For too many people, President Donald J. Trump’s racism is not a deal-breaker when it comes to supporting him.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank is but one high-profile example of this phenomenon. Mr. Plank joined Mr. Trump’s business advisory board and praised him in February, stating, “To have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country.”
As someone who grew up in Harford County, I’m familiar with Mr. Plank’s position. Many of my family members here expressed the same sentiment when explaining to me why they support Mr. Trump.
However, Mr. Trump has repeatedly exhibited a trait that is definitely not an asset for our country: blatant racism. The first New York Times article that ever featured Mr. Trump’s name on the first page was headlined “Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias.” The article, which was published in 1973, was about how the U.S. Department of Justice was suing Trump Management Corporation for allegedly discriminating against black people in its rental practices.
Decades later, Mr. Trump’s racist acts continue to be well-publicized and galling in their forthrightness.
Remember how he spent five years leading the racist birther movement against President Barack Obama, questioning the citizenship of America’s first black president without any evidence? And that was just the beginning of his more recent bigoted tirades.
At the launch of his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists. Later on, he proposed to ban Muslims from entering the United States; he used Nixonian dog whistles of “law and order” to rally his base; he repeatedly encouraged his supporters to beat up anti-racist protesters; and he declined to condemn David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan in an interview.
These things happened before Mr. Trump was elected president. My family knew about many of them, as Mr. Plank most likely did.
Yet, for some of my family and evidently for Mr. Plank, Mr. Trump’s lengthy record of racism could be conveniently ignored if it meant better economic opportunities for themselves.
Perhaps Mr. Plank is now having second thoughts, as I hope others who supported Mr. Trump in any way are. On Monday, Mr. Plank resigned from Mr. Trump’s manufacturing advisory board. This occurred two days after Mr. Trump failed to specifically condemn white supremacists after they rallied in Charlottesville, Va., where one of them killed a civilian and injured 19 others who were counter-protesting.
However, Mr. Plank’s resignation statement fails to mention Mr. Trump’s racist actions or what happened in Charlottesville. Instead, Mr. Plank says he is “appreciative of the opportunity to have served” and makes a vague reference about how sports promote “unity, diversity and inclusion.” He also says Under Armour “engages in innovation and sports, not politics.”
The notion that Under Armour does not engage in politics is absurd. Mr. Plank took on a public role advising Mr. Trump and praised him, despite the president’s racist actions and policies. Furthermore, in an official company statement in February defending Mr. Plank’s praise, Under Armour expressed support for tax reform (a term which here means “corporate tax cuts”) under the Trump administration. This is politics, plain and simple, and Mr. Plank should be honest about it.
So, as a person in a position of power who engages in politics, how is Mr. Plank’s failure to condemn white supremacy any different from Mr. Trump’s failure to do the same?
On a moral level, there is none. In his Nobel Prize speech, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel famously said, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Mr. Plank’s silence on the issues that matter makes his resignation appear more like an act of cowardice than of courage. As someone who helped give Mr. Trump credibility, Mr. Plank needs to forcefully condemn the president and make clear that the pursuit of narrow economic interests is no justification for supporting a racist man promoting racist policies.
The emboldening of white supremacists and Nazis in our nation demonstrates just one of the many dangers that emerge when we give racists extreme political power. In light of this danger, it is not too late for Mr. Plank and others who think like him to change and choose to speak out against Mr. Trump and his racism.
In the future, these people must never again prize the promise of economic growth over the basic human dignity of our fellow Americans.
Scott Novak (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate student at the University of Cambridge and an incoming student at the Georgetown University Law Center.