It was two or three weeks ago — near the time of Trump’s attacks on the judge for his Mexican heritage — that this piece ran in newspapers in my conservative VA-06 district. But this theme has been made newly topical by Trump’s tweeting of anti-Semitic imagery over the 4th of July weekend. Bigotry is a central part of who he is, and his “Unleashing the Demons of Hate” is one of the major ways in which his prominence on the American political stage is damaging the nation.
For months, we have witnessed out how the political rise of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of racism and bigotry in America.
The head of the nation’s largest white supremacist Internet forum – Don Black of Stormfront – says that Trump (whom he calls a “boon” to the white supremacist cause) is “creating a movement that will continue independently of him…”
David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, notes how Trump is providing “cover” for people to proclaim their “white nationalism.”
Such “cover” is what Trump’s repeated rejection of “political correctness” accomplishes: the racism that America worked so long to declare unacceptable now again dares announce itself.
It may well be that most Trump supporters are not bigots. But one thing we know from the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups themselves: they feel encouraged by Trump. They recognize in Trump’s speeches the same spirit that animates them.
It is a hostile spirit that seeks to dominate other groups whose humanity is deemed less worthy of respect than one’s own. And it is a spirit that has blighted human history.
It blighted the ancient world, where conquerors routinely turned vanquished peoples into property to exploit. It has blighted the past century, with the German “Master Race” exterminating Jews by the millions, with Rwandans from the Hutu tribe slaughtering members of the Tutsi tribe by the hundreds of thousands, and with Serbs in the former Yugoslavia creating camps for the systematic rape of Bosnian women.
It is a spirit that Americans, with our own histories of conquest and enslavement, have long worked to put away safely in a cage so that we might better fulfill our basic national ideals.
One of these ideas is the one that declares that “all men are created equal.” Another is the ideal that, despite our being a nation of people from many lands, “we are all Americans,” unified not on the basis of racial or ethnic uniformity but on the basis of a shared belief in the principles of liberty and democracy on which we were founded.
Having traveled so far toward building a society where different kinds of people can live together in peace, hold each other in a degree of mutual respect, and work together to achieve common purposes, are we now going to let the destructive beast of bigotry back out of its cage?
Are we to let this voice — that has emboldened the demons of bigotry — speak to us soon from the bully pulpit of the presidency?
One last note: while it is Donald Trump who has lately encouraged this bigotry to become bolder, the strengthening of this dark spirit has also been enabled by President Obama. In particular, our first African-American president erred when he failed to call out – or have others call out — the racist spirit behind the “birther” nonsense when it first emerged. This racist attempt to delegitimize the president was one of those things best nipped in the bud.
The racist nature of the birther movement could hardly be clearer. There could be no rational basis for believing Obama was anything but a natural-born American citizen, thus eligible to be president—not in view of the notice of Obama’s birth that appeared in Hawaiian newspapers in August 1961.
But racist feelings created a problem for many Americans, and believing the incredible birther fiction provided a solution. Obama’s election created a dilemma for those Americans holding two beliefs that suddenly were in conflict: 1) their belief that black people should be treated as inferiors, and 2) their belief that the President of the United States should be treated with respect.
Obama’s supposed African birth – or, to put it another way, his “African-ness” – allowed people in that dilemma to see him as no legitimate president, and therefore not requiring respect.
President Obama may have believed he should not dignify the absurd by taking it seriously. But, absurd or not, something serious was going on, and it was a mistake not to confront not so much the foolishness of the fiction about his being born in Kenya as the racism that fiction indulged.
By ignoring it, President Obama allowed the bigotry to feed and grow. And as the years have gone by, we have seen his political opponents emboldened to treat this president with a scorn and condescension to which no white American president has ever been subjected.
Meanwhile, left to themselves the passions of bigotry grew stronger. This year we see that they have created a political constituency powerful enough to nominate for president, in one of our two major parties, a man whom the white supremacist movement has embraced as one of their own.