I have written many essays about Donald Trump here at Salon. In those essays I have argued that among others, things Donald Trump is a serial liar, malicious and malevolent, an ignoramus, a racist, a fascist, a misogynist and a bigot. To this point in Donald Trump's presidency, the evidence for all those claims is overwhelming. But I have also wondered if Donald Trump is a political genius whose idiot-savant insights -- along with likely assistance from Russia -- helped him win the 2016 presidential election.
Trump's recent behavior has finally provided an answer to that question.
At a rally in Alabama last Friday, Donald Trump fired a racist fusillade at the African-American players in the NFL who have exercised their First Amendment rights to protest police brutality and social injustice in the United States.
Trump said “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!" It is clear that he does not like "uppity" and "disrespectful" black people. In response to Trump's insults, hundreds of NFL players -- including owners and other personnel of diverse racial backgrounds -- protested in unison. This was an unprecedented event in modern American sports history.
Because he has diarrhea of the mouth, Donald Trump was unwilling to stay silent. On Monday morning, Trump responded on Twitter to the silent protests in the NFL by saying, "Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag!...The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!"
And on Monday he also made this pronouncement: "So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won't put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag -- they said it loud and clear!"
Continuing with his racial authoritarianism later that night, Trump used his power as president to threaten American citizens with whom he disagrees, saying, "If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!'
In total, Trump is following a predictable pattern as to how racism often manifests in post-civil rights era America.
First, a prominent white person does something racist. Second, they deny that there was ever any racist "intent" to their words or deeds. Third, they claim that to accuse them of being racist is either unfair or just a surrender to "political correctness" -- this rhetorical move is especially true of white conservatives. Finally, they claim to be the "real victims" of "liberals," overly sensitive "minorities" or the "liberal media."
Public opinion polls and other research consistently and clearly show that Trump's voters believe that white Americans are "victims" of "reverse racism" in America and constitute a type of racial underclass who are being preyed upon by black and brown people. Trump's political shtick is prefaced on white victimology. This is a near-perfect union of a public and its leader.
As such, it is no coincidence that Donald Trump attacked the NFL and the NBA and then chose to praise the "patriotism" of NASCAR. The majority of players in the first two sports leagues are black. By comparison, NASCAR is a bastion of Southern whiteness where the Confederate flag, which could be more accurately described as the American swastika, is proudly displayed. In all, Donald Trump's attacks on the patriotism of black athletes is a cheap ploy to satisfy his most ardent supporters and to distract the public from the Russia scandal and many other failures of leadership and character.
So is Donald Trump a political genius? The answer is absolutely not.
Donald Trump is just a 71-year-old year old man who has decades of life experience being a racist bully. Now he is just using those traits to appeal to the lowest common denominator among the American public. This is no great parlor trick and no display of three-dimensional chess. It is all just habit for Donald Trump.