Trump got himself elected in large part by playing on this country’s racism, exploiting resentment over Barack Obama for not only being the nation’s first Black president, but for being mostly successful at it. He made his opening political gambit with his “birther” claim that Obama was really born in Kenya, which was a racist move, but subtle, as he claim he was only challenging Obama’s status as a “natural-born citizen.” He also liked to say he was “the least racist person ever.”
A lot of the country thought that, well, he says some racist things, but we can’t really know if he is a racist. Not too many of us here took that position, I will say. In any case, it no longer matters: The country sees him for what he is, a racist and a white supremacist. And most of the country doesn’t like it. Writes Dana Milbank in this evening’s WaPo:
White women, disgusted by Trump’s cruelty, are abandoning him in large number. White liberals, stunned by the brazen racism, have taken to the streets. And signs point to African American turnout in November that will rival the record level of 2012, when Obama was on the ballot. This, by itself, would flip Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to Democrats, an analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress shows.
The parties are increasingly defined by their attitude toward race, by how they feel about our increasingly becoming a majority-minority country (no race holds a majority; this is already true in California — one reason we live here — and some other states). Nixon foresaw this with his southern strategy, and Reagan played to it when he started his 1980 campaign in Mississippi. The makeup of the GOP caucuses in the House and Senate also shows how they lean. But Trump took the whispered racism and shouted it out loud in the most vulgar way possible.
Now he and the GOP could well pay the price.
To the extent Trump’s racist provocation is a strategy (rather than simply an instinct), it is a miscalculation. The electorate was more than 90 percent white when Richard Nixon deployed his Southern strategy; the proportion is now 70 percent white and shrinking. But more than that, Trump’s racism has alienated a large number of white people.
“For many white Americans, the things Trump is saying and getting away with, they just didn’t think they lived in a world where that could happen,” says Vincent Hutchings, a political scientist specializing in public opinion at the University of Michigan. Racist appeals in particular alienate white, college-educated women, and even some women without college degrees, he has found: “One of the best ways to exacerbate the gender gap isn’t to talk about gender but to talk about race.”
One sign of this is in the continuing demonstrations of the brutal police lynching of George Floyd. Protests are ongoing, are large, and are occurring in place where are not and never have been many Blacks. The Black Lives Matter movement is now said to be the largest in the nation’s history.
In response, Trump is calling BLM terrorists and vowing to crack down on them, perhaps even with bayonet-wielding troops. Police in too many places (well, one is too many) are stepping up violence against Blacks, while turning the other way to whites pulling guns on Blacks for shopping, walking, cashing a check.
In response to that, however, more and more of the country is appalled, is speaking out, is marching and protesting, and is planning to vote in November.
“Trump’s clear bigotry,” [Christopher] Parker wrote in the American Prospect, a liberal journal, “makes it impossible for whites to deny the existence of racism in America. . . . His success clashes with many white Americans’ vision of the United States as a fair and just place.”
But here’s the existential danger: white supremacists are a distinct minority in this country, and the Republican base is dwindling down to them and their ilk. There is no way Trump can legitimately win the election with only his base, and he is only making no effort to expand his base, he is reducing it to a concentration of hate. On top of that, his incompetence, his corruption, his misogyny, his cruelty toward immigrant children, his willingness let Russia kill our soldiers, his total disregard of the nation’s health — and many other things — all mean he has no legal path to 2020.
So he intends to steal the election. If somehow he manages to get away with that theft and come out on top, he will not just claim vindication for himself. He will use it as a mandate to enshrine white supremacy in this country in a way that even Jim Crow could not do. This will take us back to the days of Dred Scott — where the chief justice of the United States wrote that the Negro has no rights that the white man need respect.
Nor, under Trump, will any of us.
That’s what’s at stake in November.