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Opinion: Trump Shows Race-Baiting Is OK in American Politics

Image: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters after being declared by the television networks as the winner of the Nevada Republican caucuses at his caucus night rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 23, 2016. JIM YOUNG / Reuters

BERKELEY, Calif. — Academics and pundits who don't believe America is "post racial" have long pointed to politicians who use "dog-whistle politics" — coded racial language that appeals to white voters. But in only a few months, Donald Trump's presidential campaign has shown us there is no need for dog whistling when blatant race-baiting still works extremely well in modern-day American politics.

Trump announced his presidential bid by calling Mexican immigrants drug dealers and rapists, and since then he's blamed Latinos and African Americans for violent crimes across the country and called for a ban on Muslims from coming to the U.S.

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Let's not forget that in 2011 Trump also called for President Obama to release his birth certificate, claiming that perhaps Obama had something to hide, "maybe it says he's a Muslim."

Not surprisingly, his comments have led to a growing number of white supremacist organizations across the country supporting his campaign.

These supremacist groups like what they hear not because Trump is talking to them in code, but because he's speaking to them in words that they "never thought they'd hear a mainstream politician in either party use in public,"as the Washington Post states. Members of these racist hate groups feel that Trump "says what he believes" and admit that "a lot of what he says resonates" with them.

But while political pundits are focused on the string of high profile white supremacists who support the New York billionaire, the Republican frontrunner has revealed something much more worrisome about the GOP.

Trump's dominance of his party's primary elections shows that a good number of Republican voters are not afraid to publicly support a president who uses divisive racial rhetoric.

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While some may say that Trump's appeal is based on the issues, a hatred for government handouts cannot explain GOP voters' support for Trump — given that his real estate empire was built on government contracts paid for by taxpayer money. Neither can his position on key issues explain why Republican primary voters continuously hand Trump wide margin victories. Whether it be immigration and taxes or gay marriage and war, on many conservative policy matters Trump is not that different from the other top two GOP candidates.

The uncomfortable truth is that many Trump supporters have no problem with his racially offensive language. According to a recent NBC News/Survey Monkey tracking poll, almost 7-in-10 Trump voters have an unfavorable view of American Muslims and almost 90 percent support temporarily banning Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the U.S.

It's taken some major intellectual gymnastics on the part of the mainstream media to avoid admitting that Trump's racist language appeals to many of his supporters. Instead, journalists have tried to claim that since Trump has virtually the same beliefs as his conservative opponents on key issues, it's his salesmanship that differentiates him from the other major conservative candidates, three of four of which are people of color.

This might be so, but it doesn't take a political scientist to point out what exactly it is that Trump is selling and everyday GOP voters are enthusiastically buying — a presidential candidate who uses blatantly racist language.

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When former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke tells the listeners of his radio show that, "voting against Donald Trump…is really treason to your heritage," his use of the term "your heritage" instead of "the white race" is an example of dog-whistle politics. The fact that the ex-Klan leader feels more compelled to use coded language than the Republican frontrunner for president does tells us not only a lot about Trump, but also much about the level of racism that many GOP voters are comfortable with.

But perhaps it's the media rather than white supremacists or politicians that is practicing dog whistle politics. After all, it is they who are the ones using terms such as "salesmanship" and "charisma" as euphemisms for Trump's appeal, which can't be separated from his racist rhetoric.

It's time news outlets start being more honest with the American public regarding what it means every time Trump wins a GOP primary election. It means that Republican voters are willing to nominate a racist candidate for president. No coded language there.

Chris Zepeda-Millán is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies and Chair of the Center for Research on Social Change at the University of California, Berkeley.

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