Should the word "racist" be used to describe US President Donald Trump? That question is at the centre of debate across US media outlets.

After Trump told four Congresswomen of colour to "go back" to the countries they came from - even though three of them are American born - some media outlets are still stopping short of using the word.

But according to Ryan Devereaux, an immigration reporter with The Intercept, the notion of Trump being a "racist" is not a new phenomenon. He says Trump "has made it pretty clear what's in his heart, from the very beginning."

"There have been a number of journalists from the very beginning to call out this administration for exactly what it was. Maybe other legacy institutions or journalists are slower to come to these realisations. But it's not been a secret," he adds.

Suketu Mehta, author of This Land is Our Land, explains that Trump's relationship with media outlets like Fox News enables him to influence his own narrative.

"He is president of the United States, of Fox News watchers," Mehta argues. "He really doesn't care if people call him racist. He can manipulate the media like no one I've seen in the recent history of the United States."

Politics does not often come down to a war of words. Ahead of the upcoming 2020 elections, the US is a nation of opposing political narratives, where Trump's white nativist message is facing push-back from a new progressive force on the political left.

The four Democratic congresswomen Trump told to "go back", Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar, do not mince their words when talking about his border control policies and what they call 'concentration' camps.' They were outraged in describing their visits to two migrant detention centres in Texas.

But their outrage was followed up with an alternative photo-op by the US Vice President Mike Pence who appeared to be unmoved by what he saw at the detention centre on the Texas border, after he came face to face with detainees held in a caged area.

"We also saw a VP who didn't seem particularly moved by any of this. And I think that is really the human tragedy of it all," explains Crystal Fleming, author of How to Be Less Stupid about Race.

"In terms of the intentionality of the optics, I think what we can say is that unfortunately there is a segment of Trump's base that actually likes seeing people of colour being detained or being policed - being mistreated even," she adds.

But identifying someone as 'racist' can be particularly challenging, especially in a country that inherits its own historical debates about race.

"There is a history in this country in debates about race," notes University of Pennsylvania professor Mary Frances Berry. "Since you can't read their minds, you can talk in terms of their behaviour and you can talk in terms of the words that they use or whatever, but you can't say that person is a racist because you don't know exactly what they really inside believe in."


Ryan Devereaux - immigration reporter, The Intercept

Suketu Mehta - author, This Land is Our Land

Mary Frances Berry - professor of American Social Thought, University of Pennsylvania

Crystal Fleming - associate professor of sociology, Stony Brook University and author of How to Be Less Stupid About Race

Source: Al Jazeera News