President Donald Trump’s alleged “shithole countries” remarks during a bipartisan meeting on immigration Thursday have led a wide array of Americans to label him a racist.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump reportedly said at the time, adding he’d prefer people from Norway––a predominantly white country––to come to the U.S.
On Friday morning, Trump denied he uttered the phrase in reference to Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, stating he used “tough” rhetoric but it wasn’t as bad as reports have claimed. But Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who was in the room for the meeting, slammed Trump on Friday over his denials and claimed the president said “these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, also in attendance, reportedly challenged Trump over his reported racially charged comments and did not deny Durbin’s account in a statement on the incident released Friday.
The allegations against Trump are bolstered by the fact he’s habitually made divisive, racially charged remarks. The list of Trump’s offensive comments is seemingly endless: For years, Trump perpetuated a conspiracy theory former President Obama, the nation’s first black president, was not a U.S. born citizen because he was from Kenya. Trump launched his campaign by referring to Mexican immigrants as “drug dealers,” “rapists,” “killers” and “murderers.” Later, in December 2015, he called for banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. Over the summer, Trump blamed “many sides” for neo-Nazi violence.
The United States is a country that was built by slaves and many of its founders were slaveowners. Thus, it was born out of racism in many ways, which has had reverberating consequences throughout its history––including in the present day.
With that said, it’s no secret many U.S. presidents harbored blatantly racist sentiments over the course of the country’s history. But the fact even some of its more popular leaders from the modern era––roughly from World War II and onwards––routinely utilized bigoted language is arguably overlooked.
Here are five bigoted quotes from modern U.S. presidents, which often coincided with policies that had a detrimental impact on minorities.
In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted putting “dangerous or undesirable aliens or citizens” in “concentration camps.”
During World War II, Roosevelt signed an executive order that led hundreds of thousands of people of Japanese descent––including 80,000 U.S. citizens––to be incarcerated in concentration camps on the West Coast of the U.S. The U.S. was in a war against Japan at the time. It was also fighting Italy and Germany, but did not incarcerate people in the U.S. of Italian and German descent.
In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower told Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren white Southerners “are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big overgrown Negroes” while discussing the desegregation of schools.
Eisenhower was not particularly supportive of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision that deemed the racial segregation of schools unconstitutional. “The Supreme Court has spoken and I am sworn to uphold the constitutional processes in this country; and I will obey,” Eisenhower said after the ruling.
President Lyndon B. Johnson would routinely use the “N” word and called civil rights legislation “n***er” bills.
Johnson is often credited as one of the most consequential presidents with respect to civil rights, having signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But for much of his political career, Johnson opposed civil rights legislation. According to a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on Johnson, during the two decades he served in the U.S. Senate he would use the phrase “n***er bill.” Johnson also reportedly defended appointing Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court––the court’s first black justice in U.S. history––by stating, “Son, when I appoint a n***er to the court, I want everyone to know he’s a n***er.”
President Richard Nixon referred to black people as “Negro bastards” who live like “dogs.”
Recorded conversations of Nixon’s time in the Oval Office reveal extremely bigoted views of black people, among other groups. In one conversation, Nixon said, “We’re going to [put] more of these little Negro bastards on the welfare rolls at $2,400 a family—let people like [New York Sen.] Pat Moynihan … believe in all that crap. But I don’t believe in it. Work, work—throw ’em off the rolls. That’s the key.”
Nixon added, “I have the greatest affection for [blacks], but I know they’re not going to make it for 500 years. They aren’t. You know it, too. The Mexicans are a different cup of tea. They have a heritage. At the present time they steal, they’re dishonest, but they do have some concept of family life. They don’t live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like.”
On Jewish people, Nixon said, “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”
Nixon’s bigotry was manifested in his policies. In a 1994 interview, John Ehrlichman, who served as Nixon’s chief domestic advisor, said the administration launched the war on drugs to go after the “antiwar left and black people.”
President Ronald Reagan painted black women as “welfare queens.”
During his 1976 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan said, “There’s a woman in Chicago. She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veterans’ benefits on four nonexistent deceased husbands. She’s got Medicaid, is getting food stamps and welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000.” The woman Reagan described was ultimately dubbed the “welfare queen” by the Chicago Tribune, a phrase that has widely been linked to the iconic GOP politician. Reagan’s infamous story was based on the tale of a real person named Linda Taylor, a black woman from Chicago.
Reagan has been widely been attributed with racializing the debate over welfare in the U.S. This continues to impact both perceptions and policy regarding welfare, which has had a detrimental impact on communities of color, research shows.