To say that Donald Trump is a racist is to state the obvious but miss the point. He was sued by the federal government in the 1970s for rejecting black tenants. He spent years suggesting that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. He launched his campaign for President by calling Mexicans murderers and rapists. He demanded a "total and complete" ban on Muslims entering the United States and, most recently, has ginned up fears about invading hordes of violent immigrants.
Of course he's a racist. But what's more important, and frankly more troubling, is that his racism is strategic. It is intended to secure a political advantage. Fear of "The Other"--black people, Latinx people, Muslims, immigrants, transgender people--is the glue that holds Trumps base together.
Consider the messages advanced by Trump and other Republicans in last falls midterm elections. They hardly mentioned their major legislative accomplishment--a huge new tax cut that primarily benefits the super rich. They did not talk much about rebuilding infrastructure or expanding access to health care. They offered almost nothing in terms of a positive vision for the future.
Instead, their message was: Your life and your liberty are in danger because of those people.
"This is a national emergency," Trump declared in a last-gasp effort to get money from somewhere other than Mexico to pay for his border wall. "Drugs are pouring into our country. People with tremendous medical difficulty and medical problems are pouring in, and in many cases its contagious. They're pouring into our country." His January 8 address to the nation from the Oval Office used a handful of crimes to paint immigrants as brutal killers, warning that "thousands more lives will be lost if we don't act right now."
Trumps appeals to fear and bigotry are so powerful that his supporters are apparently willing to forgive all of his trespasses, though he forgives no one himself. His moral degeneracy, constant lying, wholesale corruption and rampant criminality, gross incompetence and frank stupidity, are all excused, because he has successfully aligned himself in opposition to The Other.
Trump's racism is integral to his success, a lesson not lost on other members of his party. The appeals are not even subtle anymore.
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