Not a cynical person by nature, I feel only a sort of wondering disappointment that Donald Trump’s overtly racist statements have not adhered to him any more tenaciously than various of his other outrageous antics. For instance, while I never looked directly at whatever happened regarding himself and photographs of Heidi Cruz that caused an uproar some weeks ago, I did get the impression that it made for about as many headlines, which stuck around for about as long, as the first time he proposed banning all Muslims from entering the country.
Now, both of these events represent loud and gross things Trump did for attention, successful bids to keep the cameras aimed at him. So to that extent, okay, I see their similarity. However, where one began and ended as a transient stunt, the other involves a promise to create new national policy should he become president. When his party, appalled, gave him a chance to walk the bar-all-Muslims statement when he first delivered it last fall, he doubled down, and as recently as this week he has confirmed that he still considers it a primary plank of his personal platform.
And all this lies to one side of how, since he first floated that suggestion, he’s turned it into standard shtick at his rallies. Trump likes to repeat an apocryphal story of an American general who crushed an uprising in the Phillipines by slaughtering dozens of Muslim prisoners, tasking a single witness with returning to his comrades as a warning. Trump’s crowd roars their approval, every time he rolls it out. They react similarly when he repeats his promise to make hated Mexico pay for an impossible border wall, or when he winkingly suggests that the protesters at his rallies — often young African-Americans — deserve to have their concerns beaten out of them.
As such, I do not find “the wife thing” and “the Muslim thing” equivalent utterances, not even when we consider the possibility (as I very much do) that Trump doesn’t really believe in any policies at all. I see him as something like a stage-psychic cold-reader, where he emits random, improvised ideas, pursuing those that seem to net him the most profitable crowd reactions. I don’t believe that he cares a whit about setting the national direction — he just wants that attention, and the personal power that it promises if he can ride it all the way through.
It happened that, through this strategy, Trump found tremendous success in wresting the population of disenfranchised, confused, and angry white working-class families away from the Republican Party elites who co-opted them decades ago. I don’t think this was necessarily his plan going in, and evidence exists that he never really expected to get very far anyway, but these voters heard his blunt and literal rhetoric as a refreshing alternative to the Countless years of southern-strategy dog whistles. Furthermore, it stands in stark opposition to the mixed messages of the last Bush administration, which encouraged fear of foreign hordes while also urging respect for Islam (if only in the abstract), and it comes after eight subsequent years of a black man’s presidency whose election coincided with a globally painful economic crash. A large swath of the country responded quickly and energetically to a powerful, successful American giving them, at long last, permission to hate.
I don’t think it makes a difference whether Trump himself “really” hates Muslims or Mexicans or anyone else. All that matters is that he has stumbled upon a path to personal success and glory that relies entirely on fear and hate, and he has chosen to risk not just his personal fortune and reputation on chasing it as far as it goes, but to risk the fate of the nation and perhaps the entire future of western civilization should he somehow manage to shoot the moon.
Thus do I call upon all of both the mainstream and independent news media to not flinch in calling Trump what he is: a candidate basing his strategy on hatred — hatred of all people, both foreign and domestic, who don’t resemble his base. Let no news story through November speak of Trump’s political plans or off-the-cuff policy ideas without also forefronting the overtly racist rhetoric and hateful promises he has chosen to propel his campaign.
By the same token, I urge my fellow American citizens to view Trump supporters with empathy while at the same time recognizing that each and every one of them, with eyes open, supports the installation, in the chief executive office of this nation, a man whose core message boils down to this: Darkies go home.