In a wide-ranging interview with America’s most incendiary public figure, Donald Trump, the leading contender for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States and I had the following exchange Wednesday Sept. 2 on my WABC Radio show. One of the many issues my longtime friend and former “Celebrity Apprentice” boss and I covered was the candidate’s contention that there is an illegal immigrant – mostly Mexican – violent crime wave.
Trump: A lot of the gangs in Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis and Ferguson are illegal immigrants.
Geraldo: I think you’re wrong about that, boss. The crime wave we’re seeing is not a function of immigrants. It’s black on black.
Trump: In L.A. and Chicago you have tremendous [amounts of] illegal immigrants in gangs and they’re rough dudes.
Let me analyze Trump’s answer to this and other questions I asked.
Tapping into the primal fear many white Americans have about the “browning” of the nation, [Trump] has been catapulted to the front of the GOP pack. My dilemma is that after knowing Trump for so long, I believe he has been trapped by his own inflammatory rhetoric and his rabble rousing success into a position far harsher than necessary.
- Geraldo Rivera
Remorseless and violent, there is little doubt that long-established Latino gangs, many of whose “rough dudes” are indeed undocumented immigrants, have been a persistent problem for law enforcement in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. Still, by a disproportionate percentage, the vast majority of big city murders in 2015 are homegrown, young black men killing other young black men from Compton to South Chicago to West Baltimore.
A black-owned business in Memphis sponsored my favorite billboard of the year. It says, "Black lives do matter, so let’s quit killing each other."
Memphis is our third most dangerous city proportionate to population. Heavily African-American, it shares that distinction with the others in America's top ten most deadly. They are, in order,
The number of murders in 2015 jumped by 33 percent or more in Baltimore, New Orleans and St. Louis. These are all cities with few Latino immigrants, documented or otherwise.
Talk of an illegal alien murder wave is factually false.
It is always easier to blame the outsiders for what ails us. We are the problem. This is the inconvenient truth.
But back to Trump.
I have known and admired him for decades. He is a superb builder who has made decent neighborhoods out of urban blight, reinvigorated the sport of golf, and created clothing lines and television programs from scratch, earning multiple billions in the process. He is a great American and now he is running hard and well for the Republican nomination.
But he is scapegoating Latino immigrants.
His off-handed and deeply disparaging remarks made during his announcement speech about undocumented Mexican immigrants have made Trump the poster boy for the xenophobic, nativist, Ann Coulter wing of the Republican Party. His attacks on Jeb Bush for answering a question posed by a Latino reporter in Spanish were absurd. Still, there is no doubt that Trump’s message is resonating with many Republican primary voters.
Tapping into the primal fear many white Americans have about the “browning” of the nation, the billionaire businessman and reality television host has been catapulted to the front of the GOP pack. My dilemma is that after knowing Trump for so long, I believe he has been trapped by his own inflammatory rhetoric and his rabble rousing success into a position far harsher than necessary to make the points about the need for border security and a legal reckoning for the 11 plus million undocumented immigrants currently estimated to be living in the United States.
Geraldo: Do you believe that you could have made the same points without demonizing a whole race of people?
Trump: No, I don’t think so Geraldo, I really don’t. I think they are tough points; I think we have to make them tough. I think it has to be done properly, you need borders, I’m a believer in the wall; walls do work by the way. But I’m a believer in the wall and I have seen where people are pouring across the borders and big league, and I mean big league. What’s really coming across and going right back are drugs.
After I pointed out that a trillion-dollar wall could be defeated by a hundred-dollar ladder, our conversation turned to Mr. Trump’s outreach to the Hispanic business community.
Geraldo: You had a meeting yesterday with Javier Palomarez the CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Did you meet with him first of all, because you wanted in some ways to communicate directly to the community to tell them how you feel about these issues and why [your feelings] may be more reasonable then how they are being portrayed?
Trump: Sure, he is the head of a large group … Hispanic businesses and that’s right up my line … And, by the way, the Hispanics are great entrepreneurs, the Mexicans are great entrepreneurs. Part of it is they work hard, have great energy and are great people. But I had my people reach out to him, he was happy about it. We had about an hour meeting and it was terrific. I think he was a terrific guy. We don’t agree on everything certainly but I think I agreed to do some kind of luncheon or whatever down in Washington, so I will get to inspect the Old Post Office (Trump’s new DC hotel project) as it goes up under budget and ahead of schedule. Unlike government, I am under budget and way ahead of schedule. Do you like that?
Geraldo: I do, but I want you to stay on point.
Trump: OK, but I get to check that while I go down. I like to do many things at one time, because he is having the meeting down in Washington. So, I will be going down at some point in October or whatever. I will go to Washington. That won’t be that easy a meeting because you’ll have hundreds of people and they will have constituents of his and they may disagree with me but ultimately we will all get along.
Finally, the candidate and I turned back to his deeply disturbing promise to eject all undocumented immigrants in the country.
Geraldo: But you’re talking about millions of otherwise law-abiding men, women and children, some kids born U.S. citizens. They are frightened to their core about things you’ve said about throwing them out. That’s a legacy you can’t have.
Trump: All I’m telling you is lighten up, it’s all going to work out. I’m telling you, I’m a great manager. And you know I’m reasonable, otherwise you couldn’t have come in second place on (Celebrity) Apprentice.
Geraldo: You’re very reasonable, that’s why I’m so shocked by some of this extreme language, it seems so unnecessary.
Trump: You’re going to find I have a big heart and I’m going to do it right. It’s not OK right now. Tremendous crime and those we’re getting out immediately, and you’re not fighting me on that.
Geraldo: I want the criminals out or in jail regardless of their race … but why doesn’t Trump, the charming, charismatic, original, successful [man I know], take the substance of what you want to accomplish for America and tone down the rhetoric, be the man that I know with an open heart, a practical idealist, who wants to accomplish what you did for yourself for the country. I think you can still say this is a problem, we need secure borders, let’s get the crooks and criminals out.
Trump: Geraldo, if I win, I’m doing pretty well.
Geraldo: You’re doing fabulous. I’m proud of you, everyone that loves you is proud of you.
Trump: A poll came out yesterday that I’m at 40 percent.
Geraldo: But why not ease off a little bit?
Trump: I have no objection to that at all. You know I have a big heart.
Geraldo: That’s why I want to take you to a Puerto Rican restaurant.
Trump: I would love that.
Geraldo Rivera currently serves as a roaming correspondent-at-large for Fox News Channel. He joined the network in 2001 as a war correspondent.