Last summer, a black real estate developer and reality television show host — let's call him Donell Trump — announced his candidacy for president of the United States. A notorious adulterer, Donell Trump has fathered five children with three different wives. Over decades in the media spotlight, he has insulted a slew of women by calling them, among many other slurs, "fat," "ugly" and "pigs"; he told one female journalist she had "the face of a dog."
Once the proprietor of a global beauty pageant, whose contestants he routinely demeaned, Donell Trump is obsessed with boasting about his sexual prowess. He joked about the size of his anatomy during a live televised debate and riffed about dating his adult daughter. If Donell Trump's attitude toward the fairer sex could be distilled into a single sentence, it's what he told Esquire in 1991: "It really doesn't matter what [the media] write about you as long as you've got a young and beautiful piece of ass."
Then there's money. Donell Trump can't get enough of it. He's obsessed with ostentatious displays of wealth. Donell Trump constantly exaggerates his personal net worth, and his larger-than-life existence — shiny watches, fast cars, big yachts, massive cribs — resembles that of a rap star. A substantial part of his fortune was made through shady business ventures that took advantage of working-class people, but Donell Trump has no apologies.
Donell Trump also displays rank ignorance about every single political issue he's asked about, speaks at a fifth-grade reading level, and has trouble forming grammatically correct sentences. He routinely nudges attendees at his rallies to beat up protestors, has boasted that he could shoot someone on Manhattan's 5th Avenue to prove his voters' loyalty to him, and has dropped hints that his supporters should kill his opponent.
Presented with such a presidential candidate — one who seemingly went out of his way to personify every negative stereotype our society holds about black male sexuality, avarice and propensity to violence — how would the Republican Party base and conservative entertainment industry respond? Would Bill O'Reilly and Jerry Falwell Jr. praise Donell Trump as a model American businessman and moral leader? Or would they lament how this habitual homewrecker and "baby daddy" to three separate women symbolized the epidemic of African American absentee fatherhood? Would Rush Limbaugh insist that Donell Trump's half-literate tirades were the heartfelt pleas of a down-to-earth, blue-collar billionaire? Or instead treat his listeners to a rant about the inanities of Ebonics?
In a sense, we already know how this segment of the right would respond to such a hypothetical black politician, given the way they've treated President Obama. An intellectual, Ivy League-educated, cool-tempered family man, Obama has nevertheless been portrayed by much of the right-wing media as nothing short of the anti-Christ, a crypto-Muslim Manchurian candidate secretly plotting to destroy America. Meanwhile, many of the same people who claim with a straight face that the plagiarizing former nude model Melania Trump would make an ideal first lady slam Michelle Obama's innocuous healthy-eating initiative as nothing less than a Maoist reeducation scheme.
Granted, if conservatives rejected Donell Trump as unfit for office, they wouldn't be in the wrong. The values Donell Trump exemplifies — pride, greed, envy, a literal catalog of the seven deadly sins — are ones we ought to recoil from when choosing a president.
My point is that the very voters and media personalities who would almost certainly condemn Donell have embraced Donald, which indicates the degree to which a racial double standard exists at the core of the Republican Party and conservative media world. Replace the outer-borough white ethnic vulgarity with African American ghetto vernacular and they'd call the man a "thug."
Some conservatives may respond to this thought exercise by claiming that, actually, Republican voters would enthusiastically welcome a black candidate, a Donell Trump — so long as he, too, championed nationalist, politically incorrect, anti-immigrant populism. But the closest the GOP ever had to a black Trump, 2012 contender Herman Cain, fizzled out as soon as sexual harassment allegations against him became public.
Moreover, so much of Donald Trump's popularity is based on unsubtle appeals to white nationalism that — despite the thought exercise above — it's impossible to imagine a true black analogue. Trump's hesitance to condemn David Duke, his "law and order" mantra evocative of Richard Nixon's Southern strategy, and his conspiracy theories about the president's birth certificate are all intended to whip up white racial resentment.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter: Whether the subject is poverty, police brutality or affirmative action, conservatives are loath to acknowledge the presence of racism in American society. Yet it's far from hidden; it courses through the presidential campaign, as the notion of a Donell Trump candidacy clearly shows.
James Kirchick is a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative. His book "The End of Europe" is forthcoming from Yale University Press.