Earlier this week, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stood at the podium at the White House briefing room, with the White House logo behind her, and pressed for the firing of an ESPN host who had dared to criticize President Trump on Twitter.
That’s pretty extraordinary. I can’t think of another president or administration ever using the power of the presidential pulpit to demand the firing of a citizen who had dared to criticize that president. The closest probably example comes from, well, Trump himself. Earlier this year, he bragged that he was personally responsible for ensuring that NFL owners continue to blackball quarterback Colin Kaepernick, chortling that “they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump.”
Presumably, that would be a tweet like this, from Friday morning:
Jemele Hill, the ESPN host in question, had tweeted last week that she considered Trump a white supremacist who had surrounded himself with other white supremacists, and that his presence in the White House was proof of white privilege.
“That is one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make,” Sanders said in condemning it. “It is certainly something that I think would be a fireable offense by ESPN.”
Let’s get real, because it is not at all difficult to recall comments more outrageous than Hill’s. Accusing Ted Cruz’s father of helping to kill JFK would easily pass that test. Publicly attacking the parents of a heroic U.S. soldier killed in combat would be another, as would a description of Megyn Kelly as “bleeding out of her … wherever.”
And then there’s this:
Her allegation that Trump is the epitome of white privilege is undoubtedly true. There is no known universe in which a black man burdened with Trump’s 40-year record of sexual licentiousness, serial marital infidelity and bizarre public statements could plausibly be considered for the presidency, let alone win. Likewise, if the Obama administration had ever called for the firing of a white conservative critic, the howls of outrage would have been deafening. So the existence of a double standard is not a subject open to real debate.
The charge that Trump is a white supremacist is more difficult, although he keeps trying to make it easier. On Thursday, when he once again revisited the topic of violence at Charlottesville, he twice condemned the actions of antifa without ever condemning the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who by most accounts had provoked the violence. You add that to a long list of things, including his statements about Mexicans and Muslims, and you do begin to wonder.
That said, I still don’t think we have sufficient evidence to justify a charge that Trump is himself a white supremacist. We do have the evidence to state that Trump is the agent of white resentment and anxiety. He provokes that resentment, he gives voice to it, legitimizes it and benefits from it.
He’s Al Sharpton for white people.
The question that confounds me is why so many white people feel the need for their own Sharpton, given the architecture of American society. Just four of the Fortune 500 CEOs (0.8 percent) are black. The median wealth of white households in this country is more than 10 times that of black households. Black and Latino Americans comprise 30 percent of the population but hold 7 percent of its wealth. According to a study published by the St. Louis Federal Reserve, “the typical white family whose head is unemployed has nearly twice the wealth as the typical black family whose head is employed full–time.” And while 70 percent of NFL players are black, 0 percent of NFL owners are black. It is white market power and white NFL management that dictates that Kaepernick can’t get a job in the league.
The counter usually offered to such facts is the existence of affirmative action programs, particularly in colleges and universities. But that opens the door to another interesting debate. Almost a third of the incoming freshman class at Harvard, for example, have parents, grandparents or other close relatives who also attended Harvard. Having a parent who attended that school triples your chances of getting admitted, putting everybody else at a serious disadvantage.
That isn’t a meritocracy. That is the existing and almost exclusively white power structure perpetuating itself while diminishing the hopes of better qualified, but less well-connected strivers. And Harvard is far from alone. A study of admissions at the top 30 universities in the country found that being a “legacy” increased your chances of admission by 45 percent.
Then there’s the Jared Kushner route. When his high school academic record fell short of the standards for getting into Harvard, his dad wrote the school a check for $2 million and voila! — Jared got his acceptance letter. If young Jared had been black and had gotten that acceptance through affirmative action, he would be accused of unfairly taking that spot from somebody who deserved it more. Getting in because his rich daddy stroked a check also meant that somebody better qualified was denied admission, but we tend to shrug that off as just the way the world works. I think that difference tells us a lot.
So everywhere you look — in corporate board rooms, in Congress and other governmental bodies, in the economic statistics — you see overwhelming evidence that this remains a white-dominated country. And if some white Americans have a hard time believing that, based on their own personal outlook, I’m pretty sure minority America sees the situation more clearly.
In that kind of society, with that kind of continued economic and political dominance, being Al Sharpton for white people takes on a whole different flavor. Among other things, we’ve learned that being Al Sharpton for white people can make you president. Trump is not the voice of a minority struggling for its share of the pie, he is the angry, resentful voice of the majority that controls the pie. And from the point of view of minority America, it’s not hard to imagine that being experienced as white supremacy.