What Trump reveals in saying Hispanic supporter 'looks more like a WASP than I do'
Posted September 17, 2019 4:19 p.m. EDT
CNN — President Donald Trump rarely deviates from his script -- in this case, his backhanded appeals to racial minorities.
On Monday evening, he commemorated Hispanic Heritage Month during a rally in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
"He happens to be Hispanic, but I've never quite figured it out because he looks more like a WASP than I do," the President said about Steve Cortes, a CNN contributor and Trump's brand of conservative.
Trump continued: "Nobody loves the Hispanics more. Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics? He says the country. I don't know. I may have to go for the Hispanics, to be honest with you. We got a lot of Hispanics. We love our Hispanics. Get out and vote."
What was on display at Monday's rally was the same kind of rhetorical sorcery the President is known for, this time in pursuit of an ambitious bid to upset New Mexico's decade-plus streak as a Democratic stronghold.
Consider his patronizing comments to the audience, wrapped in his queasy repetition of the word "love." (Note, too, his insistence on using "the" before "Hispanics.")
He did something similar last week when delivering an address at the 2019 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference. The President's specific approach to speaking with minority groups allows him to shower fustian praise without confronting his prominent history of racist statements and behavior.
In addition, there was his instructive telegraphing about identity -- specifically, about what he thinks it means to "look Hispanic" or register as "a WASP."
It's almost certain that no one would ever mistake Trump for a scholar of race and its innumerable complexities in American life. But it's still telling that even as he was addressing a crowd including many Hispanic supporters he couldn't piece together what the diversity around him revealed about his unsophisticated understanding of race.
Also: the either-or dichotomy of, "Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics?" It's a line consistent with Trump's much larger tendency to frame Americanness for certain, typically nonwhite, non-"WASP" groups as something to be earned through partisan loyalty. Think of the President's remarks about former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Or about the progressive congressional "squad." Or about American Jews. Or his "my African American" remark.
It might be tempting to say that Trump is taking a different political tack by pitching to Hispanic voters in a state he lost in the 2016 presidential election. But just under the surface, it's clear that it's the same fantasia of barely-there benevolence. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.