We’re in an age where the dangerous rhetoric of our top elected officials emboldens extremists to take action. The latest mass murder in El Paso offers the best example. The 21-year-old white supremacist who killed 20 people mimicked the language of Donald Trump in his manifesto, calling Hispanics “invaders” and citing “fake news.” The response from Trump’s most loyal defenders is predictable: Trump’s not racist and he’s not to blame. 

Since Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency four years ago, he’s blasted Hispanic immigrants as rapists and criminals, proposed banning Muslim immigrants, disparaged African-Americans and their communities, and apologized for white nationalists. His defenders deny that he’s racist, in part, because they have a very high bar for what they consider racism. If Trump’s not using the n-word or calling for outright discrimination, then he’s not racist. That’s wrong and we need to better explain what’s racist or bigoted and why. 

Demeaning or trivializing the value of large groups of people is racist. For instance, implying that all Muslims are responsible for actions of a few extremists is bigoted. Trying to ban immigration based on religion is a policy based on bigotry. 

Encouraging or sanctioning actions against a group of people because of their beliefs, gender or race is bigoted. When Trump asked a crowd in Tampa, “How do stop these people” from entering our country and somebody shouted “Shoot them!” He responded, “That’s only in the panhandle you can get away with that stuff. Only in the panhandle.” That’s bigotry and the people who sanction or applaud it are bigots. 

Penalizing a group of people because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion is bigoted. So when the North Carolina legislature targets African-Americans to make voting more difficult, that policy is racist even if the intent is political. 

Placing the value of one race or group of people above another is bigotry. When Fox News worries about Hispanics replacing white people, that’s racist. When Texas Senator John Cornyn tweets, “Texas gained almost nine Hispanic residents for every additional white resident last year,” that’s pretty racist especially since the GOP is the party that perpetually tells us we need to move to a colorblind society. If they really believe that, they don’t care what color or ethnic group is moving to their states. But I don’t think they really believe that. 

Making broad, negative assumptions about people because of their skin color, gender, religion or sexual orientation is bigoted. When Trump suggested elected US Representatives should be sent back to their native countries, that was a bigoted response, especially since three of the four women to whom he was referring were born in America. So the chants of “Send them back!” were bigoted and the people defending them are defending bigotry. 

A regular commenter on the PoliticsNC Facebook page who routinely denies Trump’s bigoted rants posted a meme that calls Tulsi Gabbard a slut, insinuates that Rep. Rashida Tlaib wants Sharia Law and calls Pete Buttigieg “Pete Buttiplug” in a homophobic smear. Sure it’s juvenile, but it’s also clearly bigoted. The poster, despite his vehement denials, is a bigot. Otherwise, he would find the bigoted meme offensive, not funny. 

And that’s what we’re facing with the Republican Party under Trump: Denial. Party leaders like Thom Tillis deny the bigotry in the GOP ranks. In the wake of the shootings, Republican politicians went on television to blame video games, ignoring the El Paso shooter’s almost verbatim quotes of the president. In contrast, when two Muslims shot fourteen people in San Bernadino, Republicans tried to ban Muslims from immigrating to the country despite the fact that one shooter was American-born and the other had been here legally for years. That’s hypocrisy and bigotry. 

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. The GOP needs to take that step. Only then can it begin to purge the bigotry that’s so obvious to the rest of the country. 

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