At a rally in Michigan, President Trump had the following exchang with the crowd:
President Trump: “Are there any hispanics in the room?”
Crowd: [Some cheer, some boo. Both reactions are audible]
President Trump: “Not so many? That’s okay.”
The President then stayed silent for a brief moment, before continuing with his comments.
This moment wasn’t surprising. It follows a long list of examples of the President reacting altogether poorly to clear instances of bigotry and intolerance. There was the time that the President claimed that he was unfamiliar with the KKK and David Duke, after being asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if he would denounce the hate group. There was also the time that the President asked a reporter to define the ‘alt-right’ for him, after being asked during a press conference to denounce alt-right violence. There was the time during that same press conference when the President claimed that some of the marchers during the Charlottesville night rally -- the one featuring torches and racist chants -- were “good people”.
To be clear, all of the President’s reactions in those instances were reprehensible. Critics of the President, both liberal and conservative alike, have made clear that when the President claims to be ignorant of bigotry he grants absolute credence to the proponents of that bigotry.
This moment was different. The President’s question at the rally in Michigan was made in reference to comments referencing hispanic unemployment. The President was boasting the fact that hispanic unemployment is at a record-low; the moment, the comment was supposed to be congratulatory. That moment was hijacked by supporters of the President who thought it appropriate to ‘boo’ at even the thought of a hispanic person being in their midst.
Unlike those other episodes, this happened to the President first-hand. It happened right in front of him. In all of those other instances, the President could, and did, claim ignorance. He could turn the other direction. He could pretend as if he hadn’t seen or hadn’t heard anything. But this time, the President was directly confronted with the exact type of intolerance that critics claimed his candidacy, and now Presidency, was festering.
The President could have shut it down. He could have done what anyone with any sense of moral fiber would have done, and told his supporters not to ‘boo’. The reasons not to ‘boo’ in that moment are endless, and the President could have used any of them as justification. He could have said the simple fact that hispanic people are American too, and that it’s disrespectful to ‘boo’ them. He could have said just about anything. He could have, once and for all, refused to grant credence to the sort of intolerance that he witnessed first-hand.
But he didn’t. The President asked -- to put it in simpler terms -- if any of the 28% of hispanic voters who voted for him were present, so that they could join in him in a brief moment of celebration. He asked that question, he heard people in the crowd ‘boo’, he paused awkwardly, and the President stayed silent.
This rally was held on the same night as the White House Corresponds, an event that has been at the center of much controversy as a result of some of the jokes told by comedian Michelle Wolf. One of the jokes that was criticised was one in which Wolf called President Trump a racist. If the President, and his conservative colleagues, want to distance himself from the moniker of ‘racist’, then it would certainly help if he rebuked the racists who support him. This isn’t the first time the President has failed to do so, and it likely won’t be the last. If this pattern continues, though, his silence will continue to embolden the very people who ‘boo’d hispanic American at his rally. At this point in his Presidency, President Trump's silence on this particular issue speaks much louder to his character than anything he has, or could, say.