Can We Trust Donald Trump?

iStock/The Taj Majal Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey is seen in 2012. The casino, owned by Trump Entertainment Resorts, is permanently closed.

When dealing with tribal casinos, Donald Trump doesn’t recognize indigenous rights.

Through his businesses affiliated with the gaming industry, Donald Trump has met with Indian communities and leaders, and made partnerships for managing Indian casinos. Meeting Indians through the casino business may not be the best way to gain historical, legal, cultural or business understanding of American Indian tribal governments, communities or businesses. Nevertheless, Trump has had direct business and political relations with Indian tribes large and small. Few presidents have had such direct contact with Indians. Trump’s record, however, does not present confidence that he can faithfully support Indian programs, tribal sovereignty, or work in the interests of promoting American Indian community goals.

As a competitor with Indian casinos, Donald Trump has always lost. Most significantly, he was beaten by the eastern American Indian casinos. Trump’s casino businesses in New Jersey went bankrupt, while the tribal casinos produced income for their communities. Trump’s reaction was to attack the Indian casino business, while at the same time trying to break into partnerships and profitable relations with tribes running casinos.

Donald Trump commented publicly on the rights and powers of Indians to run and manage casinos, generally ignoring a string of Supreme Court decisions and the congressionally approved Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 that helped sort out relations and issues between states and tribes. Trump argued on several occasions in the 1990s that the reservation Indians that he came into contact with did not “look like Indians.” He doubted the many reservation Indians were racially Indians. He understands the world in racial terms, rather than in terms of law, culture, nationality, or tribal government.

Donald Trump further argued that Indian gaming violated the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which says that all political powers that are not explicitly expressed in law as federal powers, belong to state governments. He adopted a strong states rights position against Indian political rights to self-government. Trump argues that Indians do not pay taxes to state or federal government. He implies that Indians have special rights and that he was discriminated against.

Trump says he was beaten economically because tribal casinos have advantages that he did not have as a casino business manager. Donald Trump does not recognize, or it does not suit him, that Indians have treaty and inherent rights, or indigenous rights, that are expressed powers of self-government. Indian governments existed before the formation of the United States government and constitution. Tribal governments retain inherent government powers, as long as the federal government has not explicitly taken those powers away in written and approved federal law.

Nonetheless, on other occasions, Trump has tried to sponsor unrecognized tribes, working to gain recognition, and then planning to manage the casino for the tribe in order to make profits. He does not realize that tribally sponsored gaming is not about individual profits, but rather about raising money for education, health, community development, strengthening tribal government, and for cultural preservation.

Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his approval to build oil pipelines threatens the health and ecological environments of Indian communities. Trump’s proposed budget cuts within the Department of Interior and elsewhere, if passed by Congress, threaten jobs and programs on Indian reservations.

If this was not enough, Trump argued in 1994 that Indian gaming would invite infiltration and control by organized mobsters. Indian gaming, he said on the Today Show, would invite “the biggest organized crime problem in the history of this country.” Recently, Trump used crime and terrorism arguments to constrain the rights of Islamic and Mexican immigrants and citizens. Will Trump use crime and disorder arguments to trample Indian rights and tribal government powers? Perhaps preservation of American Indian rights will depend on gaining a Democratic Congressional majority in the 2018 mid-term election.

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