Donald Trump’s performance these last few days show how powerful a man devoted to political and racial arson can be when he is beyond shame, reason, and dignity and possessed with the power and platform of the presidency.
In the scope of a half-dozen tweets, President Grievance managed to ignite a racial brouhaha designed to frame 2020, push his white-nat-adjacent audience into paroxysms of joy, and take a massive dump on the American dream. Trump was due for one of his periodic dog-whistles to the alt-reich segment of his base, and he delivered in spades.
The outburst came after a series of humiliating political losses in recent weeks. A failed G-20 summit that resulted in a sloppy photo-op handjob for Kim Jong Un and zero progress toward disarmament was followed by an episode of John Bolton’s Guns of August in the Persian Gulf.
Alex Acosta’s humiliating firing reminded Americans that the president of the United States and noted child predator and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein were once close friends in the pussy-grabbing posse of Rich Dudes Who Abuse Women. Grim images of the immigration-detention catastrophe on our southern border keep appearing. Trump got stomped on the Census citizenship question when even his pet Attorney General Bill Barr couldn’t find a path to overrule the Supreme Court. Robert Mueller is about to testify before Congress and honestly, Trump is both bored and scared.
Something had to give, and that something was the most racist diatribe of any American president in our lifetimes.
Before the apparatchiks of the clickservative media lunge into their now all-too-typical hissy-fit frenzy, I’ll repeat what I’ve said ad nauseam about Trump’s base, lest there be a run on smelling salts and fainting couches: No, not all of Trump’s supporters are white-supremacist alt-right shitbirds. However, every white-supremacist alt-right shitbird is a Trump supporter.
Since his emergence on the political scene, Trump’s supporters have tried desperately to retcon away his long record of racist and racist-adjacent behavior, from his family business practices to his calls to execute the Central Park Five to birtherism to his defense of Charlottesville’s alt-right incel army. Their efforts have been in vain because Trump keeps saying the quiet part out loud.
Trump is the casual racist who uses hatred to achieve political ends, manipulating and stoking behaviors of people less educated, less able to control their impulses, and more inclined to stretch the social permissions he gives them to express their basest desires.
It’s not a coincidence that he feeds them just enough—and just often enough—to maintain their unquestioned fealty. They’ve even been willing to give him some slack to play the game, pretending he’s not their dream date to one of those private parties where everyone wears a white pointy hat and the room is lit by a burning cross.
Don’t be fooled by the occasional complaints about Trump from the likes of Klan Koulter, Kris Kobach, and Steve King and the rest of the “stop-the-browning-of-America” anti-immigration crowd. They understand the path Trump is on better than the Democrats do. They may not be getting the fabled Wall, but they are getting something they crave more: state power weaponized against racial and ethnic groups they view as inferior, and fundamentally un-American. They see how easily he’s leading his base further away from the American ideal and into the Volk and Rodina philosophy that America is a race and not a proposition.
You see, Trump has moved the Overton Window with brutal efficiency. First, he used fear of Muslim refugees to de-normalize America as a humanitarian nation for those fleeing oppression. Next, he moved to conflate visa overstays with a mostly imaginary wave of crime committed by a handful of violent people here illegally. Now, he’s successfully convinced the GOP base—notably, and tragically, the evangelical cohort—that caging immigrant children once they are ripped from their parents is the only way we can stop the threat of Guatemalan toddlers entering this country as MS-13 sleeper agents.
Trump and many of his supporters view all immigration as a strategy of racial replacement orchestrated by some mysterious conspiracy, so the next step will be to make it more difficult for legal immigrants to enter the country, even for short-term work or academic assignments. The demonization of legal immigration is very much on the docket for Team Trump, led by the odious Stephen Miller, a man who presumably spends his nights watching webcam footage of immigrant children in sweltering cages like other people watch Pornhub.
Trump’s attacks on four freshman Democrats this weekend are part of this same narrative arc. It’s vital for the new nationalist movement based around cultish adulation of a single man to narrowly define who can be considered an American. It’s not a central premise of Trumpist nationalism, it’s the central premise.
For Trump, genetics and culture are destiny. It’s the weakest, most pessimistic short-selling of the American dream, a mouth-breathing clod take on the majesty and magic of our country, our history, and our Constitution, and a middle finger to our immigrant ancestors.
The idea that the insidious Chinese, drunken Irishman, violent Spaniard, indolent black, criminal Italian, terrorist Muslim, or any of a dozen other discarded racist tropes would destroy America all gave way to the reality that America changes almost everyone who comes here. Trump is trying to make such fears great again, for the glory of Trump.
Over the last 240 years, immigrants who came to this country to change their lives and to better the destiny of their children built, prayed, worked, and struggled alongside those here since before the Mayflower. Their sons gave their lives in our wars. The language they spoke, the god they worshipped, and the dances of their homelands were irrelevant in the eyes of the Constitution and the law. America creates Americans.
As flawed as our operating system was in the beginning with the stain of slavery, generations have worked to extirpate that sin, through civil war and civil rights, through the long, slow bending of the arc of history. We are a country with a memory of our mistakes, but still bound together and lifted by a shared commitment to being better than we were.
It wasn’t just that America has been one of the few places in the world where the persecuted and oppressed could rest their heads at night without the terror of the secret police kicking down the door. It was more. The American dream was that anyone from anywhere could come here, work hard, rise to live in prosperity, dignity, security, and even hold political office. Yes, Donald, even Muslims. Even women. Even people with whom we ideologically disagree.
The freshmen-year college-dorm socialism (“ACKTUALLY, true Communism…”), and damn-the-consequences politics of the farthest edge of the Democratic Party are rich bait for a predator like Trump. The Squad’s recitation of dumb prog slogans and embrace of ideologies one could describe as unrealistic, juvenile, silly, or deeply offensive aren’t a justification for trying to carve them from American society. I disagree with them on a broad spectrum of issues, but I’ll go down fighting to defend their right to be as wrong and dumb as any other American with a First Amendment right to say whatever the hell they want.
Trump knew precisely what he was doing in telling them to “go back to where they came from.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York. Ayanna Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Rashib Tlaib in Detroit. Ihlan Omar was born in Somalia and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. His game is to box the GOP into either supporting him completely, including the expulsion from our nation of the four, or fully embracing their politics. There’s never a nuanced choice in Trumpworld.
Nothing has changed about the power of America to create Americans except the fear, impotence, and weakness of petty, small men. Of all the sad aspects of any nation’s slide into authoritarianism, the most disappointing is the silence of leaders who know better and say nothing. The utter silence of the GOP on this one isn’t shocking, but it is sickening.
There is no excuse for the muttered excuses of people who believe in the Constitution and the American system but live in utter terror of Trump’s Twitter feed. Even today, it’s only a minority of the GOP who buy into this garbage, but if you’re wondering why party members no longer do town-hall meetings, public events, or answer questions, it’s that their testicles can’t descend from fear of enraging the Orange One. Even the opportunistic ones know how wrong he is on much of this, but there’s no way in hell they’re leaving the Führerbunker. The worst of them are whispering to reporters, “Well, I disagree with the sentiment, but it’s a brilliant political strategy.”
The dictatorships and totalitarian states of the past and the rising authoritarian technocracies of today aren’t built just by wild-eyed cultists, but by lawyers, bureaucrats, engineers, and political leaders. These men always feel that their individual part is too small to matter, that the obedience to the powers that be and the politics of the moment is just an atomized part of a whole for which they are not culpable.
By the time people ask, “Why this, why now, and why me?” to the grim emergences of state power and its inevitable abuses, citizens almost always discover that the Bad Guy came to power because his way was greased by allies hoping to ride the authoritarian tiger to power and influence. Those allies who through active or tacit consent shrug off the early excesses as mere political stagecraft, mere sound and fury to woo the proles, or who promise themselves behind closed doors that they can steer the strongman into wiser paths, are always shocked, shocked to find authoritarianism going on.
The game isn’t over. Totalitarians cannot tolerate dissent in any domain. Trump will feed off the Fox News-Breitbart loop, rewarded for this action and need more for an encore.
Why stop there, Donald? I’m sure Bill Barr can whip up an Alien and Sedition Act 2.0 in a trice, or justify using the Alien Enemies Act in novel and cruel new ways. You’ve already flirted with it? Why not take it to bed? How about suspending habeas corpus? Lincoln did it, so can you! FDR interned people! What’s stopping you, cuck?
Why not go all Harry Truman and issue a “Removal of Alien Enemies” executive order? When your targets change from refugees to illegals to legal residents to naturalized citizens to your political enemies born here, then you’re really cooking. How dare those enemies of the people report things that make you look bad? Look at how your boy Vladimir Putin treats those uppity reporters! Shouldn’t you step up your game?
When your wild excesses and grotesque corruption go virtually unnoticed—and certainly unpunished—by an electorate too stunned and numb to respond, why wouldn’t you, or your claque of grubby collaborators, go for the big prize?