Unleashing the Demons of Hate

Unleashing the Demons of Hate

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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.

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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.

  • Andy Schmookler

    I have a friend who liked the first part of this piece, but was unhappy about the second part, where I describe President Obama as a kind of “enabler.” She is an extremely enthusiastic support of President Obama’s, and my criticism of him rankled her.

    In the belief that others here may have the same response — in kind, if not in intensity — I’d like to say a couple of things here pre-emptively.

    First, I consider myself strongly supportive of Mr. Obama. As his poll numbers have climbed, I have rejoiced. Moreover, it seems to me that in recent times — perhaps since early 2015 — I believe that he has found his stride and has been playing the role he is left with exceedingly well. (I do think that he should be more confrontational about the GOP’s Supreme Court blockage, but otherwise I think he’s doing great.)

    Second, it remains true, nonetheless, that in one crucial area of his presidency — from nearly the beginning in 2009, up through the disastrous 2014 elections — President Obama has failed miserably: how to deal with the Republicans, who, from the outset, have been out to destroy him and nullify his presidency.

    I do not see how else to score a period when, with Mr. Obama as the leader of the Democratic Party, the GOP — despite behaving disgracefully almost without exception — has taken over both houses of Congress, and swept to an unprecedented domination of state-houses and governor’s mansions across the United States. And part of this picture also is that the president lost the ability, half-way through his first term, to accomplish virtually anything through the legislative process. Being reduced to executive actions is not a sign of success for a president.

    (It may be true that the GOP — thus enabled — has begun to self-destruct. But it seems really far-fetched to imagine that this redeems President Obama’s record in relation to the Republicans, of being thwarted and defeated at every turn (with the important exception of winning his own re-election).

    So this is a big failure, and it needs to be looked at. But it needs to be looked at because of one last important point:

    Third, the issue for us now is NOT that President Obama, for whatever reason, was ill-equipped to deal with an opposition party of this unprecedented nature. No, the issue for us now is that so many of us on the liberal side of the divide DO NOT SEE THAT FAILURE.

    The inability to see that failure — which, it is my impression, characterizes something of a majority of liberals — reflects that the same disability that limited President Obama’s ability to counter this force that has taken over the right: not perceiving well just what it is we’re up against, and not being prepared to press the battle against that force which insists incessantly on making a fight over everything.

    So, in less than a year, President Obama will be a respected former president. And maybe, in less than a year, the Republican Party will have shredded itself so thoroughly that the nation needs no help from strong liberal voices to drain the GOP’s power away. But more likely, we will still have to do battle with this same spirit that has run the GOP for nearly a generation– that gave us the GWBush presidency, that has given us wall-to-wall obstructionism, and that now gives us the grotesque Trump presidential candidacy.

    And for that battle, we need a different kind of awareness than President Obama showed for the first six years of his presidency, and a higher readiness to call out the Republicans than the Democrats have shown for years, up until now, when the blatant nature of the Trump ugliness has finally brought out the strong force of outrage and moral denunciation from the Democratic side.