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President Trump says he's not a racist; he only sounds like one

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

I love us Americans. When we're not arguing about politics, we argue about people who are arguing about politics.

I woke up Friday morning to a Twitterstorm from President Donald Trump, whom I follow so you don't have to.

After firing away at such obligatory topics as the Islamic State, North Korea's nukes and what he called "another attack in London by a loser terrorist," he got to something really important. He slammed ESPN for allowing SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill to be mean to him.

"ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!"

Oh, boo hoo! That's our Donald. When a news company fails to show enough appreciation for his wonderfulness, well, they just must be "failing" (his favorite label for The New York Times or "lying" (CNN).

For a commander-in-chief who constantly gripes about "politically correct" liberals, Trump's inner snowflake -- a mocking conservative label for people perceived to be overly sensitive and fragile -- is on a hair trigger, even when he would be better served by his own silence.

Earlier in the week, Hill apologized for a series of Monday tweets in which she called the president a "white supremacist" who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists. She did not retract her sentiments, which were tweeted on her own time and Twitter account, but she did say she was sorry that her comments "painted ESPN in an unfair light."

For the record, I don't call President Trump a white supremacist. I agree with humorist Andy Borowitz' line in The New Yorker: "No one has done more than Trump to prove white people are not superior."

The dust-up was in danger of dying out when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders brought it back to life. Responding to a reporter's question in Wednesday's press briefing, she said Hill's criticism of the president should be "a fireable offense by ESPN."

That triggered a response from, among others, the Democratic Coalition, an anti-Trump super PAC that filed an ethics complaint against Sanders with the Office of Government Ethics for essentially calling for Hill to be fired. Too bad. As a spokesperson for Trump, she was probably just doing her job. Unfortunately, her boss is not a model of restraint.

Another backlash erupted in conservative media, accusing ESPN of a double standard. The network fired former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling last year after tweeting a vulgar Internet meme against pro-transgender bathroom policies.

 

A lot of Schilling's defenders fail to mention that he was a repeat offender, despite having been repeatedly warned to obey the network's rules on discussing politics. Hill had never been disciplined except for a 2008 suspension when she was an ESPN columnist -- for a joke that compared rooting for the Boston Celtics to rooting for Adolf Hitler.

Note to fellow commentators: To avoid being misunderstood, avoid using Hitler's name to refer to anybody but Hitler.

Ironically, Trump was being called a white supremacist at a time when he was making public gestures of racial outreach. In the wake of his equivocal reaction to white supremacist protests that left one woman dead in Charlottesville, Va., last month, Trump invited Tim Scott, the Senate's only black Republican, to show his commitment to "positive race relations," as his staff described the meeting.

Scott, like many others (including me), had expressed disgust with Trump's insistence that "both sides," racists and anti-racist protesters, were responsible for the violence that followed a torchlight protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

When a reporter asked the senator after that meeting if the president had expressed regret, Scott paused and replied without glee, "He certainly tried to explain what he was trying to convey."

I'm sure. While allowing that there were "some antagonists" on the anti-racist side, Scott argued that they were far from the moral equivalent of "white supremacists, white nationalists, KKK, Nazis" and other hate groups "who over three centuries of this country's history have made it their mission to create upheaval in minority communities as their reason for existence."

Unfortunately this president has been loath to do what his predecessors in both parties have done: declare clearly and forthrightly that he does not want the votes of those who support him for racist reasons.

At least, after his meeting with Scott, he did sign a resolution that Congress had passed that condemns white supremacists and hate groups. That's a healthy sign. Whether the president views himself as a racist or not, he needs to avoid sounding like one.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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