How Trump's Tired Campaign Playbook Uses Racism, Sexism to Target Kamala Harris

Illustration for article titled How Trump's Tired Campaign Playbook Uses Racism, Sexism to Target Kamala Harris
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Trump’s white supremacy has never been subtle; it’s also never been more direct and singular than it has been toward Senator Kamala Harris, a person with whom Trump has become dangerously obsessed ever since she announced her intention to run for president just a year ago. In a 2019 interview with the New York Times, Trump praised Harris as a contender for the nomination, saying, “I would say the best opening so far would be Kamala Harris,” referring to her campaign kick-off. But the compliment was draped in a disdain, referring to Senator Harris as “Kameela Harris” later in the same interview.


The mispronunciation of her name would be a raggedy joke Trump pulled out repeatedly throughout her campaign as a dog whistle—this Black woman with this foreign-sounding name that he couldn’t pronounce. It was his attempt at being subtle and failing, in ways similar to his propensity to call his predecessor “Barack HUSSEIN Obama.” It’s a playbook we’ve seen since his campaign for president in the 2016 primary, and before that as one of the original, and loudest, Birther: In the absence of any real critique or understanding of policy, he has reverted to the most racist, sexist invective he can conjure.

After Harris dropped out of the race and Trump perceived her as less of a threat to his quest for white power, he told members of the press in July that Harris would be a “fine” choice as Joe Biden’s running mate. The feigned goodwill was short-lived, and when Harris was announced as Joe Biden’s running mate, Trump turned to an old reliable tactic, calling her “nasty.” The outcome of Trump backpedaling on his original thought is the worst kind of predictability; adding a woman of color to the ticket and, even worse, one who challenged Trump, was a recipe for a full right-wing meltdown.

At a press briefing on the day of the announcement, Trump repeatedly referred to Harris as “nasty,” saying she had been that way toward Joe Biden and Brett Kavanaugh during his hearing. Trump also said she was “disrespectful” to Biden, a man he continually referred to as Sleepy Joe. These insults—generic ones that he uses for any woman he disagrees with and not tailored to his dislike of Harris—were the last shred of self-control Trump chose to exert when speaking about Harris.

Unsurprisingly, Trump reached once again for the familiar and pushed the Birtherism 2.0 conspiracy that cast doubt over Harris’s eligibility to hold office as vice president because her parents were not naturally born US citizens. He doubled down on the conspiracy at a rally in Wisconsin, where he claimed, “If a woman is going to become the first president of the United States, it can’t be her.” Under the assumption that Joe Biden would die in office, Trump slammed the mere thought of Harris as president, saying she would have gotten into the oval office through the “back door” and “nobody likes her,” as if the presidency were akin to winning homecoming queen.

At a different rally in New Hampshire, Trump delivered the same line but with added insult. “She’s not competent,” he said before suggesting his demonstrably incompetent daughter Ivanka was first-woman-president material.

The closer Harris gets to the White House, the more evident Trump’s racism becomes; he can’t help himself. “This monster that was on stage with Mike Pence,” Trump said in an interview with Fox the day after the vice presidential debate, before going on to call Harris a liar and a communist. Other than accusing Harris of being the most liberal Senator in Washington, a misleading half-truth, Trump’s attacks on Harris have largely been about her likeability and level of competence. While he also used the likeability argument against the last woman he ran against, there was at least a sort of reverence: Trump told voters Clinton would make a bad president because she was a corrupt temperamental woman, not because she wasn’t smart enough for the job.


Trump’s attacks on Harris’s intelligence, the opinion that she’d be “incompetent” or gaining the presidency through a “back door” are specific and racially charged. Trump is a 74-year-old who wants to go back to a time when America was “great,” but going back there means returning to when Black people and other people of color were expected to enter an establishment, literally, through the back door. When Trump talks about Harris in these terms, paired with his promise to make America great again, he tells her and anyone who looks like her that “greatness” cannot be achieved when people of color, specifically women, are leading the charge. Trump’s repeated “back door” attacks also play upon the false, white-supremacist-perpetuated idea that because of affirmative action, Black people and people of color are given an unfair advantage or unearned praise, fame, positions, etc. It’s the same line of thinking that inspires white academics to pose as minorities either online or in person, to seize on this perception of advantage. What this thinking fails to take into account is the entirety of American history.

There are only a few months left in Donald Trump’s current term as president, and, with the proper alignment of stars and targeted Instagram ads about voting, it could be his last. While I long for the day I can take a pill and never think about this anthropomorphic turd again, one thing that is worth remembering is that racism will never be eradicated from this country until Americans decide that white supremacists aren’t qualified to hold elected office.


Sandwich Librarian

Racism will never be eradicated from this country until Americans of color hold an overwhelming advantage in voter turnout, and racists cannot suppress the results.