ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump launched another tweetstorm over the weekend, this time directed at Congressman Elijah Cummings, who is African-American. The president insulted Cummings' district. It's majority black, and it includes part of Baltimore. This is just Trump's latest attack against a non-white member of Congress. And critics say it is a political tactic of stoking divisions ahead of the 2020 elections. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe is following the issue and joins us from the White House.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.
SHAPIRO: OK. Just a couple weeks ago, of course, the president went after four members of Congress who are women of color and Democrats. Now he's going after Congressman Cummings, who is a Democrat leading multiple investigations into the Trump administration. Lots of people see a pattern here, singling out people of color for very personal attacks. What does the White House say about it?
RASCOE: So the White House and Trump campaign say that this is not intentional, that the president is simply criticizing people that he doesn't agree with and race has nothing to do with it. Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was pressed on this matter on "Fox News Sunday." He had this exchange with host Chris Wallace.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")
CHRIS WALLACE: These are all six members of Congress who are people of color.
MICK MULVANEY: I think you're spending way too much time reading between the lines. Does anybody...
WALLACE: I'm not reading between the lines. I'm reading the lines.
RASCOE: So Mulvaney says people are looking too deeply into this. But it's Trump's specific language about these lawmakers that's drawing fire. He described Baltimore in dramatic terms, basically as a place no human being would want to live - saying it was disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess. And about 600,000 people live in Baltimore. And poverty is not limited to that city. There are plenty of towns and cities in this country who struggle with poverty, including those that are - have voters who generally back President Trump. But we don't see Trump criticizing those places.
SHAPIRO: Tell us about how the latest targets of these attacks are responding.
RASCOE: So Reverend Al Sharpton went to Baltimore. He held a press conference. Ahead of that, Trump bashed him. He claimed that Sharpton hates whites and cops and called him a con man. Sharpton had a lot to say about that.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
AL SHARPTON: Calling me a troublemaker? Yes, I make trouble for bigots. I made trouble for him with Central Park. I made trouble with him for birtherism. I'm going to keep making trouble for bigots.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Preach.
SHARPTON: As far as me being a con man, if he really thought I was a con man, he'd be nominating me for his Cabinet.
RASCOE: And Sharpton wasn't the only one firing back. The local newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, ran an editorial that said, better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one - referring to Trump.
SHAPIRO: We should note that Central Park and birtherism were two other moments that Trump took a very public position against people of color, in one case President Barack Obama.
President Trump insults a lot of his opponents, including politicians. Explain how these particular insults against people of color are different. How do they stand out?
RASCOE: It's a particular tone that he's taken - and the targets. His language about people of color who criticize him often seems to include nods to stereotypes. These tropes - go back to your country, crime-infested areas - they have a long history in this - in America and a cruel history.
I did a lot of reporting on this issue back last summer, cataloging hundreds of Trump's tweets. And what stood out to me going through those tweets is that Trump had praise for black celebrities and lawmakers who supported him. He would say they were smart or that they get it. But for those black people who opposed him, he would say they were dumb or low IQ and use this kind of specific language only on them.
SHAPIRO: As you say, this kind of language has been a long for - has been around for a long time in America. What changes when it's the president of the United States using it?
RASCOE: So I spoke to a Howard University professor Greg Carr. And what he said is that it's not really just the words from Trump - that we've had politicians who've done this before - but it's the silence from Republicans and others in power who defend these words that kind of contribute to this idea that black people will be permanent outsiders and that they will never be fully accepted by this country.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe.
RASCOE: Thank you
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