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Race and Beyond: Trump Counts on the Crazies

SOURCE: AP/Alex Brandon

Donald Trump's run for president has so far consisted of appealing to birthers and making insensitive comments about African Americans.

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Just what is Donald Trump trying to prove? Is he seriously considering a run to be the Republican presidential nominee? Or is he merely playing the huckster for his entertainment-business interests? Or maybe it’s both, as I suggested in this space last week.

Regardless, I have absolute faith that Trump won’t ever get elected president of a backwater town council, let alone president of the United States. Still, it pains me to see him parade through the media and blogosphere as if his antics were something real, which they’re most assuredly not. It hurts because his attention-seeking act has crossed a line from masturbatory sideshow into public racial demagoguery.

By now, more than two years into the current administration, only an ineffective number of tin-foil hat wearers cling to the widely discredited notion that President Barack Obama isn’t qualified by birth or intellect to sit in the Oval Office. Even Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), the darling of the Tea Party and a potential GOP presidential hopeful, has called off the dogs and wants to move away from birtherism nonsense.

But not The Donald. He shouts foolish and ridiculous arguments because he’s convinced that’s the ticket to success. Perhaps he’s persuaded by The New York Times/CBS News poll that found 45 percent of self-identified GOP voters doubt the president is a U.S. citizen. But more likely, he just adores the media spotlight.

So off goes Trump, hither and there, from one microphone to another, declaring he will get to the bottom of the story about the president’s birth. “I’ll tell you, people love this issue especially in the Republican Party,” Trump said, in a revealing burst of candor.

Yes, right there is the smoking gun. Trump knows that despite all the talk of big tents and such, whipping up racial animosity has a long history among some uberconservative voters. But tapping into the birther foolishness won’t get Trump elected president because there aren’t enough crazy people who vote to do that. Indeed, that New York Times/CBS poll also noted that a majority of Americans (57 percent) are satisfied that President Obama is a U.S. citizen.

Still, Trump is a national menace because racial feelings in America are always in a delicate state. Fanning the flames of base and vile attitudes guarantees Trump, the Hamlet-like candidate, a soupcon of short-term attention. But it will also dump bucket loads of toxins into our national conversation on race, fraying the fragile fabric of comity that binds us together.

I’m not convinced that Donald Trump understands what he’s doing. His megalomania prevents him from seeing himself as the rest of the sane world sees him. How else to explain his head-slapping comment about “the blacks.”

Earlier this month, he told New York Post reporter and radio show host Fred Dickler that black support for President Obama is “frightening,” but that if he ran against him he would peel off a fair share of African-American voters. “I have a great relationship with the blacks,” he said. That comment was creepily reminiscent of the “some of my best friends are …” comment that sensitive white people stopped saying, oh, a quarter-century ago.

But not The Donald. The sad—maybe even tragic—irony is that a great many black people actually admire Trump’s brassy public persona. Politico‘s Ben Smith astutely noted recently that Trump’s act as host of NBC’s "Celebrity Apprentice" is must-see television for large segments of black viewers, partly because the show routinely features black cast members.

What’s more, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted before Trump went birther, suggests that Latinos and African Americans were inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt as a presidential candidate. The poll showed that the groups with the most favorable opinion of Trump were Latinos (33 percent positive to 23 percent negative) and African Americans (27 percent positive to 22 percent negative). Overall, survey respondents had a 26 percent favorable opinion and 29 percent negative opinion.

Trump is tossing away his potential goodwill for the lure of fool’s gold. For sure, even in his hair-challenged brain, The Donald knows he’s unlikely to displace President Obama. But what I can’t figure out is why he’s turning himself into the biggest loser by appealing to the relatively few idiots and racists who lurk among us?

Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at American Progress. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.

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This is part of a regular column: Race and Beyond

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