Well Have Called Suffering Puerto Rican People ‘Lazy Sp-cs’

We, in the media, have become accustomed to being held responsible by President Donald Trump for everything from his sinking poll numbers to his response to Charlottesville to the turnover in his administration to the investigation by Robert Mueller,  etc. In the eyes of Trump, his struggling Presidency is actually a huge success misrepresented by an insidious media out to bring him down. Understood?

But this morning’s tweetstorm about Puerto Rico went from sometimes dumb, and often dishonest, to downright frightening and yes, let’s just call it what it is, racist.  Just when one thought there was no step down from where this President has been (remember his calling out Mika Brzezinski?), he somehow sinks to a new level that no one would have thought possible before the honorific President was placed before the name Trump. Lets start with the usual fare, the attacks on the media:

Two tweets, an hour apart, pointing the finger at the media reporting on the humanitarian crisis unfolding. Yes, as he sits comfortably at his country club in Bedminster, New Jersey, presumably watching coverage of reporters who are actually on the ground there in Puerto Rico, he has the gall to blame them for reporting on what is becoming an indisputable fact: the federal government response in Puerto Rico has been a disaster. Not the first responders who showed up, of course, but the federal government that failed to show up, until now.

As I wrote here earlier this morning, Trump’s blaming the “Fake News” is a time-honored chestnut of old, and the president did not disappoint those in his base who ostensibly love to hear him blame the media.

Perhaps we have become jaded to this sort of rhetoric, but even that sort of unfounded and absurd media attack feels like, to use a phrase the President would understand, par for the course. But this is different. Not only because, according to government officials in Puerto Rico, many people may soon die and we can actually still do something about it, but because the President is now also using horrible racial stereotypes to blame the Puerto Rican people and their leaders.

I am not going to bother with the coarse politicization of this catastrophe — which is self-evident and horrifying — but “they want everything done for them.” What?!

The proud people of Puerto Rico are victims of a direct hit of a Category Five hurricane and have little to no electricity, water, food, means of communications. With a few taps of his Twitter app, Trump takes us behind the curtain to make his true feelings known: these lazy, Spanish speaking Puerto Ricans can’t get anything done without our (my) help. They are lazy government free-loaders who need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Hispanic people being lazy has long been a stereotype and seemingly a popular one amongst Trump’s base. For example, roughly five years ago, Ann Coulter cited Libertarian thought leader Charles Murray and argued the Republican party shouldn’t bother trying to woo Hispanic voters, because they are not hard-working, not religious, dependent on government, socially progressive, and poor.

So is Trump literally calling the people of Puerto Rico “lazy sp*cs?” Not in those exact words. But his alleging that the Puerto Ricans plays upon the worst of stereotypes of Hispanic people. It’s a “dog-whistle” which Merriam-Webster defines as  “a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others.”

The evil genius behind this rhetorical device is that it leaves enough room for deniability that there was anything racist implied.

It is instructive to remember that Trump’s first moments as a presidential candidate drew enormous attention because he claimed that Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs…bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people.” Playing on Hispanic stereotypes appears to be winning political ploy for Trump.

No matter how one defines Trump’s tweets, they were beyond irresponsible to blame Puerto Ricans for their current life and death situation. They were disgusting.  If this rhetoric were to come from any other leading political or media figure there would repercussions, apologies and/or loss of employment for this racism. But not here.

Sadly, this is a time-honored tradition with this administration. With each rhetorical horror, the President continues to shock the vast majority of Americans, but this feels different. At least it should.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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