Guess who’s coming to dinner – Trump style
First, a little history on controversial dinner guests before getting into those President Trump hosted at Mar-a-Lago.
The 1967 movie, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” was a story about a young white girl bringing her new black boyfriend home for dinner with her ostensibly liberal parents – the mother more than the father, or course.
The movie was produced at a time when intimate relationships between blacks and whites were not broadly accepted by EITHER SIDE of the racial divide. (I highlighted “either side” because those on the left tend to forget about or ignore black racism.)
In real life, there was an early example of a White House invitation causing outrage among a bigoted segment of the public. That was in 1901, when Republican President Teddy Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dine with him at the White House—the first black to be so honored. Washington was a prominent businessman and one of the finest minds of his day.
Southern Democrats were enraged. The following excerpts are from my upcoming book on the history of race in America.
“Alabama’s Democrat Governor William Oates, a former Confederate Colonel, set aside his occasional friendly association with Washington to say:
‘No respectable white man in Alabama of any political party would ask him to dinner nor go to dinner with him.’
Mississippi’s future Democrat governor James K. Vardaman said of Roosevelt’s dining with Washington:
‘President Roosevelt takes this nigger bastard into his home, introduces him to his family, and entertains him on terms of absolute social equality.’
The White House is ‘so saturated with the odor of the nigger that the rats have taken refuge in the stable.’
‘I am just as much opposed to Booker T. Washington as a voter as I am to the cocoanut-headed, chocolate-colored typical little coon who blacks my shoes every morning. Neither is fit to perform the supreme function of citizenship.’
He referred to Roosevelt as ‘a little, mean, coon-flavored (sic) miscegenationist.’
Vardaman made no secret of his harsh white supremacist views. They earned him the moniker ‘The Great White Chief.’ He once declared that:
‘If it is necessary, every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.’”
And now we have former President Trump.
Among his more notable dinner guests since announcing his intention to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 20224, Trump invited the entertainment and cultural Renaissance man, Kanye West, to join him for dinner at Mar-a-Lago. – along with self-avowed white supremacist nutcase Nick Fuentes.
To say they are an odd couple is an understatement. A prominent black man and a white supremacist. Unlike the Roosevelt/Booker dinner, the guests were not personifications of equality and inclusion. West had recently made comments that were seen as anti-Semitic – and Fuentes’s claim to fame is based on anti-black racial issues … anti-Semitic … anti-gay … anti democracy. (If you think I am exaggerating to judging Fuentes too harshly, check out his screeds online.)
The movie, Teddy Roosevelt’s dinner invitation, and Trump’s dining with West and Fuentes were all highly visible events that sent messages to the general public. The movie and Roosevelt’s invitation were intended to advance the cause of equality, tolerance, and justice. Whereas the Trump invitation struck the exposed nerve of division and discord.
I doubt that Trump is anti-Semitic or racist. It is not how he judges people individually or collectively. It is more likely that his public statements and symbolic events are designed to give him some perceived political advantage. They are calculated. Or … he is just incredibly tone-deaf on such issues.
What makes the visit so confounding is that there seems to be no pragmatic political advantage to be had. It is a zero-gain event for Trump – and bad for the Republican brand. Certainly, most Americans will not admire Trump’s choice in dinner guests – as most did admire Roosevelt’s invitation to Booker T. Washington.
Teddy only angered the racist Democrats – who were gradually losing their power and influence. The “Rough Rider” President was on the right side of the moral issue and of history. Trump’s decision to dine with West and Fuentes was not on the right side of either.
Trump critics were quick to claim that it was a maneuver to solidify Trump’s position with anti-Semitic and racist individuals – another contribution to the Democrats’ mendacious narratives about Republican intolerance. But there are not enough anti-Semites and racists in America to make the dinner date a shrewd political move.
While Trump opened up an opportunity for a flood of criticism – including from Republicans — I would argue that there was no counterbalancing political gain. It was a boneheaded move.
Trump has attempted to distance himself from the decision to entertain West and Fuentes, but that does not wash. He implied that West just “dropped by” and brought Fuentes – who he did not know. Uh-huh. Anyone in Trump’s position knows damn well who they invited to dine. In fact, one of the roles of Trump’s Secret Service detail is to vet anyone who comes in contact with Trump.
The only explanation that I can offer is that Trump likes to attract attention by creating controversy surrounding himself. It is a part of his character that we have seen long before he entered political life.
In my view, Trump and his administration have done a LOT of good things for America – despite the bleak picture the biased news media presents on a 24/7 basis. Unfortunately, his personality and pugnacious style have trumped his more positive legacy. He brings down public criticism on himself as if he welcomes it – and maybe he does.
But it is not just about him. Trump gives ammunition to the left to attack the entire Republican Party and the conservative movement. The dinner with West and Fuentes is just another example – and unlikely to be the last.
So, there ‘tis.