I remember a night in New York. It was April 17, 2004. I’d come to town to do interviews that would become a part of my book,The Complete Muhammad Ali.
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At about 10 pm, I decided to walk across the street from my hotel to Madison Square Garden to watch a fight between two heavyweights. Since the preliminary fights had concluded I was able to buy a ringside seat for very little money.
Sitting across from me was Donald Trump. Nobody was paying any attention to him. Most of the crowd had come to see the fight. He had the gaze of a student who was attending a lecture. The president has called himself “ a counterpuncher,” and one of the heavyweights was Chris Byrd, the counterpuncher master.
A student of the fight game, one can hear some of its lingoes in his rhetoric. He says that Romney “choked,” which might refer to the guillotine hold where a fighter crushes his opponent’s neck until he can’t breathe and taps out.
His nicknaming his opponents, calling Marco Rubio “little Marco,” or Hillary Clinton ”crooked Hillary,” was a tactic borrowed from Ali himself, who applied nicknames to his opponents to improve box office sales.
Ali and other boxers promoted their fights by trash talking their opponents in an often brutal manner, another technique that Trump borrowed from the fight game.
Trump’s fans watched him deliver rhetorical low blows often. It was repellant, but millions tuned in to see whether he would commit even worse fouls.
His Republican rivals, using the tactics of traditional politics, were no match for Trump’s moves from dirty boxing and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, two industries about which he is clearly fascinated. He has even appointed a wrestling executive, Linda McMahon, to run the Small Business Administration.
Trump’s villains changed over the course of the campaign and the early days of his presidency, but one heavy has remained the same. Black Americans.
This is a president who has retweeted white genocide tweets from a neo-Nazi site, which issued false statistics about the black on white homicide rate. Though crime has declined, Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions claim that it’s out of control. Crime for both means black.
His chief strategist Steve Bannon believes that he has a better quality of genes than blacks ; in his 2016 Vatican speech he said that the Victorian Age was the pinnacle of mankind’s achievement.
Among Trump’s black friends are boxer Mike Tyson and Don King, the promoter who left Ali sick and broke. Kanye West has paid a visit. Among the 19 stereotypes about blacks recorded by the late scholar Lawrence D. Reddick, those of the athlete and the entertainer are favored by many whites.
President Trump, like millions of white Americans, has problems with cerebral blacks. That’s why he found it incredible that President Obama succeeded at Harvard. If he were to visit NASA, he’d be shocked to find black scientists working there. Maybe Trump gets his information about blacks from television and Hollywood.
Though the media and Trump are supposed to have a falling out, the media have been promoting images of blacks as savages and brutes since colonial times. With these one-sided images of black life, the media have provided Trump with visual and print ammunition.
In fact, Jesse Daniels, a white feminist scholar, in her remarkable book, White Lies, writes that neo-Nazi sites copy images of blacks found in the mainstream media to support their arguments.
Once in awhile, a journalist criticizes this one-sided coverage and fake news, as the late David Carr did when he criticized the inflammatory role the media played in ‘reporting’ unfounded allegations of black behavior in the aftermath of the Katrina hurricane disaster in New Orleans.
Both the white Left and Right also provide another service for Trump. They ascribe noble motives to his followers, as they did the Tea Party members, and whitewash their racism.
When Tea Party spokespeople on TV reframe their Obama antipathy as opposition to Wall Street bailouts and healthcare subsidies, their movement appears color-neutral. This doesn’t explain the racist signs prominent at Tea Party rallies depicting President Obama as a witch doctor or as lying in a coffin.
Standing next to Trump as he won the New York primary was Carl Paladino, a former Tea Party candidate for NY Governor, whose humor extends to sending out emails depicting President Obama as a pimp and Michelle Obama as a prostitute.
The left also makes excuses for the haters who shout out anti-Semitic slogans and beat up blacks with Trump’s encouragement by blaming their voting choices on economic distress, even though whites of all economic classes voted for Trump.
Ralph Nader was right when he said that American elections had become a profit center for CNN and others. The head of CBS, Leslie Moonves, was even more candid.
He admitted that though Trump was bad for democracy, he was good for business. CNN, which is now a part of Trump’s enemies list, earned a billion in profits by covering the Trump rallies.
President Trump and the media work hand in hand. The media and Trump are not at odds. Like desperate lovers, they need each other. They fall out, they get back together, they tiff again.
The same day as TV morning shows claimed Trump had become as presidential as Ronald Reagan, the other Trump, Trump the Weird, the one away from the Teleprompter, accused Jews of overturning tombstones in order to embarrass him; accused the former president of organizing demonstrations against him, and blamed the casualties that occurred during the Yemen raids on his generals.
By the weekend the media was outraged over Trump’s mad tweet that Obama (whom Trump with his birtherism had already set up as somehow un-American, racially foreign) had tapped his phone, a charge even some of his Republican enablers found outlandish.
But not to worry. The lovers, the media and the president, will make up and they’ll be calling him “presidential” again and applauding his “pivot.”
Ishmael Reed’s latest book is “The Complete Muhammad Ali.” He is a University of California Emeritus. He is currently Visiting Scholar at the Calfiornia College of the Arts.