In July of the year 2000, then President George W. Bush spoke about his vision for education at the NAACP’s 91st annual convention. He made headlines from the speech in main part by his use of the term “soft bigotry of low expectations”:
“Discrimination is still a reality, even when it takes different forms. Instead of Jim Crow, there’s racial redlining and profiling. Instead of separate but equal, there is separate and forgotten…I will confront another form of bias: the soft bigotry of low expectations…we have come so far in opening the doors of our schools. But today we have a challenge of our own…There’s a tremendous gap of achievement between rich and poor, white and minority. This, too, leaves a divided society. And whatever the causes, the effect is discrimination.”
Truer have never been spoken as it relates to challenges we face in education in America, even 17 years later. As I watched the political rise of President Donald Trump and the low bar set for him, however, I find myself finding the “soft bigotry of low expectations” being more and more applicable to him. I have never seen a United States president have such a low bar set for him. The only reason I can find is that he is a rich, famous, white male, and like many others who occupy this group such as Brock Turner, Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski, Ethan Couch, and Ryan Lochte, the ultimate consequences towards these individuals vary, but the initial assumptions about their actions are usually excused or downright defended in ways other people simply are not.
U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte lied about being robbed in Brazil when he and his entourage were the guilty party for vandalizing a gas station. Ultimately he suffered some consequences but initially when his lie was unearthed, some called what he did a “youthful error” though he was thirty years old at the time. Mel Gibson, among other things, told his wife that he hopes she gets raped by a “pack of niggers” and sat front row at the Oscars in 2017. Roman Polanski admits to raping a child yet still in this decade receives standing ovations for his movies at the Oscars while some of our favorite stars appeal for his exoneration. Collegiate star swimmer Brock Turner received 6 months in a county jail for rape, or what his father called, “20 minutes of action” and was released after 3 months. Lastly, Ethan Couch committed vehicular homicide and got off because he suffered from “affluenza meaning he was too rich and spoiled to be held responsible for his actions. What these men have in common is that they are rich, popular white males and therefore they are given a benefit of the doubt, which so many other groups are denied, as Sady Doyle wrote in her brilliant article: “What we lose when we give awards to men like Casey Affleck.” Enter Donald Trump.
Throughout the campaign and well into his presidency, Trump has demonstrated a level of incompetence that we have never witnessed. All one has to do is compare the analysis of his campaign to that of Hillary Clinton. Despite Clinton’s many flaws and flawed campaign, the fact of the matter is that she, like President Obama, have had to be twice as good in their campaigns to receive just half the accolades showered upon Trump. Hillary Clinton by many accounts won all of the presidential debates, knew her facts when discussing the issues, and made her campaign about policy, demonstrated by her ability to speak knowledgeably on the issues. Trump focused much of his campaign on bombast, rhetoric, hate, hyperbole and outright lies and was praised by many because he “tells it like it is.” What does “tell it like it is” mean when what you “tell” is a lie?
From stating that President Obama wiretapped him, that he saw Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 911, that millions of people voted illegally for Clinton, and countless other fabrications, Trump has repeatedly lied and when he gets called out on his lies, he is excused because he is a “businessman” and not an actual politician. It’s so weird because, for everyone else, once you decide to run for political office, you’re a politician. It’s sort of like 1+1=2 for most of but for many Trump apologists, 1+1 can actually = 1.5 if he says so. Furthermore, Obama spent his entire two terms working imperfectly to unify America through his policies and social commentary in the face of massacres like Sandy Hook, while Trump gets called “presidential” for being able to read calmly from a teleprompter for an hour. This is the presidential equivalent of Chris Rock stating that fathers shouldn’t expect to receive praise for actually raising their own children.
At the end of the day, too many of us in America are quick to excuse the actions, ignorance, and downright crimes of white men of status, while we are quick to turn boys into men when they are murdered at the hands of law enforcement and others as we did with Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, who had just reached the age of adulthood at 18. Comparatively, Ethan Couch was a juvenile when he actually killed four people and went home to sleep in his own bed simply because he was rich. President Donald Trump, a man well into his 70s, continues to get a pass and even be praised for his downright ignorance of basic common knowledge. He can say it’s OK to sexually assault a woman and call it locker room banter and it’s OK. He can admit to being a racist and an anti-Semite and it can be excused because he said he is the “least” of these. The list is exhaustive and will continue to grow until some of us in America make the conscious decision to no longer give rich white men a pass because the bar we set for them is set so low. This soft bigotry is indeed a new type of discrimination and is having hard consequences for the entire country.