It was January of 2017, and a newly inaugurated President Donald Trump held a reception at the White House to meet with top congressional leaders. Hors d’oeuvres were on the menu. And the new president turned to a row of racially diverse Democratic staffers and asked them to retrieve the canapes, according to a new book.
“Why don’t you get” the food, Trump told staffers for Sen. Chuck Schumer, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and others, according to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman’s new book, Confidence Man.
Then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus rushed to correct Trump’s remark, telling the then-president that he’d just addressed top congressional aides before going to find the actual White House waitstaff.
Trump’s remark to the staffers is just one example of Trump’s casual racism detailed in pages of Confidence Man reviewed by Rolling Stone. For example, later in that same meeting, Trump told Schumer and Pelosi that ballots cast by “illegals” were the only reason he’d lost the 2016 popular vote to Hillary Clinon, Haberman reports. After an awkward silence, Pelsoi interjected: “I don’t believe so, Mr. President.”
The book describes Trump’s relationship with Kara Young, a model he dated for multiple years who had a Black mother and a white father. Soon after meeting Young’s parents, Trump joked that she had inherited her beauty from her mother and her intelligence “from her dad, the white side.” Trump laughed at his own joke. Young didn’t, and, according to the book, voiced her displeasure.
Young in a 2017 interview detailed another incident in which Trump expressed surprise that Serena and Venus Williams drew a racially diverse crowd to the U.S. Open, as he was operating under the belief that Black people were uninterested in tennis. (The U.S. Open finals are typically played at Arthur Ashe stadium, named for one of tennis’ many high-profile Black players.)
Through Young, Trump connected with Black celebrities such as Sean Combs and Russell Simmons, relationships he’d later cite when disputing accusations of racism.
Despite employing the “I have Black friends” defense, Trump — who was the chief cheerleader of the Obama birther conspiracy, who launched his presidential campaign by claiming Mexico was sending immigrants who were “bringing crime” and who were “rapists,” who said a crowd of white power protesters rioting in Charlottesville included “very fine people,” and whose presidency ushered in a renaissance of overt white nationalism in mainstream American political life — still left some people unconvinced.
Indeed, Trump’s history of racist remarks and actions left some to conclude that even his vague statements cloaked bigotry. During his time in office, Trump would periodically tell visitors to his White House workspace that he had a “secret bathroom,” saying that he’d had the lavatory completely redone, according to the book.
Trump was lying, staff said at the time, saying that only the toilet seats had been changed, as per the custom in presidential transitions. During one of the times he claimed to have renovated Trump made a remark emphasizing his desire for the changes: ”You understand what I’m talking about.”
The guest, Haberman writes, “interpreted [the remark] to mean Trump did not want to use the same bathroom as his Black predecessor.”