Open Letter, Statement

Open Letter to the American People: Donald Trump’s Racism Has No Place in Our America

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Our country has been engaged in a fight for equality in the face of historic and systemic racism and discrimination for centuries. Recent decades too have seen successes and failures, including in efforts to build upon the hard-earned gains of the Civil Rights Movement. But President Trump has only exacerbated the failures and actively impeded further progress. He has openly encouraged the undoing of gains this country has fought so hard (even against itself) to achieve.  

This President’s undermining of the rule of law, including the foundational principle of equality, has been broad and deep. He has relentlessly voiced racist views, exploited racial divisions, and promoted hatred and resentment to advance his personal and  political aims.  

In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln said “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure…[W]e here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Our Country fought a long and bloody Civil War from 1861-65 to sustain the union and free Black men and women from slavery. Three critical constitutional amendments resulted.

  • 13th Amendment, 1865: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”. 
  • 14th Amendment, 1868: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 
  • 15th Amendment, 1870: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 

Our nation was born with two original sins. We stole the lands of Native Americans and massacred them for hundreds of years. We enslaved Black people for hundreds of years and allowed segregation to flourish for another one hundred years. To this day, systemic racism remains embedded in our institutions.

Lawyers, judges and legislators often perpetuated this racism. In the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court held that slaves and their descendants were not and could not ever be citizens and were therefore not entitled to any of the protections of the US Constitution, including the right to sue in federal court. The Court then struck down the Missouri compromise as unconstitutional, thus holding that slavery was legal throughout the United States. 

After the Civil War, the Supreme Court and the Southern legislatures eviscerated the post-Civil War amendments and the Reconstruction legislation. In the Slaughterhouse cases of 1872 narrowing the reach of the 14th Amendment, in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 overturning the public accommodations protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and in the separate but equal decision in Plessy v. Ferguson allowing segregation in public transport, the Court gave its blessing to Jim Crow laws. In Korematsu v. United States, the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Government’s ordering Japanese people into detention camps.

After 80 more years during which Black Americans continued to be lynched and discriminated against in nearly every aspect of American life, the Supreme Court finally began to take action to ensure the rights of citizenship for all Americans, regardless of skin color. In Morgan v. West Virginia, the Court held it was unconstitutional for states to racially segregate interstate buses. In Shelley v. Kramer, the Court held that racially restrictive covenants in housing could not be enforced. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court held segregated public schools unconstitutional. In Loving v. Virginia, it struck down state statutes prohibiting inter-racial marriages. 

In the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, Congress overcame Southern Democratic filibusters and barred discrimination in public accommodations, voting rights, public education, and employment. In the Fair Housing Act of 1968 Congress barred discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of houses.

Progress for Blacks and other people of color had been very uneven since the end of the Civil Rights Era. The minority of the minority made substantial gains financially, socially, and politically (obviously including the election of Barack Obama, America’s first Black President). Having administrations that acknowledged and worked to address systemic racism, brought about promising policies and programs.  The trend line had largely been positive. But, far too many of the minority continued to struggle.  Disparate treatment in education, employment, housing, health care and justice, continued to lead to disparate outcomes.

Yet now, the United States has a president who is moving the country in a regressive direction. President Trump expresses views that are racist and bigoted, and revels in creating or fueling racial divisions. His dog whistles have become bullhorns, and he has elevated his personal interests, irrespective of the costs to the country or to society. 

German Lopez of Vox has chronicled Mr. Trump’s “long history of racism”— despite Mr. Trump’s claim to be “the least racist person.” His long and ignominious history of racism began long before he ran for public office. Consider these examples: 

  • In 1973, the Trump organization was charged with violating the federal Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent apartments to black tenants – a practice they were forced to change when settling the case in 1975. 
  • In 1988, Trump was an early and influential cheerleader for the prosecution and execution of five innocent Black and Latino teenagers charged with rape of a white woman in Central Park in New York. Wrongfully convicted, they were eventually cleared and released. 
  • In 1992, “[t]he Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino had to pay a $200,000 fine because it transferred Black and women dealers off tables to accommodate a big-time gambler’s prejudices.” 
  • In 1993  “congressional testimony, Trump said that some Native American reservations  shouldn’t be allowed [to] operat[e] casinos… because ‘they don’t look like Indians to me.’’’
  • In 2000, “[i]n opposition to a casino proposed by the St. Regis Mohawk tribe, which he saw as a financial threat to his casinos in Atlantic City, Trump secretly ran a series of ads suggesting the tribe had a ‘record of criminal activity [that] is well documented.’”
  • Starting in 2011, “Trump played a big role in pushing [birtherism] false rumors that Obama… was not born in the US.”

As a candidate for President in 2016, he repeatedly played the race card.

  • “Trump launched his campaign in 2015 by calling Mexican immigrants ‘rapists’ who are ‘bringing crime’ and ‘bringing drugs’ to the US.” 
  • “As a candidate in 2015, Trump called for a ban on all Muslims coming into the US.” 
  • He “argued in 2016 that Judge Gonzalo Curiel — who was overseeing the Trump University lawsuit — should recuse himself from the case because of his Mexican heritage and membership in a Latino lawyers association.” 
  •  Trump regularly retweeted messages from white supremacists and neo-Nazis during his presidential campaign.” 
  • “He tweeted … an image that showed Hillary Clinton in front of a pile of money and by a Jewish Star of David that said, ‘Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!’” 
  • “Trump has repeatedly referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as ‘Pocahontas’”. 
  • “At the 2016 Republican convention, Trump officially seized the mantle of the ‘law and order’ candidate — an obvious dog whistle playing to white fears of Black crime, even though crime in the US is historically low.” 

Upon being sworn into office, the racist comments accelerated, as Trump used the bully pulpit and authorities of the Presidency of the United States as his megaphone. 

  • He started his Presidency with the Muslim ban and the Mexico wall. 
  • Trump tweeted on January 14, 2017 “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested).”
  • “[A]fter white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Trump repeatedly said that ‘many sides’ and ‘both sides’ were to blame for the violence and chaos that ensued….  He also said that there were ‘some very fine people’ among the white supremacists.”
  • “Throughout 2017, Trump repeatedly attacked NFL players who, by kneeling or otherwise silently protesting during the national anthem, demonstrated against systemic racism in America.”
  • “Trump reportedly said in 2017 that people who came to the US from Haiti ‘all have AIDS,’ and he lamented that people who came to the US from Nigeria would never ‘go back to their huts’ once they saw America.”
  • “Speaking about immigration in a bipartisan meeting in January 2018, Trump reportedly asked, in reference to Haiti and African countries, ‘Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?’”
  • “Trump mocked Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, again calling her ‘Pocahontas’ in a 2019 tweet[.]” 
  • “Trump tweeted later that year that several Black and brown members of Congress — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) — are ‘from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe’ and that they should ‘go back’ to those countries…. Three of the four members of Congress whom Trump targeted were born in the US.”
  • Trump tweeted on July 27, 2019 that Congressman Elijah Cummings’ Baltimore-area district is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. … If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.” 
  • “Trump has called the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus the ‘Chinese virus’ and ‘kung flu.’”
  • “Trump suggested that [Sen.] Kamala Harris, who [is] Black and South Asian [and was born in California,] ‘doesn’t meet the requirements’ to be … Joe Biden’s running mate — yet another example of birtherism.”

Trump’s racist words, actions and inactions have exposed the fragility of the preceding trend of positive policies and programs to address systemic racism. Trump’s decision to pack the federal appellate courts with more than 50 white judges, and not a single black judge, will likely turn back the clock on advances toward racial equality. By emboldening police and white supremacist violence, encouraging fear of diverse communities, and failing to sensibly address a health care crisis that has adversely impacted Black and Latino communities most, Trump has set minority communities back at least one generation (maybe that is what he means by making America great again).

LDAD unequivocally decries this ceaseless racism that threatens to tear our beloved nation apart.  Our goal must be to eliminate systemic bias. But the “normalizing” of racist behavior and discourse by President Trump over the last four years makes it critically important for American lawyers and our fellow citizens to take action now. We must condemn politicians when they act or speak in ways that promote or endorse race-based bias, discrimination and hate. We must commit to ensuring that our government and the workplaces and organizations of which we are a part treat all people equally and respectfully and provide equality of opportunity. And we must be advocates of education and training that will reinforce a commitment to respectful, diverse, and inclusive cultures.

Steering Committee 
Lawyers Defending American Democracy