PBS Smear Hour: Accusing Trump, Fox News, and Republicans of ‘Dog-Whistle’ Racism

News & Politics

The PBS NewsHour fiercely attacked both presidential candidate Donald Trump and its journalistic competitors Fox News for racism in a segment that appeared online under the heading “Trump deploys racist tactics as Biden rematch appears likely.” They reached back to smear Nixon and Reagan as well. 

Anchor Amna Nawaz sent up the warning flare. “Republicans are increasingly coalescing around former President Donald Trump, even as the likely GOP presidential nominee continues to use racist and incendiary language.

Then PBS ran the supposedly “racist and incendiary” clip about illegal immigrants “poisoning the blood” of the country and Nawaz summarized: “From circulating baseless conspiracies about his presidential rivals to demonizing immigrants, Trump’s rhetoric has reshaped the party’s base.”

White House correspondent Laura Barron-Lopez filled PBS viewers in on the supposedly Hitleresque horrors pouring out of Trump’s mouth.

Barron-Lopez: So, in addition to what we just heard, Amna, the former president repeatedly saying that migrants are poisoning the blood of the country, which historians of Nazi Germany point out is echoing Adolf Hitler’s language, in addition to that, he’s also deployed racist tactics against his chief rival, Nikki Haley, the last woman standing against him, questioning her citizenship, her American citizenship….

Later Barron-Lopez broadened her accusations.

Barron-Lopez: There is a playbook that has been used by Republican politicians in the past that appeals to fears of the other, fears of brown and black people. We saw it used by Richard Nixon. We have seen it used by Ronald Reagan. And so this is something that isn’t necessarily new to the Republican Party.

The academic backer of this smear was leftist Berkeley professor Ian Haney Lopez, whose website says he’s “actively promoted the idea of a race-class fusion as the basis for a multi-racial progressive majority.” His latest book is titled Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America  They talked about “dog-whistle politics,” which dehumanizes Republican voters to the level of dogs. 

Ian Haney Lopez, U.C. Berkeley: What’s happening with dog-whistle politics is you have these politicians who are strategically, intentionally, purposefully seeking to exploit people’s unconscious vulnerability by saying “welfare queen, illegal alien, terrorist, gangbanger,” terms that they know will trigger unconscious racist views, but which they can also say, hey, I didn’t say anything racist. I didn’t use a racial epithet. I didn’t mention skin color.

Barron-Lopez: Professor Lopez added that dog-whistle politics is effective because it animates fear and anger among voters. And when voters become fearful or angry, they don’t really listen to any other arguments.

Then they turned to former Republicans for another left-wing take: 

Nawaz: So tell us more about those voters. How is this rhetoric and this language resonating among those Republican voters?

Barron-Lopez: I spoke to Denver Riggleman, a former GOP congressman from Virginia, and he said that this — these types of racist appeals and nativism from Trump and from other Republicans is essentially infecting the Republican voting base….in 2012, the Republican National Committee, after that presidential election and their losses there, decided that they needed to be a more inclusive party. They issued an autopsy report that said that they were losing young voters, that minorities thought that their party didn’t want them in the country. But then, when Donald Trump won in 2016, he essentially sent the party down a totally different path. And it basically convinced the Republican Party that he could issue a playbook of dog-whistle politics and win. I asked Professor Lopez what impact that could have on the larger country.

Her source came through, blaming Fox News as well.

Haney Lopez: The tragedy is that Republican leadership and also important media outlets like FOX News have convinced a significant portion of Americans that their best future depends on rejecting and indeed actively fighting against a multiracial democracy. But we’re already a multiracial society. What we stand to lose then is our democracy and a society that works for all of us.

This deeply Republican-insulting segment was brought to you in part by Cunard.

A transcript is available, click “Expand.”

PBS NewsHour

1/26/24

7:26:18 p.m. (ET)

Amna Nawaz: Republicans are increasingly coalescing around former President Donald Trump , even as the likely GOP presidential nominee continues to use racist and incendiary language.

Donald Trump , Former President of the United States (R) and Current U.S. Presidential Candidate: They’re poisoning the blood of our country. That’s what they have done. They poison mental institutions and prisons all over the world, not just in South America, not just the three or four countries that we think about.

But all over the world, they’re coming into our country, from Africa, from Asia, all over the world. They’re pouring into our country. Nobody’s even looking at them.

Amna Nawaz: From circulating baseless conspiracies about his presidential rivals to demonizing immigrants, Trump’s rhetoric has reshaped the party’s base.

White House correspondent Laura Barron-Lopez has been covering this, and she joins me now. Good to see you, Laura.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Good to be here.

Amna Nawaz: So, when we talk about the rhetoric, what kind of language are we talking about? What has Mr. Trump been saying on the campaign so far?

Laura Barron-Lopez: So, in addition to what we just heard, Amna, the former president repeatedly saying that migrants are poisoning the blood of the country, which historians of Nazi Germany point out is echoing Adolf Hitler’s language, in addition to that, he’s also deployed racist tactics against his chief rival, Nikki Haley, the last woman standing against him, questioning her citizenship, her American citizenship.

On TRUTH Social, he reposted an account, the Gateway Pundit, that questioned whether or not she was eligible to be the president of the United States and questioned her American bona fides. And then he also has repeatedly, Amna, used her birth name, but mispronounced it, saying Nikki Nimarata Haley when talking about her.

And so this isn’t the first time that the president has deployed tactics like that. You will remember that he repeatedly questioned former President Barack Obama’s citizenship and repeatedly asked for his birth certificate and called him Barack Hussein Obama over and over again.

Amna Nawaz: This is all, as you mentioned, part of his presidential campaign. Is there a political strategy behind all of this?

Laura Barron-Lopez: There is a playbook that has been used by Republican politicians in the past that appeals to fears of the other, fears of brown and black people. We saw it used by Richard Nixon. We have seen it used by Ronald Reagan. And so this is something that isn’t necessarily new to the Republican Party.

But I spoke to Ian Haney Lopez, who is from U.C. Berkeley, and he’s a professor of race and constitutional law. And he explained how dog whistle politics animates American voters.

Ian Haney Lopez, U.C. Berkeley: What’s happening with dog whistle politics is, you have these politicians who are strategically, intentionally, purposefully seeking to exploit people’s unconscious vulnerability by saying welfare queen, illegal alien, terrorist, gangbanger, terms that they know will trigger unconscious racist views, but which they can also say, hey, I didn’t say anything racist. I didn’t use a racial epithet. I didn’t mention skin color.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Professor Lopez added that dog-whistle politics is effective because it animates fear and anger among voters. And when voters become fearful or angry, they don’t really listen to any other arguments.

Amna Nawaz: So tell us more about those voters. How is this rhetoric and this language resonating among those Republican voters?

Laura Barron-Lopez: I spoke to Denver Riggleman, a former GOP congressman from Virginia, and he said that this — these types of racist appeals and nativism from Trump and from other Republicans is essentially infecting the Republican voting base.

And then Sarah Longwell, a Republican pollster, shared some responses that she’s been getting in her focus groups. And specifically in this recent focus group, she was speaking to two-time Trump voters, which shows that Republican voters are repeating Trump’s dog whistles when they’re talking about some of the other candidates that were running in the primary, such as Vivek Ramaswamy.

Man: I’m sorry. I’m not being prejudiced, guys, but I don’t like his name. I don’t like where he came from. After 9/11, I still harbor a lot of hard feelings about that.

Man: No offense to any woman out there. I just feel like it’s a man’s job. They have got to make tough decisions that can’t have any emotions involved. They’re the commander in chief. They have that red button at their disposal at all times.

Laura Barron-Lopez: In that last one, we heard some sexism directed at Nikki Haley.

And so, again, Republican voters repeating some of the same sexist rhetoric used by former President Donald Trump .

Amna Nawaz: So, Laura, we’re talking about the man who’s the likely presumptive GOP nominee. What does all of this mean for the Republican Party and also for the country moving forward?

Laura Barron-Lopez: I want to take a step back, Amna, because, in 2012, the Republican National Committee, after that presidential election and their losses there, decided that they needed to be a more inclusive party.

They issued an autopsy report that said that they were losing young voters, that minorities thought that their party didn’t want them in the country. But then, when Donald Trump won in 2016, he essentially sent the party down a totally different path. And it basically convinced the Republican Party that he could issue a playbook of dog whistle politics and win.

I asked Professor Lopez what impact that could have on the larger country.

Ian Haney Lopez: The tragedy is that Republican leadership and also important media outlets like FOX News have convinced a significant portion of Americans that their best future depends on rejecting and indeed actively fighting against a multiracial democracy.

But we’re already a multiracial society. What we stand to lose then is our democracy and a society that works for all of us.

Laura Barron-Lopez: So, even though Trump’s playbook isn’t new, Amna, Professor Ian Haney Lopez said that that relentless rhetoric has essentially reshaped the entire Republican voting base.

Amna Nawaz: White House correspondent Laura Barron-Lopez. Laura, thank you for that reporting.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Thank you.

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