For all the reactions to Donald Trump’s “shithole” remarks about countries in Africa as well as Haiti, surprise cannot be one of them. From his early business interests, through his “birtherist” foray into national politics, to his divisive campaign rhetoric and now his utterances and policy as president: racism has been a steady undercurrent in the life and times of Trump.
In 1973, Richard Nixon’s Department of Justice sued the Trump family business for refusing to rent or negotiate rentals “because of race and color”.
It also charged that the company had required prohibitively stringent rental terms and conditions to black applicants and had lied about unit availability to keep black residents out. A then 26-year-old Donald Trump was the president of the company at the time.
Three Trump doormen also told the DoJ they had been instructed to deflect African Americans who came to Trump buildings to apply for apartments. The suit was later settled “without an admission of guilt”, as Trump is keen on reminding.
Trump branched out from residential real estate into the casino business in the 1980s. Employees revealed a pattern of racism. In a tell-all book, former president of the Trump Plaza Casino John O’Donnell said Trump once told him: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
Another former Trump employee told the New Yorker that black staff were hidden from Trump when he visited the casino with his wife. “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor,” said Kip Brown.
In 1989 Trump paid a reported $85,000 to take out advertising space in four of the city’s newspapers with the headline: “Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!”
The inspiration was the arrest of five teens in the rape and assault of a jogger in Central Park. The teens were exonerated when the attacker confessed in 2002.
“I think he knew what he was doing by taking a side, and I think he knew he was aligning himself with law and order, especially white law and order,” said Michael D’Antonio, the author of Never Enough, a 2016 Trump biography.
Donald Trump spent much of 2011 as the most public face and voice of the “birtherism” conspiracy theory by claiming, without a shred of evidence, that Barack Obama might have been born in Kenya rather than Hawaii. Trump said he was “very proud” of himself after Obama eventually released his longform birth certificate to quell the controversy.
By some accounts, Trump still maintains this belief about Obama despite having also, at various other times, accepted the document as authentic and definitive.
It wasn’t until his 2016 presidential campaign that Trump’s offhand casual racism became a subject of intense national scrutiny. During his campaign he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States; for the expulsion of all undocumented migrants; and branded Mexicans immigrants as “rapists”. Each subsequent racist remark infuriated large groups of Americans while deeply gratifying the Trump base. Trump also made a habit of sharing racist and often blatantly false content on Twitter: for example, in November 2015, an image of false crime statistics created by a white supremacist page.
Trump has routinely seized on terror incidents involving Muslims in defense of his proposed and then partially enacted travel ban, while remaining silent about similar acts committed by white supremacists. He declared there were some “very fine people on both side”, of a clash between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville.
Even his most recent reported “shithole” remarks are consistent with comments Trump is said to have made about non-white immigrant groups.
Last month, Trump is said to have remarked that Haitians “have Aids” and that Nigerian immigrants wouldn’t “go back to their huts” after being allowed into the US.