Washington, D.C.: US President Donald Trump faced renewed accusations of racism on Saturday after mocking the intelligence of Lakers superstar LeBron James and broadcaster Don Lemon of CNN.
Trump took to Twitter late on Friday night to bash Lemon after his interview on Monday with James and ended up slandering the celebrity athlete as well. In the interview, James reiterated his criticism of the president as racially insensitive.
“Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!” Trump tweeted, apparently referencing former NBA superstar Michael Jordan.
Trump’s criticism of the intelligence of James and Lemon, who are both black, comes after he has repeatedly referred to Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters, one of the most prominent African American members of Congress and a vocal Trump critic, as being “an extraordinarily low IQ person.”
The president’s attack on Waters has become a staple of his political rallies, as it was Saturday night in Lewis Centre, in central Ohio north of Columbus, where he called her “a seriously low IQ person” to the usual cheers.
During his campaign and presidency, Trump frequently has used racially charged language, particularly in talking about Latino immigrants. He faced his strongest backlash nearly a year ago for failing to immediately condemn the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., during a march by white supremacists and neo-Nazis, many of them armed, and for equating them with anti-racism protesters who turned out.
Trump also has been outspoken in slamming black NFL players for kneeling during the playing of the national anthem as a protest of police brutality and racial injustice. His frequent comments on that topic have led some professional sports teams, such as the Golden State Warriors, to decline the traditional congratulatory White House visit after winning a championship.
Trump’s tweet about James and Lemon drew immediate criticism on social media, particularly given that James was in the news last week for opening a school for at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, funded by his foundation. James’ I Promise School was the basis for Lemon’s CNN interview.
Lemon made that connection in responding to Trump’s attack, asking in his own tweet Saturday morning, “Who’s the real dummy? A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages?”
Lemon, who did not address the president’s attack against himself, was referring to the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy of separating as many as 3,000 immigrant children from their parents as they crossed the southern border. Some of the children were held in large cage-like structures. Under pressure, and a federal court order, Trump rescinded the policy but hundreds of families remain apart.
Many other critics directly or indirectly accused Trump of racism.
Max Boot, a foreign policy analyst at the Council of Foreign Relations, tweeted that he was “sure it’s just a coincidence that Trump thinks African-Americans are dumb.”
Journalist Dan Rather was more direct, calling Trump’s tweet “racist.”
James had not yet publicly responded to Trump’s tweet early on Saturday.
Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ chief executive and controlling owner, said the Lakers “could not be more proud” of James, whom they signed as a free agent last month.
“He is an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent leader and clearly appreciates the power that sports has to unite communities and inspire the world to be a better place. Those efforts should be celebrated by all,” she said.
Several prominent professional athletes came to James’ defense, including Jordan and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry.
“I support LJ,” Jordan said in a statement from his publicist. “He’s doing an amazing job for his community.”
James also received kudos from First Lady Melania Trump, who has distanced herself from her husband’s controversial behavior before. In a statement released by her spokeswoman, the first lady solicited an invitation to James’ school.
“It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, the first lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today,” said the spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham. “Her platform centers around visiting organizations, hospitals and schools, and she would be open to visiting the I Promise School in Akron.”
James has called Trump a “bum” on Twitter and campaigned for his Democratic opponent in 2016, Hillary Clinton.
In the CNN interview, James said he called Trump a bum because “he kinda used sports to kinda divide us. And that’s something that I can’t relate to because I know that sports was the first time I was around someone white.”
James said he has felt a need to respond to Trump’s attacks against NFL anthem protests and decisions by athletes to skip White House visits.
“I can’t sit back and say nothing,” James told Lemon.
Asked what he would say to Trump if they were to sit face to face, James responded, “I would never sit across from him.”
Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, James’ home state, who is frequently at odds with Trump, also defended James. Instead of criticizing him, Kasich said on Twitter that “we should be celebrating him for his charity work and efforts to help kids.”