US president Donald Trump is known for making bold and sweeping statements – but there was one comment during the final presidential debate that still managed to shock some people.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police and subsequent protests that swept the nation, race is among the top concerns of US voters, along with coronavirus and the economy.
Despite his much criticised track record, Mr Trump sought to spruik his personal credentials on the issue.
Moderator Kristen Welker, a woman of colour, pointed out that the president has previously shared content from white nationalists on Twitter and asked what he has to say to voters concerned about racially incendiary rhetoric.
In response, Mr Trump sought to assure the American people that he was “the least racist person in the room”.
“I can’t even see the audience because it is so dark, but I don’t care who is in the audience. I am the least racist person in this room.”
The comments came in debate in which Mr Trump continued to rail against the “China virus” and said only immigrants with “low IQs” turned up to court hearings over their citizenship status once released into public. In a previous debate, he avoided denouncing a prominent white nationalist group when pressed.
Mr Biden called the president “one of the most racist presidents we have had in modern history” who “pours fuel on every single racist fire”.
“This guy has a dog whistle as big as a foghorn,” he said.
Trump couldn’t be the least racist person in the room at a Klan meeting.
— John Pavlovitz (@johnpavlovitz) October 23, 2020
trump's not even the least racist person in the room when he's the only person in the room #debates
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) October 23, 2020
— K. Lynette Hughley (@kisalynette) October 23, 2020
Mr Trump’s boast drew swift rebuke from many on social media as well as a number of African American media commentators who took umbrage with the president’s claim.
“On the one hand he has done some good stuff,” said CNN analyst Van Jones. “But he’s also appealed to white supremacist organisations. The [Trump] campaign wants to take credit for the good stuff they’ve done but don’t take responsibility for the horrific climate ... [and] poisoning the atmosphere.
“I don’t think most African-Americans feel that we have a president that really understands the pain that we’re going through and the damage that he is doing to the climate of the country.”
Meanwhile CBS journalist Gayle King said she was “struck” by Mr Trump’s assertion.
“First I lost my hearing, and then I wondered who else was in the room,” she said during a TV segment that followed the debate on the network.
“When you're a little kid, your mum always tells you ‘actions speak louder than words’. And when you look at the president’s actions – at the last debate there was a clear dog whistle, many people believe, to the [white nationalist group] Proud Boys ... He keeps saying that he denounces these white supremacist groups but to [truly] denounce them is to say: ‘I do not want your support’”.
“When you don’t figure out a way to unite this community which is really feeling, right now, under siege and in a lot of pain, he never seems to really address that.”
Mr Trump also referred to the first time he heard the phrase Black Lives Matter.
The first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matter, they were chanting 'pigs in a blanket' talking about police," Trump said.
“Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon.'I said that's a horrible thing’.”
The president had made the reference in a tweet in July, but CNN then reported the “pigs in a blanket” phrase was from a 2015 protest and not affiliated with the Black Lives Matter campaign.
With centuries of institutional racism coming to a head in 2020, it’s been a bit of disconnect to see a 74-year-old white Republican and a 77-year-old white Democrat battle for the presidency. The two candidates did little to dispel that disconnect during Friday’s debate.
Ms Welker offered both multiple opportunities to talk directly to Black Americans. Both men said they understood the challenges African American citizens face, but the segment amounted mostly to them blasting each other.
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