SAN DIEGO – Donald Trump often talks about how he wants to return America to what it used to be.
A big part of it is about taking the country back to a time when people of color knew their place, when they were seen but not heard, and when one could insult them with impunity.
Trump is never at a loss for words. And yet, while he goes around speaking his mind, he can’t seem to pipe down when others speak theirs. And the GOP front-runner has this especially foul habit of trying to shout down minorities who dare speak out against him.
Of course, Trump does this with white people, too. Since he started his presidential campaign, the billionaire blowhard has picked fights with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, and others in the media.
But his attacks on minority commentators are different. They have a particularly sharp, insulting and condescending tone. The criticisms are usually personal, and the barbs are meant to wound.
Trump doesn’t just criticize people of color for what they say or believe. He zeroes in on who they are and what they represent. The jabs are always about someone’s skill, competence, intelligence or talent.
And the implied message is always the same: Feel free to ignore what critics say because, according to the real estate mogul, their opinion doesn’t matter.
One of Trump’s most recent targets was Tavis Smiley, my old friend and former radio co-host who is now the host of a nightly talk show on PBS.
The tiff began when Smiley, during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” did what Trump often does: He gave a provocative opinion, without holding back and with no concern for who might be offended. You would expect nothing less from one of the most prominent African-American voices in America.
The media commentator called Trump “an unrepentant, irascible religious and racial arsonist” because of controversial remarks the candidate has made about minority groups.
Smiley was actually criticizing the media, arguing that it’s not enough to gin up ratings and increase readership by reporting on the horse race. Instead, he said, reporters should explain that Trump has fueled his ascension in the polls with divisive language and inspired citizens who consider themselves “real Americans” to take back their country from the politically correct, racial groups and special interests.
The next morning, the thin-skinned businessman returned fire by tweeting: “Why does [‘This Week’] allow a hater & racist like @tavissmiley to waste good airtime? @ABC can do much better than him!”
See what I mean? Trump acts like, instead of running for president, he’s running an executive search firm for media companies.
I can see the commercial now: “Want better media commentators? Tired of mediocre minorities? Call us now!”
Smiley responded to Trump’s tweet in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon later that evening.
“I don’t know how I’m a racist,” he said. “I’m not the one who went after Muslims, I’m not the one who went after undocumented workers.”
That’s not all. In November, Trump retweeted a graphic that made the case that more African-Americans are killed by other African-Americans than by police. The image included these lines: “BLACKS KILLED BY POLICE – 1 percent” and “BLACKS KILLED BY BLACKS – 97 percent.”
The figures were wrong and the group that put them out turned out to be fake. Other than that, Trump was spot-on.
Before setting his sights on Smiley, Trump also attacked CNN contributor and Republican strategist Ana Navarro after she criticized him. A few months ago, Trump went so far as to sign a ridiculous online petition demanding that CNN fire Navarro, a self-described supporter of Jeb Bush, and then linked to the petition in a tweet that read: “@CNN should listen. Ana Navarro has no talent, no TV persona, and works for Bush – a total conflict of interest.”
Even surrogates have gotten into the act. In August, Trump adviser Roger Stone tweeted that Navarro and former CNN contributor Roland Martin were “quota hires.” Trump didn’t disavow the offensive message.
Say, maybe what Trump really wants to run is a talent agency for minority commentators. After all, as the former star of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” the businessman prides himself on recognizing qualified job candidates when he sees them.
And wouldn’t you know it? The most “qualified” people are the ones who agree with him.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.