Donald Trump's entire presidential campaign is about race. He launched his campaign with an argument over whether all Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers, or merely most of them. He's maintained his relevancy through fall by replacing Latinos with Muslims as the villains of his campaign narrative — including a call to ban them from entering the US.
It might be easy to write this off as pandering to the segment of America who feels threatened by ethnic difference. But it's not as if Donald J. Trump was a paragon of multiculturalism before he ran for president. Trump has been accused of racism for literally as long as he's been in public life — in his capacities as a real estate developer, a TV star, and now as a politician. At various times, he's insulted African Americans, the Japanese, Native Americans, Muslim Americans and Latinos.
Through it all, Donald Trump has maintained that he is "the least racist person you will ever meet."
Here's a — by no means comprehensive — timeline of some previous times Donald Trump has gotten in trouble for racial comments.
1973: The DOJ sues Trump for housing discrimination
Ironically, the very first time Trump appeared in the New York Times's pages (which the newspaper highlighted in a blog post this summer) was because he was being sued for racial discrimination. In 1973, the Trump Management Corporation — run by 27-year-old Donald Trump — was sued by the Department of Justice for violating the Fair Housing Act. Specifically, Trump's company was accused of refusing to rent to or negotiate with black tenants, changing the terms of leases based on race, and lying to black applicants about whether apartments were available.
Trump fought the suit, and accused the federal government of trying to force him to rent to welfare recipients. If he gave in, Trump predicted "a massive fleeing from the city of not only our tenants, but communities as a whole." (For what it's worth, there's no indication that the government wanted Trump to rent to welfare recipients.) As evidence that he wasn't racist, Trump estimated that about 700 of the 16,000 tenants in his buildings were black, a little over 4 percent. (In 1990, New York City was 25 percent black.)
Postscript: Trump signed an agreement in 1975 agreeing not to discriminate against renters of color, without admitting to actually having done so. Justin Elliott wrote a 2011 piece in Salon that goes into the history here a bit more, if you're interested.
1988: Trump gives a commencement address, spends it bashing Japan
Donald Trump was the speaker at Lehigh University's 1988 commencement. In a speech that appears to have been pretty rambling — shock — he spent some time saying that countries like Japan were bullies who were "stripping the United States of economic dignity."
From an article about the speech in the local paper the Morning Call:
"Country-wide, we have serious problems," he said. "So many countries are whipping America . . . making billions and stripping the United States of economic dignity. I respect the Japanese, but we have to fight back."
He related an experience with a Japanese business tycoon who brought several henchmen and an aggressive attitude into Trump's New York office. The man, Trump said, slammed his fist on his desk and demanded: 'We want real estate!'
"His level of intensity was incredible. When you're (working in) the New York real estate markets, you're dealing with some rough people. He made them look like babies. What happens to the country when this guy goes to the state department? His country . . . totally outsmarted our stupid politicians."
Postscript: Japan isn't nearly the economic power it was 25 years ago. But Trump is still bashing the country — it's easy to forget, but it was a bigger target in his 2015 campaign-launch speech than Mexico.
1989: Trump on the Central Park Five: "They should be forced to suffer"
In April 1989, New York City was transfixed by the case of the "Central Park Jogger," a woman who was brutally assaulted and raped while out on a run. Five black teenagers — the "Central Park Five" — were almost immediately arrested, and confessions obtained.
Less than two weeks after the assault, Donald Trump ran an ad in New York City papers with the blaring headline "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!" The Times has an image of the ad embedded in an article about Trump's early controversies — it's worth seeing in full.
"I want to hate these muggers and murderers," the text of the ad says (in part). "They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes."
Postscript: The five teenagers were all found guilty on rape or sexual assault charges, and all served time in prison. In 2002, another man confessed to the crime, and his DNA matched evidence from the crime scene. All of the Central Park Five had their convictions vacated, and the city of New York paid them $42 million in a court settlement. (In 2015, Trump told the New York Times that because they were involved in some sort of criminal activity that night, they were treated too well.)
2000: "The St. Regis Mohawk Indian record of criminal activity is well documented"
Donald Trump joined a lobbying campaign to keep the New York state legislature from allowing the St. Regis Mohawk tribe to build a casino in the Catskills. (A casino in the Catskills would draw business away from Trump's casinos in Atlantic City.) As part of the campaign, Trump secretly bankrolled a series of ads that appeared in upstate New York newspapers fearmongering about the St. Regis Mohawks and crime:
Are these the new neighbors we want? The St. Regis Mohawk Indian record of criminal activity is well documented. This proposed Monticello Indian Casino will bring increased crime and violence to Sullivan County.
Call Governor Pataki today at (518) 474-8390. Tell him you don't want Indian gambling in Sullivan County.
Postscript: Trump ended up paying $250,000 for failing to tell the state lobbying commission that he'd been behind the ad campaign, and another $50,000 on a new series of ads acknowledging he'd paid for the first ones.
2004: Trump fires a black Apprentice contestant for being "overeducated"
In season two of The Apprentice, contestant Kevin Allen, who holds degrees from Wharton Business School, Emory, and the University of Chicago, was given a challenge involving selling candy bars outside a subway station. Shortly after that, he was fired — for being overeducated. One interviewer criticized Allen for being "like, the most educated person I’ve ever seen"; Trump said, "At some point you have to say, 'That's enough.'"
Here's what Mark Harris, at Entertainment Weekly, wrote after the episode:
Just as we were asked to believe that the portrayal of season 1’s Omarosa and season 2’s Stacie J. as nutcases had nothing to do with playing into hair-trigger-sistah stereotypes, we’re now asked to take at face value the idea that Allen and last season’s African-American finalist, Kwame Jackson, were simply a little too smooth, intelligent, and driven to succeed. In other words, what The Apprentice is suggesting is that corporations run by white people don’t hire African Americans because the women are crazy and the men waste too darn much time getting educations.
Postscript: In 2011, after coming under fire for embracing birtherism, Trump said "I am the least racist person there is" — and immediately cited the fact that a black contestant won a later season of The Apprentice to make his case. Kevin Allen, interviewed by Benjy Sarlin, commented: "It's an interesting statement. I doubt that it's true."
2009: Trump hates the "Ground Zero Mosque" proposal so much he offers to buy the site himself
In the summer of 2009, an anodyne municipal proposal to build a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan (a project known as Park51) somehow became a national controversy, as people fought against the idea of a "Ground Zero Mosque." Since this was both a New York racial controversy and a New York real estate controversy, it was inevitable that Donald Trump would make his opinions known.
Trump, unsurprisingly, opposed the Park51 project, calling it "very insensitive" to the victims of 9/11 and "absolutely wrong."
Trump's arguments against the Park51 project during an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman (as written up by the Media Research Center) sound familiar to anyone who's been following his anti-Muslim rhetoric in 2015:
Letterman fretted: "Does this suggest that we are in fact officially at war with Muslims?"
To which, Trump observed: "Well, somebody knocked down the World Trade Center."
Letterman also sputtered: "I don't believe, not having read the Koran, I don't believe that part of that belief, that pursuit is here in your face, take a look at this, what do you think? What are you going to do?"
Trump, on to promote a new season of The Apprentice on NBC, retorted: "Well, somebody's blowing us up. Somebody's blowing up buildings, and somebody's doing lots of bad stuff."
Trump later wrote to one of the investors in the Park51 project, offering to buy him out — "not because I think the location is a spectacular one [because it is not] but because it will end a very serious, inflammatory, and highly divisive situation that is destined, in my opinion, to only get worse." (The offer was rebuffed.)
2011: Donald Trump, Obama college admission truther
You might recall that the last time Donald Trump flirted with a presidential run, in 2011, he spent a lot of his time implying that President Obama wasn't born in the US. But Trump actually went a step further: He also claimed that Obama wasn't a good enough student to have gotten into Columbia for college or Harvard Law School, and demanded that in addition to releasing the birth certificate Obama release his university transcripts.
As the Huffington Post wrote at the time:
"I heard he was a terrible student, terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?" Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm thinking about it, I'm certainly looking into it. Let him show his records."[...] "I have friends who have smart sons with great marks, great boards, great everything and they can't get into Harvard."
Just like birtherism alludes to (without invoking outright) old racist beliefs about African Americans not really being American, Trump's transcript trutherism implied that Obama had benefited from affirmative action rather than having gotten into elite schools on "merit."
Postscript: Thankfully, Trump appears to have dropped this particular crusade for his latest presidential run.