Donald Trump’s bombast has been the obsessive interest of the press ever since he joined the GOP primary. But what should be the focus isn’t his bombast, squirrely policy prescriptions, unabashed xenophobia, or limited vocabulary, but what his ascent means to the nation in terms of a political system that is breaking under the weight of five years of obstruction and counting.
The GOP was the party of racism and xenophobia before Mr. Trump entered the fray. It took on racist overtones in 2008, with the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate and has been a gathering whirlwind ever since. Trump’s bombast only accentuates what already existed, jamming it in all of our faces, up close and in a way we can no longer ignore it. Sarah Palin in all her ignorant resplendence did not manage to bring the party any closer to the end, but merely kicked the door open a few inches. Two years later, as Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee entered the fray, coded language went from a dog whistle to barely hidden racism, and it had been getting progressively worse, until Trump’s candidacy earlier this year. But make no mistake, none of his fellow candidates are any less willing to make concessions to their racist following, even when their own family suffers, as evidenced by Jeb Bush’ comments during his campaign.
The Hill reports on former Senator Rick Santorum’s version of Trump’s Muslim solution:
“The way Trump has proposed it, it may have some constitutional infirmity. We can do it in a more practical way than in the way Donald Trump is suggesting.”
After almost eight years of increasingly unabashed and overt racism on the part of a political party that has slowly been imploding, in many ways, it is a relief to see a figure such as Trump accelerating a process that has been slow and toxic because of a dysfunctional party that grabbed power even though, relatively speaking, it represents a minority of the vote. In “Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls,” Nate Silver writes:
“One problem with this is that it’s not enough for Trump to merely avoid fading. Right now, he has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.) As the rest of the field consolidates around him, Trump will need to gain additional support to win the nomination. That might not be easy, since some Trump actions that appeal to a faction of the Republican electorate may alienate the rest of it. Trump’s favorability ratings are middling among Republicans (and awful among the broader electorate).”
Taking Silver’s piece further, one can say that, without massive defections by white Democratic voters and without the Black and Latino vote, it is mathematically impossible for any GOP candidate to win the presidency. What Democrats of all stripes should be working feverishly to do as of this very moment, is register voters everywhere possible, especially in the Deep South, as Senator Bernie Sanders has been begging the party to do.
The main take away from Trump’s success is embodied in James Baldwin’s quote from The Fire Next Time:
“Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”
Baldwin is still right, decades later. If there could only be one thing that Trump means above all else, it is that he is possible only because white man still doesn’t know.
What should frighten those who do understand what Baldwin meant, is that it isn’t just the right and extreme right that doesn’t know. As a nation, we have been kept from knowing much of what we all should know and it is incumbent upon our generation to set about changing what all Americans know about themselves.
Which, among the movements for education reform, is making demands to fundamentally alter what our children and young adults learn about themselves and each other? Which, among the new civil rights movements, have identified the issues I bring here as actionable in the sets of demands they’ve brought forth to political candidates?
I’ll close with this quote from Martin Luther King’s “The Other America” speech at Stanford University:
“Now, the other thing that we’ve gotta come to see now that many of us didn’t see too well during the last ten years — that is that racism is still alive in American society, and much more wide-spread than we realized. And we must see racism for what it is. It is a myth of the superior and the inferior race. It is the false and tragic notion that one particular group, one particular race is responsible for all of the progress, all of the insights in the total flow of history. And the theory that another group or another race is totally depraved, innately impure, and innately inferior.”
I submit that education reform – not the teach to the test stuff, but meaningful, revolutionary reform of the national curriculum – is as important as police and judicial reform. Education reform is as important as healthcare reform, and must be protected from the nullifying influence of State’s Rights in the dilution of America’s history curriculum. It is America’s insurance policy for its future. That there are that many millions of Americans who not only would support the candidacy of Donald Trump, but any from among the rest of the GOP field should be equally alarming. To a woman, they are equally as racist and eager to exploit that which is the ugliest in America. Whose face is the symbol of America’s ignorance and xenophobia doesn’t matter. It’s what we do to ensure a Democratic win not only of the presidency, but at least one of the houses of Congress, as well as state houses and governorships. A democratic win must be meaningful, and not symbolic. Reforms must be deep and all encompassing.