Tubman outs Trump’s phony makeover

    This image provided by the Library of Congress shows Harriet Tubman

    This image provided by the Library of Congress shows Harriet Tubman

    It’s obvious to anyone with even minimal cognition that Donald Trump’s purported makeover — his vow to be more “presidential,” his courting of Republican insiders, his hiring of speechwriters — is just a ruse to fool the saps. It doesn’t take much to make his mask slip. Just look at what happened yesterday when he was asked about Harriet Tubman.

    Granted, putting Tubman on the $20 isn’t a major issue like jobs, trade, or terrorism. But Trump’s gut reaction was a window into his mindset — a quick reminder that no matter how hard this guy tries to re-brand, he’s still the same product that most Americans know and loathe.

    In case you’re not familiar with Tubman, what’s important to know is that she did more for the public good on any given day than Trump has done in his entire life. A fugitive slave, she rescued hundreds of African-Americans from servitude. She was a Union spy during the Civil War, recruited ex-slaves for a Union regiment, and led an assault that freed 700 more. In her late 70s she delivered speeches for women’s suffrage. She was active in the earliest civil rights movement, particularly for black women.

    But when Der Leader was asked yesterday about the Treasury Department’s decision to put this black woman on the front of the 20, he replied: “I don’t like seeing it. I think it’s pure political correctness.”

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Gee. What a shock to discover that his makeover — what he calls “evolving and transitioning” — is thinner than a thread of dental floss. Because this is the same Trump his white fans know and love, the guy who takes pride in political incorrectness, using it as a license to demean people of color.

    His biggest beef yesterday was that Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson. In his words, “I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill. Andrew Jackson had a history of tremendous success for the country.” He thinks Jackson should stay where he is, and maybe Tubman can “do the $2 bill.”

    No wonder Trump is viewed unfavorably by more than 80 percent of minorities and 75 percent of  women. (And by dissing Tubman, it’s a two-fer.) An African-American woman has never graced our currency, but Trump’s instinct — “do the $2 bill” — is to relegate her to second-class status in the back of the bus. His reflexive instinct is to hail Jackson, whose “tremendous success” includes enriching himself by ripping off Native-American land and living as a member of the landed gentry with slave labor.

    Trump and his credulous followers would no doubt dismiss my description as “political correctness.” I prefer to call it what it is: Fact. A well-reviewed ’15 history book, “Jacksonland,” is packed with incontrovertible detail — like this passage, which recounts his long stint as a military leader:

    Jackson’s style of negotiating was frank and coercive. In talk after talk over the years, he told native leaders he was their friend, and that he wanted to pay for their land – but that if they failed to sell, white settlers would take their land for nothing….(He) brought Cherokee leaders a warning that their nation might be destroyed if they bargained too hard….Jackson and his friends would move to take advantage. The scale of their gain has rarely, if ever, been calculated. Many real estate records from the era have been lost. But records that survive show that after 1816, the names of Andrew Jackson, his relatives, and his two closest business associates appeared in the titles to more than 45,000 acres of newly opened Alabama land.

    Those are not things we would expect Trump to know, or aspire to know. The man is not exactly a scholar of American history. On the contrary, his gut instinct yesterday was to insist that an accomplished slave-freeing African-American woman doesn’t deserve to supplant a slave-holding white man. And, naturally, that sentiment was echoed by the anonymous keyboard warriors who trolled Twitter to complain (among other things) that Tubman looks like an “ape” and that her face belongs on food stamps. 

    That kind of hate pervades Trumpism, and no phony makeover can mask it. New Coke is basically old Coke in a different can. As the likely Republican nominee signaled this week in The Wall Street Journal, “I’m still the same candidate.” The Tubman episode proves it.

    Fun fact: On the debate stage last year, when Trump was asked to name a woman in American history who’s worthy of face time on our currency, his first choice was “my daughter Ivanka.”

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal