(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star
Donald Trump’s behavior indicates that he identifies others, foremost, by the ways they differ from him.
At its sourest level, that trait corrodes the cornerstone beliefs of American democracy. Trump displayed such ignorance and paranoia in attacking a Hoosier-born and -educated federal judge as unqualified to handle two class-action lawsuits against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s defunct real-estate school, Trump University.
Trump’s reasoning? U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, as Trump put it, “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.”
If that were true, Trump said the judge could not rule fairly because, “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest.” The “wall” he mentioned is, of course, Trump’s proposed 35-foot-tall concrete barrier across 1,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent people from south of the border from illegally entering this country.
As for the “inherent conflict of interest,” that accusation by Trump involves no activism by the judge related to U.S.-Mexico policy nor any public stances taken by Curiel against the ex-reality TV star’s wall idea. Instead, Trump’s attack is based solely on Curiel’s ethnic background as a Latino.
In Trump’s race-obsessed thinking, any judge with a Latin-American heritage will be incapable of presiding without bias over a lawsuit against Trump’s unaccredited, for-profit education company because the defendant also wants to build a wall along the Mexico border.
First of all, Judge Curiel happens to be an American. A courageous American, who as a federal prosecutor withstood a death threat for dismantling a Mexican drug cartel. The 62-year-old was born in East Chicago, the son of legal immigrants who moved to the United States 70 years ago. His father followed a cousin to Indiana to land a rugged job in a steel mill. The future judge’s parents raised four kids in a diverse neighborhood. Gonzalo and an older brother later graduated from Indiana University as lawyers.
“We were made in America, using the tools of hard work and education and opportunity open to everyone willing to earn it,” Curiel said in a 2014 commencement address at IU.
Trump apparently holds a different, suspicious view of Curiel. Rather than seeing the judge as an American and a Hoosier, Trump sees Curiel as an outsider with allegiances to Mexico and who is willing to unfairly apply the law in a court case involving allegations that the billionaire’s college defrauded students. Trump affirmed that conclusion after Curiel ordered 1,000 pages of Trump’s internal company documents released.
As criticism from inside his own party mounted, Trump remained defiant and upped his racial tone. On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” he insisted that a Muslim judge would also be inherently biased against him, because of his plan to temporarily ban people of that religious faith from immigrating to America.
Trump needs to listen to his Republican critics, including House Speaker Paul Ryan who called Trump’s attacks on Curiel “the textbook definition of racist comments.”
Trump also needs to explain a glaring contradiction in his attitude toward Americans of Latino descent. In the Trump University case, he wants the legal system to believe that Curiel cannot preside in an unbiased manner because his Latino heritage would automatically compel the judge to work against Trump. Yet in his presidential campaign, Trump often asserts, as he did after winning the Nevada Republican Caucus, that “the Hispanics love me.” If the latter is true, the judge cannot be presumed to be biased.
In reality, Curiel is merely conducting the case as the well-regarded judge that he is — recipient of the American Bar Association’s highest rating, unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate, and born and raised in Indiana. Apparently, the best Trump can do in retaliation is to attack the Hoosier judge’s ancestry.