Harvard University professor and civil right activist Henry Louis Gates, Jr., urged Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to “study” Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s supporters to learn about their fears.
Gates is well-known for attending the “Beer Summit” in 2009 with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Sgt. James Crowley, a Cambridge police officer, following his arrest for disorderly conduct.
During a discussion on race in America, Gates recalled people at Harvard mocking Donald Trump.
“I turned to my friends and said, ‘You know, you got to watch this guy. This guy is not going to go away, as he famously said, and he is speaking to a need and a deep set of fears within a large segment of the American community.’ And where Elisabeth [Bumiller] and I were talking briefly at lunch, we’ve all been frightened. You know, you can’t mock the people who are frightened,” Gates said at the National Press Club.
“It’s not an exact analogy, but I think if I were adviser to Hillary Clinton, whom I support and is a very good friend, I would say you have to study what the needs are. Why are these people terrified? Why are they so prone to anti-black feelings and anti-Muslim Islamophobia, and why do they want the wall up, etc., etc., etc., and then what policies can be formulated that speak to their fears, but from the opposite end of the ideology spectrum that Donald Trump is doing?” he added.
According to Gates, Trump supporters have to be taught how to reach across ethnic, racial and class lines.
“Rather than exacerbate their fears, how do we assuage their fears and teach them how to reach across ethnic and racial and class lines, create new coalitions and form bridges rather than to erect barriers?” he said.
Gates referred to Clinton’s argument at a TV One town hall that race relations were much better when the U.S. had the lowest unemployment since the Great Depression under her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
“People start to look for scapegoats when there’s not enough lasagna to feed. That’s when they look for scapegoats. And what we have to do is figure out how to convince people that there is enough to eat at the table and that these black people and these women and these gay people and these Jewish people are not eating their share of lunch,” he said.
Filmmaker Ken Burns, who appeared at the event with Gates, suggested that some people’s views on race today are connected to the “original sin” of slavery.
“When you have a presidential candidate who takes a day to remember that he had already once repudiated David Duke, and it took him a day to remember that he was going to do it now, that is the wink-wink dog whistle that signals to our unreconstructed brethren because we’d like to believe in the better angels of our nature. We’d like to believe that we’re making progress,” Burns said.
“We’d like to believe that we would all be that slave ship owner who, you know, gives it up and writes ‘Amazing Grace.’ We’d like to believe in our better selves but in point of fact, we — a lot of us — aren’t that and that the old guilts, as Robert Penn Warren talked about, that we’ve inherited from slavery, our original sin, don’t often transform into goodness but metastasize into darkness and our politicians have spent a long time exploiting them,” he added.