Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, ever the opportunist, is using the sluggish late-summer news cycle to drum up attention for her book, Unhinged: An Insider Account of the Trump White House. Among its claims are allegations of a presidential tanning bed, that first daughter Ivanka ordered a firing hit-list of suspected leakers, and that what she’s seen of Trumpworld has given her reason to fear for her life-she’s supposedly given copies of Trump-incriminating evidence to loved ones, in case she’s rubbed out. But the claim that’s been attracting the most attention is her resurfacing rumors of the much-fabled tapes of Trump using the N-word, which have dogged him since his 2016 campaign.
The stories from Manigualt Newman’s book-first excerpted, of course, in The Daily Mail-must all be taken with the largest possible grain of salt. She’s built and maintained an improbable career based solely on her prodigious shit-stirring and her ability to turn every tragedy, from the death of her fiancé, actor Michael Clarke Duncan, to the election of this calamitous president, into attention for herself. Already, Unhinged has been found to have inaccuracies, although, in that case, it’s not alone among bomb-throwing political tomes. And Manigualt Newman has already contradicted her own account-in the book she says she has credible evidence of the tape’s existence, but in an interview she said that she’s heard it herself.
In making the boundaries of racism so abundantly narrow, we’ve given bigots an easy way out.
Still, if the N-word tape is a fabrication, it’s not Omarosa’s fabrication alone. Trump spent thousands of hours mic’d while taping The Apprentice, and since his presidential campaign he has been followed by rumors that the show’s outtakes contain records of his uttering countless slurs and vulgarities. Respected journalists have spent years trying to obtain access to such footage, only to be stymied by NBC employees unwilling to risk their reputations by becoming leakers.
And according to Politico, the allegations that a tape exists of the President of the United States using our country’s most loaded slur are believable enough that his own staffers prepared for the fallout:
Rumors of the “N-word” tape have haunted Trump staffers since the campaign, when they would hold regular meetings to discuss a strategy if the alleged tape ever came out. “We were living in a constant state of fear of the N-word tape coming out,” recalled one former senior campaign official. While nobody knew for sure whether such a tape even existed, the post-“Access Hollywood” mind-set in Trump Tower meant that “anything seemed possible,” the former official added.
The hunt for what HuffPost’s Maxwell Strachan called “white whales” of Trump reporting-the pee tape, the N-word tape, the elevator tape-will undoubtedly continue. But in the case of The Apprentice tapes, what’s the point? What more proof of Donald Trump’s racism could possibly be necessary? The litany hardly bears repeating: As a landlord, he discriminated against black would-be tenants. As a well-known New Yorker, he called for the death penalty for five black and Latino teenagers accused of a rape and beating for which they’d later be exonerated. As a candidate, he vowed to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and called Mexicans rapists. And as president, he’s called white supremacists “very fine people,” repeatedly disparaged the intelligence of black public figures, and called immigrants from black countries AIDs-infected hut-dwellers. That all of this doesn’t serve as proof enough of Trump’s racism is the problem-not the fact that we haven’t found any N-word tapes yet.
If it turns out to be true that the slur is in Trump’s vocabulary, he certainly wouldn’t be the first president to use it. Lyndon Johnson loved the word, which was recognized as being horribly offensive even by the standards of the ’60s, and used it often. According to one of his biographers, Johnson explained his appointment of celebrated lawyer Thurgood Marshall as the first black Supreme Court Justice, instead of a less well-known black candidate, by saying, “When I appoint a nigger to the bench, I want everybody to know he’s a nigger.” He called one of his most celebrated congressional victories, a bill that he championed and forced through congress, “the nigger bill.” Thankfully, it’s better known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Johnson was a racist to his core, but he helped give our nation both that Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. If it turns out that Trump has never said the N-word in his life, would it then be true that Johnson’s presidency was more damaging to the lives of Americans of color than Trump’s is? Of course not. The racism that lies in Trump’s heart isn’t terribly significant-the racist effects of his public statements and policies are.
All this hubbub over Apprentice tapes only serves to prop up an already-harmful concept of bigotry, one that holds a handful of words as the only true proof of racism while all other actions, no matter how prejudiced in their implications or injurious to real-life non-white people, are all up for debate. This isn’t to discount the power of such words-if the tapes are real, they would likely be the most significant blow to Trump’s presidency so far. The N-word is truly noxious, a word the likes of Donald Trump has no right to ever utter. But in making the boundaries of hate so abundantly narrow, we’ve given racists (and misogynists, and homophobes, and bigots of all stripes) an easy out.
This is the reason Jason Kessler, organizer of last year’s murderous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, can appear on NPR and say he’s a “civil and human rights advocate,” before listing races in order of his opinion of their intelligence. If you can get through life without saying a few slurs or burning any crosses, it’s almost impossible for our nation to come to the consensus that you’re truly racist. Rather hunting for more proof and chasing another movable goalpost of Trump’s racism, we’re probably better served by considering the abundant evidence for it we already possess.