On Thursday's New Day on CNN, during a discussion of Donald Trump's hesitancy to condemn former KKK leader David Duke, CNN co-anchor Alisyn Camerota used the controversy to bring up other alleged racial issues from the past, including Ronald Reagan on "welfare queens" in 1976 and the Willie Horton ads against Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Guest Michael Eric Dyson, a race-obsessed former MSNBC political analyst known for hyperbolic attacks on conservatives who has made a few appearances on CNN in recent weeks, responded by suggesting that half or more of Americans have a problem with Barack Obama as a black President, and repeated an old discredited charge that Reagan employed a racist dog whistle by beginning his 1980 presidential campaign in a Mississippi city where an infamous anti-civil rights murder took place 16 years earlier.
After some discussion of the Trump-KKK controversy, Camerota at 7:36 a.m. ET brought up presidential campaigns from recent history, tying in race:
Obviously this is not the first time the incendiary issue of race has come up in presidential politics. It happens all the time. How do you think this year plays against some other famous years? Say, 1988 with Michael Dukakis and the Willie Horton ad? Or, say, 19, I guess it was, 76? Ronald Reagan? Talking about welfare queens. Where do you rank this year?
Dyson, a professor at Georgetown University, began by taking on the Willie Horton ads of 1988:
Well, it's pretty rancorous. In those instances, the kind of implicit politics of race, the kind of subtextual character of race, you know, flared up here and there. The Willie Horton ad, of course, was pretty bad. Some argue it lost Dukakis his presidency, at least his, you know, his attempt to, you know, counteract what was being said about him: He was soft on crime. That was a theme that the Republicans beat time and time again against the Democrats.
He then moved to smear Reagan as he added:
Ronald Reagan himself of course choosing to start his, one of his presidential races in Philadelphia, Mississippi implicitly identifying with the very state and the very city where three civil rights workers were found murdered. So the implicit politics of race flared time and again.
But Reagan's appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi -- which was in August 1980 and therefore not even near the beginning of his campaign -- took place a few miles away from the city of Philadelphia, Mississippi, at a fair that was known for attracting a large number of the state's residents. Even the murders themselves did not actually take place in Philadelphia, making it a leap for liberals to try to connect the two events.
Dyson then suggested that Republicans have been willing to "benefit" from more hidden racism but have become alarmed by Trump being too open about it:
In this instance, I think with Donald Trump being the frontrunner, even the Republican establishment which has benefited from a Southern strategy, which has benefited from the implicit politics of race, is offended by the fact that Donald Trump is allowing these things to surface explicitly. So he's breaking the social compact that the Republicans have struck with the American public by playing it safe and playing it by implication and signification. Donald Trump is brutal and straightforward, at least to people he draws to him, and as a result of that, all sides are shaken up a bit.
The CNN co-anchor lightly pushed back after commenting that Professor Dyson's view was "interesting." Camerota:
That's interesting. Professor. I mean, you think that it's the difference between explicit and implicit racism. But isn't it also possible that the country has changed and the country has made progress and people aren't as comfortable with all of these insinuations as they used to be?
Then came the Georgetown University professor's insinuation that most Americans are racist against President Obama:
Well, of course. Some of the country has changed and that some of the country is uncomfortable. But given the numbers that are attracted to Donald Trump and the rhetoric that he espouses, or at least the way in which that rhetoric resonates with them, it's clear there's a great quarter, at least half of the country that has not changed, that is resistant to a black presidency, that is consciously, that is consciously or unconsciously disposed against Obama for legitimate ideological or political reasons-
Camerota then jumped in to question his suggestion of racism by half of Americans:
But it, but, I mean, it's not really half the country, it's not half the country that's supporting Donald Trump right now. It's a percentage of Republicans.
Dyson still theorized that half of Americans are racist as he responded:
No, no, no, but the half the country I'm talking about is not simply about who's supporting Donald Trump. It's about the kind of racial discord we see manifesting in this country and the disgruntlement with things as they are. Some of that is ideological, some of that is political, and some of that has a racial overlay. So what I'm suggesting here is that there is a huge civil war going on in America manifest in the Trump campaign, but it's broader than that.
Camerota gave no additional pushback as she wrapped up the segment: "Professor Michael Eric Dyson, always great to get your perspective. Thanks for being on New Day."
During his time at MSNBC, Dyson was no stranger to making incendiary attacks on conservatives. In June 2013, he characterized conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence as a "symbolic Jew" who "invited a metaphoric Hitler to commit holocaust and genocide upon his own people." And in July 2013, he smeared FNC's Bill O'Reilly as being "surprised that black people don't throw bananas at each other or swing from trees."