- illustration by Clay Jones
As you read this, the nation's votes are being cast and counted. So I don’t know yet whether Democrats claimed the House, or whether Andrew Gillum is governor-elect, or whether Bill Nelson retained his Senate seat. I don’t know whether Brian Kemp’s blatant attempts at voter suppression paid off in Georgia, or whether Beto O’Rourke pulled off a stunner in Texas, or whether the white nationalist Steve King hung on in Iowa.
I don’t know what the Wednesday-morning spin will be – that Democrats blew a golden opportunity, or that President Trump’s unpopularity led to a blue wave, or that a split decision will render Washington even more dysfunctional as the political universe turns its eyes to 2020.
I do know, however, that this election shouldn’t be this close: While the party in power typically loses seats in the midterms, it usually isn’t staring down a wipeout with 50-year-low unemployment. And I also know that, whatever happens tonight, Trump’s closing pitch should send a shiver down your spine. There’s no optimism, no Reaganesque sense that sunny days are here again. Instead, it’s fear – fear of a white power structure on the wane, fear of the more diverse rising generation, fear of a brown planet.
In many respects, this has been Trump’s M.O. since he came down the Trump Tower elevator in 2015 to announce his campaign. His appeal to older, less-educated white men has always been rooted in white anxiety, from his birtherism to his campaign attacks on a Mexican judge and the parents of a fallen Muslim soldier to the travel ban, his remark about “shithole countries” in Africa, and his both-sidesing the violent Charlottesville white supremacist march. Throughout the last three years, what we’ve been calling the president’s dog whistles have begun to sound more and more like bullhorns.
To paraphrase Andrew Gillum, I don’t know whether Donald Trump is a racist, but I do know the racists think he’s a racist. And I also know that, through his words and deeds, he’s given racists succor. Whether that’s based in an ingrained animosity toward minorities or a narcissistic unwillingness to criticize those who praise him – or both – I don’t know, and I’m not sure it matters.
What matters, to my mind, is the closing argument the president and his party have been making these last few weeks, and what that portends for the next two years.
Over the weekend, Trump’s 2020 campaign released an undeniably racist ad designed to gin up his base – CNN refused to air it, though other stations did – fear-mongering about the so-called caravan of migrants making its way through Mexico.
Never mind that this caravan “invasion” nonsense is batshit conspiracy-mongering, or that the military deployment is a laughably obvious political stunt. The roughly 3,500 refugees, many women and children – poor, tired, hungry, fleeing conditions we imagine only in nightmares, traveling as a group because there’s safety in numbers – are weeks away from our border, hardly an imminent threat worthy of a military response. They are asylum seekers – a right guaranteed under U.S. and international law – desperate for a better life, not some clear and present danger to American sovereignty, as Trump and Fox News claim.
This ad also follows a week of political violence, in which a Trump fanatic allegedly mailed bombs to those the president mocks during his rallies, a racist white man gunned down two black people in Kentucky, and an anti- Semite, convinced by Fox News and other information cesspools that George Soros and the Jews were funding the migrants, shot up a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people.
Whether Trump is responsible for this carnage is debatable. Whether he encouraged it is not. Words, especially from the biggest bully pulpit in the world, have consequences. And yet, even in the face of this violence and unrest, the president chose not to be conciliatory or to tone down his rhetoric. Instead, he stuck with the one that brought him – intentionally divisive, racially charged politics designed to rile up his core supporters. And if that inspires a few maniacs, so be it.
Even more disconcerting is this: This is how the president acts with a booming economy and GOP control of government. Imagine how the next two years will look. What if there’s a recession in 2020, as some analysts predict? What if an energized Democratic House, armed with subpoena power, pulls back the veil on the administration’s wanton corruption? What if Robert Mueller seeks to force the president to testify before a grand jury on obstruction or collusion? What will he say then?
The president’s default, when hit with the slightest speed bump, has been to revert to racial appeals. There are a lot more speed bumps on the way, along with a presidential election and a mass of Democratic candidates hammering away at the president’s fragile ego.
Do you think any of this is going to get better?
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