The Enemy is Us
I’ve spent some time talking about the absurdity of Trump.
Now I’d like to spend a little time talking about the two fundamental dangers of his campaign.
First a couple of basic assumptions.
Though he managed to capture the Republican Party nomination, his views do not reflect very much of what could be considered Republican Reagan-inspired orthodoxy. He ran against that orthodoxy and the “elites” who represent the Republican establishment.
Trump did not create the pool of white disaffected conspiracy-theory addled voters who support him. He has just become the most recent populist to capture their attention by calling out the establishment, regardless of party, who failed to deliver on the decades of promises that this group feels were made to them.
Conspiracy theories are part of our DNA. They were the source of legend and myth. They are independent of party. Conservatives have been the group that has recently brought them into politics in a dangerous way.
The danger of those who believe in self-serving conspiracy theories is that they are easy prey for those who may seek to turn them against the very institutions that provide them the only opportunity for relief. The best example is the past 8 years of Republican obstructionism. That obstructionism prevented passage of a more robust jobs creation program based on the big infrastructure investments that both candidates are talking about in this campaign.
That obstructionism was based in part on the effective campaign to delegitimize Obama. Though there was no basis in fact for any of those claims, Republican leadership became enablers of this strategy through their silence. As a result, significant percentages of Republicans still believe that Obama was born in Kenya and is Muslim. This made it much easier for House and Senate Republicans to effectively grind government to a halt for six years.
This same scorched-earth policy is being created for Clinton. She’s an historic liar, she should be jailed, she is too ill to be President, and the only way that she could be elected is if the elections themselves are rigged.
The fundamental concern of those unhappy with the direction the country is taking is that government is not working for them. The danger of this conspiracy-dominated strategy is that it erodes faith in the fundamental institutions of government rather than just the party that is in charge. Those fundamental institutions are what are SUPPOSED to work for all citizens. When a significant percentage of the citizens feel that not only elected representatives, but government itself is biased against them; the seeds for violence are being sown.
That brings us to a second danger. That is violence and the extremist in our society that advocate it.
Just like we have always had a segment of our society that believes conspiracy theories, there is also a segment of our society that supports violent overthrow of the government. These segments are also typically racist, nationalist, and libertarian.
The difference is that the hate speech associated with these groups was always relegated to the political fringe. Until recently, political leaders across the political spectrum rejected this bigotry outright.
In this campaign; racial, religious, and even disability hate speech has been used by Trump. His excuse is that it is “straight” talk. He claims to take pride at speaking off the cuff and rejecting political correctness. His enablers add that he can’t be expected to show the sort of sensitivity that “professional” politicians display.
As a result, the violent extremists are moving from the lunatic fringe into the political mainstream. Right wing tribalism now provides them a cover to spread their hate and lies. Within the Republican Party, you can talk about topics that would have been embarrassing even during the Bush II administration. You need no better example of this legitimizing of the radical right than the appointment of Steven Bannon as Trump’s campaign manager. This guy has been one of the champions of the alt-right. His past history alone would have disqualified him from being involved in any previous Republican campaign. Now he is able to pass with barely a whimper.
Regardless of the outcomes of this election, we are dealing with a new reality. This reality is pick-up trucks with Confederate flags and rifle racks in the cab. It is open carry red-necks looking for confrontations at Black Lives Matter rallies. It is a rise in terrorist acts inspired by white supremacist groups rather than ISIS. It is a full-throated attack on the pluralism that is at the core of our democracy. It is a return of the cancer of white supremacy that has plagued this country from its founding.
My hope is that this is the first step to finally confronting and rejecting bigotry and racism in this country as acceptable behavior by any citizen.