Dana Milbank strikes out

Donald Trump and his campaign present a target-rich environment for critics. Indeed, one has to be a bit of a clown to shoot and miss. Yet Dana Milbank does just that in a column called (in the print edition) “Donald Trump is a racist.”

Trump may be a racist, but the evidence marshaled by Milbank shows only that Trump has a serious nasty streak.

Some of Milbank’s evidence doesn’t even relate to race. For example, Milbank notes that Trump has used vulgar language to refer to women. Unless he uses such language only to refer to black women (and he does not — ask Megyn Kelly), this is not racism.

Milbank also points to Trump’s ridicule of the movements of Serge Kovaleski, a reporter with physical limitations. But Kovaleski is white. Again, there is no racism in this.

Milbank’s fallback position is that Trump is a bigot. But if Trump were bigoted against women, we would expect to see evidence that he has discriminated against them. The evidence, though, points in the opposite direction. Milbank’s own paper has reported that Trump’s female employees consider him a “champion of women.”

Nor does Kovaleski, the handicapped reporter, say that Trump discriminated against him. Instead, he claims that he had plenty of access to Trump.

It wasn’t nice of Trump to make fun of Kovaleski (I’m not persuaded by Trump’s claim that he did no such thing). However, there’s a difference between being nasty and being a bigot.

Turning to Hispanics, Milbank cites Trump’s statement that Mexico is sending rapists and other criminals to America. No one denies that there are rapists and other criminals in Mexico, as in all other countries. Thus, Trump’s statement does not disparage Hispanics as a class; it’s simply a comment — perhaps unfounded — about the Mexican government. And it isn’t even a criticism; Trump views his allegation as evidence that the Mexico’s leaders, like China’s, are smarter than ours.

Trump’s proposal to deport all illegal immigrants isn’t racist either. His criterion for deportation isn’t race, it’s illegal entry.

To be sure, the policy would disproportionately affect Hispanics by an enormous margin. However, American law correctly recognizes that disparate impact is distinct from intentional discrimination. Only intentionally discriminatory policies deserve to be characterized as racist.

Milbank also points out that Trump has had spats with high-profile Latino journalists and news outlets. But he’s also had spats with high-profile white journalists (ask Megyn Kelly). Trump bitterly attacks all of his critics, including those whose criticism is considerably more temperate than that of Univision.

Milbank’s “evidence” of anti-black racism by Trump is quite weak. He points to an ad Trump once bought calling for the death penalty “for criminals of every age” after black teenagers were implicated in the Central Park jogger case. But Trump never advocated limiting the death penalty to blacks, and Milbank presents no evidence that Trump has advocated leniency for whites who commit horrific offenses like the one in Central Park.

Milbank also cites Trump’s involvement in the “birther” movement. But there’s no reason to deem this racist. It’s much more likely that Trump either believed that Obama was born outside of the United States or strongly dislikes Barack Obama for reasons having nothing to do with race.

Are the people who thought Bill and Hillary Clinton were involved in killing Vince Foster anti-white? Of course not.

Milbank points to Trump’s approval of the roughing up of black demonstrators at one of his events. But is there any evidence that Trump and his team have reacted differently to white demonstrators (if any) who engaged in similar disruption of Trump events? Milbank doesn’t cite any. Trump may have an authoritarian streak (and if so, that’s very disturbing), but from all that appears he’s an equal opportunity authoritarian.

Finally, Milbank reminds us that Trump tweeted incorrect statistics purporting to show that most killings of whites are done by blacks. In the absence of other evidence that Trump is anti-black, I think it’s fair to view this as an honest, though unfortunate, mistake.

Milbank comes closer to the mark with regard to Muslims. Trump’s proposal to make Muslims register in a database strikes me as offensive. And since Trump apparently doesn’t want any other religious group to register, the proposal reflects anti-Muslim bias.

To be clear, this is not racism. The bias is against a religion/ideology. However, this doesn’t make his forced registration proposal palatable, and I will not defend Trump from the charge of bigotry against Muslims.

But Milbank’s column goes much further. He has accused Trump of racism and of bigotry across-the-board. He has failed to make his case.

In fact, the only arguable racism on display in Milbank’s column is his own. He infers that “many of Trump’s supporters” are racist because they “tend to be white, less educated, and middle-aged and older.” Milbank simply assumes that this cohort of whites is heavily racist.

If Milbank’s assumption isn’t racist, it surely is bigoted.