Behind Trump’s racism, mainstream media can’t help but see a plausible political strategy

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Following the latest racist outburst from President Donald Trump -- this time targeting four Democratic congresswomen -- many in the mainstream media quickly moved on from covering the despicableness of Trump’s comments to entertaining the possibility that his attacks were evidence of a high-level political strategy to sow division among Democrats in Congress. In doing so, the press is assisting in Trump’s attempts to rebrand his open bigotry as strategy and giving cover to a Republican Party that allows it. 

The morning of July 14, Trump sent out a series of tweets that told four Democratic congresswomen -- Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) -- to “go back” to their home countries. (All four congresswomen are American citizens, and three of them were born in the United States.) Trump’s racism immediately became a major news story, although some outlets struggled to call it what it clearly was -- e.g., The New York Times deployed a tortured euphemism “racially infused politics.”

After much hand-wringing over what to call Trump’s racism, some mainstream commenters moved on to pushing the notion that Trump’s comments were not mere bigotry but evidence of a planned political calculus -- an attempt to heighten the disagreements that Democratic lawmakers are reportedly having about political strategy.

By the morning of July 15, right-wing defenders of the president's racism were already pushing this narrative:

Just hours later, the narrative jumped to mainstream press when NBC News published an article by Jonathan Allen who claimed that Trump’s racist attacks were part of a plan to “quickly ... flip the script” and heighten his reelection chances:

And so on the narrative went:

CBC headline: “Tweets condemned as racist are part of Trump's plan, and strategists say it may work":

Mainstream outlets have an insatiable urge to assign a higher meaning to Trump’s daily outrages -- perhaps out of an instinctual attempt to make some sense of his presidency. But the best explanation for Trump’s Twitter outbursts remains that he spends a lot of time watching Fox News and then offering his often instant reactions.