Elizabeth Warren Called Donald Trump a “Racist Bully” at Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in Boston included some commentary about the president.

Photo via AP

As debate rages over whether to call Trump’s comments about immigrants from Haiti and Africa racist, Elizabeth Warren is going one step further.

In fact, she said Monday at Boston’s annual breakfast honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. in Boston, the president himself is racist.

“We face the challenge of an openly racist president of the United States,” Warren said at the event, which is held annually and is a major platform for local politicians and civic leaders to discuss the struggle for racial equality. “Donald Trump is a racist bully, and we know how to deal with bullies. We don’t back down. We don’t shut up. We fight back.”

She continued: “When a racist bully talks about people who march with white supremacists and Nazis as ‘very fine people.’ When he refers to ‘shithole’ countries in Africa, and when he uses that hateful rhetoric to push discrimination in America, you better believe: We will fight back!”

The comments in her speech come amidst a shift among some observers away from decrying individual actions or words from the president as “racist” (or one of its euphemistic cousins, like “racially charged” or even “divisive”), to leveling the charge at the man himself.

A debate began in news media on whether to use the r-word after Trump reportedly fumed that Haitians “all have AIDS” and that Nigerians wouldn’t “go back to their huts” in Africa. It intensified after reports, disputed by some of Trump’s allies, that he referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” and said he preferred immigrants from places like Norway.

Warren has used the r-word before to describe Trump, including during the campaign when she called him “a thin-skinned racist bully.”

She has otherwise largely used “racist” to refer to Trump’s comments. She called Trump’s “Pocahontas” nickname for her “a racist slur.” In an August Facebook post, after Trump’s decision to pardon controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, she called Arpaio “a racist sherriff [sic]” and said both men “used their office to create a platform for racism and bigotry.” Before the breakfast, she called the “shithole” remarks “racist, vile and disgusting.”

But it’s becoming more common for people to use the term to describe the president. In recent days, both CNN’s Don Lemon and Jim Acosta, the network’s White House correspondent, have. “[W]e can tiptoe around it and dance around it and not put our finger on it,” Acosta said in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, “but the president seems to harbor racist feelings about people of color from other parts of the world.”

“It is not a stretch to say that Trump is racist,” New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow wrote on Sunday. “’Racism’ and ‘racist’ are simply words that have definitions, and Trump comfortably and unambiguously meets those definitions.” The term, argued Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan, should be used in the media, “Only when absolutely warranted,” adding, “Which it clearly is.”

Local critics of the president have been decrying Trump’s racism more liberally. Linda Dorcena Forry has said having to do so over and over again is exhausting.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has called the accusation that Trump at his core is a racist is “unfair.” Martin Luther King Jr.’s nephew Isaac Newton Farris Jr. responded to the president’s comments in an interview with CNN, saying he believed Trump was “racially ignorant and racially uninformed,” but not “racist in the traditional sense.” Trump himself has responded by telling reporters he is “the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”


Spencer Buell Staff Writer at Boston Magazine sbuell@bostonmagazine.com