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At a moment the U.S. is facing crises on multiple fronts, President Trump continues to use language that sparks controversy and highlights the nation’s racial divides. He recently retweeted a video of a man chanting “white power” at a Florida retirement community and still refers to the novel coronavirus as “kung flu.” Yamiche Alcindor reports on Trump’s habit of stoking American culture wars.
In this moment, when the U.S. is facing crises on multiple fronts, President Trump continues to use language that arouses controversy and highlights the nation's racial divides.
Yamiche Alcindor reports.
President Donald Trump:
We begin — we begin our campaign.
Racist tweets, derogatory terms, and a president digging on culture wars.
On Sunday, President Trump retweeted a video of supporters at a retirement community in Florida. One man can be heard chanting the white supremacist slogan "White power."
Hours later, the president deleted the tweet. But the damage was already done.
A campaign spokesperson said the president — quote — "did not hear the one statement on that video."
I can name kung-flu. I can name…
Critics warn the use of the term kung-flu, twice in as many weeks, provokes xenophobia against Asian Americans, who are already experience an uptick in racist attacks against them.
And in the wake of national protests on racism and police violence, he has retweeted incidents of violence carried out by African-Americans against white Americans. The president has also championed monuments of Confederate generals and advocated for prosecuting the protesters who try to remove them.
Long-term jail sentences for these vandals and these hoodlums and these anarchists and agitators.
Eddie Glaude Jr. is the African-American studies department chair at Princeton University.
What is so offensive about that, for people who maybe don't get it?
Eddie Glaude Jr.:
When we read a particular person, a specific human being as a thug, we're saying that something inheres in that person that is aligned with criminality.
And so their bodies have to be policed and contained and constrained. At the end of the day, what we're seeing here is a kind of white nationalist politics making its way into the mainstream in an unadulterated way.
Stoking racial divides is not new for Mr. Trump, going back to his entry into politics, says Michael Gerson. He served as chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
Some people think it's more authentic to have the president speak on impulse.
I think, when President Lincoln was putting together the second inaugural address, with great care and craft in the language and moral content, that — that's what real authenticity is. It's putting thought into something. It's putting craft into something. Mere impulse is not rhetoric. It's just impulse.
I'm voting against Donald Trump, more so than I am for Joe Biden.
Onika Ellis does not identify with either political party, but she says Donald Trump's words make him impossible to support.
He's been more concerned about the monuments and the statues than he is about the flesh and blood. We are in a dire crisis. This is not the time to try to incite people.
People are already angry. People are upset. People are anxious. They don't know what to do. And he's just stoking the fire.
And Onika is not alone. In a recent FOX News poll, less than a third of Biden voters said enthusiasm for Biden was driving their support, while more than 60 percent said it was fear of President Trump's reelection that motivated them.
Among Trump voters? The opposite result.
I find his rhetoric, as raw as it is, I value that.
Schume' Navarro of Centennial, Colorado, originally voted for Donald Trump to reject Hillary Clinton. But she says the last three years have only reinforced her support.
He's a firecracker. And I have enjoyed what he has been tearing down in terms of the cesspool, swamp, if you will, of our government.
Trump's not perfect, but the things he's trying to do for us, I think, is as close to perfect as you can get.
Joyce Skelton, a former independent, now Republican, from Dallas, Texas, agrees.
You're blaming Trump for what's happening in the race relations? That picture is so much bigger, and we need to all look at that.
Glaude says, the bigger picture is that Trump is using race to stoke fear, like many Republican leaders before him.
I think the idea of appealing to white resentment and white fears, drawing on a particular understanding of America as fundamentally white, that that language has been a part of Republican strategy since I remember remembering, right?
It's been a part of my political reality ever since I became aware of American politics. So, he sits somewhere in the spectrum between Ronald Reagan and George Wallace.
Polling consistently shows there may be a shift in some of President Trump's supporters.
A recent New York Times/Siena College poll found almost half of self-described somewhat conservative voters and more than two-thirds of moderate voters disapproved of his handling of the protests.
It's just become where I just don't really feel like I belong in the Republican Party anymore.
One of those moderates is David Meyer of Willmar, Minnesota. He voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but will back Biden in the fall.
You have just seen some of the things that he's done and some of the words that he said, and it's just been incredibly divisive, and it's just gotten worse.
Gary Smith of Reno, Nevada, calls himself a moderate. He will vote again for President Trump, but wishes he worked on his rhetoric.
But I think it whoever advises him or attempts to advise him should be trying to train him about racial sensitivities and how to communicate, especially as the president. You know, we're supposed to hold them to a higher standard. And he really doesn't meet that standard.
Former Vice President Joe Biden:
I won't fan the flames of hate.
In digital ads, the Biden campaign has seized on President Trump's handling of the protests. And, this week, Biden argued he was the candidate to unite the country.
When a golf cart goes by yelling white supremacy, and the president tweets it out, don't do things like that. Bring the country together.
Watch the Full Episode
Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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