Opinion: What Trump said during the debate that has many Black Americans and Palestinians outraged

Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program, “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

Since last week’s presidential debate, we’ve seen nearly nonstop news coverage about whether President Joe Biden should drop out as the Democratic presidential contender, expressed in numerous op-eds, on political podcasts and on cable television.

Dean Obeidallah - CNN
Dean Obeidallah - CNN

But while Biden’s performance on Thursday is a legitimate issue, the media’s laser-focused coverage of it has resulted in former President Donald Trump all but being given a pass for vile and — in the opinion of many — racist remarks he made at the debate. And Trump’s comments were far, far worse than anything Biden said.

For starters, there was Trump’s use of the word Palestinian as a slur. This came up during a discussion of the war in Gaza, with Trump saying, “Let Israel finish the job.” He then criticized Biden for, in his view, restraining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military action. That’s the same military, it should be noted, that has left tens of thousands of Palestinians dead and dying, including many women and children, and according to the United Nations has unleashed an ever-growing humanitarian catastrophe along with the widespread destruction of residential homes.

My late father was a Palestinian immigrant. Trump used his heritage as an insult during the exchange when he said Biden “has become like a Palestinian.” To make matters worse, Trump repeated the use of Palestinian as a smear on Friday at a rally in Virginia, where he said about Democratic US Senator Chuck Schumer, “He’s become a Palestinian. He’s a Palestinian now.” The remark presumably meant to suggest that Schumer, who is Jewish, is somehow not supportive enough of Israel.

If Trump, in an effort to insult the president, had said that Biden had “become just like a Black person” or “become just like a Jewish person,” we would have rightfully heard cries of outrage. But after he used Palestinian as a slur, we have heard relatively little condemnation. True, some organizations criticized the vile comment, but it deserves far more pushback than it has received. This insensitive use of Palestinian identity as an epithet is a reminder that their lives mean nothing to some politicians who believe they can score points by demonizing and even dehumanizing them.

Supporters hold up signs at former President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Virginia on June 28, 2024, one day after his historic debate against President Joe Biden. - Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Supporters hold up signs at former President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Virginia on June 28, 2024, one day after his historic debate against President Joe Biden. - Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Trump’s use of Palestinian as a slur is a new low in an effort to erase and deny Palestinian humanity. But it wasn’t the only example of US politicians’ callous indifference to their plight. Last week, the House voted to bar the State Department from citing statistics from the Gaza Health Ministry on the number of Palestinians killed or wounded in Gaza by the Israeli military.

In short, the Republican-led House is seeking to silence the US State Department from even being allowed to cite the health agency’s statistics, apparently because the number of Palestinian men, women and children slaughtered poses a PR problem for Netanyahu.

Then there was Trump’s baseless comment during the debate claiming that migrants coming to our nation were “taking Black jobs.” Given Trump’s documented history of anti-Black remarks and his defense of white supremacists, the remark rightly raised red flags. And immigration groups and think tanks that have studied the issue have long asserted that immigrants to this country for the most part do not take jobs from Americans.

Some correctly noted that Trump revealed his view that Black Americans are relegated to working in low-paying, menial jobs that anyone could fill. Rep. James Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina, speaking Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, noted that Trump’s “Black jobs” remark shows that Trump has “a low opinion of Black people.” But that’s nothing new, Clyburn added. “He’s demonstrated that all of his life.”

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, also slammed Trump’s remarks, stating, “There is no such thing as a Black job. That misinformed characterization is a denial of the ubiquity of Black talent. We are doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, police officers and firefighters. The list goes on.” He added, “The divisive nature of this comment is not surprising for Donald Trump.”

The truth is, when it comes to the world of work, Black Americans have done very well under Biden.

Black unemployment fell to its lowest level ever during his presidency when it hit 4.8% in April 2023. But Trump was not talking about hard data or certifiable facts; Trump has long insisted that he’s not a racist, but he was peddling what sounded to many of his critics like racist drivel — presumably to attract voters he believes would be conned into supporting him.

Same goes for Trump’s assertion that migrants were coming to take “Hispanic jobs,” a term that once again reveals Trump’s own bigotry when it comes to the types of jobs he believes Latino Americans hold — in contrast, presumably, to “White jobs.” Under Biden, it should be noted, Hispanic unemployment tied a record low 3.9% in September 2022.

People can debate Biden’s performance on Thursday. But there’s no debating that Trump is once again trafficking in what sounds an awful lot like bigotry, because he believes it will return him to the White House. The only question is whether enough Americans will reject Trump’s vileness to ensure that he never gets there again.

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