Donald Trump has claimed he is the “least racist person in the world” despite his recent comments attacking politicians of colour and civil rights figures.
The president – who made the remarks on Tuesday as he departed to attend an event marking the 400th anniversary of the first legislative assembly in Virginia – has faced criticism from Democrats for racist attacks, including tweets hitting out at four politicians of colour in the House of Representatives known as “the squad”.
Since those initial attacks – telling Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib to “go back” to where they came from – Mr Trump has lashed out at civil rights leader and congressman Elijah Cummings over the state of his district, which includes the city of Baltimore. Mr Trump said that Mr Cummings’ Baltimore district – which is predominantly black – is “rat infested”.
Most recently, Mr Trump attacked Reverend Al Sharpton after the civil rights leader posted a photo of himself heading to Baltimore. The president called him a “con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score ... Hates Whites & Cops!”
Having travelled to Jamestown, Virginia, Mr Trump delivered remarks to mark the First Representative Legislative Assembly, also known as the House of Burgesses, that took place in 1619. That legislative body was the first assembly by English settlers in the new world.
During his speech, Mr Trump remarked on the horrors of slavery. “We remember every sacred soul who suffered the horrors of slavery, and the anguish of bondage,” Mr Trump said. He also honoured African-American contributions to US history and quoted the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
However, Virginia’s black state legislators boycotted Mr Trump’s appearance. A statement from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said it was “impossible to ignore the emblem of hate and disdain that the president represents” while he continues to “promulgate policies that harm marginalised communities and use racist and xenophobic rhetoric”.
The legislators took part in another ceremony about 96 km (60 miles) away in Richmond, marking the 1619 arrival of the first enslaved Africans into Virginia. Mr Trump said the legislators are going “against their own people”. He also claimed that African Americans “love the job” he is doing and are “happy as hell” with his recent attacks on Baltimore and Mr Cummings. “The African American people have been calling the White House. They have never been so happy as what a president has done,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Trump’s Jamestown speech was also interrupted by Democrat Virginia delegate Ibraheem Samirahat who yelled “you can’t send us back, Virginia is our home”, in reference to the president’s racist remarks. This was in turn drowned out by supporters of the president chanting his name.
Mr Samirah, a Palestinian-American dentist, said in a Twitter post after the event that he had disrupted the speech “because nobody’s racism and bigotry should be excused for the sake of being polite”.
“The man is unfit for office and unfit to partake in a celebration of democracy, representation and our nation’s history of immigrants,” Mr Samirah wrote.
The president’s earlier attacks on “the squad”, Mr Cummings, and Mr Sharpton have served as a rallying point for his critics, who have noted that Mr Trump has not similarly attacked white politicians for urban blight and poverty in their district, among other issues.
And, in spite of Mr Trump’s claims to the contrary, it appears as though a majority of Americans believe he is racist according to a new Quinnipiac poll released on Tuesday, which found that 51 per cent of Americans believe he is racist, compared to 45 per cent who said they do not believe he is.
That poll found that the two parties are pretty divided on the issue, with 86 per cent of Democrats saying they believe he is racist, compared to 8 per cent of Republicans. Meanwhile, 91 per cent of Republicans said he is not a racist, and just 9 per cent of Democrats said the same.
Men were more likely to say Mr Trump is not racist, too, while a majority of women said he is racist. The poll found that 80 per cent of black Americans think Mr Trump is racist, despite his comments to the contrary.
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