One could point to many times at which Trump’s political career should have been dead in the water.
When Trump compared all Muslims to terrorists by labeling the fight against ISIS a “clash of civilizations,” cooler heads should have prevailed. When Trump referred to Spanish as the “language of living in the ghetto,” Republican voters should have rejected such racism. What about when Trump sang a song about bombing Iran? When he called himself “David Duke without the baggage”? Or when he proposed a law requiring pregnant teenagers be publicly shamed in newspapers before receiving public assistance? It should be surprising to everyone that Trump has been able to succeed electorally despite these offensive sentiments.
Except, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Trump said none of the above things; mainstream Republicans did.
Marco Rubio called war with ISIS “a war of cultural differences.” Newt Gingrich dubbed Spanish the “language of living in a ghetto.” John McCain sang about bombing Iran. Jeb Bush proposed publicly shaming pregnant teenagers in newspapers. House Majority Whip Steve Scales was the one who compared himself to the infamous KKK leader. These are all mainstream Republican actors.
While Donald Trump did not win by a majority of the votes cast in the GOP primary (or even in the general election), GOP primary voters were incredibly dedicated to his cause. Their support for him was attributed to his nationalistic agenda: deport all illegal immigrants, ban Muslims from entering the country, and push back against foreign countries purportedly taking advantage of the United States.
Trump’s lifetime of racist or otherwise bigoted comments and actions seemed not to deter his supporters, but rather to embolden them. Since Election Day 2016, there has been a sharp uptick in hate crimes.
Given that white nationalism was always a plank of Trump’s platform, was his non-condemnation of the violent white supremacist Unite The Right rally in South Carolina surprising? Hardly. In fact, alt-right leaders praised the non-condemnation.
During the campaign, Donald Trump was endorsed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Trump waffled on outright condemning the praise of the former KKK leader. Last month, David Duke was one of the key supporters of and a featured speaker at the Unite The Right protest.
Trump’s support of outright, violent white supremacy is disgusting, but unsurprising. What is more surprising is the way that the Republican Party, for years, has used implicit, coded racist language to appeal to white nationalists without realizing that someone might take it too far.
Trump is a quintessential Republican. Perhaps his brash rants or flagrant Twitter usage put him in a league of his own — but he is not as different from mainstream Republicans as is popularly perceived. The electoral gains of the Republican Party are rooted in making white people fear that people of color are plotting an invasion of white American. That’s racist.
If you are critical of Donald Trump, then you have to criticize not only the Republican Party, but U.S. right-wing discourse in general. Criticizing Trump for solely being a brash vulgarian implicitly suggests that if he were more polite, his white supremacy would be acceptable. And that’s not okay.
In Post Notes, I add some additional thoughts or context to a blog post I’ve previously written. That can be found here.