I was listening to a podcaster I like interviewing a guest I didn't quite so much. Not terrible, but just falling into the same, tired, easy cliches. He was talking about the racism of Donald Trump, and that it was not merely disguised, but overt, as if seeking to overturn the basic principles of political discussion in our democracy.
Well, take a breath, first up. Maybe use your inhaler if you need to.
The examples given were all quite subtle things. Mind you, they weren't necessarily wrong. Trump refers to African-Americans as the blacks, or the African-Americans more often than he uses the definite article with other American groups. He does it about as often as he does when referring to foreign groups, such as the Arabs, or the Chinese. The complaint was that this is a "distancing" technique, a "tell" that he doesn't view them as quite American. Fair enough, but there are qualifiers here. Donald also used the definite article for groups that he clearly likes, both foreign and domestic. He has not caught on to the idea that politicians, or others who want to be part of the national media conversation aren't supposed to do that. Dividing people into groups can be done in discussion, particularly in terms of figuring out who they are going to vote for. But it must be handled delicately, and using "the" is even more suspect. It may indeed mean that he is "distancing" and does not regard all groups as equally American.
However, there are some qualifiers here. This is still "Donnie from Queens," and this is how he learned to talk. One can make the argument that most people who learned to talk like that as children are more racist than the faculty at Brown University, yes. But that's pretty indirect. If it's a "tell," you have to make a better case than that. Trump doesn't care about making adjustments that people who aren't going to like him anyway think are polite to make. You can find that obnoxious, but it's not the same thing.
The other examples were similar. They were all "Yep, that could indicate racism. In fact, I think that's the most likely explanation myself. But it's mild, and it's not a slam dunk, and hyperventilating about the basic principles of democracy is completely unwarranted." I've got an anecdote, about a Haitian black who used to work construction in NYC and met Trump briefly several times. Donald liked to come down to the sites and mingle with those guys, usually showing off a young woman on each arm and winking about it. My acquaintance thought he showed off for the black guys more. So that's the stereotype, then, the bad boys, the ones interested in sex. If you call that racist, I don't have a good counter. But it is also not what people are implying when they call him racist. They usually mean "secret white supremacist."
For me the question is "This is Donnie from Queens, who by the standards of his own day is well on the non-racist side of things. He doesn't change his manner just because you interpret it negatively, because frankly, he doesn't care what you think. How much of your being pissed off at that is behind your accusation?"
You want tells? I've got one.
Here is a tell I have noticed that goes in the other direction. Interpreting the actions of Trump and his supporters is always framed in terms of his following Obama. (Two of the guests on that show did exactly that, and one had to go back to tie it to Nixon's Southern Strategy, one of the most enduring myths of our era.) But we were all there at the time, and no one said anything about that then. The election was framed in terms of running against his Republican opponents and the "GOP elites," and the general election was framed entirely in terms of running against Hillary Clinton. You can make the argument "But it was really the racist electorate being angry at having a black president," but to make the case to me you have to clearly separate what the anti-Hillary, anti-elite part of that was. And then you need to explain those Rust Belt voters who went for Barack in 2012 and Donald in 2016. I don't think you can put up good numbers.