Hillary Clinton Uses a Major Speech to Expose the Racist Fever Swamps That Fuel the Trump Campaign
On Thursday, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton yanked the most gossamer of veils covering her Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, detailing his associations with the denizens of the alternative right, the new name for the old enclaves of white supremacy and white nationalism.
In a speech delivered to a rally at Truckee Community College in Reno, Nevada (video below), Clinton spoke in a concerned and conversational tone, turning away from the more stern demeanor she has often displayed on the campaign trail. “From the start,” she said, “Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia.”
This was not simply a good, strong speech calling out an opponent for his intolerance; it was a landmark speech in the annals of modern presidential politics. The fever swamps of the right have rarely been acknowledged in campaign speeches for what they are, and mainstream media have been loath to wade through the muck. Instead, the media establishment has treated those who have devoted their careers to covering right-wing movements as being nearly as fringe-y as media figures often perceive the movements to be.
Now that Trump, as Clinton said, “is taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party,” the mainstream media are catching up. When one of the two major-party candidates announces she’s going to do a speech focusing on her opponent’s use of an army of haters, media have to shine their lights in that direction.
If there was ever a moment Donald Trump handed to Hillary Clinton, this was it. In what he claimed were appeals to African-American voters (delivered before virtually all-white crowds), Trump demeaned their lives, telling them they were uneducated and unsuccessful, and it was all the Democrats’ fault. For good measure, he called Hillary Clinton a bigot. (In a now-viral video of Trump’s “bigot” comment, even the Trump supporter standing to his right shows she can’t quite believe he just said it.)
Now in fairness, it must be said that Hillary Clinton, in her acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination, asked voters to reject Trump’s “bigotry and bombast.” But how else might one describe Trump’s rhetoric when he describes Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, or tweets out false crime statistics from an alt-right tweeter that depicted African Americans as a horde of murderers who target whites?
Just as mainstream media had turned their gaze back to the GOP’s favorite topic of the Clinton Foundation, Trump turned it back to his own cozy relations with people who launch anti-Semitic attacks on journalists who challenge Trump, who would like to re-segregate America, and who launch invective-laced diatribes about Muslim Americans.
Trump’s been getting away with this stuff for a long, long time. As Fortune magazine reported, between December 2015 and March of this year, he retweeted Twitter posts from white supremacist accounts some 75 times. In Cleveland, during the Republican National Convention, his adviser Roger Stone cohosted a rally with right-wing radio talk-show host Alex Jones that featured the alt-right darling Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart News as a speaker. (The next day, Yiannopoulos was banned by Twitter for his racist attacks on the actor/comedian Leslie Jones for the crime of being black and female and starring in the reboot of the Ghostbusters movie franchise.)
Through all of that, mainstream media still only cocked its head a bit—until the hiring last week of Stephen K. Bannon as Trump’s campaign chief. As luck would have it, before he officially joined the campaign, journalist Sarah Posner caught up with Bannon during the RNC at a screening of his latest film, "Torchbearer," which Bannon wrote and directed. In that interview, Bannon made a boast that turned the gaze of Big Media his way. Speaking of the Breitbart site, Bannon told Posner, “We’re the platform for the alt-right.”
(The alt-right is not a pretty place. Just take a gander at the hashtag #altright—but wait until after you’ve eaten.)
Bannon came in for special attention in the Clinton speech. She even read off a raft of headlines from Breitbart News:
In her speech, Clinton really broke it all down. Speaking of Trump, she said, “This is someone who retweets white supremacists online, like the user who goes by the name, @WhiteGenocideTM. Trump took this fringe bigot with a few dozen followers and spread his message to 11 million people.”
She continued: “His campaign famously posted an anti-Semitic image—a Star of David imposed over a sea of dollar bills—that first appeared on a white supremacist website.” (That Star of David was posted next to an image of Clinton’s face and emblazoned with the words, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!”)
Clinton went on to mention that Trump declined to repudiate the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, or to renounce the anti-Semitic trolling of journalists by his followers. Nor did she allow any distance between Trump and his intolerant followers, reminding listeners that Trump had come under the scrutiny of the Justice Department early in his career for refusing to rent apartments in his company's buildings to blacks or Latinos.
Basically, Clinton walked America through a white subculture that distills the essence of American racism to an even more toxic brew, and showed how the candidate of one of the nation’s two major political parties is leveraging its toxicity for sale to garden-variety racists.
In truth, this is what has been going on in the GOP since the nomination of Barry Goldwater as its presidential nominee in 1964, when the racist John Birch Society lined up behind him. (It’s no wonder Goldwater campaign veterans Phyllis Schlafly and Richard Viguerie are Trump-boosters.) It’s just that Trump does it so baldly, so nakedly.
However the November election shakes out, 2016 will prove a turning point in American politics. It will be remembered as the year in which America couldn’t look away from its whole, real self.