Even for a small, petty man whose presidency was almost singularly focused on insult-tweeting between golf and crimes, Trump seemed to reserve his greatest condescension and disdain for Black women, invoking racist and sexist language to demean their intelligence and capabilities.
His indignation at Black women journalists for questioning him—that is to say, doing their jobs—and seething resentment of their presence in briefing rooms was palpable when he instructed American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan to “sit down” and called her a “loser;” berated CNN’s Abby Phillips, telling her, “you ask a lot of stupid questions;” and implied PBS journalist Yamiche Alcindor was “threatening,” patronizingly shushed her, and called her “something else.”
Trump intentionally evoked “welfare queen” imagery when calling Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser “incompetent” and wanting of “handouts,” and called up “angry Black lady” tropes when labeling Vice President Kamala Harris “a monster” and “a mad woman.”
And whatever you think about putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, his cancellation of that proposal, and his suggestion that she instead appear on out-of-print $2 notes—while implying a formerly enslaved woman becoming a Union nurse, spy, and the first woman to plan and command a military operation that freed more than 700 enslaved folks doesn’t compare with the “tremendous success" of genocidist and slave-trader Andrew Jackson—is wild.
All this misogynoir rushed to memory on Wednesday, when New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Black woman, announced that her office has filed a $250 million lawsuit alleging Trump and his three middle-aged, very adult children fraudulently “inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system, thereby cheating all of us.” For those who may not have wanted to read the entire 220-page complaint, James offered a tweet thread with just a few examples of Trump’s many alleged financial lies, including falsely tripling the square footage of his Manhattan apartment to command an unprecedented sale price of $327 million, valuing Mar-a-Lago at $739 million when it was closer to $75 million, and reporting that he had cash on hand that didn’t exist.
This lawsuit from James, who says she interviewed 65 people and reviewed millions of documents, likely inflames Trump in a way few things ever have. Having a Black lawyer attached to it is, for the former president, a greater indignity.
There is also the fact that, among Trump’s many insecurities, being exposed as less wealthy than he’s claimed is perhaps the most crippling. There was that time in 2011, just ahead of Trump’s Comedy Central roast, when the one topic he ruled off-limits for mockery was any insinuation that he was poorer than he claimed to be. And back in 2005, Trump sued Trump Nation author Tim O'Brien for estimating Trump’s fortune between $150 million to $250 million—a far cry from the “five to six billion” Trump claimed. (Since then, Trump has variously placed his worth from $6 to $10 billion.) The court threw out Trump’s lawsuit, but the deposition gifted us with Trump’s admission that he bases his net worth not on assets and liabilities but on his “own feelings as to where the world is going, and that can change rapidly from day to day.”
The response from Trump to James’ lawsuit was, as you might expect, more misogynoir. In a Truth Social post, Trump referred to James as “Peekaboo” (a word reminiscent of the old-school slurs his fanbase is working to bring back), Trump also called James a “fraud,” a “total crime fighting disaster,” and blamed her for New York City becoming the crime-ravaged cesspool Trump imagines it to be. “She is a failed A.G. whose lack of talent in the fight against crime is causing record numbers of people and companies to flee New York,” Trump wrote. “The city is one of the crime and murder disasters of the world under her watch.” He doubled down during a Thursday night appearance on Sean Hannity’s show, saying James “should focus on murder and crime in New York, where they walk into stores with axes and they start swinging the axes at people.”
Charges of non-existent “reverse racism” resonate loudly with Trump’s self-pitying base of white grievance-mongers, which is why it’s become his go-to when dealing with Black critics.
In 2018, when Alcindor asked Trump if he was “emboldening white nationalists,” he waved off the query as “a racist question.” Just this past January, he baselessly labeled MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid a “racist commentator.” And as he was establishing the Big Lie about the election being stolen, both Trump and Rudy Giuliani targeted Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman, two Black women election workers in Georgia. Trump brought up Freeman’s name 18 times during a January 2021 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, denigrating her as “a hustler” and “professional vote scammer” who “stuffed the ballot boxes.” None of that was true, but Trumpists already believed Trump’s claim that illegitimate Black votes had stolen the election; they were all too happy to buy that Black vote counters were involved.
Trump’s presidency was one long appeal to white resentment, and a staggering number of studies have shown that his followers are motivated by anti-Black racism. (And sexism, because white supremacy and misogyny go hand in hand.) Targeting two Black women guaranteed an onslaught of death threats and racist harassment against Freeman and Moss by Trump supporters, who barely needed a reason.
The ex-president is fanning those flames again—not that he ever stopped—but hoping James will get burned. In January, at a rally in Texas, Trump called James and other prosecutors “radical, vicious, [and] racist,” and suggested that his supporters stage “the biggest protest we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta” if he faced charges.
"Maybe you guys can get involved a little bit," he said, roughly one year after the Jan 6 insurrection at the Capitol. His followers may not have heard him, because they were chanting, “Lock her up!”
The beauty of this moment, though, is that Trump must contend with a lengthy trail of evidence, the results of a three-year investigation, and an attorney general who will not be cowed. (Oh, did I mention Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, just settled a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former Black woman employee who claimed that Habba’s many racist acts included calling James “that Black bitch?” Also that.)
In April, responding to one of Trump’s defamatory messages, James released a statement:
“Like all Americans, Donald J. Trump is entitled to defend himself in court. However, this attorney general will not be bullied or intimidated by the former president. The courts have ruled time and time again that the office’s investigation into Mr. Trump and his financial dealings is legitimate and lawful, and Attorney General James will continue to follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead. Nothing will dissuade her from pursuing justice.”
The level of rage that Trump is experiencing by having a Black woman come for him—with receipts—is surely off the charts. It is also an absolutely, almost too delicious, moment to behold. It also brings to mind the thought that, while anti-Blackness and misogynoir are rampant all over, maybe Trump also resents Black women for seeing him so clearly from the jump: as a conman, a thief, a pathetically thin-skinned and desperately needy man who viewed the first Black president as an affront. The kind of white guy who repeats what you say in meetings and questions the validity of your ideas because of his own lack of creativity. Who smirks at your comments because, deep inside, he knows you’re smarter than him.
Maybe that gets to him. He knows that 95 percent of Black women, pretty famously at this point, voted against him in 2016. He enlisted his entire White House to go after Jemele Hill, an ESPN host at the time, for publicly acknowledging him as a “white supremacist.” Trump—who put at least 10 judges rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association on the federal bench— used the word “unqualified” to describe the imminently talented Stacey Abrams, who with a number of other Black women activists in 2020 helped defeat Trump in Georgia.
And, of course, there’s James, who as a candidate and upon her entry to office, promised to “follow the money” where Trump was concerned. Watching her deliver on that vow is absolutely enraging for Trump, a man who has dedicated his life to revenge over trifling slights, who used his bully pulpit to stoke (in the people who were already looking for someone to blame) even more hatred against the same people who are always on the receiving end of white anger and vitriol.
Perhaps it’s petty, but knowing how much Trump is particularly aggrieved by this Black woman, he would use every tool in his arsenal to destroy for far less—if their roles were reversed.