Some racist ads are subtle, relying on innuendo and nuance. Some racist ads are more overt.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday released a racially divisive political ad that blames Democrats for allowing an undocumented immigrant who was convicted of killing police officers to stay in the U.S.
The 53-second video, which was pinned to the top of Trump’s Twitter feed on Thursday, refers to Luis Bracamontes, who was convicted of, and given the death penalty earlier this year for killing two California police officers in 2014.
Bracamontes had already been twice deported from the United States to Mexico, but he returned illegally. The ad features the convicted killer bragging about his heinous crimes and mocking his victims.
For Donald Trump, this is a partisan matter. “It is outrageous what the Democrats are doing to our Country,” the president said in a tweet prompting the ad. The video itself features text that tells views, “Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay. Who else would Democrats let in?”
To the extent that reality has any meaning, Democrats neither let Luis Bracamontes into the United States not allowed him to stay.
But the dishonesty is not at the top of the list of what makes the video offensive. The point, obviously, is the president’s effort to divide and terrify. The tool he’s chosen to exploit is a video of a Mexican murderer, which is featured alongside random footage of people who might be Hispanic marching and trying to overcome gates.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said of the video, “This is just a new low in campaigning. It’s sickening.” In a tweet directed at Trump. Al Cardenas, the former chair of the Florida Republican Party, wrote, “This ad, and your full approval of it, will condemn you and your bigoted legacy forever in the annals of America’s history books.”
I’ve seen plenty of people compare Trump’s new video to the “Willie Horton” ad from 1988. It’s a valid comparison, but I tend to think this new ad is worse.
For those who need a refresher, Michael Dukakis (D) was leading George H.W. Bush (R) in the presidential race 30 years ago, prompting Lee Atwater, Bush’s attack-dog strategist, to go after a furlough program in Dukakis’ home state of Massachusetts. It was a program that allowed William Horton to be released after a murder conviction, and once furloughed, he attacked a woman. (The fact that the Massachusetts program had been created by Dukakis’ predecessor was conveniently ignored.)
The ad quickly became infamous for its inherent racism, and there are clear parallels to today. In 1988, the Horton ad told voters that Democrats are on the side of a violent black man. In 2018, Trump’s new video is telling voters that Democrats are on the side of a violent Mexican man.
But 30 years ago, Bush’s team considered the message so toxic that the Republican campaign didn’t want to be directly associated with it. Instead, the ad was launched by “Americans for Bush” and Lee Atwater falsely claimed he wasn’t involved. (He later expressed regret for his actions.)
This year, however, Donald Trump doesn’t care. The president isn’t keeping his distance from the racist video; he’s actively promoting it.
There’s no embarrassment. There’s no shame. There’s only unabashed pride.
And remember, this is what Trump is willing to do ahead of the midterm elections. Take a moment to consider what a president lacking in any sense of limits will do ahead of his own re-election bid.
It’s worth emphasizing that Trump’s ad isn’t really an ad in a traditional sense. It’s 53 seconds – television commercials are usually 30 or 60 seconds – and it doesn’t include any of the disclosure text that’s legally required for ads that run on broadcast TV.
In other words, this is a Trump internet video.
I mention this because I realize that it exists to get attention. In fact, I’ve spent the morning going back and forth, debating whether or not to ignore it, and weighing the costs of giving Trump what he wants: more attention for his racist message.
But in the end, when the sitting president of the United States peddles racist garbage, it’s news. The public needs to know who their elected leader is, what he wants, and how he intends to get it. When Donald Trump makes his character clear, Americans must not turn away.