PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP KEEPS SIGNALING HIS DETERMINATION TO remake the Republican Party in the image of Steve Bannon and his circle of wild-eyed racists and xenophobes. Because the media in the United States tend to focus on personality clashes and electoral strategies rather than ideologies and the evolution of political parties, Trump's political project is still too little-noted by the pundits and politicians, who have consistently underestimated the threat he poses. Yet, for those who are paying attention, the President's extreme messaging sends a clear signal. "The dog whistles get louder," says anti-racism activist and author Tim Wise.
Early in 2017, Trump expressed enthusiasm for France's far right, hailing National Front (now National Rally) leader Marine Le Pen as "the strongest on what's been going on in France"--an embrace of a candidate whom French conservatives rejected for leading a party "known for its violence, its intolerance." Several months later, when neo-Nazis rioted and killed a woman in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump suggested there were "good people" among those throwing up fascist salutes.
In August, Trump began hyperventilating about white farmers in South Africa, with a tweet announcing that he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate "South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers." In so doing, he adopted a meme favored by shadowy global networks that mumble about "white genocide." The New York Times said the president was citing "false claims." Patrick Gaspard, the former U.S. ambassador to South Africa, warned that the President "needs political distractions to turn our gaze away from his criminal cabal, and so he's attacking South Africa with the disproven racial myth of 'large scale killings of farmers'"
Gaspard was right about the impulse of this President to distract the media and his supporters from his many crises. Yet there is more going on here than the usual smoke and mirrors of politics.
"Ultimately, I don't see this tweet as being about South Africa at all," Wise told Joy Reid on an MSNBC program that offered a rare example of how Trump should be covered. "I think it is a way to try and scare white Americans not of black South Africans, about whom they don't think very much, but of black people in this country. It's all part of a larger political process."
The larger political process is what matters. Donald Trump knows this. So, too, do his sharpest critics. That makes the 2018 election cycle much more than the traditional partisan fight between Republicans and Democrats. What is playing out this year are battles for the souls of both major political parties.
Just as Trump is steering the Re publican Party into the ditch of white nationalism, a new generation of intersectional candidates (many of them women, people of color, immigrants, or the children of immigrants) is doing its best to drive the Democratic Party in a different direction. It is a movement that Ayanna Pressley, who beat a ten-term incumbent Congressman in a Massachusetts primary in September, says "can ensure that this moment of hatred and division in Washington is a catalyst for the greatest progressive movement of our generation."