Why Donald Trump's racist butler actually matters

Is it all that surprising that Trump employed a man who would go on to call for President Obama's execution?

Published May 13, 2016 9:58AM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (AP/Steve Helber)
Donald Trump (AP/Steve Helber)

Anthony Senecal, onetime butler at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, seemed like such a nice if slightly reserved old man in this New York Times puff piece two months ago, where he shared charming observations from his years working for the mogul. It was a sweet little story that offered some insights into Trump. Senecal himself came off as almost a stereotype of the loyal household servant, something of a cross between Mr. Belvedere and the sort of Florida retiree who regularly hits the early-bird specials in every chain restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard.

Who would have guessed from that piece that Senecal is also a racist lunatic? Yet there are his Facebook posts, uncovered by Mother Jones and splashed all over the Internet on Wednesday. In them, the former butler suggested that “our pus headed ‘president’” and “kenyan (sic) fraud” should be “hung for treason,” among other amiable entreaties.

After the Mother Jones story published, Senecal spoke to NBC’s Alexandra Jaffe. Given a chance to blame the posts on something out of his control (temporary insanity, drunkenness, brain damage caused by years of inhaling Trump’s hairspray), he instead doubled down. He expressed his anger at the hordes of Muslims he apparently believes are overrunning American cities and suggested they should all be “shot at the shore” instead of being allowed to immigrate. And just for good measure, he suggested Obama “should be hung from the portico of the White Mosque.”

On the plus side, the Secret Service, which investigates all threats against the president, is currently providing Trump with protection, so it will be easy for agents to track Senecal down and interview him.

By the end of the day, the Trump campaign was in damage-control mode, although insisting that Senecal has not worked at Mar-a-Lago “for many years” is more than a little disingenuous. (The Times profile said that the butler retired in 2009, but that Trump had insisted he stay on as the unofficial “staff historian,” and he makes money leading tours of the estate.)

This is shocking news. The part about Trump promptly disavowing Senecal, I mean. The fact that an angry racist birther worked for Trump for many years (yes, Senecal appears to also be a birther) without his boss either noticing or, worse, caring? Eh, he seems to fit right in with the rest of the Trump organization.

This is, after all, the same Donald Trump who stood by campaign manager Corey Lewandowski when allegations surfaced of the latter’s penchant for directing abuse and misogyny at female co-workers. The same Donald Trump who has been slow to disavow endorsements from white supremacists like David Duke all throughout this campaign. The same Donald Trump who let a known white nationalist onto his list of convention delegates from California. The same Donald Trump who employed as a close adviser Roger Stone, one of the most obscene clowns to ever ooze his way into American politics, who was recently banned from appearances on CNN after tweeting racist cracks about some of the network's commentators.

(Stone has claimed in the past that he has shied away from racially inflammatory campaign tactics, which, if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge over the East River to sell you.)

And those are all just examples from this campaign. There is no need to rehash every incidence of racist swill in Trump’s long public career. But this all goes to explain even further the worldview that Trump has developed. He has ensconced himself in a bubble where he can hold court at some five-star Manhattan restaurant, gamely recounting the details of some racially charged crime he read about in that day’s New York Post, with no sense of what his ranting might sound like to people whose check he isn’t picking up. He has surrounded himself with racists and misogynists of every stripe, and didn’t throw in at least one or two confidants who could explain to him that he is not running for president exclusively in Alabama in the 1930s.

So why on earth would he notice if his butler was a raging nutball while the guy was exaggerating the distance Trump was hitting golf balls into the Intracoastal Waterway (an actual anecdote in the Times story)? One can picture them out on the Mar-a-Lago lawn, with Senecal telling him those 225-yard drives are actually 275 and nodding along in agreement when Trump rants about Obama refusing to release his birth certificate.

Because this is Donald Trump: An entitled, spoiled rich boy who cannot imagine that any of his pronouncements might be cruel or racist, because he has surrounded himself with people who believe the exact same things, and wouldn’t dare say otherwise if they didn’t because they think their livelihoods depend on keeping their mouths shut.

Anthony Senecal is an 84-year-old man, so presumably he doesn’t have too many years of spewing this garbage all over his own Facebook wall left. He should be a one-day story. What is of much more concern is how this incident will be treated by the media. (I eagerly await a flood of “Is this Donald Trump’s Jeremiah Wright moment” hot takes.) It is of much more concern that the Republican Party frontrunner will revert to form and defend Senecal. But it is of the greatest concern that this will simply make no difference to Trump’s supporters – ironically, some of whom might well be the same people who have been screaming about Wright since 2008. Why should they care? The butler and his boss aren’t saying anything they don’t already truly believe.

By Gary Legum

MORE FROM Gary Legum

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