The scabrous underbelly of American society was on full display during the year just passed, and no aspect of it is more repulsive as we slink into 2018 than the reality that the president of the United States is an unapologetic racist and bigot, the very embodiment of white power and white privilege. And that an appalling number of us — beginning with the timorous congressional majority, denizens of the fever swamp formerly known as the Party of Lincoln — are quite okay with that.
That Trump would call the white supremacist, neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan participants in that violent, torch-lit Charlottesville rally in August “very fine people” is not merely beyond the pale. It is the gospel according to the first presidential candidate in memory to not reject the KKK’s full-throated endorsement of him.
A White House ceremony ostensibly honoring Navajo code talkers is an occasion for Trump to insult his guests by yet again calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are his favorite piñata. Police are encouraged to use brutality when dealing with minorities. The lie that Barack Obama is not U.S. born and therefore was an illegitimate president is resurrected after a brief slumber. Alt-right Muslim hate videos are retweeted. And just the other day the president of all the people fumed over certain people — the “foreigners who have been let into the country” since he slithered into the Oval Office — and took a special swipe at Haitian refugees, all of whom he claimed have AIDS.
Would two white announcers calling a high school basketball game in Iowa between an all-white school and a school with Latino players remark that “As Trump would say, they should go back to where they came from” if Trump was not president? At other high school sporting events, the chant “Trump! Trump! Trump! has become a popular way for white students to put minorities in their place.
And would a northern Virginia teen have killed his girlfriend’s parents three days before Christmas after they had tried to get their daughter to stop dating him because of his neo-Nazi views if Trump was not in the White House?
It is no accident that Trump’s maiden appearance on the front page of The New York Times was a 1973 story on the Department of Justice suing his family’s real estate company for anti-black bias, but we still don’t get it. His latest came 45 years later on January 11 following his “shithole countries” blast.
Trump is clueless about many things, but not race. As Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow writes, his views are based on patriarchy and white supremacy:
It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.
Trump is not the first president to harness white resentment.
Richard Nixon had his Southern Strategy, Ronald Reagan railed against “welfare queens,” and George H.W. Bush ran those Willie Horton ads. But Trump doesn’t even bother to dog whistle. He is the first avowedly white president, determined to restore the racial hierarchy upended by Obama by sucking on the bodily fluids of the millions of Americans (ie., his base) who have been conditioned by Fox News to believe that their country is being taken from them.
If you tallied only white voters, Trump would have defeated Hillary Clinton 389 to 81 in the Electoral College — not because of economic anxiety, as Trump and too many feckless pundits would like you to believe — but because of good old-fashioned racism.
As I wrote in one of my more portentous posts of 2017, Trump did not make America what it is, America made Trump. No issue lacerates our lives more brutally and more effectively dishonors the nation we claim to idealize with lapel-pin patriotism than racism and bigotry.
I come by this view honestly.
My maternal grandfather helped lead efforts to bring the orphaned children of Holocaust victims to the U.S. (My paternal grandparents, alas, came from that rare white “shithole country,” late 19th century Ireland.) My parents were civil rights activists and my father, in his only venture into politics, became the campaign manager for the first African-American to run for the local school board. (He won.) Among my parents’ friends, and we’re talking the 1950s, were gays and a lesbian. I continue to be astonished that as my children’s generation seems to have become more tolerant, many members of my generation — you know, the Boomers who have made such a mess of things that an insane demagogue like Trump could prevail — have been revealed to be anything but.
All this by way of saying that my revulsion over his astonishingly open hatred of anyone not white and straight runs as deep as his racism and bigotry runs long, and I can only shake my head in wonder that 150 years after the end of the Civil War, we don’t seem to have come very far at all. (Might that have anything to do with the view of Trump chief of staff John Kelly that the war that shattered the union while shedding 620,000 lives was caused by “a lack of ability to compromise” over the issue of enslaving human beings?)
So how to begin to turn things around?
It actually is quite simple: Individuals set in their ways cannot be changed. But the future of a less rancorous America lies with the political party that can win lots of votes from a more diverse and better educated electorate.
We know which party that is. And in the meantime, we need to step up our demands that Donald Trump should not be president of the United States.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on January 12, 2018 on Kiko’s House, a website featuring commentary by journalist and author, Shaun Mullen. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Mullen.