Believe me, I want to #StopTrump as much as anybody else does. But I keep coming back to two questions as I ponder how progressives should best respond to the virulent racism, sexism, and xenophobia that’s being unleashed across the country by the Republican front-runner and his supporters: 1) Stop Trump when? and 2) Once we do stop Trump, then what?
The long-term interests of the progressive movement would be best served by waiting a minute to stop Trump, giving the Republicans enough rope to wrap him around the neck of their party as their nominee and then stopping the whole lot of them in November, not now.
Trump’s ascendancy represents a form of poetic justice in that the chickens are coming home to roost. For decades, Republicans have known that the politics of white racial resentment do not enjoy majority support in America, and so they have resorted to coded language and dog-whistles to stir up that important, but minority, segment of their base while working to hold the allegiance of the rest of their coalition. But Trump has upset the setup. His campaign threatens to divide, if not destroy, the Republican Party. That is an outcome progressives should welcome and let come to pass. Trump and everything he is stirring up should be used against the party that has facilitated the continued disenfranchisement and exploitation of the country’s communities of color.
Make no mistake about it; it’s not just Trump. Most of the Republicans are dangerous. What Trump has done is rip the mask off thinly veiled racial resentment and fear that has fueled much of conservative politics for decades. Ronald Reagan strategically signaled Southern Whites he was on their side when he took his 1980 presidential campaign to Philadelphia, Mississippi and called for “states’ rights” in the city where civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were murdered by white supremacists in 1964. George H.W. Bush defeated Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis in 1988 by running “Willie Horton” ads featuring a Black man who was released from prison on furlough and was subsequently convicted of assault, armed robbery and rape. After 9/11, the image of Arab Americans as potential terrorists was used to rally support for George W. Bush, his so-called War on Terror and the invasion of Iraq.
Demographic revolution and conservative counter-revolution
Virtually the entire Republican Party is complicit in an all-out, reactionary, rear-guard action to forestall the sweeping societal changes attendant to the country’s demographic revolution. From the moment President Obama was elected, they have obstructed, undermined, and opposed nearly each and every step forward proposed by the president. Had they had their way, 18 million people who were uninsured before Obama’s tenure would not have health care coverage today; the reforms that saved the economy and cut unemployment in half would never have been possible; marriage equality would not be the law of the land, and Dreamers would have no government protection against deportation and support.
It’s hard not to think that the intensity of the opposition, and the unprecedented disrespect and lack of deference for the office of the presidency (from purported patriots) isn’t connected to the unprecedented fact that for the past eight years the Oval Office has been occupied by our nation’s first president of color.
Kasich and Cruz just as dangerous
When it comes to Trump’s remaining two challengers, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich, the intensity and explicitness of their words are different when they talk about what they would do if they were elected president, but the consequences would still be dangerous and detrimental to justice and equality in this country. Trump signals that America should be a white man’s country when he vows to make America great again. (When, exactly, does Trump think America was “great”? And what was the economic and social status of women and people of color at that time?) Kasich won’t say those words, but he’ll stand by silently while Ohio’s secretary of state methodically purges the voting rolls in Ohio of people of color and erects obstacles to the political participation of non-white Ohioans. And Cruz is probably the most dangerous of all because he is a “true believer” in the far-right conservative agenda, a fact he regularly highlights on the campaign trail.
So, if we stop Trump now, would we be content to face Kasich or Cruz?
Mobilize the New American Majority
Letting Trump become the GOP nominee may also be necessary to mobilize the full participation of the multiracial coalition that elected and re-elected Obama. The New American Majority of progressive people of color and progressive whites makes up 51% of all eligible voters in the country. But winning in November will require large and enthusiastic participation of voters of color. I am not convinced that the Democratic Party has the cultural competence or financial commitment to bring about that kind of voter turnout in this first election of the post-Obama era — and that reality poses profound dangers to progressive electoral prospects.
If the Republicans field a nominee who is able to mask their opposition to improving the conditions of people of color, then the electoral equation for victory may not hold. Or, if voters of color aren’t sufficiently motivated to participate, then the Republicans could prevail and proceed to dismantle the progress we’ve made under President Obama. Large voter turnout among people of color is also critical to seizing the opportunity to recapture the Senate, and reshape the Supreme Court.
Properly playing Trump can defeat Republicans across the board and create the conditions that will make for a much more positive and promising new era in U.S. policy and politics. But to get there, we’ll have to think carefully and act strategically in terms of when to Stop Trump. If we get it right, we can stop him, and deal a mortal blow to all that he represents.