CNN's Swerdlick Slams Trump's MAGA as Racist 'Insult'

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Cross posted to the MRC's NewsBusters blog

On Tuesday's CNN Tonight show, during a discussion of the ABC News town hall with President Donald Trump, host Don Lemon and contributor David Swerdlick tried to portray the President's "Make America Great Again" slogan as a racist dog whistle, suggesting he wants to take the country back to times of oppression against African Americans.

But, in fact, from the early days of his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump linked the slogan to his complaints about trade deals like NAFTA, and asserted that America was "great" in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was President.

Host Lemon played a clip from the ABC town hall in which an African American pastor, Carl Day, got to ask President Trump when was "the last time America was 'great' for African Americans," leading the President to brag about economic conditions of the black population during his administration before the pandemic hit.

After mocking the President for declaring that "I hope there's not a race problem" in America, Lemon went to Swerdlick who excoriated Trump over "Make America Great Again," calling it an "insult" to African Americans:

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He did not answer the question, to your point, because he could not answer the question. Trump has been able -- the President has been able to skate by for almost four years whenever he's asked about race by throwing out the African American unemployment rate, but he couldn't answer the question about "Make America Great Again" because that slogan -- which is an insult -- either means, in my view, that America was somehow ungreat under his predecessor, the first black President, or, alternatively, that he wants to take the country back to a point in time far enough back where, at the same time, black citizens in this country -- citizens of color in general, etc. -- were not equal to white men.

Later in the show -- as Lemon had Pastor Day as a guest -- the CNN host suggested that, to Trump, making America "great again," means bringing back oppression of minorities. He began by making what he called a "devil's advocate" defense of America:

"America is a great country -- it's great for all people -- it always has been great" -- you know what I'm -- I'm playing devil's advocate here. I hate to say that to a pastor, but that's what people will say. And that's why I always talk about, Pastor, the two different Americas, right?

He then added:

Because when you talk to African Americans, they'll say, "What do you mean? What was great? Was it great during, you know, when African Americans were being red-lined? Was it great before the Civil Rights Movement? Was it great for Jim Crow? Was it great during slavery? What are you talking about? When was it great for African Americans?" Listen, most people get it, especially African Americans, you know your question will be twisted as "You're anti-American and un-American. You understand what I'm saying. What do you say to that?

But, during an August 16, 2015 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, then-candidate Trump argued that the last time America was "great" was when Reagan was President, and then suggested that the U.S. had been hurt by the NAFTA trade agreement that was enacted in the 1990s.

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Tuesday's episode of CNN Tonight was sponsored by Keeps. There contact information is linked.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portions of the Tuesday, September 15, CNN Tonight:

10:37 p.m. Eastern

DON LEMON: The man asked him, "Make America Great" -- was when he came down in 2015 down that escalator, it was "Make America Great Again," but he says, "For the last six months." He did not answer the question. When was it great -- when was a greater time for African Americans? He keeps saying, "Well, this was before the pandemic." That's not the question -- that's not the question. He keeps saying, "They," like, but anyway, "Is there a race problem?" "I hope there's not a race problem." Oh, my gosh. Go on.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, look, Don, there are going to be black voters who support Trump this time around. I say the over under is the eight percent that he got in 2016, but he did not answer the question, to your point, because he could not answer the question. Trump has been able -- the President has been able to skate by for almost four years whenever he's asked about race by throwing out the African American unemployment rate, but he couldn't answer the question about "Make America Great Again" because that slogan -- which is an insult -- either means, in my view, that America was somehow ungreat under his predecessor, the first black President, or, alternatively, that he wants to take the country back to a point in time far enough back where, at the same time, black citizens in this country -- citizens of color in general, etc. -- were not equal to white men.

That -- it's a euphemism, but that, ultimately, at least in my view, what the takeaway has been for so many people, particularly African Americans. And when he tried to slip the answer by again with unemployment numbers, he had two problems. One is, the gentleman who was questioning him -- who was so on point, he should be in the White House briefing room -- I'm sorry I don't have his name -- the gentleman had the immediate followup expressing again, "What does that word 'again' mean to you, Mr. President?"

And the second problem is that President Trump tried again and again, Don, to go back to, "Well, six months ago, before COVID, things were rosy," but here's the reality of the numbers: The black unemployment rate in January of this year was six percent. That was a one and a half percentage point drop from when he took office -- which is good -- but it doesn't compare to the over five percentage point drop over President Obama's -- his predecessor's eight years in office. Trump may improve on that in the future, but he -- right now, it's puffery when he says things were the best before COVID for black people in America.

(...)

11:39 p.m.

LEMON: "America is a great country -- it's great for all people -- it always has been great" -- you know what I'm -- I'm playing devil's advocate here. I hate to say that to a pastor, but that's what people will say. And that's why I always talk about, Pastor, the two different Americas, right? Because when you talk to African Americans, they'll say, "What do you mean? What was great? Was it great during, you know, when African Americans were being red-lined? Was it great before the Civil Rights Movement? Was it great for Jim Crow? Was it great during slavery? What are you talking about? When was it great for African Americans?" Listen, most people get it, especially African Americans, you know your question will be twisted as "You're anti-American and un-American. You understand what I'm saying. What do you say to that?

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