“Hopefully, he’s going to sit there and say, ‘When I become elected president, what we’re going to do is we’re going to make the border a vacation spot, it’s going to cost you $25 for a permit, and then you get $50 for every confirmed kill,’ ” said Jim Sherota, 53, who works for a landscaping company. “That’d be one nice thing.” Alan Blinder, New York Times, August 21, 2015
While beltway pundits continue to argue about the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency, and whether he has a real shot at the nomination, I’m convinced that his campaign is both legitimate and likely to win the nomination.
And while beltway pundits continue to be shocked — shocked! — at Trump’s broad appeal across the electorate, as well as his Teflon®-coated non-stick exterior for surviving statements that would’ve sunk any other GOP candidate you care to mention, I was convinced early on that Trump had tapped into a rich vein of voter discontent that crosses demographic lines including party, region, religion, political affiliation, and others.
However, I needed to wait for affirmation.
What is now clear is that Trump has tapped into the closeted racism of the American public, which does in fact cut across many demographic groups.
He has pierced a deep vein of powerful conviction among millions of Americans that white culture and white supremacy has been a prime mover in what made America great and that white supremacy is key to “making America great again.”
At the same time, Trump’s newly found constituency suffers from deep misgivings about this nation’s future. The demographic trends towards a pluralistic society revealed in the 2010 census, with the Hispanic population nearly doubling in the 2000-2010 decade from 27.3 million to 50.5 million — now equalling about 16 percent of the total population — produced a shockwave in Republicans circles, as did the earlier election of a black president in 2008. More recently, the announcement last July that the Latino population in California now exceeds the white population, making California the first fully pluralistic state in the nation with no ethnic majority, has amplified fears among Trump’s followers that America’s white majority will soon simply be another among several ethnic minorities. Finally, the Black Lives Matter movement has added to their sense of confusion and disequilibrium. Why are those blacks acting up again?
Trump has tapped into the clandestine feelings of millions of Americans that the country was stronger and better off with a pre-eminent white majority and white power structure. They believe that an America trending toward ethnic pluralism is an America in decline. Brilliantly, he has named his constituency of closeted racists the “silent majority,” which accords with a cherished belief among those folk that most other people think the way they do, but are unwilling to show it and get labeled racist.
The first clue as to the nature of his popularity came on the heels of The Donald’s® campaign announcement, when he denounced the Mexican government and denigrated the Mexican people. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. […] They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Newspapers across the country condemned that statement and political pundits declared his candidacy DOA.
But the pundits were wrong. Not only did Trump’s campaign dodge a case of SIDS, it took off. Within days he was leading in the polls and wearing a baseball cap with the words “Make America Great Again.” That dog-whistle statement is simply a transparent rendering of “Make America White Again.”
Subsequently, Trump refused to back down from his incendiary statements about Latino’s in general and Mexicans in particular, attacked his chief rival Jeb! for stating that illegal immigrants come here as an act of love, attacked the Black Lives Matter movement, attacked women, called President Obama ‘stupid’ and ‘incompetent,’ has proposed mass deportation of 12 million non-resident aliens, has taken the position that the 14th amendment doesn’t apply to natural born citizens he terms “anchor babies,” and in his copious spare time has launched twitter wars against journalist Megan Kelly and others.
All of which should have knocked the wheels off Trump’s campaign long ago. Except it didn’t. Frank Luntz, GOP pollster and Orwellian wordsmith, set out to find out why and learned to his horror just how deep the discontent with the GOP runs among the party’s base.
“We’ve got to show the Republicans that we’ve had it with them, that we will not be there every single time,” one woman said. “They treat us like crap and they lie to us and promise us things and then they expect us to vote again. That’s why we want Trump.”
But supporters mostly explained that they found Trump’s message — which is pitched to a third-grade level — appealing because it was easy to understand. Luntz showed the participants recordings of Trump insulting women, bragging about himself and reversing his previous positions on a variety of topics — but the vast majority said they only liked him more after watching the videos.
“Nothing disqualifies Trump,” Luntz said afterward.
Indeed, Trump seems able to get away with anything. In Boston, one of two men who beat a homeless Hispanic man cited Trump’s criticism of immigrants as motivation. “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” Scott Leader, 38, told officers, according to a police report cited by The Boston Globe. Trump’s response when told about the incident? “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that.”
There’s a difference between passion and violence. Trump’s refusal to condemn politically-inspired violence only serves to legitimize the use of violence among his followers against those they dislike or disagree with. The fact that he can get away with a statement like that only confirms what Luntz discovered: Nothing disqualifies Trump.
Finally, we have the ejection of Jorge Ramos from a Trump press conference. Ramos, a naturalized citizen and anchor of Univision, demanded that Trump explain the policies he advocates for dealing with the 11 million Hispanics who have come to this country illegally. “Go back to Univision,” Trump told Ramos before having him ejected from news conference. He might as well have said, ‘Go back to Mexico’ and had him deported. Later, in the foyer outside the conference room, Ramos was confronted by a Trump supporter fully representative of Trump supporters. “Get out of my country,” the man demanded. “Sir, I am an American citizen,” Ramos replied. “Whatever,” the man said.
Whatever. For racists, nothing really matters except race. Not citizenship, not social status, not legal status, not birthright, not service to the country. Nothing else matters but race. And racists finally have a leader who legitimizes that view.
What is certain is that the campaign of Donald Trump for the presidency also will be a plebiscite on white supremacy as another form of identity politics in this country. To the degree that Trump’s campaign is outing the huge numbers of closeted racists in the Republican party, he is doing the country a tremendous service. His campaign is certain to degrade the GOP into the status of a permanent minority party.