Trump’s Mississippi miscalculation
Five years ago, on June 26, 2011, a 47-year-old man, Craig Anderson, was on his way to celebrate his birthday when he was attacked and murdered by 10 white teenagers in a parking lot in Jackson, Mississippi.
Why? No reason, other than that he was black.
The 10 reportedly first attacked Anderson, punching him repeatedly, before running him over with a truck and driving off. They were heard by witnesses to shout “white power” and “f…ing nigger”, while attacking Anderson and as they drove away.
At the time, the murder raked up nightmares of the entrenched racial system which operated primarily in southern states between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Lynchings of black people in Mississippi were a regular terrorist event between 1877 and 1950 when, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, a US organisation devoted to fighting racial injustice, there were at least 3,959 lynchings in southern states.
It is into that city — Jackson, Mississippi — that US Republican Party presidential hopeful Donald Trump brought the former leader of an ultra-right wing, British political party, Nigel Farage, to address a rally. Both Trump and Farage have made statements that are contemptuous and denigrating of non-white people. And, the approximately 15,000 people at the rally, who cheered and applauded the often disingenuous remarks in the speeches of both men, were predominantly white. That number itself tells a tale, since 70.6 per cent of the population of Jackson city is black and only 27.7 per cent is white.
Farage was a prime mobiliser in the campaign that led to the June 23 referendum in Britain, in which 52 per cent of the people who voted opted for Britain to leave the European Union. In the years prior to that, both he and his party were notorious for their anti-immigrant, racist stance. In the referendum campaign, he associated immigration with terrorism and called for Britain “to remain Christian” — a euphemism for keeping Britain white. Echoes of these vulgar sentiments are obvious in Trump’s main catch line, “Making America great again”. In other words, taking it out of the hands of a man he has alleged is Muslim and wasn’t born in America, and who is also black. His other catchphrases — “Building a wall to keep Mexicans out of America”; “Immigrants are depriving Americans of jobs”; “A blanket ban on Muslims entering America” – are all redolent of the mindset of Farage’s slogans in Britain.
There are other offensive similarities in the politics of Farage and Trump. In 2014, Professor Alan Sked, the founder of Farage’s party, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), claimed publicly that Farage repeatedly used the word “nigger” when referring to black voters. According to Sked, “He told me, ‘We needn’t worry about the nigger vote; the ‘nig-nogs’ will never vote for us.’ ” Sked resigned as UKIP leader in 1997 because of what he said was a growing influence of the far-right in the party’s ranks, led by Farage, who were “obsessed with race and Islam”.
While Trump has not used the offensive word, born of slavery and black oppression in the Americas, he has shown a remarkable insensitivity to black people and Muslims in America. For instance, at a rally in Michigan — ironically before an almost entirely white audience — he called on African-Americans to vote for him, saying: “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 per cent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?” It was hardly a winning performance, lacking, as it did, any well-articulated programme of how he would make the lives of African-Americans better. Worse yet, it came on top of an earlier arrogant and callous display at a rally in Wisconsin at which he actually told a white audience, that he had an African-American supporter in the crowd, and shouted out, “Where’s my African-American?” Not his name, not his professional or personal standing; only his race. The guy was Gregory Cheadle, a Republican California congressional candidate, who alarmingly said he did not take offence. Of course, Trump’s disrespectful attitude to the parents of Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American, who was killed in Iraq while serving in the US military, is well-known.
In his political chicanery in Britain, Farage was also not above telling naked lies — a trait of character he shares with Trump. During the referendum campaign, he and his “leave” supporters deceived huge audiences across Britain into believing that if Britain left the European Union, almost US$700 million a week would be recovered to spend on the British National Health system which, they claimed, was overburdened by immigrants to the detriment of the British people. That lie, never denied by other high-profile “leave” campaigners, helped to tip the referendum balance in the minds of many voters.
Trump in his presidential campaign has claimed that illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay and collect social security benefits in the US. The facts reveal that unauthorised workers are not permitted to collect social security benefits. Trump also claims that Hillary Clinton, his Democratic Party rival in the presidential stakes, would create totally open borders. In fact, Clinton’s immigration reform proposals call for a pathway to citizenship of persons already in the US, but also supports border protection.
Farage is a spent force in Britain. Had more respected and authoritative personalities not jumped on the “leave” campaign bandwagon, he and UKIP would not have been able to persuade the 52 per cent of the British electorate who voted, to opt for withdrawing from the EU. His appearance at the rally in Jackson will do nothing more than strengthen the already held views of Trump supporters that an isolationist, anti-immigrant, white supremacist America is what they need to be “great again”. He will do little to persuade others. That is a job for Donald Trump alone. And if the recent polls are a good basis of judgement, he is failing to do it.
As for Jackson city, it is most unlikely that he will get much support from the Americans of African, Asian and Latin American descent who make up almost 73 per cent of the population.
Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US and Organisation of American States; an international affairs consultant; as well as senior fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto, and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London. He previously served as ambassador to the European Union and the World Trade Organisation and as high commissioner to the UK. The views expressed are his own. For responses and to view previous commentaries: