President Donald Trump was called racist by Democratic nominee Joe Biden during the first presidential debate, as the Republican candidate repeatedly used racist tropes to defend his supporters and engage in personal attacks.
During Tuesday’s debate, which was the first of the three scheduled before 3 November’s election, Mr Trump repeatedly interrupted and spoke over Mr Biden, as he launched attacks on the former vice president and other Democratic officials.
During a discussion about racial sensitivity training, Mr Biden called the president racist over his decision to ban the practice for federal contractors earlier in the year.
Mr Biden, who has undertaken the training, claimed: “This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division.”
Mr Biden added later on in the debate, while the candidates clashed over Black Lives Matter protests: “He’s the racist.”
However, there were other moments during the debate where the president used racist tropes - while talking about the coronavirus pandemic, white supremacists and senator Elizabeth Warren.
The president refused to condemn white supremacist groups
On Tuesday, the president refused to condemn the violence of far-right and white supremacist groups during Black Lives Matter protests this summer, when moderator Chris Wallace, of Fox News, repeatedly asked him to.
Mr Trump initially tried to avoid the question by asking Mr Wallace for a specific group that he wanted him to condemn, but eventually chose to address the far-right, white supremacist group, the Proud Boys.
He said: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
In reaction to the president’s comments, a key Proud Boys organiser wrote on the “free speech” social network, Parler: “Standing by sir.”
Following the debate, experts warned that Mr Trump’s comment could encourage violence from extremist groups.
Kathleen Belew, a historian of American white power movements, tweeted: “A green light like ‘stand back and standby’ is catastrophic.”
It's astonishing that, when asked a simple question, will you condemn white supremacists, @POTUS responded - "The Proud Boys should stand back and stand by." Trying to determine if this was an answer or an admission. @POTUS owes America an apology or an explanation. Now. https://t.co/9tgufXom9K— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) September 30, 2020
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), also tweeted his concern, and said that the president “owes America an apology or an explanation. Now,” for his comments.
President Trump called senator Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’
During the debate, Mr Trump questioned whether Mr Biden would have won the Democratic nomination if senator Elizabeth Warren had not dropped out of the race, and called her “Pocahontas” while doing so.
He said: “If Pocahontas would have left [the race] two days earlier, you would've lost every primary on Super Tuesday,” in reference to the senator’s previous claims that she has Native American heritage.
Pocahontas was a Native American woman, who belonged to the Pamunkey tribe. She was born in 1596 and died in 1617.
In 2018, president Trump claimed that Ms Warren was lying about her Cherokee heritage for political gain, and in response the senator took a DNA test, which showed that she was between 1/64th and 1/1028th Native American. She subsequently apologised for her previous claims.
However, Mr Trump has continued to refer to Ms Warren as Pocahontas, and although it was not commented on during the debate, the president using the term has caused upset to Native American people in the US.
In 2019, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which describes itself as the oldest and largest indigenous rights organisation in the US, said the president’s actions were part of a long tradition of insults endured by Native Americans.
“For centuries Native people have endured such slurs – from ‘R*dskins’ to ‘Injuns’ to ‘savages’ – that the forces of racism and intolerance deploy to dehumanise our people, mock our cultures, and interfere with our inherent right to control our own lands and destinies,” said NCAI CEO Kevin Allis.
He added: “Not only does it disrespect Pocahontas’ legacy and life, it likens her name to a slur.”
The president once again called coronavirus the ‘China plague’
During the debate, the president once again referred to the coronavirus pandemic as the “China plague,” while defending his administration’s response to tackling the virus.
He said: “We built the greatest economy in history, we closed it down because of the China plague.”
According to a tracking project hosted by Johns Hopkins University, in the US as a whole, some 7.1 million people have tested positive for coronavirus, while the death toll has reached at least 206,351.
Mr Trump, alongside other Republicans, has repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the “China virus,” or “Wuhan flu,” and other slurs during the pandemic, which have been criticised for blaming the virus on a single country and group of people.
Additionally, there are concerns that the phrase could lead to a rise of harassment and mistreatment of Asian Americans, according to NBC News.
Speaking at a virtual invitation-only fundraiser for Joe Biden‘s presidential campaign last month, the former US president Barack Obama criticised Mr Trump’s use of the phrase, according to The Hill.
“I don’t want a country in which the president of the United States is actively trying to promote anti-Asian sentiment and thinks it’s funny,” Mr Obama reportedly said.
“I don’t want that. That still shocks and p***es me off,” he added.
Earlier in the year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) director general, Tedros Adhanom, said the name specifically does “not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease,” according to Forbes.
He reasoned that “having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing”.
The second presidential debate is scheduled to take place on 15 October in Miami with C-SPAN's Steve Scully moderating.