Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee for the November election, called Donald Trump the “first” racist president in the US.
“The way he deals with people based on the colour of their skin, their national origin, where they’re from, is absolutely sickening,” said Biden, the former vice president of Barack Obama.
“No sitting president has ever done this. Never, never, never. No Republican president has done this. No Democratic president. We’ve had racists, and they’ve existed. They’ve tried to get elected president. He’s the first one that has.”
Biden’s comment that Trump is the first racist to win the presidency ignores reality. The US has elected 12 presidents who owned slaves.
Biden’s senior adviser Symone Sanders, an experienced political strategist and former CNN political commentator, tried to clarify Biden’s comments in a statement that Trump was unique, particularly in modern history, because racism was a central theme in his campaign.
“There have been a number of racist American presidents, but Trump stands out – especially in modern history – because he made running on racism and division his calling card and won. He deliberately foments both, intentionally causing indescribable pain because he thinks it advantages him politically,” Sanders said. “The George Wallaces of our country’s history who have run on these hate-filled themes have lost.”
George Wallace, the former Democratic Alabama governor and segregationist, made an unsuccessful third-party bid to be president in 1968.
Biden made the comments during a virtual town hall organised by the Service Employees International Union when a questioner said there was racism surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and mentioned Trump referring to it as the “China virus”. The coronavirus is believed to be originated in Wuhan, China, in December last year.
Biden also suggested that Trump is using race “as a wedge” to distract from his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.
President Woodrow Wilson, the country’s 28th president, is having his name removed from Princeton University’s public policy school after recent protests against institutional racism and police brutality. Wilson, who served in the early 20th century, supported segregation and imposed it on several federal agencies.
Trump responded to a question about Biden’s comments at a White House press briefing by pointing to his administration’s efforts passing criminal justice reform legislation and expanding opportunity zones, as well as the low unemployment numbers for minority groups before the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’ve done more for Black Americans than anybody with the possible of exception of Abraham Lincoln,” Trump said. “Nobody has even been close.”
Biden launched his presidential campaign stating he was motivated by Trump’s comment that there were “very fine people on both sides” of clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, between White supremacists who marched there and counter-protesters who objected to their racism.
He has been careful to accuse Trump of fanning the flames of racism and promoting racist policies, without commenting on whether Trump himself is racist.
In June, Biden told The Daily Show host Trevor Noah: “You know, Donald Trump didn’t invent racism but he sure has promoted it.”
He made a similar point in May at a forum.
“The pandemic has unleashed familiar forces of hate, fear and xenophobia that he always flames, and fans the flames, that have always existed in our society, but with this President it’s brought with it a new rash of racist messages, verbal, physical attacks, and other acts of hate,” Biden said.
Campaigning in Iowa last August, Biden said Trump was “fanning the flames of white supremacy”.
In a statement, Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson responded to Biden’s comments, stating: “President Trump loves all people, works hard to empower all Americans, and is supported by more Black voters than any Republican presidential candidate in modern history. No one should take lectures on racial justice from Joe Biden.”
When Trump said last year that four Democratic congresswomen of colour Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna S Pressley should “go back” to their countries rather than “loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States” how to run the government, Biden called it a “flat, racist attack”. Only Omar, from Somalia, was born outside the US.