Let’s be very clear here. This was no slip of the tongue or finger. This was no off-the-cuff rant. What this president wrote and said regarding four freshmen congresswomen was deliberate, shameful and in plain sight for all to see. But it was no accident. Indeed, nothing that this man has said or done has been an accident. It has all been part of a carefully orchestrated plot to literally rip this country apart. And, sadly, it’s working.
David Graham of The Atlantic writes the following,
Trump uses Twitter to try on new ideas and policy ideas in real time, seeing how he likes them, and then either discarding them or centering them. The current incident began, as my colleague Yoni Appelbaum reports, with Trump tweeting that the Democratic members should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.” (While Trump doesn’t make explicit whom he means, it’s likely he’s referring to the “squad” of progressive Democrats—all four of whom are American citizens, and three of whom were born in the United States.) By Sunday evening, he had decided he liked the reaction, welcoming a battle over race at the ballot box in 2020. By Monday, he was demanding that Democrats apologize to him.
The open embrace of racism as a political strategy is, however, a natural progression from the 2016 campaign. While the president’s bigotry in the first campaign was instinctive, a reflection of his long-held and -lived convictions, it also served a political purpose. He and his advisers understood the appeal it would have. After the violent white-supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Trump praised “very fine people on both sides,” causing a firestorm.
Racism is no stranger to American politics. Nixon employed it successfully in what became known as the Southern Strategy. But not until Trump has it been used so unabashedly. Think about it: when Trump called Mexicans rapists, by all accounts his candidacy should’ve been over right there and then. Consider the consequences that befell George Allen when he used the term Macaca to refer to an Indian man who was standing in the crowd. Allen lost his bid for a second term to the U.S. Senate as a result of that stunt.
Yet Trump not only survived his faux pas, his popularity actually grew. Time and again, he has thumbed his nose at the political norms that have defined this nation since its founding. Over and over, he has gone where men and women of good conscience have feared to tread, and not only has he not paid a price, he has prospered. He is depraved and totally bereft of a moral compass, and he could care less.
There is nothing inside the man that prevents him from succumbing to his worst instincts. The voice that all of us have inside our heads that lets us know when we’re wrong and compels us to atone either has been stilled in his or was never there in the first place. Small wonder he worshiped Roy Cohn, a man who taught him never to apologize. That’s an easy task, I suppose, when you don’t have a soul.
Trump has often been called inept. Others have said he lacks the intellectual curiosity that is required for the job he holds. And as far as temperament is concerned, toddlers behave better in public. But whatever else you may say or think about him, stupid he is not. In fact, by all accounts, he is the most sinisterly brilliant politician the country has ever produced.
And that’s what makes him so dangerous. It is not enough that Trump is hateful and racist and xenophobic; he is certainly all of that. But more than anything else, he is a master manipulator. Unlike Lincoln, who sought out the better angels of our nature, Trump targets the most vulnerable and susceptible in our society and brings out their worst demons. Like a skilled surgeon, he knows exactly where to place his scalpel. He is not the first demagogue to dredge up the skeletons of four hundred years of systemic racism; he’s just incredible proficient at it.
“America, love it or leave it.” “Go back to where you came from.” These expressions are not new in the national lexicon. In fact they date back to the late 1800s. The Irish, the Chinese, the Italians, the Germans, the Poles and the Jews have all been the subject of deep-seated mistrust and misplaced anger. The idea that people who did not look or sound like “the rest of us” were somehow inferior has served as the pretext for zealots like Trump to justify their bigotry.
But the four women that were singled out in Trump’s tweet were not Irish or Chinese or Italian or German or Polish or Jewish. They were women of color. Whether you agree with their politics or tactics – and I am painfully aware that I wrote a piece just this past Sunday about them – they are every bit as American as you or I or anyone else. And when they are defamed by this president in such a manner, all of us are damaged. When some in this country are treated as less than, all of us are diminished.
His supporters (i.e., enablers) may excuse his behavior, or perhaps tacitly condone it, under the mistaken assumption that his wrath is directed elsewhere, towards other people who obviously must’ve done something to deserve it. So long as he’s not coming after them, who cares? Americans have many virtues; chief among them is NOT empathy.
And therein lies the fatal flaw in their logic. The first thing despots do is go after the low-hanging fruit. Then, once that’s been devoured, they work their way up the tree until finally they get around to their “friends;” the ones who naively thought they were somehow safe. Rule number one in the dictator’s handbook: get rid of everyone who can pose a threat to you. The words of the German poet Martin Niemöller are apropos here.
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
Men like Trump do not simply seize power; they are granted it. They do not need to break into the home; they are welcomed in with open arms by the owner. But once they are in, they inevitably end up trashing the joint. Think about it: the very same people who cheered on Hitler at his rallies in the early 1930s, just over a decade later were digging themselves out of the rubble of a Reich that was supposed to last a thousand years. I have resisted the urge to draw comparisons between this administration and the rise of Nazism in Germany, but the parallels are just too striking.
It is time for those who have been silent to speak up, for silence means approval. It is time for those who have been asleep to awake from their slumber, for the thief comes in the night. We cannot let this president’s conduct go unchecked. What is happening here poses the gravest threat this Republic has ever faced. What this man represents must be soundly rejected; otherwise it will become normalized and impossible to root out.
Trump has told many lies throughout his wretched life, but there is one thing he has said that has proven to be truthful. He is the most transparent president we’ve ever had. He’s as obvious as a wooden nickel. And he is gambling everything he has that enough people will agree with his vision of America.
If he succeeds, we are finished as a democracy.