“Everybody says it, but I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curial… We are in front of a very hostile judge. The judge was appointed by by Barack Obama – federal judge. [Boos]. Frankly he should recuse himself. He has given us ruling after ruling, negative, negative, negative. I have a top lawyer who said he has never seen anything like this before. So what happens is we get sued. We have a Magistrate named William Gallo who truly hates us..Watch how we win it as I have been treated unfairly. . . . So what happens is the judge, who happens to be, we believe Mexican, which is great. I think that is fine. You know what? I think the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump when I give all these jobs. I think they are going to love it. I think they are going to love me. . .I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself. I think it is a disgrace he is doing this… It is a disgrace. It is a rigged system…They ought to look into Judge Curiel because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. “
This is what Donald Trump said about Mexican-American judge Gonzalo Curial, who is currently presiding over the civil law suit involving now-defunct Trump University. That is all of it, with the rest being general Trump-speak.
The initial reaction in the news media and from the anti-Trump legal commentators (that is, essentially all legal commentators except the ones who have to eat alone at their law school dining rooms) was that Trump’s entire rant that contained the sentiments above were a threat to the rule of law and judicial independence. As I explained here, that was both hyperbole and a double standard.
It also, as I expected, was far too technical a complaint for the average voter to understand or get upset about, even if it had been valid and fair, which it wasn’t. So the anti-Trump forces, which are mighty and legion, decide to shift gears, and rather than attack the statement as a threat to the Constitution, condemn it as “racist.” It was so racist that Buzzfeed decided that it could get brownie points by pulling out of an ad deal it had made with the Republican Party by professing revulsion at the party’s presumptive nominee’s “racism.”
The news media has now decided that it is just a fact that Trump’s comments about the judge were “racist.” That’s how the topic is being discussed. Nobody looks at the statement that sparked this nonsense: Trump said something racist, and that’s all there is to it.
Except that he didn’t.
I can’t keep track of all of the subsequent statements Trump has made or will make to defend himself. Since he talks like a stream of consciousness novel written by a Red Bull-guzzling cab driver, he may have said or will say something that is more inflammatory than the statement being attacked; remember, the man literally doesn’t know what is going to come out of his mouth until he hears it. For now, I’m going to stick to the statement that started this.
1. He said that Judge Curiel “was a hater.”
2. He implied that he was biased against Trump, and that this was a “disgrace.”
3. He said, in what I am certain was one of those examples where Trump’s tongue got the jump on his brain, that “we believe” the judge was “Mexican.”
4. He said that the system “was rigged,”that Judge Curiel should recuse himself, and that Curiel should be ashamed.
None of that constitutes a “racist” statement. It does not even constitute a bigoted statement, and it is in no way the magnitude of offense the Democrats, media and Trump opponents are claiming, indeed, stating it to be.
Before I list the ethics touch-points in this disturbing event (the event being a news media lynch mob devoid of proportion or fairness controlling the discussion and misrepresenting a Presidential candidate), let me make this clear, as if I hadn’t already in dozens of Ethics Alarms posts:
It is every citizen’s ethical duty to make sure Donald Trump is not elected President. That means that it is the duty of the Republican Party not to nominate him, no matter what that entails, and the duty of the Democratic Party to nominate someone who won’t give him a realistic chance to win ( like, say, its two current contenders for the ticket.) It is not, however, the duty of journalists to rig the election by misleading the public. It is their duty not to. Their duty is to record, communicate, and objectively analyze the facts. A news media that intentionally and habitually warps the truth in order to accomplish its own political agenda is at least as much of a threat to our democracy as Donald Trump is.
The news media is starting frighteningly quickly on a campaign to undermine Trump by slanting their reporting against him and trying to stampede the public. This is a particularly outrageous example. At this point, the news media just refers to “racially tinged comments” and “racist sentiments’ without bothering to reprint what the alleged racist statements were. You know, I think it would be wonderful if Donald Trump really did have an unequivocal racist meltdown in a public forum, like Seinfeld’s Michael Richards (“Kramer”) did in a concert, screaming “Nigger!” over and over again. Then The GOP would have to reject Trump (jeez, I hope!), which is what they should have done from the start, and should do now, not because of racism but because the man is completely unfit to be President. Trump has not done that, however, nor will he (I doubt that he is a racist). If he is a racist, his comments about the judge were not evidence of it, and it is wrong, wrong, wrong for his critics and the news media to falsely claim otherwise.
It is also wrong for so many to sit back and let them get away with it, just because the victim is Trump.
Just so we agree on terms, here is a typical definition of racism:
1. the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
2. prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
- Do Trump’s comments have anything to do with race, as opposed to ethnicity?
- Does anything in his statement suggest that Judge Curial possesses “characteristics or abilities” specific to being “Mexican” that render him inferior to a non-Mexican judge? No. In fact, while noting that Curial hates him, Trump also says that the magistrate, Judge William Gallo, also hates him. Gallo is of Italian descent and as white as, well, Judge Curial. Here he is:
Now, how can it be “racist” for Trump to say that Curial, a Mexican-American, is biased against him, when he also says that Judge Gallo, who is not Mexican-American and as white as Trump, is also biased against him? Isn’t it clear as day that Trump, like many litigants, believe that “the system” is out to get him and the judges, whatever their ethnicity, are biased against him because of their rulings? It is clear….except that the news media wants to tag Trump as a racist as early as possible. Americans don’t like racists. Racism is an effective slur, and anyone who defends a racist is likely to be called a racist too.
- Trump thinks it’s relevant that Curial is Hispanic (Mexican, Hispanic, Hispanic-American—nuances of language mean nothing to Trump, so interpreting his use of a word as if he considered it, weighing the best and most tasteful way to state his meaning, is willfully dishonest. It is especially dishonest coming from those who say “immigrant” to mean “Illegal immigrant,” which is similarly sloppy terminology) because he assumes that most Americans of Hispanic descent take offense at his remarks about illegal immigrants and his fanciful promise to “build a wall.” This is not racism, nor ethnic bias: there are excellent reasons for Trump to believe that most Hispanic-Americans don’t like him, even hate him.
One poll showed 79% of Hispanics saying they had a “very unfavorable” view of Trump, with 78% saying that Trump’s views on immigration made them less likely to vote for a Republican candidate in the general election. So Trump naturally reasons that an Hispanic-American has a special reason to “hate” him. That’s unfair to the judge: one of the qualifications of a judge is to be able to put petty biases aside. Trump is really saying that Curial is a bad judge, not because he is Hispanic, but because he allows his heritage to influence his judgment. That’s unfair. It is not racism, however.
- Trump believes all people will have antipathy toward a politician who has said negative things about their country of origin. Most American agree with Trump, because most Americans do think that way themselves. But Trump isn’t saying that only Hispanics think this way, and we cannot presume he means that just because a Hispanic judge happens to be his target.
In this case, the judge happens to be a Hispanic, but if the judge was Irish, and Trump had said that he believed that we had too many Irish immigrants in this country, does anyone doubt for a second that he would have suggested that the Irish judge was biased against him? Would that have been “racism” too?
- Trump didn’t just rest his claim of bias on the fact that Curial sympathizes with his anti-Trump Hispanic-American community. He noted that he is an Obama appointee, by which Trump also means to suggest that he is biased, for political reasons, and reasons of loyalty. So Trump is arguing that a judge who belongs to a group that polls show dislike him, and who was appointed by a President whom Trump attacks regularly ( an appointee is probably loyal to the man who appointed him, right?) is presumptively biased against Trump and his interests, and should recuses himself. If he doesn’t, then the system is fixed.
Is this low-level bitching from a litigant who doesn’t like how a case against him is going? Yes. Is it unseemly for a Presidential candidate to make such a statement? Yes. Does it display stunning ignorance of how judges do their jobs? Yes…but remember, this is exactly how Trump reasons himself, and he is just projecting his own thought processes onto a stranger. Is this racist? How? How is it racist? How could it be racist? It is not racist.
- It is fascinating to read around the web how critics of Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, who delivered the jaw-dropping sentence of six months in jail for a Stanford swimmer convicted of rape, are suggesting that the fact that Persky is a Stanford alumnus himself biased him in favor of Brock Turner. Many of these are the same people calling Donald Trump a racist because he suggested that ethnic identification might create a bias.
Tell me, in terms of factors that might create bias for or against a defendant, how can a judge’s presumed identification with an institution be considered a reasonable cause for suspicion, and another judge’s presumed identification with an ethnic group be considered motivated by racial animus?
It can be if the idea is to discredit someone as a racist and the truth is irrelevant, because the ends justify the means.